Evita leads by example: 'I am a racist'

The first step in the right direction towards our planned nonracial, nonsexist society is to admit that the majority of South Africans are racists one way or another, finish en klaar.(John McCann, M&G)

The first step in the right direction towards our planned nonracial, nonsexist society is to admit that the majority of South Africans are racists one way or another, finish en klaar.(John McCann, M&G)

I must apologise. A senior ANC cadre was to present this 2015 Luthuli Housekeeping Report today, but unfortunately comrade Marius Fransman was suddenly called away.

So I agreed to step in and try to fill his shoes. Of course, as a member of the ANC, I am not permitted to have any opinions in public or speak for the party without politburo clearance, so therefore I am here today speaking to you in a personal capacity as a gogo, a citizen and a Christian.

I watched a film on DStv with my grandchildren last night. I can’t remember the name, but it was about a man who had a drinking problem and in this scene he went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. You could see how much courage it took him to go up on to the stage in front of everyone and say: “Hi, my name is John and I am an alcoholic.” And all the alcoholics in the audience answered: “Hi, John.”

Well, driving here today, thinking about all of you, I decided that maybe I should start this conversation by saying: “Hi, my name is Evita and I’m a racist.” Now you can all say: “Hi, Evita!”

Let me quote the French philosopher Voltaire:  “Racism is the hostile attitude or behaviour to members of other races based on a belief in the innate superiority of one’s own race. It is not restricted to whites only.”

The only way for an alcoholic to confront the disease of alcoholism is to admit it: I drink, therefore I will not drink. Then, surely, one way for a racist to confront that disease is to be honest: I am a racist, therefore I will not be a racist.

I will not judge people because of the colour of their skin, how they dress or what they eat. I will not be a racist in the city traffic when the township taxi cuts in front of me. I will not be a racist when politics passes me by. I will not believe in the innate superiority of my race.

So is racism the new virus that has no cure? Before you’ve even asked the question, most people answer: “No, I’m not a racist.” Well, let me hereby lead by rare example: I am a racist. Ek is ’n rassis. Ich bin rassistich.

I was born in 1935 into a racist family. I went to a racist school and a racist church. My God was a racist and so was His son. I married into a racist family. I became the wife of a racist member of a racist Parliament who served in the racist Cabinet of a racist prime minister and was praised by a racist press. My children were brought up as racists.

In fact, until my 59th year, if I hadn’t been a racist I would have been locked up in jail as a communist or a terrorist!  An enemy of the state. A traitor. And it is only because a man came out of darkness on February 11 1990 and gave me light that I realised that it was no longer politically correct to be a racist in South Africa. Nelson Mandela allowed me to stop being scared of who I was, and to celebrate who I am – an African who is not black.

Racism is not new. It’s not unexpected. It’s not profound. But if we, here in 2016, do not allow ourselves to get beyond it, with understanding and honesty, we will once again be imprisoned by that accusation and every other issue will fade by comparison.

The first step in the right direction towards our planned nonracial, nonsexist society is to admit that the majority of South Africans are racists one way or another, finish en klaar.

So let me start this Luthuli Housekeeping Report with this diagnosis: South Africa has completed its 21st year of democracy and, considering where we come from, we are doing remarkably well.

Everyone’s fingerprints are on that silver chalice of freedom. Everybody has the right to be seen and to be heard. Democracy will never be perfect, and so it isn’t. It is confused. It is corrupt. It is crippled. It is unfair. It is infuriating. But it is the best thing we have. Either we accept that and make it better, or we shrug our shoulders and allow our hiccup of hope to slide into the mists of historical memory.

In a healthy democracy, the people must lead – and then the government will follow. But free expression also attracts those new obstacles littering the internet highway. Social media forces us down high roads of political correctness and along low paths of innuendo and insult. On Monday, fees must fall. On Tuesday, Rhodes must fall.

What will be the hashtag trend today? Xenophobia must fall? (Not fashionable any longer.) And tomorrow? Economic inequality must fall! (It’s happening; we’ll all soon be equally bankrupt.)

And yes, racism should have fallen 22 years ago – yet today it just keeps trending and being tweeted and retweeted. (I advise the Twitterati not to press “send” after two glasses of chardonnay.)

The word “racist” has become the tattered umbrella in a sea of political tour guides and their groups. Even the young leader of the Democratic Alliance has publicly stated that racists are not welcome in the DA. The ANC is very happy to agree, because as we all know there are no racists in our party. There are communists, there are ex-terrorists and jailbirds, there are trade unionists, there are millionaires (even billionaires) who 26 years ago were on bread and water twice a day – but no racists. So thank you, DA.

Why is it that the only local politician that seems to speak sense to power here is Julius Malema? Last week he said (among other comments that would appeal to Donald Trump) that not all Afrikaners are racist. (So who I am to argue with him? That would be racist.) FW de Klerk and Adriaan Vlok are up on charges of crimes against the nation. (Who am I to defend them? We all got away with it.) Can I now say: I didn’t know; ek het niks geweet nie; ich habe nichts gewusst? 

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma with her ANC/African Union super PAC (political action committee) is now our Hillary Clinton, but where is our Bernie Sanders? We just have a Zuma who can’t count, and too many Guptas who shouldn’t count. The United States has a Trump who can’t finish a sentence and we have our trumps who can’t even start one. If we don’t learn from those former colonialist politicians who now put their mouths where their money is, we will be stuck with the inspirations from Russia and China as to how democracy is supposed to be run: into the ground.

I am sick of being white. I am tired of listening to white outrage and complaint. Enough white noise! When will we realise that we white South Africans in our rainbow nation have been given the greatest liberation of all its people: We are now totally irrelevant! No one cares a damn about us. So we can do everything to make this country a better place. We don’t need permission to go to the local school and help the pupils with their homework.

We don’t have to submit tenders to share our optimism and hopes. It can just be done by doing it. We are what we do.

So, are we white South Africans prepared to take the back seat? Believe me, as a member of the ANC from a protected minority, I have found the back seat very comfortable – as long as the driver isn’t drunk or carrying a forged licence.

We whites can never and we whites will never again lead, but we can lead by example. Things will not go back to what they were. What you see is what we’ve got. This is it. Let’s make the best of it together.

Until recently, my year had 365 days. Now my year has two: today and tomorrow. What I do well today will enrich what I live tomorrow.

“Hi! My name is Evita – and I am a South African.” 

Evita Bezuidenhout is a former ambassador for the apartheid regime. Now she cooks in the kitchens of Luthuli House. This is an edited version of a speech she gave at the Cape Town Press Club.

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