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Let’s debate white privilege, black poverty constructively


Past injustices should not be blamed for everything – when politicians and their connections steal from the poor, do not blame white privilege.

Are white privilege and black poverty the outstanding features of South Africa’s heritage?

Well, it is a useful perspective, which is not invalidated by past or present examples of white poverty and black privilege.

Daily life in Kliptown, Soweto. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

For decades, I was one of those who denied that a white skin automatically bestowed privilege. Like others, I could cite harsh personal circumstances compared to some folks who were better off.

Looking back, it is easy to detect the flaws in these arguments. Blacks were deliberately excluded from social, economic and political opportunities. This exclusion was entrenched in law. That is a crucial difference.

Steve Biko thought whites could more aptly be described as pink. Regardless of actual skin colour, racial classification as white conferred advantages. This remained true, even if the recipient was not a paler shade of white.

A vast array of laws ensured that white people were privileged. Here is a brief sample. Euphemistic titles concealed true intent.

Apartheid laws included the Population Registration Act, Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, Group Areas Act, Natives Land Act, Immorality Act, Bantu Education Act and the Native Building Workers Act.

Black people were excluded from certain jobs. They were evicted from their homes and prevented from owning property in areas designated for whites.

The Natives Resettlement Act has special relevance for Johannesburg. It was designed to move black people from Sophiatown to Meadowlands. The forced removal of black people became a pattern in many parts of the country.

The Separate Representation of Voters Act removed coloured voters in the Cape from a common voters’ roll, placing them on a separate roll.

The Prohibition of Political Interference Act prohibited multiracial political parties. The Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act sought to strip black South Africans of their citizenship, making them citizens of one of the “homelands”.

That is but a smattering of the laws that heaped injustices and hardship on black South Africans. Whites were, by comparison, privileged.

Such advantage, accrued over centuries, is not wiped out overnight. A growing black middle class, including BEE beneficiaries, does not remove the need for redress. The corrupt, inequitable implementation of BEE does not answer this crying need. Most black people remain poor, undereducated and disadvantaged.

There is a counter argument that not all white people remain privileged. True enough, even if their forebears were relatively privileged. Whatever assistance they may deserve cannot cancel out the need for redress among those whose families were victims of apartheid.

Yet past injustices should not be blamed for everything. When schoolchildren don’t receive textbooks, when the health system fails, when schools, clinics, houses, roads and bridges are not built, white privilege is not a valid excuse. When politicians and their connections steal from the poor, do not blame white privilege.

Indeed much current black poverty can in part be attributed to corruption and misguided, unsustainable ideology.

Let’s debate white privilege and black poverty in a constructive spirit, where black, brown, white, pink, or any hue can contribute to a better South Africa. Together.



Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER

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