I benefited from Apartheid – did you?

I am a white South Africa. I was born and grew up in Bophuthatswana.
I have fairly liberal parents, and even if we did not agree with the ruling government, the fact is that I benefited. When we moved to Pretoria, I went to good school and got a good education – a solid foundation in life. I was lucky enough to go to University and, where I am today, is partly due to that start in life. Sure I worked hard, overcame dyslexia and disproved the teacher who said I would never amount to much, but had my skin colour been different, a lot of these priviledges would not have been mine.

There are a few responses one can have as a white South African. You can deny that you had any part in it, you can say you did your bit. I was still at school, but did any of us do enough? You can be guilty, but let’s be honest, guilt helps no-one and is immobilizing. You wallow in it and yet nothing changes. People are scared and worried about the future, those with kids worry about their future too, but I believe that our response has to be: To take ownership of how we benefited, regardless of fault, and give back.

So, while I might not be responsible, I fully believe that I am now duty bound to give back and to make SA better for those who did not have the chances I had. Being privileged is not bound by colour, so if you have more than other South Africans what are you doing to help?

It can feel a bit overwhelming but if we all reach out and help in our own small corner of the country we CAN make a difference, help one person, one family, one school, one community. Give time, give money, give skills. And not just in passing. Get involved. Get to know people and let them touch your life as you touch theirs.

I leave you with the starfish story – throw one back and make a difference!

Based on the story by Loren Eisley…

I awoke early, as I often did, just before sunrise to walk by the ocean’s edge and greet the new day. As I moved through the misty dawn, I focused on a faint, far away motion. I saw a youth, bending and reaching and flailing arms, dancing on the beach, no doubt in celebration of the perfect day soon to begin.

As I approached, I sadly realized that the youth was not dancing to the bay, but rather bending to sift through the debris left by the night’s tide, stopping now and then to pick up a starfish and then standing, to heave it back into the sea. I asked the youth the purpose of the effort. “The tide has washed the starfish onto the beach and they cannot return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun rises, they will die, unless I throw them back to the sea.”

As the youth explained, I surveyed the vast expanse of beach, strectching in both directions beyond my sight. Starfish littered the shore in numbers beyond calculation. The hopelessness of the youth’s plan became clear to me and I countered, “But there are more starfish on this beach than you can ever save before the sun is up. Surely you cannot expect to make a difference.”

The youth paused briefly to consider my words, bent to pick up a starfish and threw it as far as possible. Turning to me he simply said, “I made a difference to that one.”

18 thoughts on “I benefited from Apartheid – did you?

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more! Each and every one of us has something more than somebody else in this country. Give the little – the gains are overwhelming!

    A lovely post. Thank you!

  2. I realise that the race issue is real, but what you say above is what I mean when I speak of ‘the essence of man’s spirituality.’ It is this kind of compassion that is missing in the world today, and that is why there is so much suffering.

  3. Wow Sally! If only everyone in South Africa could have your progressive attitude, we would not be in this mess. This is by far the most sensible post on this subject I have seen. WELL DONE SISTER!

  4. As human beings we are more prone to see the difficulties that we face when it comes to making a difference, we forget that that is inherently the point of making a difference. It is not about what you do it is the fact that you attempt it that is important. And in the words of Anne Frank “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

    Good post!

  5. You “benefited” if you gained something that otherwise you wouldn’t have, a decent school education should be a mandatory right in a civilised country, not a benefit, I think the main people who benefited were the Afrikaners, my fathers white but a foreigner and he worked his ass off through apartheid and now, it didnt make a difference to him who’s in power, except now with BEE it’s worse for businesses. I went to private schools and had lots of black classmates during apartheid, from grade one, so it’s not just whites who got a good education, of course too many blacks didnt get any proper education which is a travesty and you can see the affects of it. But I dont think you going to a decent school is a benefit of apartheid, its just what should have been normal, benefiting from apartheid was when whites committed crimes/assaulted blacks/underpaid black workers, etc, and got away with it. I think english speaking whites didnt really benefit unless they were in with the afrikaners.

  6. It is brave of you to move from the waves of denialism, I agree with the earlier comment,, our country would be much better with more honesty – even when hard economic data tells us theres been little change, some still deny,,, not wanting to admit to getting an easy ride,,but how does one even start to move forward without the truth?

  7. We can rationalise it and play with words all we like.
    The unavoidable truth is?
    We *did* benefit. Plat and plain and simple.
    Now we need to suck it up and pay it back.
    Let’s stop bullshitting, and get it done.

  8. So very well written Sally. This is the kind of outlook and perspective we ALL need to have. Not only a particular race, but all. For example, if Malema thought this way, he’d be more focused on giving back to the youth he represents instead of just causing mayhem and filling his already full pockets. We as a nation need to stand together and make a difference, instead of just complaining about what is not right with our country.

  9. Here from Damaria’s blog.

    Great post. I was a kid when Apartheid ended, but I still benefited because previous generations of my family benefited. And I agree – we may not be personally responsible for the regime, but we should be prepared to pass along the benefits we’ve received to others because we can afford to do so.

  10. Grey: “English speaking whites didn’t really benefit” from Aparthied? Oh, were you sleeping in a shack in a township then? Were you attending a school with one book per class with striking or absent teachers? Were you suffering the sexual, physical, emotional abuse that goes hand in hand with poverty (and wealth too obviously, but the connection with poeverty is much stronger), hounded by crime and violence?

    Hectic. Cos I wasn’t and I didn’t even get to go to a private school. I went to my amazing model C school that my parents paid for, we lived in an amazing suburb with a huge garden and a pool, I could choose between many sports, I slept in a bed in my own room, I had relative stability in my life. I benefitted from Apartheid, and it’s a fact that if I have kids they will benefit too because of the position and priveleges it gave me in life. White people in other countries who are average middle class people don’t live the way white South Africans live. People in Europe are shocked and a little disgusted to hear of the pools and the servants and the gardens and the level of school education that we took for granted. I had a better life than them and it was thanks to Apartheid and that’s all there is to it.

  11. Po: I consider that living a normal life, non-whites were the victims and had shit lives, but most whites just had a normal life going on, so I’m saying it wasn’t a benefit of apartheid – we had it normal – as if we lived in any other kind of first world country, do you know what I’m getting at? it should have been the same for everyone living here but it wasnt, it doesnt mean it was a benefit to us, we just had it normal, did your parents become super rich profitting from the corrupt afrikaans government? that would be a benefit.

    Level of school education that you took for granted? hello in some european countries schooling is totally free – here you have to pay towards it. and are you implying Europeans dont get a decent education?

    And by the way, during apartheid I used to visit one of my friends who lived in a township in a hugeeeeee house and she had a full time maid and a driver…. and my relatives in europe have maids too – its not a south african phenomenon – the crap thing here is how some people treated their staff and underpaid them.

    And I know of some indian businessmen who benefited BIG time and became super rich thanks to the apartheid-government – who really paid their black workers badly and were paid by the government a quota for each employee, and alot of indians became wealthy because they didnt have to pay tax under aparteheid – that is a benefit is it not?

    All I was saying is that in my opinion we led normal lives and I think it was terrible what the white afrikaners did, I dont see living a normal life as a benefit of apartheid – we were lucky we were born white – but you didnt benefit from apartheid, you just got to live life they way everyone should have. I think benefit is really the wrong word to use, whites were lucky that they could have regular lives….non-whites had it bad…..

  12. hehe Grey yes I am implying that in England at elast the free education can be pretty dodgy, my parents are both teachers here and basically they say the level the kids are at here at age 16 is like standard 5 stuff. I can’t comment myself, but yes, our government white education was/is still sky high above what they get here.

  13. Also, if our parents chose to stay, and they did, during Apartheid, they clearly did not strongly object to Apartheid. I know my aunt and uncle left because they did not agree with the government. My parents stayed and so I benefitted from what the Afrikaners did in terms of putting aside jobs, funding etc for whites above all others. You can’t blame Afrikaners.

    Even the richest, most well off black person could not vote, was treated like a subhuman, was not seen as a human in the eyes of the government or the country. It’s nice to be treated equally to everyone else, you know?

  14. In response to Grey: Grey, white people in general benefited from apartheid! Those who didn’t either chose not to or didn’t know how to, the bottom line is that the opportunity was there…all the opportunity was there. I on the other hand (a person of colour) did not benefit as well as the white people did but, I did benefit more than the black people. If I had the opportunities that English speaking white people had in this country I would have been rich…this I can tell you for sure. My parents were discriminated against which resulted in them not being able to gain access to tertiary education due to poverty, which in return resulted in me not being sponsored by my parents to have a university education. and yes you could argue BURSARIES? SCHOLARSHIPS? … my matric results were not good enough to qualify for this since my matric year was disrupted due to the political revolt known as “the Struggle!” something that Julius clearly knows nothing about.

    So yes my friend reality for other people was so different to yours. You can and will never understand or comprehend how things were, if you did you would sing a different tune.

  15. Pingback: I hate that I fear « Pink Hair Girl

Leave a Reply