On Saturday a group of us went to the Apartheid Museum. As usual it was very impactful. I sat through most of the videos and
was struck anew by the intensity of it all. Afterwards we had a discussion in the new Truth café.
At the shop I bought “The Steve Biko memorial lectures” and yesterday I
read the first essay by prof. Njabulo S Ndebele entitled, “Finding our way into
the future” – you can read an online version here. In it he explores some
potent ideas. I found his challenges
towards “whiteness” very exigent.
Firstly, he uses the phrase “unreflective
Afrikanerdom” describing the situation of Afrikaners once apartheid became
part of the “moral fibre” of South
Africa. He describes how the “combination of political, economic and
military power, validated by religious precept, yielded a universal sense of
entitlement. Afrikanerdom was
entitled to land, air, water, beast, and each and every black body.”
I immediately wondered what a “reflective Afrikanerdom” would
entail. What would it mean for me,
as an Afrikaner who benefited from oppression to reflect on my sense of
In a wonderful turn of irony he widens the net of Conrad’s “Heart of
darkness” when he describes that, “Suddenly,
“the heart of darkness” is no longer the exclusive preserve of “blackness”; it
seems to have become the very condition of “whiteness” at the southern corner
of the African continent. Its expression will take various degrees of
manifestation, from the crude to the sophisticated.”
We battle to own up to our prejudices. Yet, we all have prejudices to various degrees and as a
friend of mine keeps on reminding me, degrees matter. And what if we find out that our sophistications are on the
same continuum as the crude acts of murdering and killing?
Then Ndebele stuns me with a challenging observation …
“… the quest for a new white humanity will begin to
emerge from a voluntary engagement, by those caught in the culture of whiteness
of their own making, with the ethical and moral implications of being situated
at the interface between inherited, problematic privilege, on the one hand, and
on the other, the blinding sterility at the centre of the “heart of whiteness”.
For the last few years
I’ve struggled intensely with the thought that many of the “blessings” I used
to attribute to God’s provision was obtained through the systematic oppression
Sure, some of it was
begotten through hard work and skill.
Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that I am dealing with “inherited, problematic privilege”. Baptizing this privilege only in the name of
‘God’s blessing’ or ‘hard work ethic’ is not an option anymore. It has indeed become an ethical and
moral case for me. I continually
ask myself how this “inherited,
problematic privilege” can be worked with in a reflective-obedient Christ
What also struck me about
Ndebele’s thoughts is that he talks about an emergence that is a “voluntary
engagement”. So what are
some of possible engagements with the ethical and moral implications?
Own up to the
facts of oppression (visit the museum for instance). If we cannot even concede to the fact that I’m a beneficiary
of apartheid then I am in denial and show an intense “blinding sterility”.
2. Own up and speak
up. Say that you’re sorry as many
times as it is needed. More than
saying sorry – be sorry.
3. Give in
privilege. In a conversation
earlier today Kutloano and I discussed how powerful it could be to start a
trust fund called “The Privilge fund” which could be used to help with
education, housing and medical purposes.
Privilege in that sense denotes both giving out of privilege and the
privilege of giving. I think white churches have to rethink the traditional 10%
mission tithe here. Is it ethical
to spend 90% of the Lord’s money on ministry to us?
4. Use your
skills/education in a way that serves our country instead of building further
isolated cocoons of privilege. Tutor a kid, teach people your skill, get your
job involved in society.
5. Learn an African
6. Experience a
different culture by hanging out with different people.
7. …. ? What other
suggestions do you have?
The essay is brilliant … can’t
get it out of my mind!