Helen Zille’s attitude towards race relations is an expression of the failure of whites to accept economic emancipation of blacks, writes Siyabonga P. Hadebe
Western Cape premier and provincial leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) Helen Zille will obviously not go down, if ever she will, without a gallant fight.
Following a storm emanating from her tweet about the legacy of colonialism, Zille does what we have gotten used to.
White South Africans find it hard to say they are sorry.
Zille argues that all the hullabaloo created by her controversial tweet is nothing but “a symptom of a new racist trend that evades the real issues by turning whites into scapegoats.”
Zille’s symptomatic stubbornness and obstinacy are worrying on many fronts since they bring back heated debates of old:
Was it wise for apartheid victims to settle for a negotiated settlement without demanding reparations?
• Did white South Africans really embrace the “new” South Africa, or was it just lip service?
• If blacks agreed to settle for peace, what path did their white compatriots hoped South Africa would take?
• Is there a white leader to this day who mirrors Nelson Mandela’s commitment to racial harmony and reconciliation?
• if government policy, say affirmative action, was deemed inappropriate – what alternative was presented by the white community to accelerate economic emancipation of blacks in the work place?
Obviously, all these questions will remain unanswered because blacks have “to get over apartheid!”
White South Africans have not been able to shake off the perception that they are in an “oppositionist” role in post-apartheid. Meaning, they have generally not been very positive or supportive to any effort designed to improve lives of the black majority.
Outstanding economic issues.
Any means of facilitating economic emancipation of blacks, be it affirmative action or BEE, was looked at with disgust by the white community. The argument was that these policies promoted “reverse racism”.
As things stand, year on year reports of the Black Economic Empowerment Commission show that top management of South African organisations remain lily-white. And there is no hope that this situation will change anytime soon.
Ownership of stock by blacks in SA companies remains far too low of any targets. For example, the ongoing disagreement in the mining sector between government and private companies is not incidental.
Once empowered, always empowered?
Empowerment was not meant to be an event but is intended to change the face of the country’s economy for good.
Of course, there is too much chattering to explain why South Africa has stayed frustratingly the same exactly 23 years since the birth of democracy.
Whites, in particular, have tended to look at racist attitudes towards change as nothing but a lamentation by corrupt blacks.
Every time they are confronted on structural racism in the economy, they are quick to point out to corruption. They also argue that they can never agree to be held liable for the “sins” of their forefathers.
Apartheid thrives in South Africa because whites are triumphant like Helen Zille. Unfortunately, the more whites insist on their “separatism,” the more blacks get vociferous and agitate for change.
The post-apartheid era has brought some change in the lives of the black majority as it has faltered. Poverty. Unemployment. Inequality. The black majority therefore wants to be part of the country’s economic progress.
Zille can spend all ink in her pen trying to convince the world of the positive side of colonialism but the truth is that the need for change is here.
Instead of leading others into thinking she is right; she must help contribute to current debate on economic transformation of the SA economy.
Zille understands that white privilege is being challenged and uses her impetuous character to swim against the strong winds of change.
Honestly, I would have preferred that Mmusi Maimane had placed his predecessor on some quarantine leave as far away from media spotlight as possible.
Siyabonga P. Hadebe holds qualifications in management and global affairs. His interests are politics, economics and international relations.