When Whities Riot

Article By: Corneel Booysen

Photo by: Wandile Kasibe

So where do I stand on this whities-march-too movement? I have contacts from all over the political spectrum, and I have heard all their voices on the white participation in the #ZumaMustFall movement.

Let’s just get this out of the way first: Whites are hypocritical in their support of the #ZumaMustFall movement. This participation has much more to do with white people feeling that the ANC is bad for the country and focusing all that angst on a certain figure that they see as inept to be president, than a real concern for the effect of the ANC policies on the poor and jobless. Apart from a lackluster support of the #FeesMustFall campaign, whites have been sitting back while a majority of the country is making a desperate statement that they have been let down – some would say double crossed – by the ANC that sold out to those controlling the economy of the country. In fact, the knee-jerk reaction that many whites had in dealing with removing symbols of an oppressive past, like statues, has shown that (many) white people are not whole-heartedly in the struggle for a better South Africa for all people yet. The optics of a white population cherry picking their causes, while other races have been raging against the status quo for a long time – is terrible. One can understand that other ethnic groups would react with frustration.

Let’s just get real here. White people have been so privileged that they never had to march or riot to get things done. Moreover, it was instilled in every white child growing up that rioting is beneath them, especially damaging property of people that had nothing to do with the cause but that just happen to be in the way of the rioters. No, they have not experienced the rage that make a nation stand up against an oppressive regime, to the point where rationality is lost in the attempt to get real change. In America, the black population uses a term – “Uppity” – which means to think you are better than others, or rather to assume that you are better. When the people who have been part of the freedom struggle up to now, see the uppity whities suddenly join in a march, one can understand that they would react with, “so where the hell have you been up to now?” Oh, and the moment a single shot is heard, even if it is just a car that backfires, you can imagine the newbies would be ducking for cover and perhaps even abandoning their new-found fervor for social justice and going home to the safety of viewing the march on the television. That or when their bottled water runs out. . .

I could end the article here, and I would end up saying very much the same as many social activists. But, I think there is something else going on here. The older white generation is moving on to the great “volkspele” convention in the sky or is at the very least not that politically active anymore. The new generations of white South Africans are different. How much is probably a point that can be argued for hours. Is there still an extreme racist group that is teaching their children to be racists? Yes, that exists. How big that group is, is up for debate. But the majority just wants to make a comfortable living and reluctantly participate in politics only when circumstances demand it. You know – white privilege. But beyond that, beyond the vestiges of Apartheid that still lives on in some people’s minds, beyond the white privilege that is real, beyond the many things that are said about this ethnic group and what they are saying about others – beyond all that – there is a change happening. You can call it the awareness that all this that I just asserted is true. At this point I can see the political activists on the left angrily stomp their feet and scream, “really, after all these years all you have is awareness?” I don’t want to litigate here whether the increase in awareness among white people happened fast enough – it didn’t. But it is happening now, and it manifests as old cultural borders that always used to be drawn at ethnic boundaries are now melting away or shifting. Culture no longer carries that implied ethnic barrier.

Today’s young people could not care less about those boundaries; they don’t care that much about culture, their identity is established on a national level, not ethnic level. They refer and think of themselves as South Africans first, not white or Afrikaner people. They care about people much more than any previous generation of white people. And when I say care, I mean they are more accepting than older generations. They have friends from many races. They have friends of all kinds of sexual persuasions. That is possible because, apart from being less culturally aware than their parents, they are also more secular, or at least less dogmatic in their beliefs. So the pressure of a religious text that would have caused them to discriminate against gays is not there. Even if they call themselves religious, they refuse to discriminate. They want to accept everybody. It is not young people that refused to allow gay people into the NG Church – it is old fossils clinging to power and antiquated belief systems.

So in this opening up of the white community, even while social justice activists sneer and snicker at the speed and form of this change, young white people increasingly realize that working together is the key to a successful South Africa. Their non-white brother’s plight is becoming theirs because now more so than any other time in history those personal relationships are making a difference. For young white people there is now a face on the black struggle, and that face is the face of their black friend.

So they start to join in on marches, they get off their Elysium perch and participate, albeit in a somewhat limited way. They are testing the waters of social activism. Much of what they do is still myopic, but some of it is altruistic. This is the golden thread that gives me hope because from the other side there is a similar increase in understanding. Born frees are not as focused on the injustices of the past; they are weary of hating and feel that the struggle has moved from the political sphere to the dire economical circumstances that so many previously disadvantaged people still find themselves in. They were told that the white people used to dominate the riches of the country. That is still the case in many instances. But now they also see many black politicians and businessmen behave in a selfish way. Their opponents often seem to be as much a nepotistic ANC inner circle that just care for their friends and family, as it is the other ethnic groups that cling to an economic advantage. Some young black people pick up the resentment against white people from their parents, and the income inequality is a stark reality, but they don’t blame the white people of their generation. It is here where the two sides with changing attitudes meet, where the embers of hope start to smoke and hopefully will burst into a flame that will fuse into a new nation.

So, with all that said, I say, let the whities march even if they are cherry-picking their causes. They might look like giraffes at a horse race at first, but just give them time. Laugh when they run away at the first sign of trouble, but know their hearts are changing. Sure, there is a massive difference between marching and rioting. And at this stage the notion of whites rioting is still akin to “when pigs fly” (no insult intended). That means that, when the going gets tough as during the #FeesMustFall campaign, black people will still be left to struggle alone. It is unfair, but nurture the change that there is. These more secular young people that are more accepting of other cultures, are showing the way for South Africa. In the absence of many other paths that would end in a good place, I hope that all South Africans will follow it and see where it leads.