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    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
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    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

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    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
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  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
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    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
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    by Dion A Forster
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Are 'whites' South Africa's problem?

 A good friend of mine, Sanda Fata, posted a quote on his timeline last week that caused me to reflect and think very deeply. I respect Sanda and so trust his perspective. Here is the status that Sanda posted:

Most white South Africans don't want to be part of South Africa, but all they want is huge stake of South Africa (Nkosivumile Gola) uvuthiwe mntanam.
The statement above touches on two very sensitive issues, namely the massive issue of inequality between South Africa's citizens, and of course the painful and ongoing issue of race politics.


I am convinced that the issue at stake in South Africa is not a race issue (race classification and the empowerment of one race and denigration of another is the cause of our problems, and so it cannot be our solution). As I prayed, and thought about this issue I wrote the following response to Sanda.

Comrade Sanda Fata - thanks for sharing this. It caused me to think deeply. I agree with part of the statement of Comrade Nkosivumile Gola. Indeed there are certain South Africans who want a larger stake of the nation at the expense of others, and I am afraid that in large measure they are white South Africans. However, I think that it is a mistake to tie the struggle for emancipation and transformation to race. It is a mistake because it is wrong and so in the long run it will be futile. We cannot base our struggle on something that people cannot choose or change. The core of the issue here is not whiteness, it is something more powerful, something about which people can make choices and can actually choose to change. Apartheid ideology did its best to problematise blackness. We can see how wrong that was. I contend that it is a mistake to judge persons based on something they did not choose and cannot change. So, what should we do? In my view our struggle should be a class struggle. There are South Africans of a certain class that subjugate others through their choices, their consumption of resources, their desire for power and wealth at all costs, their denial of human dignity (and so also human rights). These South Africans are white, but they are also brown and black. It is their choices around class that are problematic (hence I contend that a class struggle is necessary, and not a race struggle). A class struggle emerges when there are competing social and economic interests between people in society (such as access to health care, education, dignified work, a living wage, the right to flourish). These choices can be changed by the classes who hold wealth and power, and so I feel we need to spend our energy, time, and creativity addressing the class issue rather than the race issue. History has shown that race struggles are based on prejudice (about something that people cannot choose or change) and so they never succeed. Persons who appeal only to race do so because it is very easy to blame the 'other' who is different from ourselves, but it is a mistake since there are poor whites, poor brown people, as well as wealthy black people, powerful black people etc., I would encourage you to look at this great book by my friend Joerg Rieger We hope to have him visit South Africa again soon: Rieger, Joerg ed. 2013 Religion, Theology, and Class: Fresh Engagements after Long Silence New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan

At the core of my argument is that South Africans need one another. Our diversity is a gift. I am convinced that we need each other in order to forge a better future for all, we cannot attempt to make things better by once again polarising persons along the lines of race. Moreover, I am convinced that social and economic issues are central to the struggle that we face in South Africa today - indeed, suffering is still almost entirely a reality among our black sisters and brothers. However, it is not their race which causes this suffering, it is our economic and political choices. Inequality is a class issue, not a race issue.

I would love to hear your perspective.

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Reader Comments (4)

Thanks for this Dion. We need to be having these conversations at a time where, I believe, race relations are deteriorating rather than advancing in South Africa. There's an interesting article by Thami Mazwai in this week's business day, which highlights that the challenges facing us are more than just class. It also has to do with the narrative we use to tell the story of our history. The IJR research suggests that a growing 'apartheid denialism' (or at least a denial that apartheid was a crime against humanity) amongst too many whites is breeding resentment amongst blacks. You can read the article here

December 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIan France

Thanks so much Ian.

Indeed, these are important issues. I am convinced that we need to have the courage to address them for the sake of our common good in South Africa. Thanks for the link to Thami Mazwai's article - it is deeply challenging. The article expresses very clearly a sentiment that I have heard a number of times, and hear more frequently as time passes in South Africa and very little changes to make the lives of the majority of our population better.

Let me be absolutely clear, there is no denial on my part that apartheid was racial violence by the white minority on the black majority population of South Africa. Moreover, the consequences of those criminal acts continue to reverberate through the country. My desire, however, is to ensure that we don't fall into that trap again (and also that we don't remain in that trap!)

At the TRC submissions at the reenactment in Stellenbosch earlier this year I was asked to make some points on behalf of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. One of the comments I made, which caused some controversy, was that I challenged the use of the term 'post Apartheid South Africa'.

I question the use of the term - in what way, and in which sense, has apartheid ended? Don't we deny the truth when we say that apartheid is over in South Africa? Don't we continue to perpetuate the suffering of our sisters and brothers when we tell them that we live in a 'post apartheid' society?

The reality is that in many of the ways that matter most in the immediate term apartheid is still alive and well in the country - white South Africans (and an emerging black elite) continue to enjoy power and wealth, while the majority of our population have not experienced any significant change in their living conditions and quality of life. In some sense the Constitution subjugates the poor of our nation even further, while protecting the rights (particularly property rights and land rights) of a small sector of South Africa's population while the poor are functionally excluded from the legal system and so have their rights denied.

However, all that being true - I still cannot see how we can move forward if our struggle is based on ontological race binaries. The end point of denigrating persons based on their race (only) is further race violence and racial abuse. We must find another way - a solution that makes life better for all South Africans. I like what Cobus said in his comments above, we need to keep all of these important aspects in tension (race, class, gender etc.)

December 21, 2014 | Registered CommenterDr Dion Forster

This is a very important discussion from which we could learn in the United States. Thanks for starting it, Dion. My emphasis on class that was referenced a few times here does indeed not mean to play off race and class (or gender). Unfortunately, in the United States the class issue is pushed out of sight in favor of various other issues, including race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. The result is that we are unable to effectively address these struggles. Cobus has it right when he says above "class struggle is waged by keeping certain racial structures in place," and this is true for gender, ethnicity, etc. as well. So we'll have to keep the various elements together--this is one way I am using the term "deep solidarity." But let's never forget that we are ultimately up against global capitalism and not just one form of prejudice or another.

December 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoerg Rieger

Thanks, Dion, I think as a country we have tried everything over the past 20 years to avoid a public discussion about race. Two issues: 1) if race isn't the problem, then what about redress? BEE by definition has to be race-based. 2) Apartheid attempted not only to dehumanise black-skinned people but also to 'divide and rule', so some black people were given a greater privilege, and that resulted in the hated tricameral system. How do we then address the consequences of these race-policies? Is structural-gender violence a gender issue or a class issue? The inherent racism of referring to black people as "monkeys"; "unable to govern"; etc - attitudes and statements expressed widely over social media are all race issues not class or power issues. So to your class and power dynamic I would add humanising our language /social discourse about black-skinned people. For example, when I was an 11-year-old, a white railway conductor told me to "go to my people's section of the train because monkeys can't ride here." Yes, an 11-year-old vs a senior official there was something of a power differential. But perhaps it is more than that. Good and provocative

December 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

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