Monday, March 19, 2007

Thabo Mbeki, racism and crime

President Thabo Mbeki has been roundly criticised for last Friday's ANC Today letter on racism and crime. I suppose given his previous idiotic denialist mutterings on crime, many people expect the worst of him and easily jump to conclusions - even when he speaks passionately but sensibly. But after reading the letter twice I must say it seems as if the newspapers are completely distorting what he has said and is doing the letter a disservice.


The strong reaction from many whites to the claim that the paranoia about crime is at least partly influenced by a deep seated fear of black people, seems to suggest that it hit a raw nerve. Is this perhaps because in their hearts of hearts they realise that their views on crime is enmeshed in a very complicated and uncomfortable way with their deeply ingrained racial assumptions and attitudes?

I sadly recall the time when my partner and I were held up at knife point in our flat by four young men. We were not physically harmed but were quite shaken, having been locked in a toilet and threatened. A few days later as I walked to the shop a few blocks from our flat, I spotted two young black men walking towards me and without even thinking I crossed the road. Just to be safe, see. Why? Well, our attackers were young black men and I had somehow linked them with the two guys (probably UCT law students or Telkom technicians, who knows) walking towards me. My fear was based, surely, on nothing more than ingrained assumptions on race, reinforced by an experience of crime involving black people.

We will not get very far in this country if we as whites do not begin to confront our prejudices and fears - instead of denying them and pretending that we are all fair and just and non-racial. These are the difficult issues we have to grapple with and President Mbeki's letter attempts to open up a conversation on the topic. The letter was harsh in places but it was not unfair and it did not deny the reality of crime.

It is sad that newspapers like Rapport and even a columnist in the Sunday Times chose to ridicule the letter instead of engaging with it. If we do not talk about race with others but especially with ourselves, if we do not confront the demons that we have within ourselves, then we will help to destroy this country.

There ends my sermon for the day - Die Burger did once hint that I was as preachy as the worst dominee!

1 comment:

frank cobain said...

Actually you've hit on a very important point. However I think that had you and your partner been held up by pink bunnies with knives in any country other than SA, I think you'd still cross the street when you see pink bunnies coming towards you, since in your mind, after the hold up, you'd naturally associate pink bunnies with danger.
In South Africa it is just that much easier to do.