Opinionista Tokelo Nhlapo 9 September 2015

So, Cronje, is this how you legitimise white wealth?

I often wonder how whites in South Africa live with themselves knowing the privileges they enjoy stem from the indignity of the black majority. Frans Cronjé seems to be deliberately ahistorical in his attempt to appeal to whites' consciences, assuring them that 'transformation' is in the interest of protecting their existing unethical wealth if they create new opportunities for blacks.

It is unclear whether South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) CEO Frans Cronjé wrote in his personal capacity when he defended and legitimised the wealth of white South Africa while trivialising the violence through which the wealth was generated.

Cronjé’s notion of ‘transformation’ is when whites “invest themselves in launching new businesses, building the economy, creating employment, contributing to innovation, paying tax, building new skills, and increasing exports”. In other words, blacks should share in the surplus of the growth of the economy already in few white hands and whites must not “buy into all the socialist claptrap about redistribution and equality”.

Cronjé reminds us why Nelson Mandela is celebrated so much among whites in South Africa. Madiba is a symbol of reconciliation without justice, who extended his hand, called for peace and for us to embrace one another, while leaving untouched whites’ ill-gotten privileges. He gave all whites who stole our land and turned us into their savants, murdered and raped black men, women and babies, executive clemency even before they went to court. He equally absolved those whites who enjoyed the privileges of white racism silently. Madiba guaranteed whites freedom, equal rights, land and the economy but white South Africa gave up absolutely nothing in return.

I often wonder how whites in South Africa in their collective morality live with themselves knowing that the privileges they enjoy today are generated from the indignity of the black majority. Cronjé seems to be deliberately ahistorical in his attempt to appeal to whites’ consciences, and more importantly to legitimise their wealth and assure them that ‘transformation’ is in the interest of protecting their existing unethical wealth if they create new opportunities for blacks.

It is baffling that he even quotes Professor Jonathan ‘Uncle Tom’ Jansen who is the president of the SAIRR claiming: “For white children who come from insular environments onto university campuses, the presence of black persons with their own voice and authority is still bewildering. There is the compulsion to put such persons in their place. And one speaker after the other on Luister gives testimony of how this happens — abusing a black student who dances with a white woman; tapping a black restaurant worker on the head in the presence of others; attacking a student of colour with the ‘k’ word. These are not random acts of racism — they are intended to remind the newcomers onto campuses who is in charge.” The expectation that blacks must be tolerant to racist white students is a calculated strategy to strip black students of their claim to these universities as their own spaces. That black students could either be ‘good’ by fulfilling the roles that white authority has assigned for them, or suck it up and be grateful.

I find it deeply offensive that Cronjé thinks that blacks need whites to go out of their way “to make the first-generation (black) student feel welcome and included”. The arrogance of whites, it seems to me that there’s always an expectation that black students need to adjust to racist institutional cultures but no space is given to black students to express their lived experiences. The reason white students can tap black restaurant workers on the head is their socio-economic power.

It is because 79 percent of South Africa’s land is privately owned at the expense of the black majority who remain landless. White students know and are taking advantage of the racist structural unemployment in this country because the poor black restaurant worker would not dare stand up for herself and risk her job.

Whiteness is not simply the pigmentation of one’s skin; it is a system of discrimination based on an artificial ideology of race power and privilege, and Cronjé clearly takes anti-racist work personally. Race is nothing more than a socially constructed classification that attaches powerful meaning to perceptions of skin colour and the more than 500-year-old social construct consequently privileged whites over others. Besides the fact that whites have social power over blacks, whites enjoy the highest average household income of R365,134 per annum, approximately six times more than what black families get. Whites are safer and more secure than blacks in Gugulethu. Only seven percent of whites are unemployed in comparison to 27.9 percent of blacks. Whites are only 10 percent of the economically active population but occupy more than 60 percent of the top management positions. Two white men have more wealth than half the population this country.

The denial of this reality is the denial of colonialism and apartheid and ultimately denies our place in humanity as blacks. It worries me that the head of the SAIRR seems to legitimise white wealth as though whites gained all they have today through ethical means. The racist undertone in his dismissal of black businessmen with private school educations who complain about discrimination is similar to whites in Stellenbosch who expect black students to be silent about the racist institutional culture of that university. In other words, blacks should be grateful that they’re even in universities. DM


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