Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE


@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

DA Joburg mayoral candidate Herman Mashaba urges the youth to vote

Capitalist CrusaderHerman Mashaba has written a piece for Daily Maverick about the relevance of the term “democratic deficit” to South African and encouraging the youth to vote in the upcoming local government elections.

Mashaba is the founder of the Black Like Me empire and the author of the bestselling memoir Black Like You and, most recently, Capitalist Crusader: Fighting Poverty Through Economic Growth. In December, Mashaba announced that he was making himself available as a mayoral candidate for the Democratic Alliance for the City of Joburg in 2016.

In the article, Mashaba points out that only 59 percent of young South Africans voted in 2014: ie “Four in 10 young people chose not to vote.”

He continues: “It’s a hard truth to swallow, but, as Thomas Jefferson said; voters – especially those who choose not to vote – get the government they deserve.”

Read the article:

A few years ago The Economist surmised that “perhaps the most depressing explanation is simply that in many places, young people do not feel that there is anyone worth voting for”. What is certain, though, is that South Africa is afflicted with a democratic deficit that affects our young people worst of all. The democratic deficit is a political science term coined to explain the gap between European citizens and the institutions of the European Union. The term applies so perfectly to South Africa because there is an ever bigger and increasing gap here between the potential electoral voting bloc and the democratic institutions that are voted for. Its roots lie in a government that abuses the trust of its voters, yet still appeals to them along divided lines, with little to offer.

Related stories:

Book details

» read article

Eusebius McKaiser analyses Jacob Zuma’s ‘week of horror’

Run Racist RunCould I Vote DA?A Bantu in My Bathroom

Eusebius McKaiser’s latest column for the Cape Times examines the events that took place last Tuesday at the Constitutional Court, when President Jacob Zuma, via his counsel, advocate Jeremy Gauntlett, agreed that the recommendations of the public protector on Nkandla are binding.

McKaiser calls the week as a whole Zuma’s “week of horror”, and says after the events of Tuesday “even the State of the Nation Address … was a total anti-climax”.

He quotes Richard Poplak’s “immortal words”: “it was a ‘Zombie Apocalypse’”.

Read the article:

The court had been called to determine the status of the remedial actions recommended by the public protector in the Nkandla matter. And, boy, what an exciting day of constitutional activity it was. The judges were in fine form, asking excellent questions. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was particularly razor sharp throughout, presiding authoritatively. Constitutional supremacy was entrenched, and that’s good for our democracy.

Perhaps the most newsworthy moment was the concession by President Zuma, via his counsel, advocate Jeremy Gauntlett, that the recommendations of the public protector are binding. He accepted that in this case – though not necessarily in all instances of public protector work – the recommendations constitute administrative action and, since there was no judicial review that had set these aside, that Zuma is bound by the recommendations as a matter of administrative justice.

What happened next, given the torturous legal minefield that Zuma has tiptoed through for the last two years, was spectacular: he threw the minister of police under the Gautrain.

Related stories:

Book details

  • A Bantu in My Bathroom: Debating Race, Sexuality and Other Uncomfortable South African Topics by Eusebius McKaiser
    EAN: 9781920434373
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

» read article

Herman Mashaba: ‘The current government took advantage of the goodwill of our people’

Why would a successful South African entrepreneur, who could be enjoying his wealth and resting, decide to tackle politics?

Herman Mashaba, author of Black Like You and Capitalist Crusader: Fighting Poverty Through Economic Growth, recently joined Gareth Cliff on Cliff Central to answer this question. During a brutally honest interview, the DA mayoral candidate for the City of Johannesburg addressed various pressing matters.

Black Like YouCapitalist Crusader“The current government took advantage of the goodwill of our people,” Mashaba says, explaining why he believes it is time for a change in power in South Africa.

He shares his remarkable life story, as written about in Black Like You, and stresses that his main concern and priority is equality, “for every South African to be given the opportunity to do things for themselves”.

Mashaba says that this was why he wrote Capitalist Crusader – to get people to embrace self-reliance. He believes that as mayor of Johannesburg he would be able to turn things around, not only for the people who live there but those who are witness to the city.

Mashaba gets a lot of criticism for his participation in politics, specifically because of his joining the Democratic Alliance. Listen to the podcast to hear how he feels about this:


Related links:

Book details

» read article

“Biko Lied” – An Extract from Chapter 1 of Eusebius McKaiser’s New Book, Run Racist Run

Cover Reveal: The New Book from Eusebius McKaiser
Run Racist RunCould I Vote DA?DA of nie?A Bantu in My Bathroom

Bookstorm has shared an excerpt from the first chapter of Eusebius McKaiser’s new book Run Racist Run: Journeys Into The Heart Of Racism.

The chapter is titled “Biko Lied”.

In the excerpt, McKaiser points out how “white people can afford to be wilfully ignorant about the reality of racism”.

McKaiser describes meeting a young white man who casually dismissed the importance of racism as a topic for a book, saying that he “did him a favour” when he “took him to the cleaners”.

Read the excerpt:

* * * * *

(Why) are black writers preoccupied with race and identity?

Is Literary apartheid a feature of local racism?

Does white privilege extend to the world of the writer?

I recently had a drink in Greenside, Johannesburg. A friend of mine, Amy, had my keys. I had forgotten these at a function we were at earlier in the day. When I picked up the keys, she asked me to stay for a drink. I obliged. She was with another friend of hers, someone I did not know. He was a white South African male, bisexual and dating a coloured woman. Amy is very charismatic and full of laughter, and she volunteered this information on his behalf within the first minutes of us meeting. I think it was an attempt to say, ‘Guys, get on with being comfortable with each other immediately because you have, like, stuff in common!’

Except, Amy miscalculated. This dude – call him John – asked me what book project I was busy with. I told him that, actually, it was a long and complicated story. He seemed eager and so I told him I was busy writing a book on illness, death and the meaning of life. He seemed genuinely fascinated by those themes and wanted to know how on earth I had chosen these topics, and what I was hoping to say and achieve in the book. Because he seemed so interested in my work, I told him about my decision to put that book on ice. Instead, I announced, I was writing an anthology on racism, a collection of essays that built upon the first part of A Bantu in my Bathroom.

Having almost completed the entire book at that point in time, I was excited to talk to an interested person – like John – about it. I was ready to explain how the book had demanded to be written, and why the kinds of issues I raise and explore were distinct from any of the questions I had tackled before, or had been discussed in any public discourse on race. But the fucker dampened my enthusiasm before I had a chance.

He rolled his eyes. ‘Racism! Aaaah. That’s so boring! Surely racism isn’t a thing anymore? No one cares about racism. Everyone cares about illness and death, though!’

I was raging mad. Not because, obviously, he would not help my book sales, but because he illustrated a brutal reality: that whites can afford to pretend that racism isn’t a thing. Just like men can pretend that sexism isn’t a thing, and just like homophobes can pretend that being gay ‘isn’t an issue anymore’; so, too, white people can afford to be wilfully ignorant about the reality of racism.

Not all whites were or are perpetrators of anti-black racism. However, all whites benefited, and still benefit, from the history of anti-black oppression. Two profoundly vicious consequences flow from this: many whites are blind to racism’s continued presence; and, related to this blindness, many whites rationalise their ignorance by thinking that black people are ‘race-obsessed’. Not only does John fail to examine how our collective experience of racism’s history affected him, personally, but he has the audacity to be casually and confidently dismissive of the possibility that racism could be a significant, horrid truth for other people, every day.

As my late mom would have put it, I took him to the cleaners. ‘Racism doesn’t matter to YOU, because you’re white and you can afford not to see racism or not even think about it. I don’t have that luxury, OK? It’s no different, buddy, from you and me dismissing women who write about sexism. Because we happen to be born with penises and the world is structured to advantage us and oppress women, we can roll our eyes at sexism. That’s exactly the same with racism. If you think it isn’t an issue any more, I suggest you take time to speak to black people instead of assuming you know our lives. Use it. Don’t use it.’

I have zero regrets about making him go red. He asked for it. He deserved it. No, I am perhaps slightly too generous here. He didn’t deserve me explaining to him what he ought to know. I did him a favour. I don’t think black people have a duty to convince whites that racism is a reality. We need to get on with strategies for dismantling racism’s legacy. White allies in the fight against racism are useful and important. But it is a bonus to have a black person explaining ‘race’ to you, or why and how you are wilfully ignorant about racism, and why racism matters. And I am not even sure John is an ally, let alone an ally with blind spots. So while I was mad at John, I actually did more than I needed to. I could, just as acceptably, simply have chuckled, not upset the convivial Greenside pub atmosphere, and said, ‘John, let’s drink bud! BARMAN!’

Amy was wrong in her unreflective assumption that John and I could get along because we were both not straight, and because he was in an interracial relationship. You don’t have to be straight to be bigoted or ignorant. And being in an interracial relationship doesn’t mean you grasp the ways in which racism continues to play out. And, for Amy, an additional lesson, perhaps, was that as an ally in the fight against racism, there is a greater level of vigilance required in spotting and rupturing non-bloody manifestations of racism among white friends than you might have realised.

The encounter with John has remained with me because I had all along felt ambivalent about writing this collection on racism, and his dismissiveness took me back to that place of doubt. I was, until I actually started working on it, excited about Searching for Sello Duiker, a book that was neither overtly about South African politics nor about race. It took enormous resolve not to care about people like John who would roll their eyes at another book on ‘the race question’. (Not that people like John have necessarily read any other books on race.)

What the Johns of the world do not know is that black writers who have any self-awareness about the world in which they live and work cannot just let go of the race question. Because race continues to haunt us. And while it would be wonderful to write about a greater range of subjects – and, to be sure, many black writers can and do – there will never be a shortage of black writing on race and racism.

So, in a way, this essay is a meditation on the black writer’s preoccupation with race. The legacy of racism is so darn powerful and ubiquitous that it extends as a matter of course to the world of the writer. Contrary to popular assumption, many of us do not wake up and freely choose what to write. Our writing is in part a reflection of the world we live in, coupled with unique biographical facts about each writer. I want to both describe and defend the apparent preoccupation of black writers with questions of identity in general, and with race in particular. It is, in complex ways, a preoccupation that flows from the history of anti-black racism itself, and that history’s reach into present reality.

* * * * *

Related links:


Book details

  • A Bantu in My Bathroom: Debating Race, Sexuality and Other Uncomfortable South African Topics by Eusebius McKaiser
    EAN: 9781920434373
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

» read article

Herman Mashaba Offers Himself as DA Mayoral Candidate: “The Removal of Nene Confirms a Lack of Leadership”

Black Like YouCapitalist CrusaderHerman Mashaba has announced that he is making himself available as a mayoral candidate for the Democratic Alliance for the City of Joburg in 2016.

Mashaba is the founder of the Black Like Me empire and the author of Black Like You and Capitalist Crusader: Fighting Poverty Through Economic Growth. He is also executive chairman of Lephatsi Investments (Pty) Ltd, Leswikeng Group of Companies and Phatsima Group of Companies and holds several other directorships. In 2004, Mashaba won the FMF’s Free Market Award for his exceptional contribution to the cause of economic freedom.

“For too long,” Mashaba says, “I have watched from the sidelines at how corrupt and self-serving ANC politicians have mismanaged Johannesburg – Africa’s most vibrant economic powerhouse.”

He continues that he is committed to supporting the DA’s ambition of winning the City of Joburg in next year’s election, adding that the removal of Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene yesterday “confirms the lack of leadership with foresight and concern for the country”.

Read his statement:


I have decided to announce that I am making myself available as a mayoral candidate for the Democratic Alliance for the City of Johannesburg in 2016.

For too long I have watched from the sidelines at how corrupt and self-serving ANC politicians have mismanaged Johannesburg – Africa’s most vibrant economic powerhouse.

I believe that it is time that hardworking and honest people make themselves available for public service. In this spirit, I am prepared to throw 100% of my efforts into the bid to be the DA’s Mayoral Candidate. It is my hope that the city will once again be the beacon of light for the whole of Africa, and a safe haven for its own citizens.

I am beyond concerned at the unemployment that exists in the city, and believe that the DA has the policies and processes to arrest the current hopelessness created by unemployment. Unemployment is unacceptably high in a city that is the economic hub of the continent.

Corruption simply has to be eradicated. The DA wants to ensure that the city’s considerable assets and income are not wasted, mismanaged, or squandered, but are instead harnessed to the benefit of those who live and want to work in the city.

Those areas that do not enjoy efficient service delivery have to be addressed with greater urgency and speed, and the only party capable of delivering services in the current landscape of dysfunctional facilities and infrastructure is the DA, as has been proven by their excellent performance in the Western Cape.

I am committed to supporting the DA in their endeavour to win the City of Johannesburg in the 2016 Election. All the people of Johannesburg deserve better, and only the DA can address the resident’s concerns of crime, poverty, joblessness, corruption and service delivery. The ANC have had 21 years to deliver. I believe it’s high time that the DA is given an opportunity to deliver for the citizens of Johannesburg.

The latest removal of Minister of Finance, Nhlahla Nene, clearly confirms the lack of leadership with foresight and concern for the country.

It is time for change.

Herman Mashaba 10 December 2015


Herman Mashaba Offers Himself as Mayoral Candidate for the DA for Johannesburg 2016

Book details

» read article

“Racism is a Big Challenge; It’s Even Bigger than We Think” – Eusebius McKaiser Launches Run Racist Run

Eusebius McKaiser

Eusebius McKaiser and Redi TlhabiRun Racist RunThere is only one word to describe the recent launch of Run Racist Run: Journeys Into The Heart Of Racism by Eusebius McKaiser – explosive.

Redi Tlhabi joined McKaiser in conversation at Exclusive Books Rosebank, and people arrived in droves to hear the two political trendsetters speak.

CEO and publisher of Bookstorm, Louise Grantham, welcomed over 200 guests to the biggest Bookstorm launch ever, and those who were unable to attend the event participated actively on social media.

Before the launch began, McKaiser sent out a challenge to the racists and bigots of the world (scroll down for more tweets):

McKaiser’s provocative new book explores the long-overdue conversation of race and racism in South Africa that was ignited this year by the #RhodesMustFall debates and its spin-offs.

Why this book? Why now? “If you work consciously as a writer you can’t ignore the context in which you live,” McKaiser said about the deep racial injustices in South Africa. “Part of white privilege is that you can afford to give race a break and I couldn’t.”

“When I saw the title of your book I had expectations. It’s funny but you’re not joking,” Tlhabi said. She commented on the distinction McKaiser makes in the book between violent, overt racism and insidious, hidden racism. McKaiser said it’s interesting to grapple with racism that is more difficult to label and presented the crowd with a philosophical problem: “If Max du Preez tells Steve Hofmeyr to fuck off, does it make him less of a racist?”

Eusebius McKaiser“What interests me are acts of racism that don’t announce themselves as racism,” McKaiser said, adding that he’s more curious about English liberals than Afrikaans ones. There’s a chapter in Run Racist Run entitled “Reporting from the racist heart” which deals with these non-bloody forms of racism. Whatever shape it comes in, however, “racism is a big challenge; it’s even bigger than we think”.

Speaking of liberalism, Tlhabi said that the theme permeates the text. “You’ve fucked up the idea of liberalism,” she said, “almost like you’re telling us we’ve missed the project”.

“I feel compelled to write about my lived racial experiences,” McKaiser said. The author grew up in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape where he attended St Mary’s – a school “on the wrong side of Grahamstown’s inequality divide” – and later the wealthier Graeme College. In his book, McKaiser reflects on the violence against black bodies in private schools.

“I don’t think our generation of coconuts were unaware,” McKaiser said, but “we didn’t have the sharp language of the students today”. There’s also a chapter that deals with his memories and perceptions – then and now – of his experience at Rhodes University. “I thought I was self-aware but I walked around Rhodes campus with blinkers on,” McKaiser said, explaining that he remembers a Rhodes that never existed. “These spaces were always violent,” he said.

On the issue of whiteness, McKaiser said: “Whiteness is so ubiquitous; I even started writing Run Racist Run with an apology to white people on why I’m writing about race.” One of the chapters in the book deals with the question that white people ask: “What am I supposed to do?”

“It’s a moral failure to ask that question, what must I do? It’s lazy and it means you haven’t done introspection,” McKaiser said. “The biggest volume of racism is committed by white people, so they have to deal.” The author shared the titles of the two essays in the book that were most painful to write: “For coloured people only” and “Black people and Xenophobia”.

“Has your anger dissipated?” Tlhabi asked towards the end of the conversation. “No!” McKaiser exclaimed, “it’s important to get angry”. Reflecting on the instrumental usefulness of anger, he said: “I was pissed off that I had to justify my anger and I’m not more calm now.”

“If you’ve lived with underprivilege all your life, even those of us who are brave are quite tame,” McKaiser said in conclusion. “We are required as writers to engage with these realities; you can’t write poetry about what’s in your garden.”


* * * * * * * *

In between signing books and meeting old friends, McKaiser tweeted pictures of the star-studded audience:


* * * * * * * *

Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) live tweeted the event using #livebooks:



* * * * * * * *

Facebook gallery



* * * * * * * *

During and after the launch, the #RunRacistRun hashtag trended! Have a look at what the Twitterati have to say about McKaiser’s new book:


Book details

» read article

“Monumentally Stupid” – Eusebius McKaiser on the DA’s Stellenbosch Language Policy Statement

Run Racist RunCould I Vote DA?Eusebius McKaiser, who has just published his third book Run Racist Run, has written an article on the DA’s terse response to Stellenbosch University’s announcement of the proposed change to English the main language of instruction.

The DA criticised the university’s decision on the basis that it seems to be “in contravention of the constitutional principle that every person has the right to be taught in the official language of their choice”.

McKaiser believes that this premise is flawed in a number of ways – it demonstrates a lack of regard for the way black students are affected by Afrikaans teaching; it implicitly assumes Stellenbosch should serve the Afrikaans community; it misunderstands the decision; and, most importantly, it shows an inability to comprehend the task of transformation.

Read the article:

It is unbelievable how monumentally stupid the DA’s statement this past weekend was about the proposed changes in Stellenbosch University’s language policy.

If you missed it, here are the salient facts before we examine the DA’s own goals. Stellenbosch is on the brink of making English officially its main language of instruction, and presumably the main language of the administration of the university.

Afrikaans and isiXhosa are also explicitly proposed to be developed as key supporting languages in the institution, in acknowledgement of the fact that many of the students on campus speak one of these supporting languages at home.

Enters the DA with a gift for its political opponents. The party’s shadow minister of Higher Education, Belinda Bozzoli, released a terse statement telling the university that its new language policy proposal “appears to be in contravention of the constitutional principle that every person has the right to be taught in the official language of their choice… the constitutional rights of Afrikaans-speaking students, therefore, need to be upheld, while those of other students of different backgrounds are also met.”

Let me cut to the chase and state four fatal weaknesses of this DA statement.

First, there is no regard – none whatsoever – in this statement for the way in which the current language policy disadvantages black students at Stellenbosch. The effect of the status quo is that non-Afrikaans students feel less at home at Stellies than Afrikaans students.

This isn’t just a feature of an exclusionary institutional culture in terms of social life at the institution, it is also a form of pedagogical violence because Afrikaans and non-Afrikaans students consequently enjoy different kinds and qualities of education at Stellenbosch.

The DA statement shows no insight into what motivated the proposed new policy. In my new book Run, Racist, Run, I expand an earlier account of what racism consists of. If you show systematic disregard for the interests of other race groups, you are racist, even if the behaviour is not intentional. The DA statement reinforces institutional racism.

Second, the DA shadow minister implicitly assumes that Stellenbosch exists to serve the Afrikaans community. That’s false. It’s a public institution that should be as inclusive as possible rather than privileging any one linguistic group.

The point here being that the DA perpetuates the historical anachronism that Stellenbosch belongs to the Afrikaners. That is a telling subtext that one can read into the foregrounding of Afrikaans students’ constitutional rights and only a waspish reference to other students’ rights.

Third, the DA’s statement is simply wrong in its understanding of the new proposals. Afrikaans is not going to be sidelined. It will simply not be privileged at the expense of the educational needs of thousands of university students not conversant in the language.

The DA’s statement shamefully feeds a false perception that Afrikaans’s very existence depends on Stellenbosch maintaining it as its main language. No language group should be that insecure. Afrikaans will flourish for as long as the language is spoken, read and lived in many other ways by the millions of Afrikaans-speakers in the country.

Lastly, the DA statement sadly betrays an inability to truly get what transformation of our society requires of all of us. Not only is the new language policy proposal not a violation of the rights of Afrikaans students, it can, in fact, enhance the reputation and status of Afrikaans, and the Afrikaans community.

Afrikaans has a horrible history in our country, still labelled as the language of the oppressor by many people – even though it is the mother tongue of some of us who are black. Afrikaans needs to occupy a more comfortable space in multilingual, democratic South Africa.

That place is not one of superiority to other local languages. It should be one of linguistic equality. This new language policy for Stellenbosch truly opens up the possibility of Afrikaans liberating itself from an odious socio-linguistic and political history.

The proposed new language policy is the institutional equivalent of a washing of the feet of victims of apartheid. Or, if you will, the equivalent of Afrikaans coming down from its imagined higher ground, and being made to sit on the floor with other languages as equals, rather than as the baas. It could be much-needed catharsis.

The only people who are mortally upset by the proposed new language policy are people who are not interested in a more just and, therefore, a more inclusive, South Africa.

Let them cry their privileged tears. Let those tears flow from wells of linguistic chauvinism. Do not wipe them. Do not placate the criers. We should rather continue, full steam ahead, with the project of wholly decolonising all spaces in South Africa that remain – structurally and institutionally – poisonously unjust.

The DA should get with the programme, or forget about their dream of capturing significant numbers among black voters.

Related stories

Book details

» read article

Join Eusebius McKaiser, with Redi Thlabi, for the Launch of Run Racist Run at Exclusive Books Rosebank

Invitation to the launch of Run Racist Run

Run Racist Run: Journeys Into The Heart Of RacismBookstorm and Exclusive Books Rosebank would like to invite you to the launch of Run Racist Run: Journeys Into The Heart Of Racism by Eusebius McKaiser.

McKaiser will be speaking about his new book, which unpacks race and race relations in South Africa in the aftermath of the #RhodesMustFall debates and its spin-offs, with Redi Thlabi.

The event will take place at Exclusive Books Rosebank on Tuesday, 10 November, at 5:30 for 6 PM.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

Book Details

» read article

“We are the Racists” – Eusebius McKaiser Suggests Most South Africans are in Denial About Their Prejudice


A Bantu in My BathroomCould I Vote DA?As you must have heard by now, Eusebius McKaiser’s new book is coming out in November.

Books LIVE will be revealing the cover soon, but while you wait, take some time out to read an excerpt from McKaiser’s first book, the bestselling A Bantu in My Bathroom: Debating Race, Sexuality and Other Uncomfortable South African Topics.

In this chapter, McKaiser discusses Jessica dos Santos, the model who caused an outcry with a racist tweet back in 2012, and suggests that she is not an atypical South African, despite what most of us claim.

Read the excerpt:

* * * * * * * *

Racial baggage in four part harmony

Does outrage over others’ racism not mask our own prejudices?

Are you in denial?

Is Jessica dos Santos an alien, or one of us?

Sketch one:

A couple of days ago I had a rather embarrassing experience. I was sitting at one of my favourite spots in Rosebank – popular coffee shop Ninos – overlooking the parking lot while waiting for my creative juices to kick in after a bout of writer’s block. I got distracted by some noise, and looked up. Two women seemed to be having a fairly tense conversation. One of them seemed to have bumped the other’s car. I didn’t see the accident, so had no clue which one of them might have been in the wrong. As they exchanged numbers, their conversation, judging by the increasingly wild gesticulation, seemed to be getting more heated.

I instinctively found myself silently egging on the black lady, as one might anxiously hold thumbs for your favourite boxer in the ring. The Indian lady seemed louder – I could certainly hear her voice more clearly – and this made me nervous about whether or not my player in the road rage match was going to win the verbal warfare. But alas, the black lady, though also talking a lot, seemed more timid, and so I feared that she might come out of it all the worse for wear.

Why, you might wonder, did I instinctively side with her? Simply because she was black. I did not know her. I might never even meet her. For all I know, she could have been in the wrong, and hurled abuse at her Indian counterpart, thus deserving those loud protests. Yet, the fact that she was black was enough for her to get my sympathy and all my goodwill. There was no sympathy or goodwill, I’m afraid, for the person who looked less like me, the Indian lady.

Sketch two:

A good friend of mine, Seth, confessed to me many years after we first met that he had a rather horrible thought the first time he saw me. He walked into my philosophy tutorial at the beginning of his university career and when he realised that I was the tutor, he thought, ‘Oh dear, my luck to be assigned the incompetent black tutor.’ That is the sort of confession one can only trot out if your friendship is more solid than the skull of a politician. I chuckled, and we laughed it off over a pint of lager – or three.

We didn’t need to analyse the confession. It was obvious what was going on: my skin colour was assumed to be carrying information about me. And in this case, my black skin carried the warning, ‘incompetent!’ The onus was on me to disprove the assumption. Only white tutors could be assumed to be competent unless proven to be useless. It was the other way round for black tutors.

Sketch three:

Jessica dos Santos is a name we didn’t really know until early May 2012, but now her story has been filed in the annals of Twitter infamy. She is a white model who had an unfortunate encounter with a black guy who reportedly made unwelcome and unacceptable sexual advances towards her. She was so angry that she tweeted about the ‘kaffir’. She was quickly, and ferociously, sanctioned by almost every South African on Twitter. One magazine, FHM, almost instantly stripped her of some title she had won under their banner, and made it clear they would never work with her in future. She experienced the virtual equivalent of having a ton of rotten tomatoes thrown at her.

Not even a breakfast function at which she attempted to reconcile with another thoughtless tweep, a black woman who retorted with unacceptable racism (suggesting that whites ought to have been killed), could salvage her bruised image. She became the symbol of all unexpressed and latent racism that might exist in every nook and cranny in our country. And everyone wanted to prove their progressive credentials by venting more angrily than other tweeps.

I encountered at least two responses that typified the engagement with Dos Santos’s racism. One Facebook friend of mine gave me advice on my way to a recording for a television show on which I had been invited to appear to speak about the incident and its aftermath. My Facebook friend urged me to remind ‘these racists’ that their racism was disgusting and that ‘they’ had no place in our society.

At a friend’s birthday braai, the incident, inevitably, also became a topic of discussion at some point in the afternoon. One guest lamented, ‘You know, I almost feel sorry for that white girl. She must have been raised in an incredibly closed and insulated community.’

The reactions of the online masses, and the reactions of my Facebook friend and my friend’s braai guest, are intriguing: they suggest that racists are not us. Racists are alien. They are outliers in our society. They are not typical. They are a freak fact of our lives. If we could get rid of the three racists spoiling our rainbow image, we would be living in perfect racial harmony. (Cue: ‘Ebony and Ivory’ …)

I find this lie fascinating. Racists, in reality, are among us. We are the racists. ‘They’ are not from another planet. But we dare not indict ourselves.

Sketch four:

I was an obsessive competitive debater throughout my university career. And so when I arrived at Oxford University I was naturally drawn to the famous Oxford Debate Union. Probably the best part of my Oxford experience was the time spent growing as a debater, interacting with world-famous politicians and newsmakers. The Union was a space that was so well respected that, frankly, it was a feather in the career cap of anyone – even a state president – to be asked to speak there. But make no mistake, you had to know your stuff, lest the ambitious young Oxford lions, invariably wearing black tie, would offer you a lethal point of information or, worse, deliver paper speeches from the floor, that crushed your evidence or your reasoning. Fun stuff. Challenging stuff.

And so, in my first term at Oxford, I joined the Union and attended as many of the events as possible. During one of my first attendances, I found myself sitting in the main chamber of the Union. I do not recall the topic, but it was magnificent stuff with good opening speeches from both sides. Then it was the turn of a black guy who had been invited to the event.

As the man got up and walked up to the podium, I found myself thinking, ‘Pleeeeeease don’t fuck this up! Pleeeease be the best speaker!’

The basis of my mixture of fear and hope was simply that he was black. When the other speakers spoke, I had zero feelings about how they might or should perform. Whether they excelled or sank was neither here nor there. I had no stake in how well they might do that night. And yet, this stranger induced in me – purely because he was black – fear that he might not be up to the task at hand, and a simultaneous desire that he should deliver a speech worthy of a two-minute standing ovation.

Isn’t it interesting that my racial affinity could do all this to me? Years later, I am not so sure if much has changed. I still, for example, find myself desperately wanting black debaters to beat white debaters in competition; not just because I happen to coach some of them, but because black excellence is far closer to my heart than white excellence. It is a reality that is found in every part of my psyche. It is, for example, more important to me that Pieter de Villiers, former Springbok rugby coach, should have a brilliant record as coach than it is important to me that one Jake White should have a brilliant record as national coach. What is the basis of my split loyalties? Pieter looks and sounds more like my dad and me than Jake White. (Well, actually, no-one sounds like Pieterjie!) That’s how deep racial identity runs in me.

These four stories are variations on a theme: our racial baggage, as a nation recovering from a deeply racist past, is massive. Yet the way we deal with that past, in the present, is not very healthy.

First, we are in denial about the fact that racial identities are still very strong, and that they often form the basis of racial prejudices, and irrational racial affinities. Many of us who acknowledge this reality pull a different trick. We pretend the problem is small. Or we pretend that we never were, and never will be, part of the problem. The problem is out there. It is not in my home, in my heart, in my headspace.

This is why the collective outrage against Jessica’s racist tweet is slightly less comforting than it might appear at first glance. On the one hand, it is great that we collectively punish a racist in our midst. It means we do not tolerate racism rearing its divisive head. But there was, on the other hand, something disturbingly quick about the intense and voluminous reactions – something I am suspicious of.

My fear is that much of the outrage was less about Jessica’s racism than about deflecting attention from our selves. No-one who came down hard on Jessica acknowledged their own racial baggage. The subtext of the criticism was clear, ‘I am not Jessica. I am different.’ And this is why my Facebook friend could so neatly distinguish between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The ‘us’ refers to us innocent ones, and the ‘them’ refers to them racist bunch! But this is disingenuous.

The real difference, frankly, between Jessica and us is that she got busted and we did not. It is a little bit like our outrage when a famous person gets caught for drunken driving. It is easy to be outraged by that person’s irresponsible behaviour. In reality, many thousands of South Africans drive over the legal limit every weekend and do not get stopped. Yet, with no hint of irony, these same offenders are often the first to throw stones in the direction of the busted one. It is a tactic that is aimed at drawing attention away from one’s own behaviour. It is a lie we cannot afford to encourage in ourselves and in others.

The problem with pretending that we are oh-so-different from Jessica is unless we acknowledge the scope of the problem, we cannot deal with racism and racial baggage. That is why it is important that we examine our own lives, and not just preoccupy ourselves with spotting racism in others.

It is for the same reason that I introduced gentle disagreement into the braai conversation at my friend’s house. I suggested that it was probably not true that Jessica grew up in a racist attic. But of course it is a wonderful fantasy. Since you and I live in amazingly progressive and cosmopolitan places, we never could have done what Jessica did, nor would we ever. After the attic, Jessica cannot handle the pristine multiracial space in which her modelling career has landed her. This is the logic underlying the other braai guest’s casual suggestion that Jessica grew up in a closed community.

Again, we should be careful not to convince ourselves that racial baggage is a small problem out there. Jessica grew up in our communities. She is not one-of-a-kind. She is our friend, lover, sister, daughter and colleague. She is not an alien, and her birthplace is not Mars – it is in fact South Africa. She was born in 1992, and so cannot even be written off as a relic from Verwoerdian days. She is a proverbial ‘born free’ – but, not quite. Rather, born into racial baggage. Like all of us.

We dare not pretend our racial issues are over and done with, or negligible. Jessica is one of us.

It is also evident that besides racial prejudice, racial identity runs deeper than we like to believe. This is not even necessarily a poisonous truth and yet we deny it. There is no inherent harm in my quiet desire to see black debaters excel. In fact, given the historic educational inequities that partly explain why no black African has won the South African National Debate Championship (at the time of writing this book), one might even say that my passion for disproportionately focusing my coaching energy on black debaters, is sensible. Yet how many of us would own up to be motivated by race in this fairly innocuous sense? Few of us, because we have closed the space in which we can be open about our racial identities.

My experience of the two brawling women in the Rosebank Mall parking lot is not exceptional. When I tested my story with many friends less ‘race-obsessed’ than me, a familiar smile ran across their faces – they recognised the story instantly. I got the same reaction to my tale about the black speaker at Oxford. There seems to be a kind of trope here that is unsurprising. If I grew up in a community that was predominantly black, and had my first real interracial contact, socially, at my former whites-only high school, then it isn’t surprising that I should have racial loyalties. It would be more surprising if I did not.

Yet we run away from these realities. We pretend it is only Eusebius who sees race everywhere – him and his handful of race-obsessed friends. But, how many South Africans reading this essay do not have friends or lovers predominantly from the same racial group? How many people reading this essay grew up in racially integrated neighbourhoods? How many of us, unlike the old white landlady in Sandton, could comfortably live with people who do not look like us? We have tighter social bonds with people of our own racial make-up than those who do not share the randomness of skin colour.

The story of multiracial, rainbow nation bliss is grossly exaggerated. We are not there, and we will take longer to get there if we convince ourselves that we have already arrived. We haven’t. If someone like my friend Seth didn’t own up to the fact that he took my skin colour as an indication of whether or not I was competent, then how could Seth ever have confronted his own racial stereotyping? It is only by acknowledging, in the first instance, that the racial challenges start with our individual selves that we have a fighting chance of achieving that elusive non-racial South Africa we chant about more often than we bother to work at creating.

And this is why I am grateful that Jessica put up her racist hand and demanded our attention. In the end it is the Jessicas of this world who keep us brutally honest.

Book details

  • A Bantu in My Bathroom: Debating Race, Sexuality and Other Uncomfortable South African Topics by Eusebius McKaiser
    EAN: 9781920434373
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

» read article

Eusebius McKaiser Calls for Respect from “Old(er)” Commentators Engaging with Protesting Students

Could I Vote DA?A Bantu in My BathroomEusebius McKaiser has shared his thoughts on the current student protests, specifically the nature of some of the criticism aimed at the students’ tactics.

McKaiser, political commentator and author of Could I Vote DA?: A Voter’s Dilemma and A Bantu in My Bathroom: Debating Race, Sexuality and Other Uncomfortable South African Topics, posted his thoughts on Facebook, receiving over 100 shares.

In the piece, he calls out the “lazy, glib” articles questioning why the students have not targeted the state, suggesting that “old(er) farts” should respect the students’ logic and arguments as they would do when engaging with academic peers:

A quick methodological point. Some critics of the student tactics and strategies are of the form, “You ought to target the state and not university management.”

Variations on the theme include, “I support your cause but no unlawful activity.”

More nostalgic condescending variations include, “When we were student activists at The Last Supper we were reading Marx …”

Two little thoughts:

1. It’s permissible to show solidarity with students and still disagree profoundly on particular points of strategy, tactics or broader demands. [I strongly disagree with a few of my own peers who think solidarity ENTAILS zero disagreement; that's intolerant nonsense.]


2. Can we please as old(er) farts write about student choices and views as we do when writing about academic peers in the academy? Frame a piece by first asking, for example, “If I wanted to render students intelligible and rational how would I explain the choices they make even though those choices are not the ones I would make?”
After all we often politely apply the principle of charity to academic peers when engaging in the academy to show full appreciation for their logic and argument BEFORE carefully and tentatively rehearsing objections.

So why write about students, many deeply steeped in these protests with practical intelligence and theoretical foundations visible, and yet write about them as behaving in inherently unintelligible ways?

If I see one more lazy, glib article asking rhetorically “Why not march against the state?” and the article fails to puzzle through the strategic thought students have made clear, I will patiently take time to deconstruct the writer’s anti-intellectualism to show students what they should not aspire to once back at their desks.

Book details

  • A Bantu in My Bathroom: Debating Race, Sexuality and Other Uncomfortable South African Topics by Eusebius McKaiser
    EAN: 9781920434373
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

» read article