The Underbelly of South African racism

May 8, 2012 § 19 Comments

*originally appeared in the Cape Times on 07 April 2012

The ugly face of racism reared its enormous head again in South Africa on the Twitter social network platform in the shape of Jessica Leandra, who has now been stripped of her 2011 FHM model of the year by FHM. In case you haven’t heard about the incident, she wrote a tweet the following tweet and I quote, “Just, well took on a an arrogant and disrespectful k***** inside Spar. Should have punched him, should have.”

What is shocking is the fact that she wrote the “K” word. What is worse is that it demonstrates that it is terminology that she probably uses in private if she can so freely use it on such a public platform. It was no accident. Some may even blame her youth by saying that she is 20. When I was 20 or younger, I never racially abused anyone. All that I would have done is make the typical jokes about whites can’t dance and blacks can’t swim. And it ends there.

I was surprised that a young person who grew up after apartheid had ended could have such thoughts to begin with. She had also written a tweet earlier, which said, again I quote, “Highlight of my weekend? Almost punching a petrol assistant. No tolerance for rude African monkeys.”

Years ago, while I was working on an anti-racism advertising campaign, I spoke to a psychologist who worked for the Human Rights Commission at the time and said something to me that still stuck with me today. He said that in research, it has been shown that South Africans are the only people in the world who will share their racist views or biases with a complete stranger and assume that the stranger will share the same view as them.

What this shows then is that large sections of South Africans still hold racial biases hidden behind concerns of crime, when the real issue is actually racism. Six years ago, when I first moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg, I stayed in a B&B in my first month in the big city. I met two American women who had been traveling around the world for a year. They had been in South Africa for a few weeks and told me that they had not met a single black person staying at a B&B, all the black people they had met worked at B&Bs.

They also found it strange that when they drove in the Transkei a white man told them that if they happen to hit a black person, they should not stop to help because “These people will rob you.” They were shocked that the person saw nothing wrong with what he said. They were equally surprised that he just shared these views assuming that they would thank him.

Of course this is not meant to point fingers. What it is meant to point out is that maybe South Africans are still racially charged but are in denial about it. It also makes us wonder how many of these conversations happen in private. How many people sit around their backyards talking about k*****s?

Maybe Jessica is a symptom of something simmering underneath the surface. Perhaps there are still those in our society who believe that blacks don’t fully belong and do not deserve to be treated as equals. That they have not earned their place in society nor the positions that they may hold. There is a denial of the realities. That it is still a white world and that the black person must remember that he deserves to be treated as a lesser being and remind him of his inferiority.

People may want to keep appearances and deny that they may hold these views, but the reality is that these kinds of scenes are acted out everyday in the country, some in more subtle ways than others. Perhaps we ought to applaud Jessica for exposing the under bellies of South African racism hidden behind the veil of false politeness. 

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§ 19 Responses to The Underbelly of South African racism

  • Lauren says:

    Hey Khaya, I agree with almost everything you have to say here… I am just concerned that so often racism is by default or examples used only defined as white on black racism. Over the last 3-4 years I, as a white South African, have experienced numerous cases of extremely hurtful racism aimed at me from mostly young (under 25 years old) black people. It is extremely disheartening as we are the supposedly born free (or at least grew up mostly free) generation. I understand there is legacy issue and anger passed down from parents but it seems to me the youth have more racism and anger towards each other on both sides of the racism divide than should be the case. We need to aim for a non-racial society and remembering that racism is ANY discrimination on the grounds of race is a big step

    • anon says:

      Exactly. No word on the black model, Tshidi Thamana, who responded to this whole saga with statements about how all whites should be shot…

      I am white, I can count on one hand how many times a white person has said something very racist to me (K***** or “don’t stop for them” type vibes) in the past five years. Maybe I’m just fortunate enough to surround myself with better minded people. Maybe it just is not as common as people like to think it is. Not sure. Maybe its because my reputation for calling people out on racist or homophobic statements precedes me… hehe. Still, while I will not hesitate to call out a white person for being racist, I have been known to turn a blind eye to black-on-white racism numerous times…

      Which reminds me, I wonder if anyone laid a complaint with the SAHRC against Tshidi Thamana….?

  • loyiso meyi says:

    Speaking about people that share racial views with others expecting them to be on the same wavelength reminds if an incident at Newlands Rugby Stadium not so long ago when the Stormers were playing the Bulls. Seating behind us were a few young white kids probably in their early 20’s next to them a coloured man in his mid 30’s at most. The coloured man made a comment about and I quote “don’t know why this K***** Akhona Ndungane is doing on the field and he doesn’t deserve to be a Springbok” and he looked upon this young group of white kids as if he was looking for their support but to his amusement we all told him that we didn’t see any K*****s on the field and if he saw one he was at the wrong place. Now what struck me as odd was when he apologised to me personally as I’m black and also later apologised after the game about his comments. I told him apologising to me wouldn’t change anything coz had we not said anything he wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with his choice of words. So in essence Racism is still very much alive in this country!

  • Adam says:

    I read her “apology” – what a crock. “Sorry I used the K-word, but he was being arrogant and sexually harassing me. That’s why I tweeted that shit. But other than the times that I tweet the K word in response to arrogant black men in supermarkets, I never use racial slurs, honest”.

    To extract the real meaning of her statement, read between the lines
    1) My career is suddenly in danger and I am willing to say anything to save it.
    2) My manager wrote a draft apology, but I thought it wasn’t personal enough and didn’t reflect my personality. So I put some feisty hate back in.
    3) Dirty black men looking at my perfect white body creeps the hell out of me – I won’t stand for that. I don’t tweet when creepy white guys hit on me because it’s difficult to type on a phone when you’re getting banged hard from behind in the dark alleyways Spar always seem to have out back.
    4) I say the K-word a lot, but I normally have a battery of software that stops that stuff from getting out onto the internet. Just goes to show that you can’t trust anything written by Indians and marketed by Jews. That’s getting filtered out, right?
    5) Let me reiterate that I really do want to say anything possible that can save the sinking career I just blew a gigantic hole in the side of. So quit being a bunch of k-loving homo’s, accept this apology and stop dwelling on the past.

  • themuseletter says:

    To the point! In my study of race age and gender as pertains to credibility, i always hear the internalised racism in the phrase “I don’t see colour”, followed quickly by “But some of my friends are black…”. There is a lot of that in my beloved country. A sad reality- but a reality nonetheless. We will be hearing more! I am re-blogging this on my site if you don’t mind?

  • themuseletter says:

    Reblogged this on The Museletter and commented:
    The issue of racism, as is the issue of sexism and even ageism, is a big challenge in this country and across the world. It is embedded deep within the fabric of our society and for this country to really heal and prosper- this is one of the wounds we need to work hard to eradicate. Especially in our youth! What are your thoughts on what Khaya Dlanga’s blog post below?

  • penelopezq says:

    I agree with this totally. As a white South African in my fifties I often find myself in company which is similar. Unfortunately for me. The things they say appall me and even if they are not blatant there is always a subtext. They seem oblivious to their own racist attitudes and assume just because I am white that I will agree. I don’t and I let them know it. This is why I have very few white friends in Durban ( I think it’s worse here but I’m not sure). I think even when they are complaining about the environment and the decline of birds ( or some such thing), the subtext is ‘things were better before’.

  • Nkosi Hlo Cofu says:

    Multiracial communities that we are exposed to have exposed the type of racism that we could not have thought would occur during this time. Our young black people are still subjected to racial discrimination in particular those of african origin. There are the ones who receive inferior education ,largely unemployable eg a case in point is of two former learners i taught one african and one indian ,the african passed matric and did not have finance to further his studies and could not be employed because there were no jobs available or simple unemployable . While the indian one dropped out of school at grade 9. He then got a job in one of the chain stores found all ove RSA. Last time i saw him he war a trainee manager over seeing people with matric. Township schools remains largely african in staffing.Former indian school remain indian in character ,in kzn refusing to employ africans except for isizulu. Our democry is realy under threat. We need to fight racism in all ways reggardless of the colour of the pepertraitor.

  • mbuso says:

    I’m starting to think that black people can’t be racist, as it seems most often that not when they contest the inequalities so glaring in society, white people get agitated(and deny their privileges) and start shouting out racist! I have never heard a black person calling a white compatriot a ‘monkey’ or anything that will relegate a white person to a sub-human level. On that note, I think it is proper that whenever people like Jessica spew their stuff, their parents should also be engaged, and enrolled into anger management institutions!

  • Nqobile says:

    What shocks me is that soon after that tweet our “beautiful racist” got 3000 followers. What does this say about our South Africa? It shocks me as a born free that I am still experiencing raw instances fueled pure racism. Perhaps I am to utopian in thinking that our country is fine. Jessica just proved that racism still needs to be HEAVILY addressed by our society.

  • miriamthurgood says:

    Such a good point. People want approval. She thought that other people would agree with her and terrifyingly, there are people who did.

    I was also completely shocked when she took the leap from “sexual harassment” (which I don’t really believe happened) to “rapist”. If he was white would she have given him her number and called it flirting?

    Did she expect not to attract sexual attention from men when she took off her clothes for FHM?

    In my own little twitter war, I told someone who agreed with her what I thought of him, and his response: “Was I talking to you?”. On a public forum. It made me happy to know that the stupidest people are the ones who find Jessica’s attitude acceptable.

  • Kirsten says:

    I think to some extent, we are all racist. The only way to completely abolish it is to be honest with yourself, to be aware of what you are thinking and what your reaction is to people of a different colour and to keep working on it. While some seem comfortable with the ‘k’ word, others might never use it, but wont hesitate to quickly lock a car door should a black man appear. I think we just need to talk about things more openly, and keep aiming for that ‘colour blind’ dream.

  • Loyiso Gqola says:

    what you raise in this article is sadly true, and the reality of it all is that as much as we try to control the optical illusion of a country united, we aren’t, yet. and somehow we seem to expect that the springboks or sports will do it. yet we haven’t even begun to face the sad fact that people are still angry, mad and others still under the past illusions because they believe that the old system worked, all because it benefited them

  • fuzefairy says:

    It’s interesting that this is happening, my mate Jes (not the former FHM person) were talking about the fact that rascsim is still ripe within our generation it makes no sense we are in our 20’s. If you don’t like someone you don’t like them. That should not have any relation to their colour. The truth is we are not a “rainbow” nation. What you raise is such a sad reality.

  • Indeed Khaya, it’s there.
    And it seems there’s this weird “don’t touch them on their racism” attitude in South Africa – it’s not often I see people challenge racists face to face. Perhaps it’s because they’re equally likely to punch your lights out, regardless of your race.
    And this brings me to my point: You are a gentleman, and a God-fearing man. Perhaps God changed your heart and helped you to see that we are one race with beautiful, different skin colours and cultures. Or perhaps your family taught you that.
    But there are many South Africans of all skin colours who are not like you, who have hatred in their hearts, who teach it to others. I hope and believe that love will conquer that hatred, turn hard hearts. But you can’t tweet love. You gotta first live it.

    Here’s to those who are living it.

  • Concerned says:

    Julius Malema has been our no1 racist in public, but nobody said anything about this. He not have used silly words in his context, but the racist element in his speeches has always been there. Let us build SA as a collective and condemn wrongdoing whether by a comrade or not. We can’t turn a blind eye on certain individuals.

  • mandisa ndovela says:

    As usual, you have hit the nail on the head! Well said.

    This whole situation with Jessica and Tshidi and all the other racists popping up reminded me of an article I read late last year in the Business Day by Steven Friedman “Lindiwe Mazibuko and the reality of SA’s racial thinking” in that article he said
    “Mazibuko’s election reminds us that race remains the prism through which SA across the spectrum see the world – even when they claim not to do so. The psychologist’s cliche that we can’t fix the problems inside our heads unless we accept that they are there, holds for societies as well as individuals. Is it too much to hope that those who continue to deny the reality of racial thinking will acknowledge it and begin dealing with it?” Your article sort of reiterate this message. Maybe Jessica and the others did themselves a favor because now that they knw they have a problem; they are now in a better position to fix it?

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