Rising above Our Bias – by Jabulani Zwane

This is one of the first articles I will be writing on race relations in South Africa, with the view to contribute towards how we can build a United South Africa flourishing in the richness of our diversity. Contribution and comments are welcome.
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Jabulani Zwane

There are always reasoned excuses that disqualify us from speaking out on certain issues, whether it be our history or lack off, experience or lack thereof or FEAR. None of these excuses supersede the need to preserve and see to the progress of our humanity.

Speaking out against wrong is not a particular people groups’ exclusive right but a moral obligation for us all.

In South Africa, we have a long way to go with race issues. I am almost feeling a bit desperate, but cannot afford to. I just want to say, acknowledging the impact of apartheid on non-whites especially black people does not make you guilty as a white person or a sell-out. Why should you feel attacked whenever apartheid or colonialism is brought up? When I used to work as a Client Service manager, one of the continuous statement made was that, recovery from bad service cost up to 7 times more than giving a good service. Why the example? Well, apartheid was in place from 1948-1994, racial segregation was in place since late 1800 or longer.

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Yet we somehow we think miraculously 21 years is more than adequate to correct the ills of racial segregation. How do we move forward if we don’t engage how we got here? How do we develop mutual goals if we don’t make an effort to get to a common place? Why is it so hard to appreciate that during apartheid black people worked just hard if not harder but for a lesser return? Hard work depending on which side of the fence could have either meant progress for you or for the other regress into desperation because of which side of the spectrum you were on? No one is denying or saying whites didn’t work hard for what they have, absolutely not. But it is also true that many non-whites especially blacks worked just as hard but not rewarded for it in the same way, it was so then and it is still now in many sectors. Cronyism, nepotism, corruption, BBBEE, with the current dispensations does not take away from the fact that the injustices and inequalities exist mainly because of the apartheid system. The fact that the ANC is not addressing these ills as well as it could does not mean those who voted for the ANC deserve poverty and continued marginalization. They still remain victims of the same systems, be it apartheid or democracy, for generations. As much as it is true that whites did not choose to be born under apartheid, it is also true that non-whites especially blacks did not choose to be born black and under apartheid either. The argument is valid on both sides.

At what point do we give ourselves time to reflect on our biases and make space for transformed thinking? Is it possible for a white or black persons in this country to talk about moving forward without being labelled racist or a puppet or a sell out by either side? A case to point out, I am not a DA man by a long stretch but Mmusi is called a puppet by many blacks, now he is said to have a victim mentality because he is now talking to uncomfortable race issues that sadly a lot of whites and some blacks in SA don’t want to talk about. Why do so many whites feel attacked when apartheid is brought up? Why do so many blacks feel betrayed when we talk about moving forward as a united country? Why does it have to be either or, when either or is what got here in the first place. Interesting how a unity of races is always reasoned against when history tells us no one has tried, at least not since more 6000 years ago according to Genesis 11.

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Jabulani and his wife Buyi

So many of “us” so called “clever blacks” who have grown disgruntled with the current SA leadership, we get Facebook likes and vivas from mainly white sector and quite a bit flack from a non-white sector, specifically black, being called sell outs and delusional hopefuls. But as soon as we talk about apartheid, we hear comments like “we thought he was progressive and different, I suppose he’s just another black crying victim”. It is true that there is poverty that is not adequately addressed in SA right now, in some sectors, maybe, for the purpose of entertaining the notion, worse than during apartheid. But it is very true, that inequality and poverty experienced by non-whites was formalized by apartheid and worsened during apartheid. That is where it was declared that blacks deserved a lesser quality of life because they were lesser beings. It is true that many of us were not alive or old enough then but it happened, and the end result is that privilege went from white, to Indian, to coloured then lastly black. This does not mean feel guilty for it, or that you’re responsible for putting you in a better position, and certainly does not mean play down the disadvantage of black people. I as a black person who is currently advantaged, am not disqualified to talk about it just because I no longer experience it as direct as a person living in a shack. Just because there are angry black people who cry white privilege at everything white people have, doesn’t mean I should be quiet at the fear of being labelled an angry black person who wants what white people have.

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Jabulani Zwane addressing pastors in Pretoria

My call to all of us is to honestly assess our emotions invoked when these issues are raised. I get my back up too when I hear certain things from non-blacks, but I need to take time to reflect of why am getting emotionally worked up. I need to humble myself and realise that I too have unhealthy biases formed by the environment I live in and not be so quick declare my views righteous. It should be about the content of what someone is saying not who is saying it? Can we debate content of the discussion and not the person, in spite of the argument seemingly being for or against us. Else we find our humanity paralysed by reasoned excuses which have no power to disqualify us but rather they should enlighten and motivate us to do right by our fellow man.

PS: I am writing this post as a black South Africa whose perspective has been significantly influenced by an environment that has been more hostile to my skin colour for a long time. I therefore declare that it is not lost on me that my view may be biased still, even though I have made every to be objective. I believe my objectivity is strongly influenced by my current privileged position in terms of my interaction with South African and international people for over 15 years. I have no reason to believe that a united country is NOT possible, no one has tried so far. My desire is for all South Africans to experience the richness of living in and embracing a diverse society, in spite debilitating history.

South Africa, let us arise out of our bias.

Jabulani Zwane is a Pastor at Greater Grace Ministry South Africa, where he ministers in both Pretoria Arcadia and in Nellmapius township as well as assisting in Mozambique.  The ministry is affiliated with Greater Grace World Outreach.   Having been a pastor since 2008, he also teaches Theology at Greater Grace Bible College in association with Maryland Bible College and Seminary in the USA.

Like his Facebook Page – South Africa Arise: https://www.facebook.com/SouthAfricaArise/?fref=nf

Also listen to Jabulani being interviewed here by Brendi Richards:

Freedom Day 27 APRIL 2015, To Celebrate or Not, a Clever Black!

He holds a Bible College degree in Theology and a Business Qualification from GIBS.  Currently residing in Pretoria with his wife and three children, he is originally from the Free State town, Lindley.  As a pastor he is involved in community leadership and training community leaders in Nellmapius. As a Bible teacher, he specialises in Biblical Leadership and Apologetics. He also teaches in other African countries namely,  Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda and  Malawi.

3 responses to “Rising above Our Bias – by Jabulani Zwane

  1. Hi Jabulani, thank you for your article. There is so much truth in it. However without setting aside the truths I would just like to point out that in fact during apartheid the life expectancy of black people increased dramatically, they also earned on average more than black people did in the rest of Africa. Also there were then more black millionaires in SA than all of Africa. Please read the whole writings of Verwoed (who incidentally was not the architect of apartheid – the historic demographic location of the various tribes and the British Empire were) Verwoed just named the building and continued the maintenance in collaboration with the tribal leaders of the time. He very clearly stated that there was no difference between black people and white people – except for different cultures. What happened at the time must be seen in context of the times. HOWEVER the system of independant / self governing states did not work and it was demeaning and damaging to so many people. I have read so many myths about Apartheid -like blacks could not own businesses or own cars etc and so many young people believe this today. I do not in anyway want to minimise the effects of Apartheid on the majority of South Africans – but let’s deal in facts. The system became so corrupted that it treated black people as if they were ‘people of a lesser God’. There were of course some terrible atrocities also committed against whites (the Boer people) prior to this that probably also coloured their views. As a white person today I am sick of been demonised as evil or a racist on an everyday basis, I think especially since for my entire 60 years I have always treated everyone with respect and honour and tried to help those less fortunate whenever I could even if it meant going without myself. This I learned from the example of my Boer parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I am tired of being on high alert all the time p, afraid of been hi-jacked, robbed and murdered. I am fed up with the mismanagement of the ANC and how a functioning infrastructure has crumbled – but as whites we can’t complain, can’t get involved to fix it because we have been excluded from the workforce. Anyway forgive my rant – I really just set out to say that we need to deal in truth (as you have) but also in actual facts. The good, the bad and the ugly facts.

  2. Hi Pastor Zwane,

    I do appreciate where you are coming from and being a reasonable voice does get you flak from both directions. I know that from this issue and other issues. However, maybe I can explain my perspective on this.

    There’s almost nobody in South Africa who justifies or whitewashes apartheid. We all know that the imbalances we see today originated during that time period as well. But the question that we as white people ask ourselves whenever it is brought up today, is this: why is it being brought up? And the answer is that in almost every instance, it is being brought up not in an historical context, but in a present-day political context. Why is it being brought up in that context? To shift the blame. To justify government mismanagement. To cover up graft. And so on.

    People generally don’t have a problem with the existence of the Apartheid Museum. That’s a part of history. But I have to wonder at the motive of anyone who tries to make a political mint out of that history during the present day. It does remind me of how the Nats used to harp on about how the Boers were betrayed by the Zulus and put in concentration camps by the British. I mean, those are facts, but people who carry on about it endlessly in political contexts are usually trying to justify something.

    If I go to a museum to look at historical facts, or I read a text on South African urban development, and I encounter facts about apartheid, I have no emotional reaction. These are facts and I accept them as such. But when every discussion of current South African economic and social troubles must always begin and end with apartheid, with government mismanagement shoved into a paragraph hidden away in the middle somewhere, then I start to feel like people are making excuses. And the problem is that those excuses come at my expense as a white person, because all kinds of policies are justified according to that rationale.

    To draw a parallel, if someone mentioned on the 16th of December that this is the day on which we celebrate the defeat of Dingane, that’s just a fact, but what’s the slant? It could be: this is what happens when you trust black people, they stab you in the back. Or it could be: look at how a tyrant was defeated by an alliance between the wronged Boers and the disenfranchised people of the true heir to the Zulu throne, King Mpande. Now imagine that some white bloke mentions the history of Dingane and Retief without elaborating on it, and then continues with something like, “an incident which created a sense of distrust between the white and black communities.” We can stand here all day and argue about whether he’s right or not, but it does kind of sound like he’s making excuses for something, isn’t it? Especially if he’s making a point about poor race relations in South Africa, and he keeps bringing that incident up.

    I’m not going for moral equivalence, apartheid is more significant and more recent, but you see the problem. Personally, I don’t see the need to settle on a canonical history for South Africa which involves everyone agreeing on every pre-1994 political issue. The Americans still don’t agree about their Civil War, and it’s one and a half centuries later. The English (even the South African ones) generally don’t think they did anything wrong throwing South Africans of all races into concentration camps, because it was a military necessity and most of the deaths were due to the prisoners’ own poor hygiene (or so say the English). Does it matter? Maybe if we’re debating an historical issue, but to present-day politics? No, it doesn’t, and it shouldn’t.

    You said it yourself, you can agree with someone in all other areas, but then come your views on history and it gets divisive. I don’t think it’s necessary to insist on your interpretation of history when more urgent matters are at stake here. When we’ve brought down the current corrupt political culture, we can all break out the history books, crack open a beer or something, and have a go at sorting it out. Right now though, I really fail to see the utility. And I don’t see why it’s only a matter of white people having odd opinions about history, given the current Zulu King’s controversial ideas about it some weeks ago.

    Overall I agree with you that it’s needlessly divisive, and I agree that some white people still have some pretty uninformed opinions about it, but that cuts both ways and in the end it’s all an unnecessary source of conflict. In the final analysis we’re all long-lost cousins descended from Adam, and we’ve been spending the last X amount of years stabbing each other in the back. With that established, where are we going from here? To me that seems like a more significant question than establishing who started it.

  3. All I can say is WOW… I have been on a rampage all over social media spreading the same good news… I am so happy and if I may say, relieved, that I found someone who speaks my exact sentiments…

    Thank you for this!

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