Earlier this week, veteran journalist John Simpson defended his controversial article on the future of whites in South Africa. Some called the response unsatisfactory; I thought it simply merited a brand new level of mockery.
Oh venerable broadcaster of the BBC! How privileged we are to have had you cast your multiple award-winning eye over this humble little nation, formerly known as South Africa but recently rechristened by western journalists as ‘this crime-torn land’ (Telegraph, 16 Feb 2013), a country ‘losing a grip on its promise’ (New York Times, 27 December 2012), a nation ‘racked by poverty’, ‘in an increasingly parlous state’ (Daily Mail, 24 November 2012), and numerous other variations on the theme of being divided, soiled, broken, disappointing and generally behaving in a most un-rainbow-like manner.
You may not have thought so from the howls of outrage that greeted your article and video story last week, but some of us are glad of your intervention. Your report brilliantly and not all sensationally asked whether the fact that certain poor people are white means that all white people have no future in South Africa. Had you not pointed this out I would probably have continued enjoying my exciting job and multi-racial hipster friends without a thought of the danger I faced.
You wrote, “It seems to me that only certain parts of the white community really have a genuine future here: the better-off, more adaptable parts.” My eyes have been opened, John. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you brought your years of experience to bear and revealed to me the astonishing fact that rich people have better prospects than poor people. (Presumably the fact that some poor people are Jewish and some are female also means that women and Jews have no future in this country, in which case I really do need to move.)
But these are details. Thanks to you, John, I now realise the appalling conditions under which all white people in South Africa live, all the time. Some professions are still entirely closed to whites, just like they were to blacks in the bad old days of Apartheid. It’s nothing short of racism. Indeed, as I sit here in my office in the hallowed halls of the University of the Witwatersrand, I finally see the injustice that my colleagues and I face every day. It’s true that many of us lecturers and professors are white, but the cleaning staff component is almost entirely black. We all remember Marikana; well, none of the miners shot by police were white. In fact, none of the police were white. Many of the journalists and NGO workers and lawyers who flocked to Marikana after the shootings were white, but we’re woefully unrepresented in the manual and domestic labour fields. White people may have a disproportionate presence in running the boardroom, but we don’t even get a look in when it comes to cleaning the bathroom. How can this be justice?
I’d like to thank you, too, for turning your critical eye on the important issue of white poverty. Clearly there is no explanation but outright racism for the fact that no one has ever noticed this before (except for the 1932 Carnegie Commission on the Poor White Problem in South Africa, the National Party, the Broederbond, an entire generation of contemporary photographers and every single western journalist who’s come here since 1995). Truly, John, you shine a light into the darkness. Just as our politicians can learn so much from your politicians – why get a Mercedes when you can build a moat and a duck pond? So much classier – our media can learn so much from you, about impartiality, balance, fairness, and finding a juicy story to justify a trip somewhere sunny.
Clearly, John, as you illustrate so well, poverty just doesn’t suit white people. We don’t have the skin tone for it. Not only that, but white people being poor offends international visitors and is therefore bad for tourism. Something must be done. We need to erase the blight, the scourge, the horror, the disgrace, of anyone (other than millions of black people) being poor in South Africa. Fear not; I have a plan. We’ll start by making sure that all white people have decent jobs, homes and education. In fact, we could give them sheltered employment in a government industry; something like, oh I don’t know, the post office. It’s a brilliant idea. I can’t think why no one’s tried it before.
As you so incisively state, ‘Those who fit in and succeed will certainly have a future. As for the rest, there are no guarantees whatsoever.’ I can only thank God that he sent you to us, to point out the painful but important truth that people who do well will do well while those who don’t, er, won’t. In short, John, you – and indeed the BBC – are a light unto the nations. Praise be.
Yours in solidarity,
A white woman currently strapping herself into body armour and crafting a tinfoil hat DM
Nicky Falkof is a senior lecturer in the Media Studies department at Wits. She's recently returned to South Africa after almost 14 years of living mostly in the UK, during which time she was, variously, a journalist, author, student, semi-professional feminist, radio pundit and singer in a Yiddish reggae band. She tweets (infrequently) as @barbrastrident.
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