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.
First, 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.
Zimbabwe 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.
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(!)