After dabbling with culture studies at postgraduate level last year, I was struck by an image that I came across in a newspaper. This image was taken during the protests by South African students during their #feesmustfall campaign. In this obscene image there were students from all races squaring off against the police. At first glance it was a normal protest picture characterised by menacing police in semi military attire squaring off against screaming protestors. This image was normal except for one oddity. The white students were standing between the police and their fellow black student protestors. They had effectively formed a protective circle around their black counterparts. It would therefore be safe for the black students to continue protesting because they were protected by white skin.
For me this picture had scary connotations. Firstly, the white students were aware of the superiority their skins gave them. Secondly, the white students exploited this white privilege by encircling the black student protestors. Thirdly, the police did not breach this protective layer made up of white skin. This therefore means the police also recognised the power of white skin and they were ineffective against it. I was amazed at how respectable journalists from the South African media and abroad did not pick up on this. After this happened an apparently more news worthy event was sparked by one Penny Sparrow.
Penny Sparrow is a white South African woman who posted a racist comment to Facebook. As has become common cause, the post referred to black people as monkeys. This was because of their alleged tendency to litter the beach during the festive season. Now, Penny’s comments have invited a plethora of opinions on the state of racial relations and the prospect of a truly rainbow nation being attained in South Africa. I aim to add my voice to the cacophony of opinions, as I now do. It is such a shame that South Africa has to be caught up in discussions about race when the country is more than twenty years into democracy. The fact that this issue still rears its ugly head needs further analysis. I am going to add a Zimbabwean perspective to the issue of race in South Africa.
Of all the nations in Africa, Zimbabwe was home to a very large white population. In terms of numbers, this white population was second only to that of South Africa. In colonial Africa a large white population meant that independence was going to be even harder to obtain for the black nationalists. This was because of the entrenched nature of the colonial system. Simply put, the whites had more to lose in Zimbabwe and South Africa than other countries like Botswana and Zambia. This is the reason why independence came late for Zimbabwe and South Africa. After independence the white population in Zimbabwe fled to countries such as South Africa and Australia. None the less Zimbabwe’s white population was still significant when compared to other African countries. Likewise South Africa’s white population remained high after the fall of apartheid. One would think that Zimbabwe and South Africa would have a similar ‘white’ problem. The ‘white’ problem I refer to here is the tendency of white people in post independent Africa to be racist even though they are a minority. This problem manifests itself through postings like those of Sparrow.
Zimbabwe and South Africa however do not have the same problem. Zimbabwe seems to have exorcised this demon of the racist white. The white person in Zimbabwe knows his place. He does not post racist comments on Facebook. Why would that be? The reason is that unlike South Africa, Zimbabwe has been able to discipline the white person. The Zimbabwean white knows how to behave in public. The Zimbabwean white knows not to challenge the black man and his position. How does the white Zimbabwean know this? The answer is simple. The nation has successfully put the white person in his place. The black nation in the country of Zimbabwe clamped down on white society in a brutal fashion especially during the land redistribution programme. The whites were shown that the blacks were in charge and that white privilege was forever gone. White farms were taken over and the farmers had no recourse.
There is also a historical reason why Zimbabwe does not have a white problem. Zimbabwe was engaged in a protracted civil war for independence. As a result of the entrenched settler colonisation in Southern Rhodesia the whites would not give up power easily. War was thus the only remedy. War is horrific and horrible. Atrocities are committed that shatter the human soul and prompt questions into the state of human existence. Innocent lives are lost and development is stalled. War however does produce a victor and a loser. At the end of the war the belligerents know what position to occupy. The defeated will not challenge the victor’s position because he has already done so and lost.
South Africa was the denied the catharsis that comes as a result of a full scale civil war. South Africa’s struggled for freedom was very serious indeed and should in no way be trivialised. However South Africa’s route was nowhere near the civil war that Zimbabwe went through. Some historical sources state that towards independence in 1980, ZIPRA was beginning to assemble an air force in Zambia in order to fight the white settler regime! In excess of 50000 lives were lost during the second Chimurenga. ZIPRA forces were also shooting down Rhodesian passenger airlines using sophisticated surface to air missiles. We cannot possibly compare this to the toyi toying the South Africans did in the streets of Soweto.
There was no clear sense of defeat that white South Africans felt in 1994. This is because South Africa’s freedom was a result of negotiations. Who can forget the image of Eugene Terreblanche on his horse marching to the CODESSA venue? This why we have people like Penny Sparrow have the gall to call blacks monkeys in 2015. The white South African has not been defeated and therefore feels bald enough to challenge blacks. The solution for South Africa is simple therefore .Defeat the whites and this racist nonsense will stop. Or alternatively send them across the Limpopo for some extra lessons and political re-education.