Why it’s hard to be black in South Africa

Bongani Mbindwane, CEO of mining company Platfields, says that “there remains a whiff of racism directed at blacks in most of South Africa’s news stories” and denying this is not assisting the country’s democracy.

Mbindwane has been involved in a war of words with political commentator and journalist Max du Preez in recent weeks over racial stereotyping.

In a column published on News24 on Tuesday, Mbindwane said that black people go through a life feeling that white people can be very cruel on a daily basis.

“Some, if not the majority of whites, do not carry on this way knowingly. It has been part of life. It’s the way things are. Unconsciously the black body gets ill-treated, abused, looked down upon and simply suppressed.

“Those of us who have a voice are duty bound to sensitise our fellow countrymen to understand that some of the acts they do are, in fact, racist and injurious.

“After saying this, we hope the perpetrator will take a step back, will not argue and will hear the victim out,” Mbindwane said.

He said that, unfortunately, victims of racism are shut down, told to keep quiet or told they are playing a game – a card game, the trump card being the “race card”.

“The use of the term ‘race card’ is offensive, racist and harmful. It aims to shut the victim down, rob the victims of a voice whilst delegitimising their complaint as worthless. Black lives are not a game, there is no trump card. There are real experiences of abuse, oppression and there are great anxieties,” the columnist said.

“It is not easy to live in a black skin across the world…The hardship is racism. Blacks are regarded as ‘black savages’, ‘coup plotters’, ‘thieves’, ‘backward’, ‘lazy’ and ‘corrupt’ among many other very negative stereotypes.”

“Laws have been passed, with our Constitution being supreme, abolishing all discrimination. However discrimination persists and suppresses the black body,” Mbindwane said.

He said that it now operates in a form of economic, media and education segregation. “This combination leads to many writers and the media being desensitised about what they publish. It should be a simple thing to settle if one person says you have offended them and have racially stereotyped them.

“Explicitly racism is gone, however, the victims of racism are still the experts in identifying racial undertones where they exist, be it consciously or unconsciously.”

In a follow-up column, du Preez said he was becoming concerned about the phenomenon where some black commentators, intellectuals and politicians give themselves license to insult the white minority.

“I sometimes get the idea that some of the gross insults dished out are the result of a form of bravado; saying, look what a brave African and militant I am, I fearlessly tell whites that they are evil intruders, rapists and murderers who should go on their knees to thank us for not taking their property or chasing them into the sea.

“It’s as if black people aren’t the overwhelming majority in South Africa; as if the political power hadn’t shifted into the hands of the majority 21 years ago,” he said.

“I believe there is a duty on politically aware black citizens to continue to challenge ‘whiteness’, to assert themselves, to take the lead and tailor our society into something that acknowledges and represents them fully.

“I’m asking whether it is reasonable and fair to expect the white minority to just take more and more extreme and generalised abuse in passive silence,” du Preez said.

The original columns can be found here.

More on race in South Africa

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Why it’s hard to be black in South Africa