I saw a news report about South African protests in support for Palestinians in Gaza. It’s beautiful that the world is standing in support for Palestinians, but I find white South African support quite curious. Time after time, white South Africans spoke with indignation in their voices. They were…
Self-awareness of your own country’s past atrocities and ethnic cleansing is important, that goes without saying. But is the implication that people living in countries that practiced settler colonialism are unfit to support Palestine as a general rule?
It’s unfair to label white South Africans as if they are all responsible for the past atrocities. They are very aware and many people both black and white are proud of progress that’s being made in their country. Opposing the apartheid like situation in Israel/Palestine is common amongst the people there. Also, support for the social grant system is huge down there as well as encouragement toward affirmative action. White South Africans that recognize the treachery of their past government’s actions do not want people in another part of the world to endure the same violation of their basic rights.
Years from now when academics, historians and political commentators are looking back at the atrocities of the Operation Protective Edge Israeli offensive currently going on against Palestinians, young Israelis will say they had nothing to do with it and they aren’t wrong. But not pulling a trigger or dropping a bomb does not make you exempt from scrutiny. The offspring of colonial settlers always say they had nothing to do with past atrocities as they enjoy the spoils from it. Young Israelis enjoy the spoils from previous Israeli military offensives and occupation. They will say they had nothing to do with the past. When they finish saying that, they will go to nice shopping malls, bars, nightclubs and schools that were once Palestinian homes and villages.
Essentially, they are saying “don’t hold me accountable for the actions of my forebears, but allow me to enjoy everything paid for by the blood of innocents that my forebears spilled and the generational wealth and social privileges that I will enjoy in perpetuity because of it”. Their forebears spilled innocent blood for the benefit of future generations to come and they are the current generation who get to enjoy privileges paid for by bloodshed. You cannot divorce yourself from that reality. The descendants of colonial settlers all play this game that attempts to divorce them from past atrocities committed for the benefit of their kith and kin, but they never want to give up the privileges they enjoy from those past atrocities.
Furthermore, look at your language. I don’t doubt your sincerity and I don’t think you’re uncaring. That said, I want you to examine your language. Let me quote you. “Also, support for the social grant system is huge down there as well as encouragement toward affirmative action.” Gee, encouragement toward affirmative action. How benevolent of whites. Isn’t it wonderful that some white people are encouraging affirmative action towards Black South Africans in their own country and on their land? Isn’t that nice? Blacks should be thrilled at the generosity of whites. I bet you don’t see or understand how offensive that sounds. In your mind, that is progress.
If white South Africans truly cared about sweeping change, then it would have happened. By god it would have happened a long time ago and without any struggle or bloodshed, but we know that didn’t happen. It could happen overnight if white people truly wanted it to happen. The ball is entirely in their court. Since whites control the economic sector, equity and fairness rests entirely in their hands, and since it does, Black South Africans will be waiting for a very long time (hint - forever). When was the last time colonial settlers and their descendants practiced equity and meted out justice on their own? It’s never happened. The indigenous had to fight and die for it. From Australia to the Americas to South Africa to Palestine. The very presence of colonial settlers and their descendants is a sign of hostility and violence. It is a constant reminder to the indigenous that they are conquered people on their own land. You’re offering “affirmative action”, as if that is justice. If your brand of justice and redemption isn’t centered on land, economic and wealth redistribution, they you don’t really care about atoning for the crimes of the past. I have yet to meet sizable amounts of the descendants of white colonial settlers who will willingly agree to any of that. Which means they aren’t really about justice, despite what they say.
Here is the reality; things aren’t getting better for Black South Africans on average. In fact things are getting worse depending on how you look at it in comparison to whites post-apartheid in the “rainbow nation”. Wealth disparity between whites and Blacks has almost doubled in only a decade. Below in bold are two paragraphs from this fine article. I urge you to read it.
But black South Africans are still very far behind whites, and by some measures falling further back. In 2001, white-led households typically earned close to $17,000 more than their black counterparts, at current exchange rates. By 2011, that disparity had grown to nearly $30,000. And while the nation has made headway in reducing the number of black people with no education or only a few years of primary school, very few whites have that barrier to overcome; to the contrary, they have advanced to college and beyond at higher rates since apartheid ended.
The nation remains deeply divided in social spheres as well. According to the SA Reconciliation Barometer, a survey of racial and social attitudes, less than 40 percent of South Africans socialize with people of another race. Just 22 percent of white South Africans and a fifth of black South Africans live in racially integrated neighborhoods. Schools remain heavily segregated, too: Only 11 percent of white children go to integrated schools, and just 15 percent of black children do.
When you’re done reading that article, read this article on Cape Town. It touches on how Cape Town remains a bastion of ‘white rule’. This is post-apartheid South Africa, not P.W. Botha’s South Africa under apartheid.
My point is this, if you publicly condemn the actions of others for things you currently benefit from (and I always support public condemnation of settler colonialism and occupiers), then I will wonder about your sincerity towards justice. White South Africans are taking to the streets to protest Israeli occupation when they live in a country that shuttled millions of Blacks into townships and they are still there to this day. The townships exist because white settlers forced Blacks there and reserved prime locations as “white only”. You should take a good look at not just your history, but your current situation. When was the last time thousands of white South Africans took to the streets to demand better living conditions for Black South Africans living in the squalor of townships?
When white South Africans talk of correcting the wrongs of the past, it never includes economic empowerment, wealth redistribution or the secession of equity and land. It’s ideas like “affirmative action”, declaring their love for Mandela, celebrating Mandela day, talking about forgiveness, having parades, dancing in the streets, talking about the “rainbow nation”, hugging Black babies and championing the growing numbers of interracial dating, all of which is window dressing and doesn’t address or fix equity disparities between white and Black people in South Africa.
Speaking of affirmative action, based on the unemployment figures and wealth disparities between Blacks and whites, white South Africans aren’t practicing that either. However, they will show up to talk about Gaza as they stand on the prime land and real estate that their forebears settled on and occupied, while many Blacks remain in the squalor of townships that are the vestiges of the brutal apartheid system they were subjected to. That’s a bit ironic, don’t ya think? I think so.