I CAN’T HELP YOU

In our 22-year-old demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion, in which whites con­tinue to as­sume a priv­i­leged space, they have no right to play vic­tim

CityPress - - Voices -

AThechar­ac­ter in Ye­wande Omo­toso’s ex­quis­ite novel, Woman Next Door, waxes lyri­cal about her 65-year-old maid, who has been piv­otal in rais­ing her chil­dren. She adds that she has re­cip­ro­cated by send­ing the maid’s child to a good school and build­ing her a house. “You want credit for that?” her in­ter­locu­tor ex­plodes. “That’s blood money. Mixed in with mis­sion­ary work. You think you did well by her, don’t you? Per­haps you’d like a medal?”

When I read that bit I threw the book across the room – be­cause the anger ex­pressed by the in­ter­locu­tor, Horten­sia James, res­onated with me.

It called to mind re­cent oc­ca­sions in which I had sat with white peo­ple who, upon in­tro­duc­ing them­selves to me, would im­me­di­ately put their non­ra­cial cre­den­tials on the ta­ble.

Be­fore I could say, “Viva, com­rade,” they would plunge into this so­lil­o­quy: “But my lit­tle part in the strug­gle is seem­ingly not be­ing ap­pre­ci­ated in present-day South Africa.”

It is a mantra that has been waft­ing in the air for some time. But Steven Boykey Si­d­ley has been brave enough to write an ar­ti­cle in the Daily Mav­er­ick, ask­ing: Are white peo­ple still wel­come?

It is so crass and cheap, this at­tempt at emo­tional black­mail. It is also rude be­cause it as­sumes I can af­ford to pay the ran­som.

I am guilty, the nar­ra­tive sug­gests, be­cause I am part of those who are mak­ing white peo­ple feel un­wel­come. I refuse to be emo­tion­ally black­mailed. I am in huge debt as it is.

I am re­minded ev­ery day that I owe my be­ing to the masses who pushed me to the pedestal which I now oc­cupy – if be­ing a buf­fer be­tween the starv­ing masses and the rich, pre­dom­i­nantly white peo­ple can be called a pedestal.

Steven, you are an in­tel­lec­tual, a writer. You have skills, you have con­nec­tions; you know how the world func­tions.

In­stead of wast­ing ev­ery­one’s time and valu­able space in news­pa­pers, per­haps write es­says that sug­gest ways of how we get our­selves out of the univer­sity-fund­ing im­broglio.

Con­trib­ute to such think-tanks as Save SA. Use your brain cells to ex­am­ine prac­ti­cal sub­jects that will con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety. No con­tri­bu­tion is too small. Don’t be a sponge, drain­ing all of us emo­tion­ally.

Ig­nore the lu­natic fringe and the pigs with their snouts in the trough. There are South Africans, black and white, do­ing things for the bet­ter­ment of so­ci­ety. They are not look­ing over their shoul­ders to see if their deeds are be­ing no­ticed and ap­pre­ci­ated. They just get on with it, as should you.

I am not go­ing to give you a medal for stay­ing. Nor am I go­ing to ab­solve you. What you are do­ing is noth­ing but grand­stand­ing: “I am white; I am spe­cial.”

You do know, don’t you, that the whole no­tion of the black-white so­cial con­struct served as an ide­o­log­i­cal un­der­pin­ning for all that hap­pened dur­ing colo­nial­ism and apartheid. To ab­solve him­self from pos­si­ble guilt stem­ming from what he in­tended do­ing – killing and en­slav­ing blacks – the white man first had to de­nude the black man of his hu­man­ity.

Hav­ing done so, he could then pro­ceed to ex­ploit blacks whichever way he pleased, se­cure in the knowl­edge that he was not deal­ing with fel­low hu­man be­ings, but crea­tures un­de­serv­ing of hu­man mercy.

This is a coun­try still dazed by more than 200 years of colo­nial­ism and apartheid. The profli­gacy dis­played by the new elite is not help­ing. This is a coun­try in pain, and we know why. Even author Alan Pa­ton could see it com­ing, as he warned in Cry, The Beloved Coun­try, through the words of his char­ac­ter Rev­erend Msi­mangu: “I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to lov­ing, they will find that we are turned to hat­ing.”

Pa­ton was telling his white con­tem­po­raries to do some­thing and stop bury­ing their heads in the sand – much as I am ask­ing you, Steven and com­pany, to do some­thing rather than spew such self-serv­ing non­sense as: “Are we still wel­come here?”

Hu­man emo­tions are not like a wa­ter tap that you can turn on and off on a whim. That is be­cause hu­man emo­tions are in­formed by many forces, in­clud­ing mem­ory and his­tory.

US writer and scholar James Bald­win knew the power of his­tory when he said: “Peo­ple who imag­ine that his­tory flat­ters them (as it does, in­deed, since they wrote it) are im­paled on their his­tory like a but­ter­fly on a pin and be­come in­ca­pable of see­ing or chang­ing them­selves, or the world.”

Like Bald­win’s but­ter­fly, those whites who have the temer­ity to ask if they are still wel­come para­dox­i­cally ex­pect to emerge un­scathed from the fur­nace of his­tory.

To them I say: The truth is, white peo­ple, there will be oc­ca­sions where you will be sin­gled out for your white­ness. For in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion, white­ness still rep­re­sents priv­i­lege. But to burst your bub­ble: the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple be­ing sin­gled out for vic­tim­i­sa­tion – through struc­tural im­pov­er­ish­ment, which leads to all man­ner of so­cial ills – are black.

They are the ones who should be ask­ing: “When are we go­ing to be wel­comed back into our coun­try?”

When I was born, there was a plate­ful of crap al­ready wait­ing for me. No one was there to help me eat the crap that was shrugged off as the in­evitable re­sult of his­tory.

Be­cause of their white­ness, when Steven and com­pany couldn’t stand the stench of this coun­try’s sh*tstory, they could run to Perth, Toronto and wher­ever else they chose.

Those of my com­plex­ion could not leave. They had to sim­ply sit down and chisel away at the moun­tain­load of crap also known as sh*tstory.

When 1994 came around, the smelly plates were swept away. We were a buf­fet menu in all the colours of the rain­bow. The high­light of the meal was the dessert. It had a uniquely South African flavourant called Men­thela.

A tasty dessert, that Men­thela. Sadly, it was in lim­ited sup­ply. And now no chef in the world can con­jure an­other Men­thela. The cloy­ing smell of sh*tstory is back.

And I know why: Steven and com­pany haven’t fin­ished eat­ing their share. Now they are ask­ing me to help them eat.

No, no, broth­ers. I have my own work cut out for me in the culi­nary depart­ment. The pow­ers that be have just foisted upon me some pills that I am ex­pected to swal­low. The pills – very bit­ter, I might add – are la­belled Clever Black, Zulu-in-De­nial and Anti-pa­tri­otic Counter-revo­lu­tion­ary.

White man, you are on your own. Eat your share, un­til your stom­ach is bulging. Then per­haps you will vomit out the poi­son of the past, be­cause it is that venom that still gives you the gall to think you are so grand and spe­cial, and that your suf­fer­ing is deeper than that of ev­ery­one else. Eat, my white brother, eat. Khu­malo’s new book #Zup­tasMustFall and Other Rants

is now avail­able at book­stores

PHOTO: LISA HNATOWICZ

IDE­O­LOG­I­CAL OP­PO­SITES A demon­stra­tor in Pre­to­ria protests against the van­dalised statue of Paul Kruger on April 9 2015. It was one of many apartheid-era stat­ues de­faced last year across the coun­try

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