Racist, Racist South Africa

By Jane Duncan · 6 Sep 2012

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Picture: Machine Made/Flickr
Picture: Machine Made/Flickr

In the wake of the Marikana massacre, information is trickling into the public domain, which suggests that the police killing of workers was more premeditated than initially thought. Workers who were released from police custody have confirmed accounts of unjustified police violence against protestors, and these accounts have challenged the dominant narrative of the police having acted purely in self-defence. 

Public opinion remains sharply divided about whether the police were justified in shooting the miners, and much opinion has divided along racial lines, which is hardly surprising given the experiential and perception gaps between so many black and white people. More disturbingly, though, many responses have taken a decidedly racist turn.

Media reports of miners having engaged in rituals, ostensibly to protect themselves against police bullets, have unleashed a torrent of racist remarks on online news sites and social networks. Commentators have referred to black people as primitive, superstitious, retarded, chimpanzees, lazy unproductive parasites, “…moronic Neanderthals that would rape a baby to cure themselves of HIV,” (in the words of one commentator) undeserving of the vote and incapable of running a country.

In the wake of Marikana, social networks are seething with racial hatred. Delighted by the fact that the black government was doing something right for a change, racists rushed to the defence of the police and ignored or rubbished evidence suggesting that the police acted inappropriately.

In gloating over the miners’ deaths and what they consider to be black stupidity generally, racists seem blithely unconcerned about possibility that they may be straining black patience to the limit.

Racist utterances have become much more visible in the past few years, suggesting a fracturing of the country’s social fabric. Institutions that track social cohesion in South Africa have sounded alarm bells too. The government’s National Planning Commission (NPC) and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) have both warned that the South African nation is not cohering as it should.

According to the IJR, South Africans are experiencing a low sense of national belonging and continue to associate strongly with identity groups based on language, ethnicity and race. While day-to-day interactions across racial lines are gradually becoming more frequent - although mainly in the middle class - a staggeringly high 42 per cent of the people surveyed said they still never socialised across racial lines.

The South African nation is clearly very, very ill. Why are more South Africans retreating into racial laagers, quicker to recognise their apparent differences than their commonalities, and why do public displays of racism seem to be on the rise?

Racism is not just as a set of attitudes, but a systemic phenomenon. Racism serves a particular ideological function in capitalist societies - including South Africa’s - namely to justify the subjugation of blacks to extract surplus value out of them more easily. Under apartheid, the South African state used racism to portray inequality as an inevitable outcome of the inherent superiority of whites and inferiority of blacks.

What needs to be more fully understood is why racism did not simply wither away after apartheid. Appropriate anti-racist strategies cannot be developed without a correct diagnosis of the problem.

It could be argued that racism continues to exist because of the residual racist consciousness left over from the apartheid era, and that racists merely need to be educated out of their attitudes. This approach ignores the social function of racism in post-apartheid South Africa.

Racism allows whites to portray the country’s continuing inequality as natural and inevitable, that exists because of the inherent weaknesses of black people (and therefore which cannot be changed), rather than as a result of how society is organised (and which therefore can be changed).  It allows them to argue that black people remain at the bottom of society - with substandard housing, crumbling education and chronic unemployment - because they are naturally inclined towards this social status.

In the case of Marikana, racism played a particular ideological role, namely to justify violent repression of workers’ wage demands. It is in the interest of whites - who still largely remain at the apex of the economic power structure - to keep race thinking alive as a mainstay for black exploitation, and to demonise resistance to that exploitation.

Many white people simply do not appreciate that the transition to democracy did not have to unfold in the way that it did. The transition created a democracy while leaving the commanding heights of the economy still in white hands, and the government’s Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment strategy has largely failed to change this racialised economic structure.

The ANC could have insisted on widespread expropriation of property without compensation: an entirely justifiable position given the historic dispossession of black people. Instead of recognising and appreciating black magnanimity, racists are rebuffing the hand of reconciliation that has been extended to them.

The rise of racism is not driven by local factors only. Globally, racism becomes more pronounced during recessionary periods, as competition for jobs amongst workers increases, which may quickly become racialised. This is why the 2008 global recession saw a sharp rise in racist and xenophobic sentiments globally, especially against migrant workers.

How can South Africa develop a community of shared values? According to the recently deceased activist and scholar, Neville Alexander, the nation must be built on all levels of the social formation, including the cultural, the social and the economic.

The ANC’s cardinal error – informed by errors in its theory of national unity - was to assume that they could legislate the nation into being, without creating the material conditions for South Africans to experience a common identity. Deepening inequality has made national unity even more elusive, and created fertile ground for racists. The ANC’s top down, idealist approach to nation building was naïve, dangerously misguided and ultimately unsustainable.

The danger is that, in this recessionary period, organised responses to intensifying racism may not be guided by anti-racist principles: that is, principles that seek to make race thinking disappear entirely by creating the basis for a truly non-racial society, rather than the cosmetic one South Africa has now. 

The rise of Julius Malema has shown that South Africa is still capable of a rightward shift towards re-racialised, even proto-fascist politics, and a racial backlash along these lines is entirely possible. If this shift happens then South Africa’s dream of a non-racial society will be shattered, and the country could descend into a spiral of strife that it may not be able to emerge from very easily.

This is why racists need to think very, very deeply before speaking; blog by blog, tweet by tweet, they are courting disaster for themselves, and for the country as a whole.

It is important to note, though, that white people are not the only racists in South Africa, and many whites are decidedly anti-racist. But whites remain the most vocal culprits because they command inordinate amounts of social, cultural and economic capital.

Racism must be fought at every turn, and racists must be named and shamed. It is tempting simply to ban public displays of racism, but this will not make racist attitudes go away. It is better for South Africa to realise just how sick it is.

Whites need to start accepting some harsh realities. Most importantly, whites need to realise that the country’s social inequalities – expressed most starkly in the massive wage gap between the Lonmin managers and workers – are unsustainable. Whites will need to start sharing their wealth, if they are to continue to have a future in this country. Admittedly, they are unlikely to do so without a fight, but as the unfolding events at Lonmin and other mines suggest, that fight has already begun.

Duncan is a Professor of Journalism at the University of Johannesburg.

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6 Sep

Racist, Racist South Africa

According to the IJR, South Africans are experiencing a low sense of national belonging and continue to associate strongly with identity groups based on language, ethnicity and race. While day-to-day interactions across racial lines are gradually becoming more frequent - although mainly in the middle class - a staggeringly high 42 per cent of the people surveyed said they still never socialised across racial lines.

Err, wasn't this what Apartheid was all about.

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hello hello
7 Sep

Speak to Cyril

Maybe Cyril Ramaphosa should also share his wealth that he did not earn and build up over many decades. I am white and I don't earn anything close to many black people, especially government employees. The onus to build a non-racial society is on both white and black people. Not only about whites sharing their wealth - what wealth? I am not wealthy. Maybe if we were able to maintain standards like grass cutting and street lights then white people wouldn't be blaming black people for the regression and thus be guilty of racist comments. Maybe if the black government didn't waste money on parties and other non-necessities black people would have access to more wealth or at least benefit to a greater degree and this would reduce their racist comments.

6 Sep

Self Determination

The best solution is to give the "white' Afrikaner community territorial self-determination. This will give them the necessary security and also reduce the RSA Governments fear of a return of apartheid. The two groups can still work together for the common good without the need to be dominating each other, which seems to be the reason why RSA politics cant seem to move forward away from race-politics.

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7 Sep

Self Determination

Chris I agree 100% with what you wrote, that's the only solution! Then they can stop blaming us for everything including their mistakes that they gladly pass on to us to take blame!!!!! And it's true, we can still work together, but let us just have our own territory in SA where we can govern ourselves, live in peace and without the fear of being murdered like what's the case at the moment!!!!

8 Sep

White Republic

I agree, this will solve everything. We'll give you Robin Island. I think your type will be happy there. :(

6 Sep

Jane Duncan's Article

Brilliant piece.

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Marc V
8 Sep


You're kidding, right?

Pedro Victor
7 Sep


The cardinal error post '94 has been the attempt to institute what is effectively black apartheid in the place of white apartheid. Economically the results are developing into a catastrophe. Expelling 1 million of the best educated and most productive citizens has its cost. Human beings generally view ethnic and biological differences as being significant. In this regard racist killings by black humans within SA far exceed the racist killings by white humans. These terms are of course in and of themselves peculiar since humans cannot be simply divided into categories of 'white' and 'black.' These categories exist only for political purposes and are propogated by academics and particularly by politicians, such as Verwoerd, Vorster, Mbeki, Zuma and Malema. I suspect that South Africa has already passed the tipping point as far as the race issue is concerned. Racist policies by the NP and subsequently by the ANC have so deeply entrenched racism within South African society that major racial conflict is inevitable.

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PointBlankZA Verified user
7 Sep


Jane, with all due respect. I wholeheartedly agree that racism is rife in South Africa. But this generalisation must stop. When discussing or debating racism people make the fundamental mistake of lumping an entire race into one basket. Suddenly ALL white people celebrated the killing of black miners, suddenly ALL white people dismissed evidence of police brutality - this you claim was all over social media. Well, I was heavily engaged on Twitter of the Marikana shooting and was engaging with black people who were just as vocal FOR the police as SOME white people. Actually, MOST white people that I engaged with on the hashtag Lonmin and Marikana were appalled and horrified at the actions of police. But here you are lumping the entire white South African populace into the "yah black uneducated savages were killed by police!!" group. I find this highly insulting. How dare you assume that of me just because I am white, on what authority did you have to assume I think that way, or even act that way? This sentence, "It is important to note, though, that white people are not the only racists in South Africa, and many whites are decidedly anti-racist..." is a poor attempt at trying alleviate that gross generalisation. That aside, I do agree that MANY white people harbour the most viscous of racism, it is easy for them to hide behind social media platforms and computer screens and blurt out what they would never have the guts to when face to face with that person. The mob mentality takes over and they all, like a herd of sheep, all blurt one chorus. And as a white guy who does not agree with this stands up and offers a different opinion, you soon realise that you stand alone, you are insulted, called stupid and ignorant - I feel for black people, MANY white South Africans are pigs. Terribly ignorant, hateful and down right bombastic. And shameful.

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7 Sep

I Believe in a Rainbow Nation, but ANC Is Not Making It Any Easier

POINT 1 - I personally believe that the police did act in self defense, who would not shoot if someone was running towards you with a life threatening weapon.
POINT 2 - Regarding the ritual report nothing can stop a bullet from killing you unless it is Gods will or a bullet proof vest.
POINT 3 - The reason the white race is so offensive towards the African race is due to the ANC's unfairness towards our race - if respect is given respect will be shown!
POINT 4 - Regarding the weakness of black people, yes it is due to the previous apartheid and yes that is the past. They need to start raising their children with confidence and not telling them of the way there lives were negatively affected back in the day - that encourages them to live in fear - and I also agree that there are people in the white race who talk to the African people like dirt, which is not deserved by anyone.
POINT 5 - With regard to the wealth issue of the white race - most of the mines are owned by white owned companies/people overseas, why would they employ an African if they see how our country is being run down to the ground by one. There are African people that are in management that are very good at what they do but all this stereotyping is causing the negative arguments. And that is where the African race is at a disadvantage. I believe that if you work hard you should be paid well, but they also regard your qualifications, experience and skill - Jane, see it from a business point of view and not from a journalist point of view!

No disrespect meant just my points of view.

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7 Sep

Why Does SACSIS Publish Racist Drivel?

This is nothing but racist drivel.

Comrade Chris
28 Sep

God Does Not Exist

I'm tickled to see that you've not eluded the grasp of the same superstitious nonsense you decry in point 2.

In all likelihood, 'god' does not exist, and those who have turned to him for bulletproof blessings before entering battle have been every bit as disappointed as the adherents of other equally absurd supersitious beliefs.

If you can't see the symmetry, you should check your perpective.

Herman Lategan Verified user
7 Sep


It is a good piece, thanks.

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Morfeus Verified user
7 Sep


So a black government is responsible for opening fire on striking black mineworkers, and the people who need to watch themselves are the 'whites'. I am so relieved that somebody finally had the courage to lay the blame at the feet of the true perpetrators - South Africa's white community. And such is the inimitable failure of South African academia, midly hysterical, steeped in a hopeless mire of moral relativity, and the polemic of a discourse that has been directly responsible for tens of millions of deaths in countries around the world. A sealed and approved missive from the Karl Marx treatment center. And this is how, in possibly one of the best examples of racism you are ever likely to see, all whites, purely by virtue of their skin colour, become responsible for the words and actions of other INDIVIDUALS with the same skin colour. 'We' must guard what 'we' say, even if we have no affiliation with the offenders other than completely incidental sharing of skin pigmentation. The only thing important about you, my white friend, is your skin colour. You'd best watch that hide of yours if you continue to so blatantly accidentally belong to a particular racial group as full as any of objectionable persons. This should have been published on Hayibo.

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Uncle Tom
9 Sep

Should I Feel Guilty in 10 Years Time?

Pupils (learners) from Limpopo are currently disadvantaged by a system maladministration that is going to effect those pupils (learners) for the rest of their life. In 2022 current Limpopo pupils (learners) are going to be 'previously disadvantaged'. Should I feel guilty in 10 years time because I am white and was previously advantaged? Or should I feel outraged now that the 'previously disadvantaged' stand no better chance of becoming currently advantaged than they were 10 years ago?

The truth is that if you are born black in South Africa today there is as much chance that in 20 years time you will be as 'previously disadvantaged' as if you were born black in South Africa in 1994 and are 'previously disadvantaged' now.

A column of white people marching down Voortrekker road self-flagellating or a gaggle of whites standing on the top of Carlton centre throwing their wealth down is not going to fix South Africa(n wealth and opportunity inequality).

Lastly. Saying the whites are 'this and that' (with a minor disclaimer that not all whites are bad) is as bad as saying the blacks are 'this and that'. It's patronising.

Please Jane Duncan, please do not include me in the group of Whites in the last paragraph of your piece. I would much prefer to be generalised as a South African. But hey. Maybe that is just me...

ps. I am off to Woolies for their yummy (though unhealthy) roast chicken.

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Johan-Paul Schutte
10 Sep

Jane Duncan's "Racist, Racist South Africa"

"Whites will need to start sharing their wealth, if they are to continue to have a future in this country." I am curious to know which, or how much of her personal white wealth prof. Duncan propose to share with black South Africans "to continue to have a future in this country." Seriously.

My family and many other white families have given up our inherited mineral rights - probably worth milliards - without any protest. The average white family owns a three bedroom house or town-house by age sixty plus a pension-income of perhaps R120000 per year; with extremely costly health services thrown in; which most cannot afford. Young white students are made to forego University training in some faculties in favour of black students.

What more should they give up? How does prof Duncan propose that giving part of this up would benefit the millions who are unemployed?

Whites have willingly given up political power in favour of FW De Klerk's vision of an unracial society; moved by personal sincere regrets that something like apartheid could ever have happened here; in high hopes of living in a society that would be serious about equal rights for different races. Would it be fair to say that "for their vision, their regrets and their hopes they feel kicked in the teeth by the ANC Alliance and articles such as prof Duncan's?"

The British and European capitalist exploiters of South Africa's mineral resources could perhaps have done much better in sharing the wealth which they came to take. But to think that the small white, mostly impoverished, minority could ever have been able, or will ever be able, to uplift the massive majority of extremely poor blacks, dear prof, is daydreaming.

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11 Sep

This Is Why I will Unsubscribe from this Website

I quite enjoy this website and it is my home page, for the reason that it typically has an educated and interesting perspective on matters. This article has just cut a hole through my respect for this website.

I've lived in this beautiful country all my life and the number of times I have to hear "whites are like this" and "blacks are like that" saddens and disappoints me. Racism might very well be a relevant topic of discussion, but Jane, in future please refer to any person participating in racism by their name, not their race. I honestly couldn't care less if it was a black group of people or a white group of people who were being racist.

You will eventually realise that by trying to give the perspective of a racial group on the topic of racism is an intrinsically flawed method. The sooner you start saying John and Mike and Liesel and Thembi did this racist thing, instead of whites are like this and blacks said that, the sooner you transcend this level of thinking, the better for all of us.

Please can people start understanding that racism is not a black person's perspective about white people, or a white person's perspective about black people... it is rather an individual's intolerance for other types of people. Racism necessarily resides on an individual level, and thus it should be commented on as such. By implying racism resides on a race level is an intrinsically racist perspective.

I'm exhausted at trying to avoid people and websites and articles who unknowingly perpetuate the problem of racism by commenting on it so poorly. I expected more from this website.

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11 Sep

No Mention of "Blacks"

And yet, I am still to find an article that refers to those who were shot as "Blacks"; as opposed to every other article that I have come across, which generally all refer to them wholly as:

"striking miners"
"working class"
"poor workers"
"Lonmin workers"
"union members"

Please provide some sample evidence to substantiate your claims; particularly those where you manage to differentiate phenotypic characteristics of "online commentators" from the mere words used within the comments. What were the quantified variables here? Spelling? Profile picture?

The last thing we would want is for this site to become a factless space where superego, guilt and anger all merge into one, as is frequently becoming the norm...

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12 Sep

Fair Reporting

How about posting the pics of the security guards who were tortured, mutilated and burned alive by the rioters? Sick of sympathy for the violent thugs.

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12 Sep

What a Big Brush You Have

So easy to make sweeping statements and blame an entire ethnic group for something they mostly had nothing to do with.

Racism is an issue that will not go away till all the racist laws are removed and politicians stop trying to use race to garner votes.

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Dorothy Marquis
14 Sep

Jane Duncan's Article

Thank you for this - you were able to put into words what I feel. God - to live in a world with no bigotry - an impossible dream. Interesting to see how much denial there is in the comments. The only people who will have any effect in changing poverty and economic levels are whites - as they still are the power here. We have no hope for a better future if whites do not realise they have to change (first - recognize we are bigoted) and then change the country. This sounds as if I am buying into the idea of white superiority. No, I am not - it is just that whites still have control over finance and jobs. We need to use this power in the interests of all the people in SA. The Woolworths protest is a case in point - protests because a company chooses to pursue employment along equity lines.

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Pluto Verified user
15 Sep

Jane Duncan's Article.

Ma'am, whites cannot change the country for the better. Only Blacks can... and they can achieve change faster if they would realise that the present government is following miss guided racial policies similar to those of the Nats; if they would realise that this government's discriminating against whites in whatever way is them buying into the idea of white superiority; if they would realise that the average white household is all but stinking rich and needs jobs to survive as much as black people do.

Futhermore you are generalising and stereotyping. The average white family is not bigoted, does not want to exploit black compatriots and is not interested in political power or outstanding wealth. The average white family prays for a society free of crime and for an opportunity to take hands with South Africans of all races without being made to feel all the time by the ANC Alliance and black Nats that they do not really belong here.

I still buy at Woolworths because I am dead against boycotting companies who can and do provide jobs; and because I did notice the forlorn facial expressions of the black employees when I went into a very quiet Woollies on Wednesday. But if WW is biased against any race in making their appointments, they are wrong

25 Jan

Dear Jane,

You are correct to denounce racism as a destructive force but I do feel there are many white intellectuals who are so terrfied of being confused with being a racist that they denigrate their own race and make bizarre sweeping statements. I too am revolted by the racist drivel that clogs the comments sections of new stories but I think that you too might want to think a bit more deeply about what you blog. For example, you write: "It is important to note, though, that white people are not the only racists in South Africa, and many whites are decidedly anti-racist. But whites remain the most vocal culprits because they command inordinate amounts of social, cultural and economic capital." Essentially this states that while there may be black racists, there are more white racists, and their racism is more virulent than black-on-white racism, and that whites enjoy more privileges than they care to own up to. I've many white friends who are unemployed or earn lousy salaries. The executives that earn billions like Whitey Basson don't share their wealth with other whites any more than the various ANC-affiliated black billionairres share their wealth with their race. By and large. the sum total of most whites' economic "power" consists of paying taxes to a government that derides them at every turn. Julius Malema was trounced out of the ANC not because whites flexed their non-existent economic/political muscle but because he insulted Jacob Zuma. To say "kill the boer" is as politically acceptable to say now as it was for Nats to denounce blacks as savages. My own opinion, for what it's worth, is that people are people, regardless of pigmenty, which is to say equally capable of vileness. You also write: "Whites need to start accepting some harsh realities etc" This is secretly very patronising to blacks, as it implies blacks can't solve their problems unless whites step in. If you want to hand over all your money to the black poor, feel free to do so (though I doubt you have willingly done this or will); but don't feel you have the right to exhort me or anyone else to do the same. Finally if whites did this, what would that solve? Would the government stop being corrupt, would the poor become educated and indepently able to provide for themselves? For the record, who I am, who anyone is, should not be encapsualted by their pigment. I'm neither proud or ashamed of being white but I hate it when something so pointless becomes the sum total of my identity.

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Barry Saayman
12 Sep

Satisfying Selfish Egotistical Needs?

>>"The South African nation is clearly very, very ill."

Violence, ignorance, poor parenting practices, unemployment, malnutrition and disease, capital flight and growing inequality are some of the major problems in and for SA - the alleged racist attitudes of ordinary members of the white minority of which by far the majority are neither well educated nor wealthy and lives only two pay cheques away from homelessness, are in comparison a minor problem.

(If I am regarded as 'privileged' because my working class dad, a WW II British Colonial Army veteran, worked 18 hours a day for a meager pay and paid tax through his neck to give me a basic education, so be it.)

Ascribing collective culpability and bluntly accusing all white South Africans for the exploitation of the South African mineral wealth and vulnerable workers by identifiable British elites, is the favourite pastime of the very same elites posing as the political correct white knight saviours of the 'downtrodden' (read black people) of the Karpman Drama Triangle.

I wonder how long they will keep on getting away with this charade. Their toxic presence and questionable behaviour created and perpetuates confusion and distress in South African society, not solutions.

>>"What needs to be more fully understood is why racism did not simply wither away after apartheid. Appropriate anti-racist strategies cannot be developed without a correct diagnosis of the problem."

You clearly believe in your own diagnoses and your construct of reality that desperately require evil whites that need to be chastised and goaded.

Nothing that anyone of us says will change your mind. The contrary is truer. You will rather switch roles and become the aggressive persecutor of the, in your view, 'evil racist whites'. This is exactly what you are doing with this column.

Satisfying selfish egotistical needs in this dubious manner is something one expects from misguided individuals or those with an immoral agenda.

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