Debts to South African Society

I just know this blog post is going to raise a bit more than a few eyebrows. But I really just don't care. I really believe in what I'm writing here and I may even lose a few friends over it. In fact I have already been disenfranchised from a large portion of my family, so what the hell.....

I was born in South Africa at the end of the 1960's. A quirk of fate meant that I was born to white parents (actually my mother isn't white, rather classified as white, not quite the same thing, but more about that another day). This meant that I was born with an advantage. Access to better education, medical care, social circumstances and without a doubt opportunity.

Before those of you white South Africans reading this start rolling your eyes and arguing the already very moot points, about justifying the apartheid governments policies, get real and either read on or go learn a bit more about how our advantage put generations of others in an unfair position - for generations to come.

That said, let me get to my point. I have a oodles of criticism for the current South African government, but I believe my perspective is very different to a huge proportion of white people living in the electrically fenced, armed response ivory towers of middle and upper class suburbia.

The system put me at an advantage in so many ways that a single generation (or two or three) of BEE is not going to fix. In fact BEE is never going to fix the problems we face as a result of the inequalities in our society. Getting real and facing our moral responsibilities will however take us a lot further a lot quicker to getting there.

White South Africans need to face their fears and address them proportionately. A lot of (note I haven't said all) white fears are self fulfilling prophesies.

But let me start with the grass roots facts. I received a better education with more resources than a black child born on the same day as me. My education was targeted at entry to higher education and management possibilities. My black peers were educated to be subservient and workers and labourers.

But take it one step further, my mother had the same advantage, so I lived in a home where my mother had a  better job than the parents of my black peers, simply because of better access to education. Then too many whites are quick to forget that many of my black peers were forcibly separated from their mothers when they reached the age of two, because the law said that they were not allowed to live with their mothers in a white neighbourhood.

So on a very basic level, the disadvantage was not just education, it was the deliberate destruction of the family infrastructure forcing mothers, fathers and children to live apart - a heinous attack on the social infrastructure and society of my fellow South Africans just because they were black. How do you repay the damage caused by the destruction of social and family infrastructure?

Mr White man - So you don't like the idea of living in fear? Well for at least three generations every black man,woman and child lived in fear, not only of the known discriminatory dangers, but also the uncertainty of what might happen that has not yet been imagined. And this fear can be fixed, but only if you face it.

My advice to these "white South Africans" is to change only one thing. Stop identifying as WHITE. Identify as a South African. Look to yourself to find what you can do to make this country a better place. Stop living in fear of murder and robbery, and start giving away of yourself.

I don't mean that you should give away your belongings, or your home, but there is so much that you can share to make it a fairer society without making you any worse off. For a start, what about your education. Knowledge shared is multiplied not halved. There remains a huge and very real literacy problem in black and coloured society. If each and every South African regardless of their of their racial origin, shared some aspect  (however small) of their life's knowledge and experience to the benefit of others, we would be a great nation.

The them and us mentality, combined with a massive lack of trust is tearing the dream of a beautiful nation apart.

Lets take a look at a few issues. As a white child i was raised to be fearful of blacks. Fortunately my black nanny destroyed any attempt by the apartheid education system to instil this fear, simply by demonstrating true Ubuntu day in and day out of my life. She taught me to do things that white people havenet even heard of. I am a better person for it. She was never my inferior or equal. She was my elder, my teacher and her skin colour was irrelevant.  Her love and care is what made me realise that some black people are bad and some white people are bad. Most Black people are good and most White people are good.

I note that as the black middle class become wealthier and climb the social ladder many move into what were previously exclusively white neighborhoods  In fact where I have lived in Cape Town I noticed shortly after moving in that the majority of my neighbours weren't white, and there is no difference to the environment than when I grew up in a very similar area.

But what I have noticed is that those whites that are no longer "protected" by the government of the day in sheltered jobs and have fallen on hard times, are not integrating as well downwards. Its happening but in a very different way.

We do see the occasional white guy moving into Khayelitsha or Crossroads, but not as one would expect with the merging of societies. This illustrates exactly the them and us mentality perpetuated even amongst the poor. I had the occasion to spend some time in Guglethu last December and if the truth be told, it is obvious there are good parts and not so good parts just like the more formal environments of the city. perhaps Im an idealist but I would without hesitation spend a night in the home(be it a shack or a B&M home) of a trusted friend in Gugs, Khayelitsha or Crossroads.

Actually there are some very nice homes in these places. So here is some advice for the Black people of South Africa - welcome the white folk into what was formerly your territory. You'll find that deep down the average white person and average black person all want the same thing.....A safe home, a regular job, food on the table, the best for your kids and to be able to move forward in life - peacefully. I must disagree with those that try to say the past is the past, we must move forward. We cannot move forward until each and every one of us has taken a positive lesson from the past and applied it to our future, not only as individuals but collectively too.

Again the black man has far surpassed the white man morally. the concept of Ubuntu and forgiveness is what has meant that South Africa is still struggling to recover from a grossly underprivileged situation and not descended into the bloodshed of other countries in the world.

Mr White guy, YOU DO HAVE A DEBT to South Africa JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE WHITE. It may be uncomfortable, but its an uncomfortable truth. So rather than live in fear of the bad black guy coming to rob you, open up your life and share of yourself. Help him to feed, clothe and educate his children. Support the small business. How many white folk have thought of going shopping in Gugs? How many use a township tailor? We make our large white corporations wealthier, rather than enrich our grassroots economies. Break the hex. Go visit someone in a township.

Yes townships can be dangerous places, but to be honest so is upper class suburbia. In case you haven't noticed suburbia is targeted for robbery because its perceived to be wealthy. When us whites start putting something into black south african society we will get a lot more than just a reduced crime rate (You think we've got it bad, you should see the crime rate Khayelitsha residents have to deal with). Social cohesion comes from understanding and integration. That can only happen with effort. Try learning a black language even at rudimentary level. When a black child sees white people respecting his parents as equals he will grow up to respect his white peers as equals. And when a white face in the townships becomes the norm rather than an exception we'll know we're moving in the right direction.It cant be enforced, it has to come naturally and right now it requires effort.

So what are you doing about it, you may ask of me?

I'll tell you.

  • Every day I learn one new word from one of the 9 official black languages.
  • I help informal black business to grow at below cost , but with a conscience that knows Im not perpetuating greed but rather prosperity.
  • I deliberately support south african small business particularly those that create opportunity for those we have a collective debt to. Ever been to a township restaurant?
  • Every person I meet on the street is treated with the same respect. I feel just as comfortable sharing my hopes and fears with a woman from Gugs as I do with a woman from Big Bay.
  • I am a South African first and anything else second.
  • Where I have criticisms for my government, I have solutions to offer and suggest.
  • I am part pf the solution and NOT part of the problem.
Mr White guy, if you behave like someone who expects to be robbed and murdered then you will be. If you treat people differently because of the colour of their skin, you cant expect respect in return. Respect is earned not coerced. Share your life, your opportunity and your education and you will not become poorer, but you will enrich others around you.

So folks, I am a South African and recently when someone asked on their FB page to post your tribe (I noticed it wasn't race related) I posted Umlungu. The response was favourable despite the connotations that some attach to it. Being Umlungu can be something positive, if only we'd let it be.

Ruthie Richards-Hill

Ruth, a free range human being and a middle aged mum of three adult children and very young grandmother to two little girls, is a glass artist, and a digital strategist, She retains the right to change her mind about anything and believes in a compassionate approach to most things, you can contact her using the contact page on this blog.

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