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“WE WILL only accept apologies in white generational wealth and land.”

If you are a follower or member of “Black Twitter”, and to be more specific, “Woke Twitter” (the subsection of Black Twitter governed by black consciousness and black feminist ideology), you might recognise the quote at the start of this article as a tweet by Li‘Tsoanelo Zwane. Unless you have been living under a rock, you would have figured that this was in response to the many crocodile tear-ridden apologies by the likes of Penny Sparrow and other outed racists.

Likewise, if you are on Facebook you might have stumbled across a viral post by Anton Taylor as he berated his fellow whites for exceptionalising the likes of Sparrow and Justin van Vuuren. Just in case you haven‘t read it, here is the part of his post most relevant to Zwane‘s tweet:

“White South Africans play this strange game of calling each other racists. They write articles about how the Matric reading syllabus is party to a patriarchal racist colonial subterfuge but they can‘t fucking bring themselves to drive a few kilometres down the road to help out at a women‘s shelter. If you care that much about South African race relations then spend a few hours a week at a charity or go to isiXhosa lessons. For most white people, if we have the capacity for self-examination, we all (myself certainly included) do far too little.”

Together, these posts are reflective of the various consciousnesses emerging in the debate.

On the one hand are young black people who are becoming increasingly “militant” and “radical” as they, for example, casually discuss the once taboo topic of land. They are the people who provide the steam for student-led “Fallist” movements.

While there are many black people who applaud Taylor for his attitude towards race, there is also a significant portion of black people for whom his call to “spend a few hours a week at a charity or go to isiXhosa lessons” is not good enough for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the thing about going to “spend a few hours a week at a charity” or at isiXhosa lessons is that they are actions that happen on white people‘s terms — they happen on his or her time, at his or her comfort. These are not terms dictated by black people.

Second, and most importantly, these are actions that appease white guilt but don‘t do much to attack the very root of our historical “racial” problem. They do nothing to dismantle the structural racism that is founded on the theft of land and subsequent accumulation of white generational wealth on the back of black labour.

The fact that Taylor spends a few hours at the charity will not change the fact that the face of poverty in South Africa is a black woman. Nor will the fact that Taylor may now say “mfwethu” instead of “oke” do much for the fact that socioeconomic institutions remain in the control of white South Africans and thus his learning a vernacular will remain discretionary, whereas my learning English will be a key determinant for my socioeconomic mobility.

White South Africans wring their hands at the state of racial affairs, asking, “But what exactly do black people want us to do?” Black people have been very clear about what exactly it is they want — they say “land”, “redistribution of wealth” and yet it falls on deaf ears. Why? Because it is more than just an inconvenient truth, it would fundamentally change the status quo.

Zwane and Taylor‘s posts remind me of the stir that writer Thando Mgqolozana caused last year at the Franschhoek Literary Festival when he declared he was quitting the white literary system during a panel discussion on anger in South Africa. Beyond the shock-horror he caused for saying that he was not interested in being an anthropological subject at this white-dominated festival, he got the audience incensed as he touched on the “what can I do?” question:

“One of the things I advise — when young white people come to me and say ‘what can I do?‘ — the first thing you can do is stop the charity work you are doing in Khayelitsha, it‘s not helping anyone. Just stop it. Stop the soup kitchens and donating blankets. It‘s just making people more angry, it doesn‘t change anything. Stop the charity work. It‘s not welcome. Go home and deal with it there, at university, among your friends.”

Of course the charity work and learning isiXhosa help to ease current tensions — both in the way of white guilt and immediate socioeconomic realities facing South Africa‘s black majority poor — but what Mgqolozana and Zwane are getting at is that they will continue to be stop-gaps until we tackle structural racism.

The land question is a proxy for the socioeconomic justice and radical redistribution necessary to deconstruct our colonial past and present. A white person‘s willingness or reluctance to engage in this land question is a good gauge of their understanding of and willingness to rid ourselves of our post- apartheid apartheid society. (On the many times I have tried this even with the most “reflective”, the discussion almost always dives into an ahistorical and decontextualised Zimbabwe comparison.)

I am not inclined to believe that white South Africans truly understand or are willing to do what is required to dismantle the post-apartheid apartheid that Sparrow and Co are merely products of. Power, that is the white monopoly capital that owns 97% of the economy and more than two-thirds of South Africa‘s land mass, never concedes itself. It will instead offer to self-righteously berate its misbehaving counterparts on our behalf, do some charity work on the weekend and take isiXhosa lessons in the week. Like Zwane, until “apologies” are tendered in the currency of socioeconomic justice, and the redistribution of white generational wealth and land replaces crocodile tears, I would rather not accept its current tender.

This article first appeared in The Times

– by Panashe Chigumadzi

About Kgomotso Radiphochwa (Project Manager)

I am Kgomotso Radipochwa born and bred at Morokweng, Northwest Province. I am currently living in Cosmo City. I am co-founder and Director of Impilo Foundation and the current Project Manager for Zandspruit Citizen Journalism Project. Citizen journalism project is centred on empowering Zandspruit Community to research and report on issues that are important to citizens of immediate area, and that will support community development. The project aimed to promote participatory democracy within the community. I am currently a student at Monash South Africa, studying Bachelor in Social Science majoring in International Studies and I was Community liaison Officer for Monash South Africa Community Engagement. I also sit on Lensaria Development Networks Board of Directors. My personal philosophy about community development is to create opportunities to develop thinking community, deepen understanding and enable community member to take thoughtful action

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