The evil of Apartheid in practice


Was the South African government policy known as Apartheid evil, as many people think it was?

The idea of separate development, that Zulus have their own territory that has historical value for them, with their own government that makes decisions on matters that are important to Zulus, or that solves problems in ways that are consistent with the values with which most Zulus identify, with Zulu cultural organizations and schools and universities, and then the same for Xhosas and Sothos and so on, is either a workable idea, or not realistic considering the realities of the South African economy and wider society.

But is it an evil idea? I reckon, no.

The evil entered the story with how the policy was carried out in practice, the way in which the National Party government reacted to resistance to their policy, and the deeply biased thinking that served as the foundation of the ideology.

The policies implemented by the government eventually included the forced removal of communities from neighbourhoods where people of different races had lived together for decades; the requirement of identification documents that only black adults had to carry on their person, without which they could be arrested; laws that prohibited black people from entering urban areas unless they could prove they were employed in the area; a ban on marriages between members of different population groups; a restriction on where black entrepreneurs could open businesses; and the segregation of public areas and facilities, public transport, as well as schools and universities, with the result that black South Africans generally experienced a significantly lower quality of life than white South Africans.

How did the government respond to opposition to their policies? They responded with lethal force against protests, jailed the leaders of the resistance, and banned civil rights organisations.

The most nefarious of the Apartheid government’s deeds, however, was to apply a type of psychology and a type of philosophy that told the adult black population: You are less of a person because you are black. You are worth less than the white man and woman on the other side of town who are just as old as you, just as smart (or stupid) as you, who also love their children. You’re worth less than the white people – because you’re black. Education in schools also made it clear to black children that their futures were not as engineers and dentists and architects, but primarily as labourers and servants of white people. Hendrik Verwoerd, Minister of Native Affairs from 1954 to 1958 and later Prime Minister of South Africa, said about the education of black children: “[There is] no place for the Bantu in European society above the level of certain forms of labour. What is the use of teaching mathematics to the Bantu child if it cannot be used in practice?”

Not only were black children neglected in their formal education, adult black men and women were also systematically reminded of their second-class status in South African society. Young white police constables could stop middle-aged black men and women in the street and demand to see their “papers”. Black children were given Afrikaans or English names that were easier for white people to pronounce, and if the adult black worker did not have an Afrikaans or English name, he or she was given one. White men had to be addressed as “Boss”, even if the black man or woman did not work for the white man. Until as recently as the late nineteen-eighties, black men and women were not allowed to use public transportation intended for whites or were only allowed to use third-class seats.

Steve Biko, circa 1970s (Source: Unknown, copyright is owned by the Steve Biko Foundation)

All these measures were applied to entrench the idea that the white person was the master and the black person the servant. When black intellectuals like Steve Biko from the sixties onwards wanted to promote the idea of Black Pride, when they wanted to popularise the idea that an adult black man and woman should raise their heads and insist on dignified treatment – that they should indeed believe that they were the equal of their so-called white masters, these leaders were brutally oppressed. Steve Biko himself was first intimidated, then arrested, and finally assaulted so badly that he succumbed to his injuries. His offense? A radical message to both white and black: “[As] a prelude whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior.” And: “The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump back life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth.”

It is at this point – where you want to crush the spirit of someone because he disagrees with your political policies, to want to break his will so that he will never again think of rising against you, that any reasonable person should realise he had crossed over to the Dark Side: Welcome to the Land of Lucifer.


The consequences of believing in responsibility for your own life


Taking responsibility for your own life is, the more I think about it, an extremely dangerous opinion to hold in the Politically Correct/Crazy Culture War Era.

If you draw taking responsibility to its logical conclusions, the slave was partly responsible for his own slavery, and so-called non-white groups in South Africa were partly responsible for their own suffering and sometimes miserable lives during the pre-1994 era.

Of course, the slave owner had the authority of the colonial establishment on his side. But if we only look at the history of slavery in North America and the Caribbean, we see that thousands of slaves did claim their freedom, and in many cases lived out the rest of their earthly existence as non-slaves – though they always had to be on the lookout for enemies who wanted to lead them back to slavery (see the Haitian Revolution, and the Maroons in Jamaica).

The South African apartheid state was also powerful, and many so-called non-whites who resisted the white state were killed – sometimes brutally. But there were at least eight non-white people for every single white person in the decades before 1994! If non-whites in more significant numbers refused to allow white political leaders to dictate to them how and where and with whom they should live, what could the white state and the white minority who supported them have done about it? Some people say there would have been a blood bath, ten or a hundred times worse than Sharpeville in 1960 or Soweto in 1976. But was violence the only solution? India during the British colonial era is also an interesting case: How did fewer than 200,000 British soldiers and officials succeed in subjugating to their authority a population of more than 200 million Indians?

Is there a middle ground between, “I am not in control of my own life and am therefore a victim of anyone who is stronger than me, or who convinces me that he is stronger than me” on the one hand, and on the other hand, “Over my dead body will I allow you to master it over me”?

It still feels like I’m caught up in a political and socio-cultural dilemma. I believe that, as a relatively intelligent adult, I am largely responsible for how I experience my existence. I further believe that all relatively intelligent adults are to a large extent responsible for how they experience their existence. But if this is true, how on earth can I continue to believe that 80% of the population of South Africa were victims before 1994?! Were my parents and other white people before them so breathtakingly powerful? What type of magic did they practice?!

I believe many children and grandchildren of people who suffered before 1994 because they were black or brown or Indian have already become wise to the truth: that the white man and woman were not really that powerful. That their parents and grandparents and other ancestors did not push back hard enough when the whites dictated terms. A critical percentage of black, brown and Indian South Africans mostly accepted the dictated terms, hoping a miracle would occur in the future that would save them. I believe that many children and grandchildren of black and brown and Indian South Africans who suffered before 1994 are deeply upset with their parents and their parents’ parents, but because they love them, they have created a caricature that can be more easily criticised, and on whose shoulders all the blame can be placed.


Tuesday, 28 July 2020

One: There were indeed numerous examples of individuals and organisations in South African history, just in the period 1910 to 1990, who realised what a big problem psychology was – that a significant percentage of white people believed it was their right to rule over other groups, and that a significant percentage of non-white South Africans also believed that this should be the case. These people and organisations understood that education was a key to a better future, that what Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) had written should be applied: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, for though others may free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.” One of the biggest proponents of better mentality was Steven Biko (1946-1977). No wonder the apartheid state was eager to get rid of him. There were also numerous attempts to get thousands of people involved in campaigns against the apartheid state, including in non-violent marches and protests. Eventually, apartheid did come to an end, and was replaced by a more democratic order. Why? Because a critical percentage of the white population accepted that they did not have a right to rule over other groups, and a critical percentage of black, brown and Indian South Africans came to see not being able to choose who rules over them as an undermining of their rights. A massive psychological shift among all the population groups of South Africa therefore had to take place before reality could change for everyone. By 1994, this shift had taken place, and the reality changed.

Two: White people who took actions that actively hindered other South Africans’ hopes and efforts to lead good lives (including National Party politicians, officials who carried out government policies, and members of the security police) were fallible people who gained positions of power, and who learned day by day that they were getting away with the abuse of their power. A significant number believed their cause was just – a fight against Communism, and therefore for the Christian faith and Western civilisation. Many of these white agents of the apartheid state, these perpetrators of a morally corrupt ideology, were otherwise good people – people who loved their spouses and children, and who were good sons and daughters to their elderly parents. It is this complexity I cannot ignore when people present a simplified history where on the one hand you had powerful evil monsters, and on the other hand poor powerless victims who could only hope for a better day.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

1. There’s this impression – that people suffer and complain, but don’t do enough to change their circumstances, or to improve their lot. Later, when other people changed their circumstances for them, they tend to favour a narrative that hides the fact that they didn’t take more initiative to improve their own lot.

2. I believe in the enormous capacity of the individual – and when enough members work together, the collective capacity of the community – to improve their own circumstances and their own experience of reality. Often, people fail to do this. But acknowledge it then. To opt for a narrative that portrays yourself, or the ethnic, or cultural, or socio-political group of which you’re a member as poor victims, does incredible damage to your own perceived capacity to improve your circumstances and your experience of reality. What message do you send to younger, impressionable people who are forming ideas of what they’re capable of? Too many people opt for anger at some perceived almighty other group that have somehow monopolised political, economic, and cultural power, and have managed to sustain it for decades or even centuries. Are these people powerful wizards? Do they practice some other-worldly magic? Chances are that you are exaggerating their power and ability in order to conceal your own poor record of doing better.

Sunday, 16 August 2020

I’m returning to this piece yet again because it’s easy to misunderstand – or maybe I haven’t made myself clear enough.

So, hopefully just one last time, three points:

1. Afrikaners, and other white people in pre-1994 South Africa, did have political, economic, and military power, but their power was not unlimited. An acceptance – for all practical purposes, even if people didn’t like it – of the political and social order during apartheid, and before that, among all the population groups of South Africa was the most powerful instrument in the hands of the white government.

2. Embracing a victim identity is less valuable than accepting that whatever happened to you or your family might not have happened if you had tried harder to avoid it – if you had taken more responsibility for your own situation. Now – no one needs to point out to me that it sounds like victim blaming. There is never an issue of placing less blame on the offender, and more blame on the victim. The offender is guilty and deserves to be punished for what they have done to another person. Offenders must take responsibility and suffer the consequences for their actions. But if the victim could have done nothing to avoid or reduce their pain and suffering, they are one hundred percent victim – one hundred percent powerless. This is the highest level of victimhood. Someone messed with your life, and there was nothing – nothing! – you could do about it. It is tragic that every day there are such cases in every country, and every city and town and sometimes farm and hamlet in the world. This is what happens to children who depend on adults for protection, and for making good decisions. This is also what happens to old people who are no longer in control of their lives. This type of victimhood is terrible because not only does it involve pain and suffering and loss, it also reminds you every day that you think about it that you were absolutely powerless to change any aspect of it. People can criticise me all they want, but I simply do not accept that millions of adult black and brown and Indian South Africans before 1994 were one hundred percent powerless victims. Children, yes. But once you are old enough to be in control of your own movements and decisions, you have choices. Thousands of slaves decided to escape during the period of slavery in the Western colonies. Millions decided to stay on the plantation instead because the risk was too great. There are people who claim that to say they decided to stay implies that they chose to be slaves. I say: at least I see them as rational people who made choices, even if the options were limited. I do not see them as brainless bodies. I see them as people who faced a terrible choice and who chose the less life-threatening option. However, were there slaves who accepted the social order where they were slaves and white people their masters as God-given? I believe there were many people with this mindset who eventually had to be freed from their mental slavery. Taking some responsibility for your past situation is empowering. It tells the one who played god over you that he or she was not really as powerful as they thought they were. It says: “My own failure to push back harder, or to push back more effectively, made it easier for you. Don’t see me as a victim anymore, because the other side of the coin is that I have to admit you were smarter, stronger, and more powerful than I was.”

3. I have friends and family who see themselves as allies of the suffering black man and woman. A black man or woman’s success is celebrated when a similar success would not be celebrated if the person was white. This idea of looking at a person, and deducing from his or her skin colour, or gender, or sexual orientation that they are victims of someone else’s personal power, is intolerable to me – intolerable! And if you listen to what many black people say, they also find it intolerable, and insulting. I can’t for the moment quote a specific black person who said it in so many words, but I am sure the following sentiment is widespread among black people who follow these trends: “Don’t see me as a victim. You and your ancestors were not really that powerful. I – and my ancestors, made mistakes, and did not push back hard enough, or smart enough.”


A topic I don’t really want to think about



What follows is the most recent note on a topic I don’t really want to think about. If more than ten people regularly read what I write, notes on this subject will definitely get me in trouble. Nobody – but especially not white people, and then especially not white men – is supposed to form any thoughts on this subject that are not in line with approved mainstream ideology. “Why would you after all have any other types of thoughts about it?” anyone might ask. “Are you a bad person? Are you wicked? Are you the devil?”

As is often the case with normal people, thoughts form in my head while I’m in the shower, or on my way somewhere. And because I’m not in the habit of placing a proverbial guard at the gate of my mind, all sorts of strange questions come up. And seeing that the question was then asked, I must address it. Or, I certainly don’t need to address it – especially when I know we’re only supposed to have pre-approved thoughts on certain topics. But I will be constantly aware that it is on the table and that I am ignoring it.

Anyway, here’s the thought. How did the policy known as Apartheid become the reality for so many people – of all races – in South Africa, between at least 1948 and 1990?

A simple explanation is that Apartheid was allowed to become and remain the practical reality for so long because the majority of the population – and the majority of the population were black people – had accepted Apartheid. Naturally people had a negative view of the policy and the political leaders they held responsible, but a critical percentage of the affected population accepted it as the way their society was managed.

Why was Apartheid eventually replaced by a better policy? Because a critical minority among the black population, with allies among other population groups, did not accept Apartheid, and dedicated their lives to undermining it and destroying it as a framework and policy by which the state was governed and the population controlled. This critical minority, which included people like Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the anti-Apartheid movement in the fifties and sixties, as well as Steve Biko and other activists in the seventies and eighties, but also thousands of other leaders who had close ties with the community on a daily basis, finally convinced a critical percentage of the population that they should be supported in their efforts to end Apartheid, and that everything would be better for them when they, the new leaders, were in control of the state.


The fact is, almost thirty years after the end of Apartheid, there are still white people who believe that Apartheid was “not so bad”, and that “even black people were happier under Apartheid than under a black government”. And there are black people who believe that they were passive victims of something bigger than them, and that they could mostly just wait until their leaders rectified the matter. Both of these opinions are wrong because the truth is a bitter pill to swallow.

(By the way, never trust an academic who doesn’t have a source of income that is independent of the institution, school, or university where they work. By the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, it is common knowledge that academic institutions follow political agendas, and if academics do not endorse the dominant political ideology, their salaries – with which they pay rent and buy food and clothes – are at stake.)



Does it make the misdeeds of the man who physically abuses his wife less evil because she stays with him day after day, month after month rather than escaping with her life?


But what message does it send to women in abusive relationships to refer to them as powerless victims? What hope does it give to women in such relationships?

In the end, you are left with two options:

Option 1: See the woman as a powerless victim. In this case women who never left their abusive husbands don’t have to feel that they could have done anything to improve their own situations. The message to women who are currently involved in such relationships is that they should just hope someone saves them. Because they themselves are powerless.

Option 2: See the woman in a relationship with a man who is physically and emotionally abusive as someone with the ability to do something about it. She would probably have to be smart and courageous to protect herself and possibly her children, but she does have the ability and power to improve her life. This is good news for women who are currently trapped in such a relationship. But the message to the woman who had been in such a relationship in the past, and only got away because her husband died or something else happened to him, is that she could have done something about her situation – but unfortunately never got that far because perhaps she always thought of herself as powerless.

* * *

Seeing that I’m already politically incorrect, and stepping on sensitive toes, another question: When did the oppression of the black population begin in South Africa? Libraries full of research have been done on this, and perhaps my argument could be shot down with a battery of artillery fire from people smarter than me.

At this point I must also make clear that I am referring specifically to the black tribes and other black groups as was known to political leaders and white citizens in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The history of power politics between white people and coloured people in mainly the Western Cape, between white people and the San in initially the Southern and Eastern Cape, and between white and Indian people in originally KwaZulu-Natal, is different from the history between white groups and various black tribes and nations. Slaves revolted from time to time. The San waged guerrilla war against white farmers and communities. The Griquas forged alliances with other groups and also came into military conflict with white communities on their own.

But between whites and blacks, there were at least a dozen conflicts that qualified as war. There were the nine border wars in the Eastern Cape, and a few uprisings. There were three wars between the Basotho and the citizens of the Free State. There were several bloody wars between the Voortrekkers and later citizens of the Transvaal and Natal and the Ndebele under Mzilikazi, and the Zulus under Dingaan and later other leaders. And then there were several wars between British colonial powers and the Ndebele, and the Zulus. Most of these military conflicts had come to an end by 1880. Up to this time, black and white fought each other as equals. One could argue that white soldiers had guns and cannons, but black warriors had other advantages, not to mention the fact that they could also get their hands on guns – and did use them, as in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.

My point here is that I have difficulty swallowing the narrative of the black person in South Africa as a powerless victim of white domination for 300 years. This narrative clearly has political value in the South Africa of the twenty-first century, but I find it extremely strange when people dismiss as insignificant the military power of black nations in the eighteenth and especially nineteenth century. Have these people never read descriptions of Xhosa or Zulu warriors? Have they never read of the military victories that Mzilikazi and Moshoeshoe achieved over white commandos?

My question is again: The oppression of blacks by whites that was such a feature of twentieth-century South African society – when did this chapter begin in the conflict between whites and blacks in Southern Africa? I think the 1880s are a good place to look for an answer.

My next question: After at least a century of sometimes successful resistance – where armed warriors stood against armed militias, how did it happen that the oppression of black people was carried out so extensively after 1880?


I don’t see black people in South Africa as long-suffering historical victims. There were events like Sharpeville in 1960 and Soweto in 1976, and there were government policies like the passbooks and forced removals, but those were all in the last hundred years. When I think of historical black figures, I see the Xhosa warrior on the Eastern Frontier; I see the imposing figures of Mzilikazi and Moshoeshoe; I see the intimidating figure of the Zulu warrior on the green hills of Natal; I see intellectuals like Sol Plaatje and Steven Biko; I see political leaders like Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and their wives Winnie Mandela and Albertina Sisulu. I see the period 1880-1990 as a historical anomaly during which a critical percentage of black adults in South Africa seemingly accepted that they were second-class citizens of their country of birth, and when a critical percentage of black adults accepted that their children would become factory workers, gardeners, road workers and domestic helpers rather than engineers, doctors, dentists, scientists, and academics.


A brief history of modern South Africa


Here is a brief history of modern South Africa: For a long time, white people thought they were better than black people, and acted accordingly. Most black people observed this behaviour and concluded that if white people thought they were better than black people, and acted out this belief, they probably were better. Therefore, most black people did what white people told them to do and behaved in ways white people prescribed to them.

However, a minority of black people never fell for this story that white people are better than black people. This conviction was also evident from the way that they acted. Other black people observed this, too, and started looking at these people as leaders who might bring about a better situation for them. Whites also saw this behaviour, viewed these people as threats, and arrested them, charged them with laws that whites had written to protect themselves and entrench their better positions in society, and – if the people did not leave the country in the middle of the night to go into exilelocked them up for decades. When a new generation yielded new leaders who also did not want to fall for the story that white people were better than black people, their lives were also made very uncomfortable: for example, what they could say and where they could travel were severely restricted. If they still didn’t want to listen, they were simply killed.

And so the modern history of South Africa continued through the seventies, and the eighties, until political developments in other parts of the world pressured the white government to embark on radical changes, and the pressure of more and more black and coloured people who no longer believed white people were better than them also became too much. By the mid-nineteen-nineties, a new dispensation had come to power. At the head of this dispensation were many of the men and women who, decades earlier, had not fallen for the conviction of white people that they were better than black people.

* * *

That brings us to today. I read on News24 that racism is rampant in the Northwest town of Schweizer-Reneke. One of the teachers at a primary school took a photo of a group of children in a classroom on the first day of school. The photo showed a few black children sitting at a table on their own, with the white children at other tables. The photo spread like wildfire on social media. There were protests, at least one suspension, and widespread anger over what was seen as a return to apartheid. [A later explanation was given that the children who were sitting on their own could not speak English or Afrikaans, and that they had to be assisted by an interpreter.] [Also see the interview with a father of one of the black children in the photo.]

Another teacher in the town told the journalist that racism would never end in the town, especially among white people. “We don’t know democracy here,” the teacher said. “Whites think they are superior [to] everyone here.” The report does not specify the teacher’s race. If the person is white, I wonder: Was this an expression of his or her own feelings towards other population groups? If the person is black, how does he or she know what the whites (in plural) think?

A few weeks ago, I read Elaine Hilides’s explanation of the Three Principles of Sydney Banks. She writes, among other things: “We create our reality moment by moment via thought and then we experience that reality via feeling. We are always, 100%, feeling our thinking. It can look like it’s our circumstances that are causing our feeling, but we are only ever feeling our thinking about our circumstances.”

The teacher in Schweizer-Reneke went further in his or her conversation with the journalist: “They [the white people] own everything in this town including public schools. This primary school is an example of their behaviour and hatred toward black children.”

* * *

The story of white domination in South Africa and the oppression of especially black people is a story of one group of people, who were in the minority, who convinced a significant percentage of a bigger group of people that they were better than the majority group, and that the majority should just accept it. Low and behold, it worked! A critical percentage of the majority group fell for it!

Now, in a new century and a new South Africa, their children and grandchildren and other descendants are furious that white people got away with it for so long. They now insist that things must be “corrected” – land should be taken away from the white group, and mostly given to members of the black group. Hundreds of thousands of jobs and thousands of business opportunities should be reserved for members of the previously excluded groups. There is even talk of white people who now have to be more careful about how they talk to black people, to prevent the latter from becoming even angrier.

Will it work? Will everything get better over the next few decades? Perhaps many white people still think they are better than black people. Of course, it is absurd to make a general statement that your group is better than another group, since Person X can only be better than Person Y in some aspects of their person, or abilities. Do many black people think deep inside that white people are actually better than them? Who can say?

* * *

What should one say of racism, of white people insulting black people, of white soccer spectators throwing banana peels on the soccer field to provoke a black player?

Imagine the following situation: Someone gets a sneering look on his face, lifts his finger in your direction, and says:

“Na-na-na-na-na! You can’t bake a souffle!”

The only problem for this joker is that you don’t have any ambitions or pretensions to bake a souffle. He is literally barking up the wrong tree. Nevertheless, you respond.

“What did you say?”

“I said, Na-na-na …”

“Yes, okay,” you’ll stop his taunt, “I caught that part. And then?”

“You can’t bake a souffle …”

Imagine something else. One rude soccer fan has a problem with his eyesight one day, and sees people darker than they really are (without realising it). He sees a black player jogging past the spot where he’s sitting, and throws a banana peel on the field. To rub in his point, he also makes monkey sounds, and jumps around and swings his arms.

What the spectator doesn’t know is that the player is Hans Christiansen from Sweden – probably the whitest player on the team. He sees the banana peel, and he sees the man next to the field jumping from one leg to the other, with his arms gesturing above his head. Will Mr. Christiansen feel insulted? It’s unlikely. Why? Many people will point out that he won’t think much of it, because there is no history of white spectators taunting white players by referring to them as monkeys. Certainly it will also help that he doesn’t think of himself as a monkey. The insult will fall flat. The offender will appear absurd.

What happens when such an uncultivated person tries to provoke and insult a black player? The authorities and the media go berserk. The poor black player, they will say.

What will happen if one black player after another dismisses it as harmless absurd behaviour – because, after all, they do not think of themselves as primates; that the taunting and potential insult roll off the proverbial duck’s back?

The guy who tries to throw me off balance with the reminder that I can’t bake a souffle is only going to be effective with his attempt if I have an obsession about not being able to bake a souffle. How I think about the souffle business is exactly what would give the man the power to taunt me. If I have no ambition to bake a souffle and have no concern about not being able to do it, the person’s efforts will flop as quickly as a pudding baked with rotten eggs.

I know I have never been a black soccer player, and I have never felt what it feels like when someone taunts me about being less human than he is. However, I have a strong suspicion that few if any black athletes feel like monkeys. So, who gives the one in the crowd the ridiculous idea that his taunts and insults will have an effect?

The same can be said when a white South African is captured on film saying something negative about a black South African. If that black person has a positive view of him or herself, and the white man or woman goes on like a crazy person with a red face – who is really the one making a monkey of him or herself?

Instead of telling everyone what they may or may not say, and always thinking of new ways to punish people who make others feel bad about themselves, why not pay more attention to what people think of themselves and how they feel about themselves?

There are strong indications that there are still people who believe they are better or smarter than people who have a redder or browner or blacker or yellower skin than their own pink shade, and that they deserve to be treated better, and must get preferential treatment when it comes to opportunities and access to resources. I reckon if you feel you have no other way to build up your own sense of value other than to break down other people’s dignity, you have a problem, and you should do yourself and everyone around you a favour by doing some introspection. But it also needs to be said that if you go off your head every time someone is unfriendly with you, or plain rude, or deliberately tries to mock, taunt, or offend you, you might need to start working on your perception of yourself.


Max du Preez’s dangerous intention


Ever since I bought my first Vrye Weekblad in the early nineteen nineties, I have had respect for South African journalist Max du Preez. I have always considered him consistent in his principles. He also never allows himself to be intimidated by the powers of the day – and especially in the late eighties and early nineties there were many attempts to intimidate him, even to get rid of him completely. After 1994 he was initially rewarded for contributing to the struggle to establish a democratic dispensation in South Africa, but it wasn’t long before his opinions started annoying the dominant political group again. Over the past two decades he has continued to write books, articles, and opinion pieces on the Internet, still anchored in the same principles that had led him to start his progressive newspaper thirty years ago. Especially his opinion pieces are sometimes ruthlessly critical. One of his most controversial pieces was on how then South African president Jacob Zuma appeared to be on a one-man mission to destroy South Africa. As expected, the piece made him an even bigger enemy of some politicians than he had already been.

However, Max’s latest column for News24 strikes me as odd, to say the least. He refers to two incidents in which he was recently involved. The first one was when he wanted to buy a bottle of wine in a shop in a village on the Garden Route. One of the two cashiers was busy talking on her phone; the other one ignored him. When he asked her after a few minutes if he could pay, her response was that she was still busy with another customer and pointed to a person standing at the entrance talking to the security guard about crime in the town. After waiting a few more minutes, he approached the customer at the door and asked her if she could please complete her transaction – he was parked on a yellow line. She immediately got upset, called him arrogant, and asked him when “you people” were going to realise they were no longer the boss.

Max concedes that the situation embarrassed him very much because he is usually the person who intervenes when a white person is rude to a black employee in a store. He also admits that he was annoyed with himself because he knew he would have dealt with the other customer with much more confidence if she were white.

He also tells of an incident at a petrol station when another motorist almost drove into him as he was pulling out at the station. He reversed his car a little, and politely gestured to the other motorist to pull in. The other motorist, however, jumped out of his car and confronted Max. “What was that gesture about?” the motorist demanded, called Max a racist, and threatened him with violence.

Max believes there is a high probability that the two people expected rudeness and racism from whites because of past experiences. He comes to the conclusion that, rather than take offense, he should respect their willingness to confront him.

He also mentions that he is determined to appear “demurer and friendlier, extra polite and extra careful” when he interacts with black strangers in the future. He wondered if it would be racist and dishonest to treat black people differently than whites, but then decides it is simply the reality in South Africa today – that many South Africans are still struggling with the racial issue.

Later in the piece he also wrote that he felt it would be inappropriate for him as a white person to publicly express his opinion on the slaughter of a sheep on a beach in Clifton.

One gets the idea that Max is indeed struggling with the correct formula for how a white person should behave in South Africa almost three decades after the end of Apartheid. He acknowledges that it won’t be good for anyone if we all “tiptoed around matters of race”. He also reckons he is not one of the so-called good whites who believe white people should keep their mouths shut and not participate in public debate. He does express his belief, however, that whites have a responsibility to be more respectful and to choose their words more carefully when it comes to these matters. He hopes his grandchildren, if they are white, will be released from this burden.

I have to admit that I was a little taken aback. I think it’s generally a good idea to be respectful of anyone who is respectful to me, to be polite to any person I encounter, and not to treat someone differently just because they have a different skin colour or are from another ethnic group. And for the record: I’m willing to be polite first, to be the first one to say hello, and the first one to be kind. If the other person reciprocates, then all is well. If not, it’s that person’s problem. (I also have to mention that it won’t work out well for me not to be kind and polite to people of other races, seeing that I am one of only a few thousand pink skins who live and work amongst 23 million Taiwanese people and people of other ethnicities.)

Taken aback were I, because how long does Max believe whites in South Africa should be extra friendly and polite, and extra cautious before it would be expected from them? How long before a black guy slaps a white guy because he wasn’t demure enough on the street, or in a government building, or not extra careful or polite? How long before such a person would justify his action with the idea that by that time white people ought to know how to “deal” with the race issue in South Africa? (And would he be surprised by the support of bystanders who would agree that he had acted properly?) How long before a black pupil complains to his parents that his white teacher was not modest enough in the classroom, or was not friendly and polite enough, or was not careful enough when the teacher reprimanded the pupil? How long does Max think it would be before the parents of black pupils demand that white teachers be more careful about how they treat black pupils? And how long before somebody gets the idea that coloured and Indian South Africans didn’t suffer as much under Apartheid as black South Africans, and that it might be good if they also behaved more modestly and friendlier when they interact with black citizens, and extra polite and extra careful? Lastly, what kind of person would expect you to be friendlier to him or her than to citizens of another skin colour? What kind of person would expect you to demurer, more polite, and more careful with your words than with someone of a different ethnicity? Is this the type of world in which Max du Preez wants to live, and where he wants his children and grandchildren, and perhaps even great-grandchildren to live?

In the article, “The Fear of White Power”, Remi Adekoya refers to a conversation he had with a black friend in London about a black colleague of the friend. (I specify the race of the people because it is relevant, and because the author specified it himself.) The colleague was apparently quick to play the race card when he was stopped by a policeman after violating a traffic rule. “Why did you stop me?” the colleague asked the policeman. “Is it because you saw a black man driving an expensive car?” The policeman was immediately defensive and mumbled something about it not having anything to do with race. He ended up just giving the driver a warning. The driver’s friend who was in the car with him then asked him why he had brought up race if he knew he was in the wrong. “Dude,” came the response, “when in a tough spot with a white person, bring up racism and there’s a 99 percent chance they’ll get defensive and back down.”

The author of the article tells how the conversation with his friend continued. He shared his opinion with his friend that they should challenge black intellectuals who call “racism” for strategic reasons, and who use political correctness as a lever for psychological benefit. His friend did not agree with him. He explained that if white people in Britain weren’t kept on a leash by political correctness, things could easily return to the bad old days of a few decades ago: “In his view, the fear of being called racist is the only thing restraining whites from using their power to dominate us openly.” He concluded by reminding his friend, the author, of an important phenomenon in human relationships: “It’s not even about white or black, it’s about human nature, how people behave with unchecked power.”

This conversation took place in Britain between a black banker and a writer whose mother is Polish and whose father is from Nigeria. The banker’s opinion was to keep the power of white people in check, because human nature is human nature. In South Africa, nearly 80% of the population is black, just under 9% white, the same percentage brown, and about 2.5% Indian or of other Asian origin. It is a fact that the majority of black South Africans still live in poverty. But a significant percentage of South Africa’s middle class, and higher middle class, are also black. Millions of black children are nowadays born and raised in beautiful, leafy middle-class suburbs. And when they finish high school, they go to university, where many of them get involved in political movements. What will be the practical consequences if they agree with veteran political writer Max du Preez that whites should be “demurer and friendlier” in their interaction with black citizens, and “extra polite and extra careful”? What will be the practical implication when these young students enter the professional world? What will be the practical implication when they take over the political reins from their parents? Would the expectation for whites to be more modest and friendlier, and extra polite and extra careful be part of their thinking about racial relationships to such an extent that the expectation could just as well be made official? What will happen ten or twenty years from now if a critical percentage of South Africans agree with Max du Preez, and a white South African is not friendly enough, or polite enough, or not careful enough with their words? In short, what will happen if a white man or woman, or a white child, does not behave as expected of a white person in a country where they should be sorry for the actions of their ancestors?

I have always had respect for Max du Preez. I believe his vision has always been for a South Africa where people of different ethnicities, and different beliefs and cultures can work together to create one nation. It is still an ideal worthy of pursuit. But I’m afraid Max’s intention, and perhaps his suggestion for white South Africans until his great-grandchildren’s generation is simply too dangerous to seriously consider.


My perspective on these issues may be somewhat different to that of many middle-class white South Africans. I am not a financially comfortable white person surrounded by black poverty; I am a white person with an average income, surrounded by Taiwanese/Chinese people, of which most adults very likely have more money in the bank than me. The dominant group in this country where I have been living for almost twenty years also has a monopoly on political power.

Therefore, I find the idea outrageous that a minority group should make sure that they are friendly and polite enough, and modest enough and careful enough with their words when dealing with members of a majority group. As I have already explained, I find it even dangerous, and irresponsible, considering how full history is of how people begin to act if the scale tilts too far to the one side in terms of power dynamics.