Opinionista Marelise Van Der Merwe 24 May 2013

Dear Mr Simpson: There is a future for whites in SA – just not whites like you

A recent feature published by the BBC suggests that whites have no future in South Africa. It cites, among other things, the high rate of farm murders, and the increasing number of poor whites. What it doesn’t do is offer us any helpful insights.

I read with enormous dismay the BBC feature entitled, “Do whites have a future in SA?” The writer, a doyen journalist and BBC News World Affairs editor John Simpson, opens with “Apartheid South Africa looked after white people and nobody else. Now some of its white communities face a level of deprivation, or of violence, which threatens their future in the country…”

This should really tell you everything you need to know about the tone of the piece.

The premise, which is never stated outright but is implied in every paragraph, is that it is somehow more shocking to see a poor white person than a poor black person. The idea – which is an Apartheid hangover – is that whites should be wealthy; it is a talking point when they are not.

Do not misunderstand me. I think it is terrible that anyone at all is living in poverty, and we have corruption and government mismanagement to thank for a lot of it. I resent that my hard-earned taxes are not helping the people I would have chosen to help, black or white. And it is right that we respond to poverty with shock and horror.

But let’s just be clear that poverty, of all things, should be colour-blind. Note: I say it should be. Unfortunately, it isn’t. The reality is that most of the time it is the opposite of colour-blind: it cleaves to black and coloured people like bark to a tree. According to the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR), the average white income is nearly nine times the average black income – and let’s not forget the even greater disparity between black women and white men.

Unemployment rates are significantly higher among black and coloured people; according to the Global Poverty Research group, “It is found that unemployment is very inequitably distributed in South Africa and certain groups are much more likely to enter it, and to stay in it, than others. Young uneducated Africans living in homelands and remote areas are most vulnerable to unemployment…the fact that rural unemployment rates are higher than urban rates is atypical among countries and is explained by historical policies restricting mobility.” Note the two telling phrases: “historical policies” and “homelands”. Translation: the legacy of Apartheid.

Apartheid is not dead. The presence of poor whites is evidence that it has been dealt some heavy blows, but it is by no means dead. It is still a great deal better to be white than black in South Africa. And let’s not forget Polity’s report that there is greater inequality around wealth now than there was a decade ago. The Gini coefficient for South Africa has increased; it is only among whites that it decreased in recent years. Among Africans it increased by a whopping 7% and among Indians and coloureds by nearly 4%.

Then there are Simpson’s claims of a genocide against white farmers. Again, don’t misunderstand me: the murder of farmers is a legitimate fear; it is horrific, and solves nothing. This is not the issue. The issue is whether it means whites have no future in South Africa.

Firstly, there would not be an epidemic of murdered white farmers if – let’s face it – the majority of the country’s farms were not still owned by whites. This in itself is an indicator of privilege. Although subsistence farming projects like Harvest of Hope are springing up throughout the country and many wealthier farmers are building towards worker empowerment, the reality is that most often, whites still control the most lucrative farms. That farm murders occur along racial lines is a function of this.

Secondly, a report by Politicsweb – in response to Brandon Huntley, who sought asylum from crime in Canada – states that “although all races and classes in South Africa are unduly affected by crime, black and poor people are disproportionately affected.” It further makes the point that “Currently financial resources for the crime response (much of it private – approximately R46 billion per year) are primarily spent on affluent areas… the view that whites are being disproportionately victimised needs to be debunked. Whites are not the primary victims of South Africa’s social ills, and propagating the view that they are encourages ungenerous politics that refuses to acknowledge the responsibility whites have to address past wrongs. This is epitomised by Huntley’s case.”

In fact, according to data by the SAIRR in 2009, there were 55 farm murders in total; in contrast, just the reported murders of children – i.e. not counting cases of child abuse, where the perpetrators fail to report their own crimes – amount to 907. It is therefore far more dangerous to be a child than a farmer in these parts, which to me suggests a more pertinent question: “Is there a future for children in South Africa?” It’s something I’d be glad to debate with you sometime, Mr Simpson.

Furthermore, as Khaya Dlanga put it, “According to futurist Guy Lundy, for every 33 people who are victims of murder, only one is white. And black people certainly don’t outnumber white people 33 to one, in case someone wants to argue that.” In fact, all statistical information points to one conclusion: I and others of the Caucasian persuasion are pretty damn lucky to be white in South Africa.

Lastly, statistics aside, it is simply not helpful to write this kind of race-driven rhetoric. South Africa’s atmosphere is already charged enough. We don’t need a generation of foreign journalists, no matter how accomplished, to come and tell us how badly off we are. It only stokes the fire.

South Africa already battles an attitude of entitlement: those who were previously disadvantaged feel entitled because they have never had; those who were advantaged feel entitled because they have always had. And none of it is helping the country as a whole.

So yes, Mr Simpson: there is a future for whites in South Africa. Maybe just not whites like you. There is a future for whites who recognise their privileged past and want to share some of the spoils. There’s a future for whites who are willing to look past race-inflamed rhetoric. There’s a future for whites who want to stay and build.

And yes, we all worry about our future. The white farmer worries about his safety just as much as the black township woman walking to fetch water at night. It’s a dangerous country for all of us. But God help us, those of us who are here are going to try to make it work. DM

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