The urgency of our time begs for constructive dialogue
The ripple effect of the unfolding public debate on Ashwin Willemse walking off set earlier this month has delivered a final blow that shattered the glass effigy of a unified South African “rainbow nation”. Elna Boesak writes an open letter to Naas Botha and Nick Mallett.
Dear Nick and Naas,
There is something deeply disconcerting yet remarkably enlightening about undiluted human responses to escalating, deep-rooted societal change; when the unsustainability of political compromise is overtaken by the inevitability of lived reality. When history births a moment of truth and demands nothing less than honesty and courage.
I write to you with great appreciation for, and in recognition of your profiles, influences and contributions as role models for many and in acknowledgement of the power that both of you have had to shape the thinking patterns of even more, particularly those citizens in traditional white and Afrikaans-speaking communities.
I engage you as a privileged white person that is keenly aware of and deeply saddened about the fact that I gained my empowerment at the cost of generations of fellow human beings. I engage you as a proud African whose fate is entwined with that of the continent of my birth. I offer my opinion as a woman who actively advocates for dignity, equality and justice for all human beings, no matter what their differentiating markers are, the Earth we live in and all of her creatures. I speak as journalist that never claims to know “the truth” and a Christian believer who embraces interfaith respect and cooperation.
Recent dramatic developments in the rugby sports sector have, for many South Africans and in many ways, delivered a final blow that shattered the glass effigy of a unified South African “rainbow nation”. Dangerous and extremely destructive shards of distrust, stereotyping, stigma, anger, rejection, polarization, withdrawal, and, most importantly, contestation and conflict are ripping through communities, the nation and our international image.
Sadly, the hurtful, undignified, provocative and ingenious remarks and opinions of many conversation participants do not assist this country to make progress with a long overdue and much needed public discourse. The latest developments constitute a final domino that fell to reveal a bigger picture: a country and people who are caught in desperate struggles to either guarantee their advantages through or free themselves from a complex, tenacious and generational web of political, social and economic power imbalances. In the process, the future of a whole nation is at risk of serious injury.
History has and is still teaching us that breaking cycles of harmful generational programming and propaganda is at the heart of positive, sustained transformation. This is, we know by now, no small challenge and definitely not one that can be addressed in a superficial fashion or achieved through manipulation.
No one is, however, as blind as the one who does not want to see. No one is as aggressive as the one that is insecure and guilt-ridden, but unwilling to acknowledge it. No one is as obstructive as the one who is unable to engage in dignified, honest and logical conversation and no one is as obstructive as the one who refuses to change.
It is my hope that my response stimulates an interest to engagement with me in especially one segment of the South African society that look up to and emulate you both as role models: the white African leaders of tomorrow.
Most of them had just been born or were toddlers when the Constitution of the South African democracy was promulgated in our parliament on 18 December 1996. This was the historic day on which those of us with a predominantly European heritage – who had not yet done so – were, again, given the opportunity to admit and take responsibility for the genocide, land grab, marginalization, alienation, exploitation, suffering and loss of life that unfolded over more than three hundred years in this country.
That was the landmark day on which we were, again, invited to step into the embrace of forgiveness and inclusion and to accept and respect – as equals, neighbours, sisters and brothers and compatriots – those who had, for generations, been on the receiving end of destructive supremacies. That was the unforgettable day on which grace beyond understanding gave us the freedom to leave our isolationist camps of extremism.
That was then and this is now. Behind us we have left more than two decades worth of footprints on the landscape of a new beginning.
On our journeys, we have been and are nourished by some of the invaluable strengths and characteristics that are imbedded in our cultural heritage and that we took with us as precious treasures when we left the lager. We were and are strengthened by a religious conviction that it is required of us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.
We were and are inspired by the sacrifices, hope, tenacity, humility and spirituality of those generations of South Africans who had, for over more than three centuries, and those who are still today resisting dehumanizing injustices and inequalities. We have and continue to follow in the footsteps of those who have and are setting the bar for humanity in a just society. We were and are still protected by the love, support and solidarity of and through collaboration with kindred souls.
The journey continues and is as perilous and pressing as before.
The dawn of authentic engagement is breaking. “Neutrality” has become the quicksand of indifference and many white South Africans are, yet again, implored to make a choice: decide, declare and stand: on the side of costly yet maintained transformation of political, social and economic power relations.
We are fast running out of time to step into the rapidly widening breach that destructive forces continue to cause in the wall that protects our vision for a unified, just, peaceful and prosperous South Africa for all her children. To be a beacon of hope and inspiration in a world in political, social and economic turmoil, a humankind plagued by globalized new-fascism, neo-colonialism, resurrected religious conquests and an Earth buckling under the weight of environmental degradation. To confront – in an unequivocal yet dignified fashion – those among us who constitute the ball and chain of selective perspectives, irresponsible amnesia, hard-hearted earthly pietism and unredeemed bravado.
But, it is still not too late.
Only those who look but do not see, ignore evidence that the fragility of human relations has reached breaking point in South Africa. Only those who hear but do not listen, ignore the rumbling of an active volcano.
The urgency of our time begs for constructive dialogue that is driven by inclusive moral reasoning. Our future rests on those who will speak in defence of our Constitution and my hope is that this will include young white African leaders. They might just be the weight that we need to tip the scales.
We salute those of you who have already crossed the bridges of your time and congratulate those of you who have accepted the responsibility of breaking down old and new walls of colonialism, slavery and Apartheid. We invite those of you who remain removed and uncommitted to join your peers who are already attempting to break seemingly endless cycles of generational conditioning and mobilization that result in the transferal, maintenance and justification of harmful beliefs, values, attitudes and traditions.
Today, I proudly declare again, I am an African. I implore outsiders who are stranded on isolated islands and have not yet crossed the Rubicon to do so and to join the ranks of those who, as former President Thabo Mbeki so fittingly and movingly put it:
…refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, gender of historical origins. It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. It gives concrete expression to the sentiment we share as Africans, and will defend to the death, that the people shall govern….
Together with the best in the world, we too are prone to pettiness, petulance, selfishness and shortsightedness. But it seems to have happened that we looked at ourselves and said the time had come that we make a super-human effort to be other than human, to respond to the call to create for ourselves a glorious future, to remind ourselves of the Latin saying: Gloria est consequenda – Glory must be sought after! …
Whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing can stop us now! Whatever the difficulties, Africa shall be at peace! However improbable it may sound to the sceptics, Africa will prosper! Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say – nothing can stop us now!
Nick and Naas, I thank you, in advance, for your time and attention. You have the influence to motivate hesitant young white students to engage, as equals and trusted allies, their black compatriots. Perhaps history will record your contributions in the writing of the narrative that will one day, in generations to come, tell the story of the truly “new” South Africa.
God bless Africa.
Elna Boesak.BACK TO TOP