TRIGGER WARNING: POLITICAL COMMENTARY; RHETORIC WHICH CAN BE LABELLED WHITESPLAINING WHICH IS SYMPTOMATIC OF THE WHITE FRAGILITY WHICH WILL BE EVIDENCED BY THE AFORE-MENTIONED ‘SPLAINING THAT IS WHITE…

OH! IT’S A LONG ONE!!! 

I actually cannot believe that I am sitting here thinking about how I am going to construct this post…

I cannot believe that we live in a time where on the day of Elie Wiesel’s death, the day that Night fell upon the light it produced, that today of all days, I am penning a post entitled ‘Defending Madiba’. It has been brewing for a while, this need to say something, to offer a perspective, an admittedly white one which wants to now defend a legacy which is slowly being dismantled and dragged through the proverbial mud.

It commenced with a tweet stream shared on Facebook:


1I do not agree with an approach to a topic in which the achievements of a mere human being; an individual who has stepped into the role of leader during a tumultuous time; a man who took on the role to lead, inspire and direct the course of a damaged country as an ideological proponent and ambassador, can be so flippantly undermined and disregarded, while at the same time an admission to the fact that a civil war was avoided by his choices are so matter of factly stated.

Think about it… The man’s Rainbow Nation unification ideal prevented a civil war. Only a civil war. Only murders, deaths, kills. Bloodshed. Stats really.

A man. Madiba. Any of us could have done that right? A man. What makes a man? Who knows for certain what the burden and thoughts about his actions and decisions meant to his self assessment of his work? Is a man only human?

Was the atrocity of the apartheid legacy lost during that time, whitewashed? I don’t have all the answers. I Believe that yes it was. I imagine that the state controlled news sought to hide and downplay the atrocity of it, kinda like the SABC does today? No longer in Mandela’s control, there have been two full presidencies since his one term “reign” which could have un-whitewashed his terrible contribution to the South Africa we live in today… Did Mandela make concessions? Yes, I am sure he did. I am sure that like any other leader, he was just a man, approaching the problems before him in what he believed was the best way to do so – hmmm… How interesting. Just a man. Not God. A mere mortal. Who inspired a people. Who inspired the globe in a way that his own constituents were not even aware of. Who prevented a war…


2Hindsight. That wonderful space where armchair critics get to operate.

I admit it, there hasn’t been enough done to address the issues that exist as part of the inherent legacy of apartheid. But maybe our Doctors should be focussing on healing, plumbers focussed on drains, pilots keeping aeroplanes in the sky. Maybe parents and teachers were selfishly more concerned about ensuring that their own children got the best chance at a future in uncertain times, that therefore they never actually read the “How to be a Rainbow Nation” handbook…

Oh wait, there is no handbook is there, was there? There was too much practical work done around creating an ideology which a single man believed to be the best approach to ensuring a future for this country. A black man in post-apartheid South Africa. A former political prisoner with full capability to create a nation soaked in the blood of vengence. A black former political prisoner in post-apartheid South Africa who wasted his time and breath and life in trying to steer us away from a civil war… Stupid man…

I must say I have heard it said many a time, in amongst calls for genocide, that “white people were given a get out of jail free card.” Ummm, no they/we weren’t, because get out of jail free implies freedom from the jail which imprisoned us, where was the memo issued to our parents that directed them on where to report to for parole evaluation and community service? The onus was on white people to know that they should do this… How and when? Who said so? I honestly believe that when you hear the majority of white people exclaim in perceived ignorance and surprise that there is and was an onus on them, it’s because they really are ignorant and surprised. Point? Maybe the white person who says “but I have black friends”, is someone who happens to have black friends, and who genuinely believes that they are doing enough in appreciating their friends despite of and because of the colour of their skin, while unblocking drains, performing open-heart surgery and flying terrorists to far off lands.

And as for the idea that Germany is the handbook… Rainbow they are not! They have had seventy one years to rebuild their economy, the rebuild included breaking down a divisive wall which cut the country in half. They also had their get out of jail free card when 17 billion marks of debt was written off (in 1953, 17 billion, that’s alot today), and a 30 year extension on the remaining 15 billion marks was given, allowing them the greater latitude to take better control of their financial destiny and opportunity of investment into building a Germany they could be proud of… A Germany that doesn’t believe in writing off debt. And yes, there is something to be said about the fact that in that there was a space to focus on the human decency in school which teaches them that Nazism, concentration camps and genocide are bad – I also remember learning that in school in History, I’m sure that in our super connected modern world many people know this is wrong…

It’s intrinsic common human decency (except on South African social media), and I can tell you this with unqualified certainty, that the majority of white people in South Africa today do not think that apartheid was an awesome idea, or actively call for genocide and the mass murder of black babies.


3Could we/they, white South Africans, learn and do more? Yes for sure, please step away from your scalpel, put your wrench down, and let go of the steering wheel, don’t you focus on the futures of your kids, they need to be secondary to the lessons that need to be taught but for which no agreed process or handbook exists. We can’t even agree on the validity of reverse-racism, whitesplaining vs blacksplaining, freedom of speech, censorship, the role of satire, how parliament should work, the role of the public protector, the SABC, state funds or the president himself…

What do we know for certain? That if you have the opportunity in your lifetime to steer your nation away from a civil war, think twice, for that may not be the decision which needs to be made, maybe we should relook at the advantages of a civil war, we can get vengence, put people in concentration camps and maybe throw a little genocide into the mix… We are just people after all. We are merely men (and women). It’s only natural for man to engage in war right? One man cannot be lauded with the attribution of merely avoiding that in the pursuit of a greater ideal, could he?

For surely if he did something so atrocious as to lead a country down the wrong path for 5 years, 17 years and two presidents from the same party controlled government ago, he must be solely to blame? It cannot be the same party who has done nothing to correct the false course that crazy man set us on, could it? No, that would be tantamount to white people not accepting their role in getting us to this point, because white people have all the power you know, they are solely responsible for our current state! Average white people, who don’t understand sociology, psychology, philosophy, political discourse and that atonement is more than just an olden day British movie starring Keira Knightley which sometimes plays when there should be other exciting, informative and educational movies like White Chicks to watch; the average white people should have psychically known that it was and is their role to take a stand during and after apartheid, and that being that they are ignorant (which is the root of all prejudice) they should magically discover what there ignorance induced limitations are, and address them. Silly, white, just people…

Perhaps, just perhaps, the same will be said of all South Africans today in the future. A lack of accountability for our actions. A lack of focus. A lack of the kind of idealism and unity that has built great nations. Like a nation united by a leader of substance and idealism. An approach that would seek to unify us, people of all colours, together, like the colours of the rainbow. Together. Standing up and collectively taking ownership of the cause, instead of expecting those who know no better to know better. That as the minority, we must solely effect the kind of change that would be easier for a majority to achieve. Where’s my “I am David” t-shirt, when i wake up tomorrow it’s my duty to take on Goliath… I’m just a man after all, I can do this right? Can’t I? One man can inspire and steer the masses towards unity against the insurmoutable right? Wouldn’t it be great if there was such a legacy to aspire to?


4Because, 20 years ago I thought I had a great leader, and I thought this because he did manage to steer us away from a civil war, but I am sitting here now going that this terribly flawed human being had misled me and an entire nation. So now I must do something about this because as a white man it all sits on my shoulders. I must atone. And as an individual I do, I really and truly do apologise that I am a benefactor of a systemic anomaly which resides within the system (it’s Matrix-y, but really it’s not flippant because); this anomaly has the minority in a position of power over the majority, because being white of skin affords me the financial and social advantages which the majority have been, and are, unable to attain unless I and all like me “atone” – and what does that look like…

Well I should know, I’m white. I cannot ask a person of colour for guidance, I have in fact been told categorically by “learned” peoples of colour (learned because obviously they’ve been through all of this before and they have a handbook I don’t have access to apparently); that it is not the role of black people to hear us, answer our questions, work with us, they’ve given us more than enough. This is a white issue, we must figure it out for ourselves… Hmmm…

Now here is the irony. Our country is in turmoil, and the majority is in power, any action of meaning the minority takes would imply that because we are on our own in this space, we would need to make a movement, a movement meaningful enough to effect change implies a force of power, and we would need to get it right to a standard which would be set on-the-fly by a majority that does not want to engage with us on what said movement should  look like. This force to effect change, uninformed by the input of the majority which is essential to it’s success, could, if it were to not be deemed satisfactory by the majority, result in a civil war (I mean remember what happened the last time the minority white leadership “made a mistake”). Seriously, must this minority shoulder the responsibility and weight and risk (in the face of race-based/historic-based consistent prejudice), to attempt to achieve the insurmountable, so that if it fails they take the full responsibility thereof?

I absolutely do not seek to diminish the atrocities of Apartheid. I hate apartheid. I hate being a beneficiary of apartheid. I apologize for apartheid on behalf of all of mine who can’t. I live everyday knowing that this country I live in is the way it is because of apartheid, and I try in my way to actively address it…


However…

5This country is also in the state that it is in because of a systemic Bush-esque, manipulative and subliminal fear campaign which threatens the security of every man, woman and child which lives on its soil, whose ancestors are buried in its earth. If racism and systemic racism is all about power, and we want to change the society we live in, we should seek to unify, like a nation of all colours, like a rainbow.

If we go the other route, and take a minority and force them to be supplicant to the majority, we thereby endorse the establishment of a system of power based on the idea that because of a persons skin colour they are inherently an inferior class citizen of a nation divided upon racial lines. That because I am white, I must hang my head in shame, and me and my progeny must forever exist to atone for the fact that I was born in a country which was setup amorally by people who kinda looked like me (sans big nose and olive complexion) in a land that was built upon an ideology that was set to divide, and that therefore could not embrace an ideology that sought to unite…


6I know this:

All my life I’ve heard stories about children and people of colour hating on their own skin, chasing an ideal of what is beautiful and what is desirable at the cost of their own personal identity. It is atrocious that we live in a society where people hate on themselves for being who they were born to be – I never want to be one of those people, I never want to view my identity as an affliction, or to view my skin colour as an undesirable aspect of myself – I am a white man.

When I think of Nelson Mandela, I do tend to lean toward the symbolic arena, with a history like ours we deserve a legacy of esteem and pride, something and someone which speaks to the ideals we hope to live by. But I also think of a human being, an imperfect member of this human race. I hear people say “These whites and their Madiba”, what about it? What is so offensive. Do you know what about the man I hold in esteem? If I must not presume to know what goes on in the head of a person of colour, is it not a fair expectation to accept the same level of human regard and consideration. Defensive much? Sorry…

I can’t understand the need to not hold our heroes up high, to allow populist rhetoric to undermine a legacy worthy of its place in history. If he was but a pebble thrown into a lake, the power and force of that ripple has tsunami’d around the world. And it is a quintessentially South African Tsunami.

8For me, Nelson Mandela offered himself as a beacon of light, he became a major icon of a time, the face and voice of a cause that needed a face and a voice. A face and a voice that effected and inspired activation of international involvement in the fight against apartheid… A lot of that was “white” support, in a “white” world. Knowing that he had become to symbolize something greater than himself, he made decisions, often unpopular in hindsight, which fed a legacy that would be sad to be so grossly unappreciated by his own people. A legacy that demonstrated selflessness, forgiveness, humility, triumph, empathy, understanding, hope, inspiration – this is the icon, the man was a black person in South Africa, one of many who took a stand against evil, standing for what you believe in, being prepared to die for it, that alone speaks to a man who is worthy of admiration, and worthy of forgiveness himself if you are that angry.

7There is so much work which needs to be done in this beautiful land. White people holding other white people accountable is one way to do it, but I fear a different kind of divide, especially in a country where, no matter what, people will vote for the ANC, not because they are the best party, but only because of the liberation legacy. A legacy which has been destroyed over the past decade. But one that now shifts the blame to the man that ushered it into a new era. He was a human being with a huge task.  Just a man…


In closing I take it to the core. It’s motherhood week on the blog tag. Let me tell you about just a woman. I love my mother very much, I don’t agree with every decision this divorced mother of two, working four jobs made for my life. In my twenties I was damn resentful of some of those decisions, some memories of tough love still smart, but I can’t ever understand the full extent of her reasons and thoughts during that decision making process – and believe me I’ve tried, and discussed, and theorised. She was just a woman who had to make some decisions in my best interest.

It’s her 63rd birthday this week, some of those decisions she made most probably have contributed negatively to my life path, some of them toughened me up. I love my mommy. I could be angry at her until the end of her days for her mistakes. Instead, I acknowledge she is human. I trust that her intent was genuinely in my best interest. I know sacrifices were made in the hopes for my life. She has taught me in ways and with lessons that are applied, and improved on in light of her imperfections, in my raising of my kids. She set an imperfectly perfect template which I could only but hope to aspire to and improve upon. She is an amazing testament to overcoming and rising above personal circumstance and tragedy. She is a light…

I know it’s been a long one, and if you made it to this point thank you and I hope that it wasn’t a complete waste of your time. This was a free flow, but I couldn’t in good conscience not respond to the twitter thread of someone who like many of us just wants to do the right thing in this time, in this country.

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.

– Elie Wiesel

Now, do we really really want to take a genuine South African beacon of light; our Madiba; Nelson Mandela; Father of a Rainbow Nation, and cast him back into the Night?


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