Contextualising Race Relations

As passionate and sincere as George Devenish is about improving race relations, none of the suggestions and remedies he proposes (Mercury, August 30) is viable on account of historic, demographic and political realities.

On the positive side, the vast majority of South Africans get along with each other. This is attested to daily in millions of social interactions. We are interdependent. Take a day in your life and consider to what extent, irrespective of your race, you interacted with and were dependent upon someone of a different race to have provided you with a service, directly or indirectly and reciprocally.

So at which level does the rainbow relationship come adrift? The answer is obvious. It has always been at the political front. In the past politicians stoked the fears of the swart gevaar. Nowadays it is about white monopoly capitalism and the white theft of land. Certainly, there needs to be land reform and as it stands the constitution makes provision for that. But because of the allure of power, past white exploitation is being mined to sustain political ascendancy.

Unfortunately, the hand of history weighs heavily. Postcolonial Africa has been dominated by forces that have always represented the extremes of the political spectrum. The political landscape in South Africa is no different. Faced with a challenge to its left from the EFF, the ruling ANC has opted to neutralise that political threat by adopting its opponent’s policy of expropriation of land without compensation.

Political ambition is poisoning race relations. Attempts to undo the legacy of the past are proving more divisive and rancorous than apartheid itself. To expect race relations to improve and to prosper is naive when minorities, especially whites, find themselves politically demonised, marginalised and vulnerable because they are white.

Although non-racialism is constitutionally and officially pronounced as policy, minorities are acutely aware that demographic representivity is pursued, despite the fact that it is unconstitutional. Healing the racial divide is never going to happen as long as this situation prevails; where eligibility for employment and promotion is determined by racial ratios – 9% in the case of whites – and where merit counts for nothing. Further aggravating and alienating white sentiment is the flagrant, unpunished, racist rhetoric of Julius Malema and his exhortation to slaughter whites at some future point.

Thus, for all his sincerity in seeking to promote a harmonious racial dispensation, George Devenish’s appeal fails to appreciate the psychological conditions under which whites exist. As a fifth-generation settler of 1850 in Natal and as rooted as I am to South Africa, it is extremely saddening to witness the progressive decline of every aspect of this country. There is not a single factor or element that has improved since 1994. And the greatest barometer of that reality is the value of the Rand. At worst, before 1994 it traded at R2.25 to the US dollar. Now we are told that when the Rand trades at R14.30 to the dollar it has “strengthened.” The value of the Rand reflects the banana republic status to which this country has been reduced.

With the exception of crude ranters like Vicki Momberg, when white people like the unfortunate teacher at Westville Girls High and Penny Sparrow before her, resort to racially hurtful terms, as unacceptable as that is, such outbursts need to be seen within the context of the structures within which white people find themselves today. Put bluntly, prospects are far from encouraging. No wonder young white people are emigrating at an increasing rate.

Sent into The Mercury and published, 1 September 2018.

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