The privilege cuts deeper than we think

Rage, sorrow, despair, resent, desperation, hate, confusion. These are some of the words that come to my mind as I grapple with the state of the nation over the last 12 – 18 months. I also have this image in my mind where the chaos and unrest we see in our streets perfectly mirrors what is taking place inside the collective psyche of South Africans. We are a deeply wounded people; this is neither new nor surprising considering our history. I have watched, listened and contemplated, albeit from a distance, as sparks of discontent have kindled a fire of hate blazing with the flames of racial tension. Every now and then these flames escalate into an inferno of violence.
Let me be clear about one thing, white privilege is rampant in South Africa right now and this has been the case for the longest time in our history. The value of black lives are totally ignored to the extent that black bodies are viewed as mere cogs which drive the machine of white monopoly capital. I am firmly on the side of those who stand and fight against the continued disregard for black lives and those who fight for the aspirations of black people to define themselves in our society.

The purpose of this piece though is not to articulate what the problem of South Africa is or has been – because we should know by now what the reality of the diagnosis is. I fully understand that the burden of South Africa’s history has left a deep scar in the lives of both black and white South Africans. As Fanon clearly articulated in his book, The Wretched of The Earth: “…violence (and by extension hate) is fatal for both the perpetrator as well as the victim”. The psycho-social impact of close to 400 years of violence and hate can be clearly seen in the architecture of the physical spaces which are occupied by blacks and whites in South Africa. However what most of us fail to recognise and remedy are the inner spaces of people’s souls where prejudice, racial hatred and fear continue to reside.

Our history has left us with a legacy of treating those who do not look like us with suspicion (at best) and hate (at worst). This is a significant stumbling block on our journey towards a reunited South Africa. If our intention is to eradicate white privilege and all the mechanisms which maintain it then we have to rethink how we engage with each other. If our intention is to forge a common South African identity then it is compulsory for all of us (blacks and whites) to own our histories. It is a huge disservice and insult to all those who gave their lives to the fight for liberation for us to forget what South Africa was pre-1994.
One of the major challenges with the current discourse around race relations in South Africa is that it has been tainted by dishonesty and selfish agendas. It is dishonest of white South Africans to not be willing to confront and acknowledge their role in South Africa’s ugly history. The majority of white South Africa is ambivalent about the source of their privileged status in South African society. On the other hand though we are plagued by a class of dishonest black leaders who stir up hate and prejudice against white South Africans for their own selfish gains.They muddy the waters making it difficult for the citizens on the street (regardless of colour) to engage meaningfully and constructively with each other.
Imagine being in an abusive relationship with someone and the act of leaving them is the only solution left, but the very act of of leaving the abuser is made impossible because it would only bring further hurt to you. This scenario is similar to the conditions in South Africa. Black and white inhabit and share a home and have been in an abusive relationship for over three centuries. In order for the relationship to work both parties have to be honest and open about their past, declare their positions and interests and finally commit to actively and sincerely building a future which will bring healing and closure – and which will ultimately empower both sides.

Its time for honesty, accountability and repentance; we all know the challenges and issues which hold South Africans back from embracing each other as equals. The time for denial and political gamesmanship is over, its time for South Africans from across the colour lines to take responsibility and play their part in the reconstruction of the South African psyche!

Mjo Zungu – Izwe Lethu


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