The Southern African “white problem”: A Zimbabwean perspective

In 2015, I dabbled with culture studies at postgraduate level. Going through a newspaper, earlier this year, I was struck by an image that I came across. This image was taken during the #Feesmustfall protests by South African students. The image had students of all races squaring off against the police. At first glance it was a normal protest picture characterised by menacing police in semi-military attire toe-to-toe with screaming protestors. But there was one oddity. The white students were standing between the police and their fellow black student protestors. They had effectively formed a protective circle around their black counterparts. It would therefore be safe for the black students to continue protesting because they were protected by white skin.

For me this picture had scary connotations.

TwitterFirst, the white students were aware of the superiority their skins gave them. Second, the white students exploited this white privilege by encircling the black student protestors. Third, the police did not breach this protective layer made up of white skin. Therefore the police also recognised the power of white skin and knew they were ineffective against it. I was amazed at how journalists from South Africa and abroad glossed over this. After this happened an apparently more news worthy event was sparked by the now notorious Penny Sparrow.

Penny is a white South African woman who posted a racist comment on Facebook, in which she referred to black people as monkeys responsible for littering beaches. Penny’s comments invited a plethora of opinions on the state of racial relations and the prospect of a truly rainbow nation in South Africa. Mine is but one voice in the cacophony of opinions, but from a Zimbabwean perspective.

Historically, Zimbabwe was home to a very large white population. In terms of numbers, this white population was second only to that of South Africa. In colonial Africa, a large white population meant that independence was going to be even harder to obtain for the black nationalists. This was because of the entrenched nature of the colonial system. Simply put, the whites had more to lose in Zimbabwe and South Africa than other countries like Botswana and Zambia. This is the reason why independence came late for Zimbabwe and South Africa. After independence, the white population in Zimbabwe fled. Nonetheless Zimbabwe’s white population was still significant when compared to other African countries. Likewise South Africa’s white population remained high after the fall of apartheid. One would think that Zimbabwe and South Africa would have a similar ‘white’ problem. The ‘white’ problem I refer to here is the tendency of white people in post independent Africa to be racist even though they are a minority. This problem manifests itself through postings like Penny’s.

4105897843Zimbabwe and South Africa, however, do not have the same problem. Zimbabwe seems to have largely exorcised this demon of the racist white.

The white person in Zimbabwe knows his place.

He does not post racist comments on Facebook.

Why would that be? The reason is that unlike South Africa, Zimbabwe has been able to discipline the white person. The Zimbabwean white knows how to behave in public. The Zimbabwean white knows not to challenge the black man and his position. How does the white Zimbabwean know this? The answer is simple. The nation has successfully put the white person in his place. The black nation in Zimbabwe clamped down on white society in a brutal fashion especially during the land redistribution programme. The whites were shown that the blacks were in charge and that white privilege was now gone. White farms were taken over and the farmers had little or no recourse.

There is also a historical reason why Zimbabwe does not have the white problem South Africa is still bedevilled with. Zimbabwe was engaged in a protracted civil war for independence. As a result of the entrenched settler colonisation in (Southern) Rhodesia the whites would not give up power easily. War was thus the only remedy. War is horrific and horrible. Atrocities are committed that shatter the human soul and prompt questions into the state of human existence. Innocent lives are lost and development is stalled. War however does produce a victor and a loser. At the end of the war the belligerents know what position to occupy. The defeated will not challenge the victor’s position because he has already done so and lost.

South Africa was the denied the catharsis that comes as a result of a full scale civil war. South Africa’s struggle for freedom was very serious indeed and should in no way be trivialised. However South Africa’s route was nowhere near the civil war that Zimbabwe went through. Some historical sources state that towards independence in 1980, ZIPRA was beginning to assemble an air force in Zambia in order to fight the white settler regime. In excess of 50 000 lives were lost during the second Chimurenga. ZIPRA forces were also shooting down Rhodesian passenger airlines using sophisticated surface to air missiles. We cannot possibly compare this to the toyi toying the South Africans did in the streets of Soweto.

There was no clear sense of defeat that white South Africans felt in 1994. This is because South Africa’s freedom was a result of negotiations. Who can forget the image of Eugene Terreblanche on his horse marching to the CODESSA venue? This is why people still have the gall to call blacks monkeys in 2016. The white South African has not been defeated and therefore feels bold enough to challenge blacks. The solution for South Africa seems simple: Defeat the white supremacy and this racist nonsense will stop. Or alternatively send them across the Limpopo for some extra lessons and political re-education.


Nhlanhla Dube

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A native of Harare, Nhlanhla loves the bright city very much. He love sall things English literature related and is a part English lecturer at a local university. Hip hop and whisky are his passion(!)



5 thoughts on “The Southern African “white problem”: A Zimbabwean perspective

  1. Interesting article Nhlanhla although I find your opinion a little too haughty at times. For one I hate this term “the white man”. Quite frankly I find it offensive. Some of my fellow white Zimbabweans have, and some still do, harbour racist attitudes. You argue that the white person now “knows his place” as a result of being on the losing end of the civil war. What nonsense. I know that racism is wrong by virtue of the fact that I have witnessed that people of any background are capable of achieving equal level of academic, economic or social standing if given the chance to do so. That chance came for many at Independence in 1980. You can be proud of the achievements of many of your fellow black Zimbabweans, but rather than assuming that all of us whites skulk around like surly animals that have been disciplined with the stick realise that for many of us, especially those born at or around 1980, it was a multi-cultural, non-segregated society that made us racially tolerant.
    South Africa needs time and not, God forbid, a civil war. I know just from reading the comments beneath articles on News24 that racist attitudes are still a big issue but there is a black government in power will many resources at hand to combat this, the most potent of which is education. It is very difficult to prevail against he who is informed and worldly. I can’t tell you how much more integrated and diverse the campus at the University of Pretoria is now (I was there a month back) from when I was a student there in 2003. I was pleasantly surprised.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very very sad to see that your education did not take you very far.. Your interpretation and choice of words is very poor… If the white students were not at the the fees must fall protest or were standing at back instead of the front you would have still found a way to make it a race issue.. It’s terminology and thinking like yours that will hinders progress and is in fact racist.
    I acknowledge there is racism from all races. There are more constructive ways to address the issues..
    Any valid point you may have had in your article is simple lost in the rest of the rubbish.


  3. LEO,your response is a thinly veiled attack on black consciousness. You make it seem as if white Zimbabweans are racially tolerant today because they some how woke up and realised that racism was bad. This is simply not the case. The second chimurenga brought concepts such as racial tolerance, democracy and universal suffrage to white ears . Concepts that were phantasmagoria to them. Before that ,whites were prepared to go on thinking that blacks were inferior and that they (the Rhodies) were entitled to land and a monopoly on economic prosperity. As a result of this the white Zimbabwean today has no moral authority whatsoever and cannot dictate anything when it comes to principles of fairness and equality because these were introduced by black guerillas. Whatever racial tolerance the white man pretends to project today is a facade because it not derived from the white man’s inclination. Instead it sprouted from the barrel of ZANLA and ZIPRA AK47s and it was foisted on white Zimbaweans. This bitter truth is something the Boers and English whites down south unfortunately do not understand.

    LEO, i hope you don’t only read white Eurocentric manuscripts like those commonly found at the University of Pretoria. I hope you are enlightened enough to read Fanon and Walter Rodney. You would know that colonialism was a system implemented through force that could only be completely removed through force,something that S.A was robbed of. Remember that power cedes nothing without the use of violence. God through his divine intervention fortunately blessed ZIPRA and ZANLA with the courage and strength to unshackle the blacks from racism and subjugation. Over and above that LEO, ZIPRA and ZANLA also freed the Rhodies from the burdens of colonialism! how? The Rhodies were beginning to lose their humanity as a result of the unspeakable atrocities they were inflicting on blacks. When you subject your fellow man to such unspeakable experiences you become an animal. So if anything whites should be happy the guerrillas brought freedom and the Rhodies should be grateful they manage to retain a semblance of their humanity

    LEO, i find your half hearted response/protest patronising and is obvious from your response that you have been irked and peeved by an African who has the gall to question and challenge your ill conceived notions of superiority that are brought on by your supposedly superior skin. Please take note of the fact that you have to be careful when dealing with blacks today. Please remove the skewed perceptions of blackness that you have probably received from contact with maids,gardeners and airtime vendors. We are the new black elites ,we are members of the intelligentsia and we will not hesitate to put you in your place if we detect even the slightest whiff of racism.


  4. I liked the direction in which the first part of your post was going. Quite a valid premise of argument you had but, like Leo, I’m worried about your diction and what you seem to take pride in.

    I don’t believe in stereotyping. I have had good fellow Zimbabweans and I some that were not very generous. I’m India and it’s the same. When we address issues by thinking about people in groups, it makes people more adamant in their belief. Just saying, “Some…” goes a long way.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sounds exactly like an inversion of authority and privledge. Is this supposed to be liberating? Is ethnic domination and cleansing supposed to be free us from the legacies of oppression? Would we say this about our ndembele neighbours? God help us


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