/ 1 December 2010

Hands off Annelie Botes

I don’t like Jeremy Cronin. Every time he opens his mouth and speaks about freedom and progress that we blacks have supposedly made under the ANC, my blood boils with anger. My attitude towards Annelie Botes, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. She is more honest, hence I have not the slightest ill-feeling towards her and in fact, think she is a national asset.

Botes’ comment that she doesn’t like blacks is more in tune with the reality of democratic South Africa. Unlike the liberals, white communists and other peddlers of the lie of non-racialism who want us to continue on the basis of lies and deception, Botes reveals more fully the white psyche. Those of us who want to end anti-black racism — which has now naturalised itself as democracy — must be thankful for the likes of Botes.

The Afrikaans writer must be defended against the hypocritical public condemnation from self righteous beneficiaries of apartheid. I have no reason to believe that were I white I wouldn’t hold similar views about blacks. Others, like Professor Pierre De Vos, the doyen of constitutionalism, have tried to distance themselves from Botes by showing that not all whites are like that, even if most are. De Vos wondered whether Botes has no black friends or acquaintances, thereby reducing racism to ignorance.

For too long the definition of racism in South Africa has been left to its beneficiaries. The irony is that even black people have accepted the misleading notion that racism is about misunderstandings that lead to intolerance and therefore to remedy the situation all we need is some “diversity workshop” and tolerance.

Not a mere phobia
Contrary to popular belief, racism is not a mere phobia. It is related to whiteness and white supremacy which are total systems of power that work for the interest of white people as a whole — irrespective of their individual beliefs or actions. These interlinked white power processes date back to the history of slavery, colonialism and apartheid. When Botes says the face of certain forms of crime in South Africa is black she is essentially correct. But her explanation of why this is exposes the anti-black logic of the white perspective. She impatiently asks; “If black people are hungry, why don’t they, like in the old days, break in, steal the fridge and walk away? I know where their anger comes from. It has fuck all to do with apartheid. They are angry because of their own incompetence.”

There we have it; the differential indices of wealth, income, land ownership, etc, are all the fault of lazy blacks! We blacks are angry because we are incompetent. White wealth and comfort comes from hard work and meritocracy. Botes has given us a crisp summary of the white perspective.

I want to grant Botes her perspective, but offer a different explanation of the same facts. Actually, the reason the face of certain crimes is black is a direct outcomes of the 350 years of systematic brutalisation and dispossession that created black poverty and alienation on the one hand and white wealth and comfort on the other. Botes will do well to check the history of white colonialism and apartheid to see just how systematic and thorough the violence against blacks was to create white comfort.

The problem with the white perspective is that it’s self validating and conceals white complicity in the crimes committed against blacks. It proceeds on the basis of historical amnesia and chimes well with Mandela and Tutu’s spirit of reconciliation without justice. Strange as it may be but Botes and the likes of Gareth Cliff actually believe that white relative wealth and comfort comes from white people having worked hard for it.

Own truth
The white perspective doesn’t care for facts whether historical of contemporary. It is its own truth. It wouldn’t matter to point out the thousands of ways colonialism and apartheid advantaged whites and created intergenerational advantages still enjoyed by whites. It wouldn’t make sense to indicate that actually the biggest victims of violent crime in South Africa are poor black communities. It won’t help to indicate there is a symbiotic relationship between the squalid violent existence in squatter camps and township and suburban bliss.

Peggy McIntosh makes the point that “whites are carefully taught not to recognise white privilege”.

These privileges are like an “invisible package of unearned assets”, of which whites are meant to remain oblivious. The same point is made more forcibly by Rian Malan, when he shows that apartheid’s great triumph was not the dompass, whites-only signs or repressive measures but the charmed lives whites live in suburbs like Parktown. Of course like Botes and Cliff, the Parktonians are oblivious of this connection and genuinely believe they gained such amazing life as a result of their innate enterprising spirit. Apartheid and colonialism have no bearing in their lives today! How nice.

Contrary to the self validating white perspective, it was men like Eugene De Kock, with hands covered in black people’s blood, who must be thanked for such comforts. This is the unpalatable truth most wouldn’t want to hear. The fear for the black criminal has its source in part in the unacknowledged truth that what happened here in the past 350 years has not been accounted for. In many ways crime re-enacts the ongoing undeclared war and unresolved matters between black and white. The rich are forced to live behind high walls. Indeed the violence at times is gratuitous.

That Botes’ comments are racist should not perturb us because, as Fanon says, a “racist in a racist society is normal”. What is more dangerous is the denialism that conceals the true nature of our society.

When it comes down to it, to end racism is not the responsibility of whites. That is the responsibility of the black majority. Technically then, Botes is right to complain about black incompetency. Right now, anti-black racism is kept alive by the ANC’s incompetency to fundamentally transform our society. I say hands off Annelie Botes!

  • Mngxitama is the author of the forthcoming book Out of Context