This is my open letter to Annelie Botes, recently plunged into frenzied controversy by saying she did not like and did not trust black South Africans. Perhaps she might get to like us, if only she is to get to know us better.
Dear Ms Botes,
I trust this letter finds you well, and not hiding under the bed, avoiding the deluge of attacks from those who clearly despise the truth. I hope you will read this over a celebratory drink, proud that you, unlike so many of your recent critics, have served your country well. You were brave enough to say the things so many people think, or say behind closed doors. Truly Ms Botes, who are our heroes if not those who walk boldly into uncomfortable, even explosive territory to speak their truth?
I read that you were hesitant to express your views and sentiments even though they are genuine. That’s only natural, since you knew it would put you in disfavour. But I remind you, you were brave and patriotic. These will be very difficult times for you, but take heed in the words of Amilcar Cabral, “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories”.
All sorts of people will now attack you. There will be the ever-arrogant and patronising white people who will publicly rebuke you, insisting that they have changed and no longer see any colour since we are all the same and equal. On the opposite end, will be the insecure black people who get hurt every time a white person speaks their mind. Their feelings are not your responsibility. As Dr Phil in America would advise, they must own their feelings. You spoke your truth, they must take responsibility for their feeling. You don’t have to like them. It’s their problem that they want you to like them.
There are many people, as I’m sure you know, who agree with you. They exist in the media, in academia, in organised religion, in business and even in politics. You will find that many people, even those who have shared your sentiments at dinner and over salad-making for Saturday afternoon braais, have now deserted you. Do not be disheartened. I’m sure that you are a Christian woman, and you will remember that even Jesus was abandoned and denied for speaking his truth.
Some will even curse you and tell you to emigrate. You will probably find that you will even be fired from your job.
You say you don’t like black people, that’s absolutely fine. You say you avoid them, that’s fine too. You too have full citizenship of this great country, and must know that our democratic freedoms apply to you too, including the right to express yourself freely, and the right of association. Adopting the Constitution which gave you the rights I refer to, former President Thabo Mbeki said that you too, like the leopard and the lion, the elephant, the springbok, the hyena and the black mamba, are as African as you are. No one can say you are not African. Please know that I’m sincere when I say it is through people like you that societies become stronger.
With that said, dear Ms Botes, something bothered me in what is reported about you. It is said that you indicated that you do not understand black people. If this is true, then I would be concerned, and would plead with you to take steps in this regard. You can be accused of many things in life, but let ignorance and lack of understanding not be one of them. Knowledge and understanding is the centrepiece of our existence. So I would encourage you to learn more about black people, to understand them, particularly since there are so many of them in South Africa. They might even be the vast majority, which means that you will be bumping into them quite a great deal in years to come.
Perhaps you have the assistance of a black person to clean your home, or tend to your garden. Call on them and ask them some probing questions which will give you understanding. I promise you will find that they are quite like you, with sisters and brothers, children, friends and even parents. You might even ask them to show you if they have blood and compare it to your own. It is also important to understand them since they too, as you so well point out, are people like you and have the same rights. But I repeat, you do not have to like them.
If, after all your efforts to understand, and even like black people, you fail; if you still believe that they are generally murderous for no reason, when they could just steal and leave, and pose a threat to your life, then Ms Botes, even a raging optimist like me will have to agree that, yes, you must emigrate.
Go to another country where you will fully be appreciated for what you believe, and can like fellow beings. That too, is your right and you should exercise it without fear or shame!
Xhanti Payi is a writer short of a few best selling books and a Nobel Prize. He works as an economist, researcher and advisor to various institutions. A staunch believer in clever blacks and would-be clever blacks short of opportunity. Proper pronunciation of the click is optional.
"The soul is known by its acts" ~ Thomas Aquinas