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Should the sun ever set on racial redress?

MY SON will soon be an adult, officially. He will get a driver’s license and complete his Grade 12; hopefully in that order. He will also be eligible to vote, soon. eb84a605418541d1a49c6f84480d127a

He will start his tertiary education and, probably, move out of the parental home to live in a student’s residence somewhere out there; or not. He might also have to find a weekend and holiday job to earn a bit of pocket money and to get some work experience.

In his hunt for a job, he will compete with others, many of them boys and girls with whom he started Grade 1 several years ago. He is African.

His peers and competitors for the job opportunities will come from all South African backgrounds; wealthy, middle-class and poorer. They will also come in all colours of the South African ethnic, racial, and religious spectrum.

Some of them will not have to fight too hard to find weekend and holiday jobs; in fact, they probably already have jobs and other opportunities lined-up for them by wealthy parents, connected parents or, simply, lucky parents who know the right people in the right places and will pull the right kind of strings for their kids.

There is probably a whole basket of things that tie my son to his peers but, for the purpose of this discussion, I will focus on one.

They are all South African; offspring of parents who are products of a messed-up history. Some have accepted apartheid for what it was and have come to terms with the terrible ways in which it shaped their thinking about fellow South Africans, especially human beings who look different from them; while many others remain steadfast in their denial about the monstrosity that was apartheid and how it shaped their thinking.

The latter often populate the unlikeable, irritating “move-on brigade” and are quick to urge everyone else to only look to the future, and pretend that the past has not left any lasting emotional scars.


Redress measures

In any case, if my son is lucky, because he is African – “Black” if you insist – he will be eligible to benefit from the existing range of post-apartheid economic redress measures such as B-BBEE and Affirmative Action; but not his white best friends with whom he has been playing and socialising ever since he started Grade 1. I know that I shouldn’t be uncomfortable with that; but a part of me is.

I shouldn’t be uncomfortable because most, if not all, of my son’s friends come from wealthy white families who live in big, expensive-looking houses located in wealthy suburbs.

During apartheid, not only would my father (may his soul rest in peace) have been able to afford to buy a house in these suburbs, he probably would have been prevented from doing so even if he had the money because he was African, also called Bantu, or Native, of simply Black – depending on what those who had the power chose to call people like him over time.

I could possibly fill-up a page with a list of other reasons to make me feel better for having a son who will probably benefit from post-apartheid economic redress measures, but there is no need for that; they are all known.


My discomfort

The source of my discomfort comes from the fact that over the years that I have known all of my son’s friends, only once, when he was in primary school, did he come home confused by the refusal of the parents of one of them to let their child bring a black friend to visit their home. For the rest, my son has always enjoyed good human relations with his friends, male and female.

I am not aware of any significant ‘race issues’ that he would have been subjected to. His friends are all good kids, good South African children who, I have no doubt, are not less proud of being South African than is my son.


The future awaiting them

Now that they’re all going into adulthood and will face the real world of work, business, and other things that come with it, it seems unfair that my son will be separated from the boys and girls he grew up with and considered for special access to certain opportunities for the mere fact of being African.

I fear that this seemingly unfair treatment stands to create a gulf between my son and his good friends; and that they might attribute any success he might enjoy not to his intelligence, but to his skin colour. There will be jealousy and resentment.

Their generation will, again be polarised on the basis of skin colour and young white South Africans who should be staying to contribute in the building of this great country will feel less welcomed in their own homeland and be forced to seek opportunities abroad, taking their much-needed skills and passion with them. They stand to be lost to us all.

My fears are often highlighted during dinner conversations with white friends who, increasingly, seem to have given up on the possibility of their children building their lives in South Africa. They fear that this country will not allow them the opportunities they need, as citizens, to sit alongside their peers as equals, children of the rainbow nation.

At what point must we begin the difficult national discussion about a progressive introduction of sunset clauses for purely race-based access to opportunities for the children of our land? If we do not do this, is there no danger of us running a soft ‘constructive dismissal’ from economic opportunities of young white South Africans who should also be making us stand-out as a proud, diverse, and united nation?

I realise, of course, that such questions should probably not be asked before crucial elections. I also know that to have useful, constructive discussions of such sensitive topics, we need mature leadership that is not driven by emotion and the need to score electoral goals.

But, if not us, who? If not now, when?

  • Posted by donvalley
  • 3 Tags
Dear Solly Firstly , may I commend you on your article, its nuances are insightful and in touch , at least at a conceptual level, with the thoughts of many white South Africans.. now here lies the rub... the danger that you have recognized, is at a physical level, which is directly derived from the governmental focus of strategically excluding the "previously advantaged". I'm lucky enough to have had certain opportunities that I have exploited to my advantage, coupled with hard work over the last 15 years both abroad and here in SA as well as having had a host of incredible mentors. I'm a white, 47 year old entrepreneur, self employed and my business grows at 30% per year.I don't have a business degree yet I am self taught and driven to succeed... The key to success in the business world is recognizing opportunities that add value for your customer's customer , offering a clear ROI to the enterprise and understanding that "value"is in the eye of the beholder. Success is built on relationships and following the rules.... Now that you understand my mindset, consider this.... imagine a million white guys just like me... we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals ( our" network", so to speak... ) who support each other, mentor each other and focus on ensuring that we do what is necessary to succeed. We mostly have kids who are between the ages of 5 and 18 and we are working to ensure that our businesses grow from strength to strength to ensure future opportunities for our kids... We are fully aware that the government of the day, vaguely tolerates us ,at best.. so we hunker down and just do what we do.. The "constructive dismissal "has started already but its not a fear because skills-wise we have emerged even stronger than before but i fear that if it continues for an extended period, all that will happen is that the white business owners will just close ranks and focus on our own little group's survival. There are approximately 1 million South Africans living in the UK alone.. can you imagine if those million whiteys returned to SA and started businesses and employed people.. There would probably be 3 million new employees immediately.. I lived overseas for 5 years.. my best friends were from Honduras and the UK... the fact that some were "non white"was never an issue, we were all striving to succeed in an equal playing field and I don't think I thought about colour for my 5 years away.... here though... its in my face every single day.... I'm continually amazed how many successful whites there are in SA, in spite of policies... they have actually made us even more resilient.... I bear no ill feelings towards anybody, yet by virtue of the policies espoused as "redistributionary", I fear that we will slowly but surely end up quietly just living our lives without considering anyone else for employment in our businesses, other than our white friends kids. This reaction is purely one of self preservation, and we justify it by the policies that exclude those kids from many other opportunities in the new SA, nothing more... The average self employed white guy accepts that we are excluded from the "new SA", but be aware that the net result of that will be a poorer country...... For the record, Apartheid was a shocking evil that needed to be destroyed.. I love this country.. no matter how badly our rugby team plays....
    Gavin I do not think that the "average white guy" should accept and live with this ANC exclusion. South Africa belongs to all who live here. It is the special country that it is precisely because of its huge diversity. This diversity was badly used in the past. It's now up to us and our kids to exploit it positively for the benefit of all. We have no choice but to make this country realise its full potential, for all of us! Solly

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