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Opinion: What whites can learn from Anti-Zuma protests

12 April 2017 9:33 AM

Zuma's racist rhetoric about the recent mass protests is diverting from the real issue of a corrupt and morally defunct state.

Yes, an infinitesimal number of whites stood together with black South Africans to fight for an end to apartheid. And yes, most whites still benefit from the past. And yes, white privilege.

And yes, of course, racism still exists in South Africa.

But, be mindful that the Zuma camp is using the rhetoric of racism to divert the nation's attention away from the current crisis. The crisis is a crisis of those using our country’s money for personal gain. It is a crisis of a corrupt and crooked faction whose cancer runs deep through a once proud liberation movement. A crisis of a faction holding the ANC and an entire nation hostage.

Struggles the world over tend to jolt people out of their complacency primarily when it affects them directly. And so yes, whites have suddenly taken to the streets in their numbers, because the current crisis affects them in a way that service delivery protests and trade union causes have not.

But instead of using that as a reason to argue that black South Africans should not protest, why not see this as a learning moment for whites?

Over the many decades, when white comrades protested, marched, and attended funerals in townships, in rural areas and in city centres, side by side with our fellow black South Africans, it was a life changing experience...for all I would imagine, black and white.

We whites were few in numbers, but we were embraced with much love and open arms in a true spirit of ubuntu.

In the later 80s, one strategy we decided to adopt, was to take white opinion makers (often NP and DP mayors, business people, newspaper editors and the like) to Lusaka to meet the ANC in exile (viewed at the time by whites as the devils with horns).

And it was these meetings that changed those whites forever.

I was involved in helping organise the anti-apartheid umbrella group Five Freedoms Forum's pilgrimage to Lusaka. The four-day conference was titled 'Whites in a Changing Society: Lusaka 1989.'

Despite my lefty skepticism at the time, what I saw were genuine moments of epiphany on the part of die-hard old Nats and their ilk when meeting a powerful group of exiled leaders face to face - from Thabo Mbeki, Joe Slovo, Alfred Nzo, Gertrude Shope to Pallo Jordan and Sue Rabkin, even the then ailing OR Tambo, among many others.

And so here we are in 2017.

And yes, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen and it is the poor who suffer most as their hope for a better life post-liberation continues to be dashed. The anger is real and justified. But breeding racial hatred and bitterness cannot be a solution.

So I am suggesting that marches that include whites now (even if their attendance may have been sparked by self-interest) may be a wonderful opportunity to open their eyes and minds to the real struggles faced by black South Africans.

For it is surely when diverse people meet and walk side by side for a common cause that consciousness begins to shift, and people begin to see what it is like to walk in the shoes of another. This is what forges compassion, empathy and a real desire to understand one another.

We do better when we know better, and what better way to build understanding.

Hopefully, this shift will mean that the middle classes, most of whom are proportionally white, will show up in the future to help fight the real struggles that face the poor in this country that has so much potential.

Barbara Friedman is Sub Editor for Digital Talks (702 and CapeTalk) and former 3rd Degree senior producer.

12 April 2017 9:33 AM