White Privilege

by Hannes Wessels


Poor Helen Zille is in terrible trouble again despite a stellar career in public life. As the outgoing premier of the Western Cape, through a display of competence, diligence and selflessness she has shown the country she has devoted much of her life to, and the world, how a politician should go about the discharge of his or her duties and responsibilities. Unfortunately, these lessons are almost certainly lost on the country’s leaders who choose to adopt a very different approach to the wielding of power and it has a lot to do with using political leverage as a means towards self enrichment; something Mrs. Zille abhors and this is the background to the latest twitter-storm.

The Premier’s ire was raised in part by a tweet from a gentleman calling himself, ‘Literate Lion’ who wrote: “You clearly don’t understand white privilege. We had plenty technology here that was eroded/annihilated by colonialism. You did zero favours by colonising us.”

Mrs. Zille’s response was blunt and pertinent: “Well you clearly don’t understand black privilege. It is being able to loot a country and steal hundreds of billions and get re-elected. If ppl want permanent poverty for the masses they are going about it the right way.”

Unfortunately, ‘Literate Lion’ did not go into any details about the, “…plenty technology here that was eroded/annihilated by colonialism.” Clearly, he knows something most of us who have studied African history don’t and it would be fascinating to hear more from this learned individual on the subject. I wonder if he gave any thought to the origins of the device he was using to criticise so-called ‘white privilege’?

Apart from all the other questions raised by Mrs. Zille’s tweet, what is blindingly obvious is that in the course of this terse but explosive discourse we are also witness to yet another blatant example of anti-white racism. While Mrs. Zille is lambasted for using the term ‘black-privilege’ no such criticism is allowed when the term ‘white privilege’ is tossed out into the media mix with gay abandon. In other words, it’s quite acceptable to label every person with a white skin as ‘privileged’ but the converse is totally unacceptable even to more credible figures in the black intelligentsia like Professor Thuli Madonsela who drew accolades for her performance during her tenure as the country’s ‘Public Protector’.

She tweeted thus: Dear @helenzille white privilege is universal and comes with the premium the world places on whiteness plus accumulated historical advantages. To equate it with black privilege is myopic. To brand blacks as looters and political pretenders is wrong. Please withdraw and apologize.”

My problem with Professor Madonsela (I’m constantly amazed at the fact that a country and continent blessed with so many professors seems to consistently get so much wrong) and millions who think like her is I reject with contempt the very concept of ‘white privilege’ that rolls so easily off their forked tongues. The recorded history of the European I have read can be summed up as one of industriousness, innovation, enterprise and fortitude which led to conquest and the creation of wealth which changed the world; in most cases for the better. Europeans did not prosper waiting for hand-outs; they improved their lives through careful contemplation and toil.

As I understand it, and I stand to be corrected by ‘Literate Lion’, the Africa that revealed itself to the early European explorers, missionaries and settlers was a primitive, violent and at times, terrifying place where might was right and the most basic human rights were of absolutely no consequence.

A perfect exemplar of this condition was Chaka Zulu; a genocidal maniac, now lionized in South Africa with an airport named after him. If Chaka had been a European, he would be posted up there alongside Mao, Stalin and Hitler as one of the monsters of the history of the world.

As a ‘privileged white’ brought up in Africa I have dealt with adversity all my life, simply because of the colour of my skin. For much of my early years I was, through no fault of my own, a citizen of an outlaw state, forbidden to travel abroad, drawn into war at a young age to try and block the path to power of a tyranny and vilified, simply because the international community had suddenly decided that Europeans had no right to be in Africa.

All my working life, because of my race, I and my contemporaries have been subjected to selective application of the laws and double standards. Marginalised in the country of my birth because of my ancestry and warned that whites should stay out of politics I looked on in horror as friends who ignored this threat were murdered and maimed. I was part of a community of good and kind people, stripped of their lives and livelihoods simply because of their ‘whiteness’ and yet I must accept that I and my people like me are somehow ‘privileged’?

Today I am witness to the heart-breaking plight of many of my destitute former colleagues and countrymen who are unable to survive without the help of friends and family. Because of their ‘whiteness’ they lost everything in Zimbabwe and have not been able to recover from the ensuing financial ruin. Many are of British ancestry; once proudly and bravely served Queen and country when the Union Jack flew but the people who now rule in the motherland have forsaken these former stalwarts and refuse to assist in the payment of their measly pensions.

The government of the country that encouraged many of these people to set forth into Africa in a bid to make the world a better place, spends £12 billion a year on aid projects, much of it on this continent helping despots retain power but not one penny for their own in times of desperate need. The simple reason; they are white and ‘privileged’!



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