May 12 – May 18 2006

Beware of group think

Jillian Carmen’s letter (May 5) left me in two minds. I admire her, and accept Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s sentiments about the need for repentance. But there remains a nagging feeling that this leaves a lot of the truth unsaid, and that there can be unfairness in what amounts to group thinking and generalisation, of which we have had enough over the decades.

Of course whites benefited, and were meant to benefit, from apartheid legislation, and had many privileges denied to other groups. But while it might be right to regret the existence of such past privileges, many of which survive today, it is unjust to expect all whites to repent simply because they belonged to that group, which only existed by virtue of race classification.

Am I wrong to think that one of the ironies of apartheid is that it did not produce a population of whites substantially better off than they would have been without it?

I believe my friend and colleague Jillian and her husband would have found good jobs in countries without institutionalised race discrimination, and would have had treasured childhood memories, birthday treats and family holidays.

I would have enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and worthwhile career had I not left the Netherlands 50 years ago. Most of my colleagues there are, in fact, better off than me — in part because of my political activism and near-deportation, which may have affected my career.

Many of my colleagues and fellow activists, too, can claim that they did not materially profit from the system or may have been adversely affected or made sacrifices while expressing their abhorrence of it.

To lump them all together, just because of their one-time classification, is a historical inaccuracy and a regrettable perpetuation of the group mentality. — Hans Fransen Cape Town

Vusumzi Nobadula (Letters, May 5) says black people can’t be racist. Of course they can!

Although the label originally referred to the actions of white people exploiting non-white people in skewed power relationships, its meaning now includes racial prejudice in general. The Encarta Encyclopedia (1998) defines racism as making the race of other people a factor in attitudes or actions concerning them.

It’s the attitude that counts — being or having been in power is not the issue. Black supremacists like Malcolm X were just as guilty of racism as the apartheid regime. — Robert de Neef, Howick

As a white European who recently settled in South Africa, my knowledge of apartheid was based on TV and press reports in the United Kingdom. But how many white South Africans supported it? I suspect fewer than some wish to believe. I have heard damning recollections of apartheid by whites, and not one racist statement since arriving here.

It is often difficult for people to challenge the government. Ask the people of Zimbabwe why they have not overthrown tyranny. Most of London is being bought up by Arabs, Russians, Americans, South Africans. A global economy is emerging. Salaudin Majnoon (Letters, April 28) should appreciate that the world is changing and South Africa needs to move with it.

Deep resentment over apartheid is understandable, but do not reprimand or punish people who had no part in it, or who were not here, or even born. I cannot change what happened, and that is the view of many. What we can do is repair what happened and live our lives to enable our children to live together. — Denis Lillie, Cape Town

Does Tutu want white South Africans to apologise for being white? There’s not much they can do about that. Does he want white South Africans to apologise for bene-fiting from apartheid? Not much they could do about that either.

Or does he want whites to apologise for supporting apartheid? Not every white person did.

As Douglas Gibson pointed out: By suggesting that white South Africans are ungrateful, Tutu ignored the important role they play in our country and misrepresented race relations in South Africa more broadly.

There’s nothing I can do about being white, or benefiting from apartheid. But there is much I can do with those benefits, and have, in fact, utilised them to play a small part in helping to rebuild South Africa — like many other whites.

Surely that should be the test? Commitment to South Africa, not obsession with skin colour, is what is needed to move our country forward. — S Pringle, Somerset West

I have long wept for the permanently scarred black victims of apartheid. But to a far lesser extent, I am also a victim of the apartheid obscenity.

My lot as a white person growing up in South Africa of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies would have been better had black South Africans enjoyed the same rights and privileges. If there had been no apartheid, the nation would have been richer in many ways, not least by having many more productive, literate citizens and the manifold bene-fits of international acceptability.

Today’s rising tide of anti-white sentiment is understandable as black people flex their new-found confidence and find the courage to articulate their pent-up outrage. But it is scary, nonetheless. Let’s pray it doesn’t end in national suicide, as in Zimbabwe. — John Graham, Cape Town

Yelping chihuahuas

It is doubtful whether the so-called black intelligentsia ever existed — they were just chihuahuas barking for the end of apartheid and a slice of the national economy. Now that they hold plum jobs in the government and para-statals, they yelp no more.

South Africa will experience a dearth of intellectual engagement for many years to come, because knowledge is not sought for the sake of enlightenment, but for self-enrichment. — Marcellus Chuene

Sandile Memela raises important issues in ”Black brainpower” (May 5), but discredits these by using the crude term ”coconut intellectual”.

Would any of the black intellec-tuals he cites use such a phrase, which endorses the view that all opinions can be inextricably tied to race — a degenerate intellectual view if ever there was one.

The fact that Memela lumps together such disparate commentators under this umbrella also supports the claim that he is only interested in tarring and feathering those who don’t punt the government line. — Sean Muller

South Africa needs independent black intellectuals to pose questions that insiders are prevented from asking in public for fear of possible retribution. It is precisely utterances like those of Memela, a government employee, which discourage black intellectuals from coming out of their closets. — Solly Moeng, Cape Town

I have an idea: South Africa urgently needs a national registry of intellectuals. This could help us increase ”black intellectual production”, as Ebrahim Harvey says (May 5), threatened by competition from cheap Asian imports and undermined by American-style globalisation.

On producing their African National Congress membership cards, would-be intellectuals would be categorised as ”Native”, ”coconut”, ”rooinek” and ”Boer”. Intellectual resources would then be redistributed into the ”Native” category to accelerate ”black intellectual production”. A standardised set of views would ensure a more efficient mass intellectual production process. — Joel Pollak, Cape Town

Harvey asks: ”Where are the black thinkers of the left?” More interesting would be: Where are the black thinkers of the philosophical or political persuasion they choose? Is it permitted to call a right-wing, or a liberal, black thinker an intellectual? — Clive Sindelman, Sandton

Pandering to the right

In some ways, Lloyd Gedye’s ”Fly taxpayer express” (April 28) plays into the hands of right-wingers out to badmouth SAA.

The idea of SAA starting a low-cost carrier has been talked about for more than a year. It is widely believed that it is not starting such a carrier, but is moving SA Express in that direction. SAA will transfer five Boeing 737-800 aircraft to SA Express, which will operate them on routes between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

SAA wants to start a low-cost carrier to reduce costs. Its staff get too good a deal, which forces the airline to operate its domestic routes at a loss in competition with and 1Time.

The move aims to return SAA to profitability, rather than transferring the loss and subsidy from one state enterprise to another, as Gedye suggests.

Gedye correctly says SAA tied itself into lease agreements on many aircraft at high rates before September 2001. However, it has been trying to correct this. It was to replace its 21 Boeing 737-800s with 15 Airbus A320 aircraft at much cheaper rates, but after the hedging scandal the government and Transnet said no.

As the lease agreements are screwing it over, SAA has had to return two Boeing 747-400s, the mainstay of its long-haul fleet, to their owners and cut back on international routes to Mumbai and Zurich.

One should sympathise with the way the government and Transnet have failed to support SAA, when it is trying to improve its financial viability. — Evan Blecher, school of economics, University of Cape Town

As an SAA pilot owed increases since 2004, I was chuffed to read that we get two increases a year. It’s a pity they never see my bank account.

Overpaid? Compared to British Airways (London), Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Lufthansa, KLM, Gulf Air or other airlines we compete with internationally?

1Time and their Mickey Mouse fleet are not the benchmark. When an SAA Boeing 747-400 with 365 passengers enters London Heathrow airspace, our flying skills must rank with the finest in the world. Glen Orsmond’s outfit doesn’t fit into that category.

SAA’s financial woes are the result of the poorest management possible. SAA pilots are one of the few reasons the company still has what’s left of its reputation. — Andrew Smit

Idasa captured by the ANC

Although Richard Calland condemns the ANC attack on Helen Zille as ”totally unacceptable” (”A crumbling Cape”, April 28), his censure carries a patronising rider. The incident ”may remind Zille that her own integrity and record of work in the township means [sic] very little: she is a DA mayor and the DA is regarded as a last bastion of white privilege by black, working-class communities”.

Calland speaks neither Afrikaans nor Xhosa, yet parades as an authority on ”black working-class communities”. His logic — that the DA is illegitimate and can never hope to represent all people, even if it wins an election — is bizarre.

He suggests that Zille has provided no decisive evidence of the ANC defying the democratic rules of the game in Cape Town by obstructing government. This, despite the fact that former city manager Wallace Mgoqi tried to topple the DA-led Multiparty Forum by passing on a fraudulent letter declaring two council vacancies to the Independent Electoral Commission. The ANC has also made a spurious call for the city to be placed under administration, when there are no constitutional grounds for such a move.

Calland’s response indicates the degree to which so-called independent watchdog institutions like Idasa have been ”captured” by the ANC — through the carrot of government junkets and contracts, and the stick of President Thabo Mbeki’s attacks on NGOs. — Donald Lee MP, DA spokesperson

Bob’s crony

Jonathan Moyo’s comments on Robert Mugabe (”Trapped in a web of his own making”, May 5) are disgusting given the atrocities he committed. If Mugabe is to be indicted with crimes against humanity, Moyo must also be charged. He was among the Mugabe cronies who caused Zim’s problems. He introduced draconian media laws in Zimbabwe. In 2002, exposed on a shopping spree in South Africa, he called South Africans uncouth and dirty.

Which crisis is he referring to? He denied any economic crisis in Zimbabwe two years ago.

As he was allergic to newspapers critical of his policies, why is he now being allowed to write in a South African newspaper? — Parapara Makgahlela, Saulsville

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