Pride, and whiteness, means never having to say you’re sorry

The recent utterances of those now iconic spokespeople for South African whiteness, Jessica Leandra and FW de Klerk have filled me with shame to the point of wanting to hand in my Weber.

If these two fools – for now the international face of my ignominious tribe – still find themselves unable to put together a sincere apology for the incontrovertible harm done by their own racism, how can we ever expect to be taken seriously as partners in our nation-building project!

As former leader of apartheid South African and the National Party, Mr De Klerk has always tempered his apologies for apartheid with protestations that he had never condoned human rights violations and they happened without leaders’ knowledge – for instance during his TRC testimony in 1997.

His recent interview with CNN suggests he still believes apartheid could have worked – it was just the implementation that was a bit off.  He says of apartheid’s bantustan policy, “…saying that ethnic unity with one culture with one language everyone can be happy and can fulfil their democratic aspirations in an own state, that is not repugnant.”

This overlooks the fact that bantustans were created to disenfranchise black people within South Africa, thereby denying their most basic human rights. From this flowed forced removals, pass laws and the need for a massive security apparatus to suppress the movements expressing the people’s opposition to the policy, which the apartheid government was determined to ignore.

As a former leader of white South Africa, De Klerk is in a position to own the fact that apartheid was a crime against humanity and that as supreme leader he bore ultimate responsibility for all its evils. Having done so, he can offer a sincere apology. The apologies he does offer generally take the form of, “of course I’m sorry, but…”.

Also exhibiting the sin of pride, if not the gift of comprehensible communication, is model racist Jessica Leandra. Her telling twitter rants betrayed a deep-seated racism and an almost offensive bemusement that people could be insulted by it.

When it became clear that this was quite serious, and that what might fly at a whites-only braai in Bedfordview is actually a human-rights offence in the real world, she posted that, “I do apologize to those that have taken offense to my use of language.”

And later, to would-be nemesis and fellow twitter bigot Tshidi Thamana at DA spokesman Mmusi Maimane’s reconciliation breakfast, “Tshidi, I do apologise if the word I used offended you. It wasn’t intended to cover the entire black race, but rather at a certain individual that offended me in public.”

Another semi-apology! “I’m sorry if you were offended by what I said” is a nuance away from blaming the victim for being offended. The subtext is, “How was I to know everyone would kick up such a stink? I was just racially abusing this one person behind their back to my thousands of followers for disrespecting me.”

For someone so insistent on respect, Ms Leandra shows little appreciation of its reciprocal nature.

The “Together we shall achieve” sign-off of her press release accepting Mr Maimane’s offer jars in a letter that should be a groveling apology more than a proud clarion call to nation-building.

In these cases and in others, pride seems to be at the root of many white people’s refusal to own their role in the historic and ongoing systematic oppression and exploitation of our black countrymen.

We demand respect, but refuse to engage. We apologize generally, but don’t take personal responsibility. The truth is, we exist in this country thanks to the most generous settlement terms imaginable following three centuries of systematic oppression. Our economic control of the country has continued uninterrupted.

Gratitude is one attitude we should exhibit, respect for our fellow South Africans another. We can also no longer afford to hide in our enclaves and mutter darkly about the place going to the dogs.

Pride, arrogance and self-regard were at the heart of our bloody, oppressive tenure as SA’s political leaders. Now that we are reduced to economic power alone, humility would serve us well in trying to heal the still festering wounds of the past and trying to build a more equitable dispensation as well as a non-racist, non-sexist, free and democratic society.