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Panashe Chigumadzi explains the difference between appeasing white guilt and tackling structural racism

Sweet MedicinePanashe Chigumadzi has written an article for The Times titled “We don’t want white apologies, we want our land back”.

In the article, Chigumadzi analyses the race debates that seized South Africa at the beginning of 2016, sparked by controversial statements by people such as Penny Sparrow, Justin van Vuuren and Chris Hart on social media.

This is a topic Chigumadzi is familiar with, having delivered a TEDxTalk in 2013 titled “A New Self-identity for Africans”.

Chigumadzi refers to a Facebook post by Anton Taylor which reads:

White South Africans play this strange game of calling each other racists. They write articles about how the Matric reading syllabus is party to a patriarchal racist colonial subterfuge but they can’t fucking bring themselves to drive a few kilometres down the road to help out at a women’s shelter. If you care that much about South African race relations then spend a few hours a week at a charity or go to isiXhosa lessons. For most white people, if we have the capacity for self-examination, we all (myself certainly included) do far too little.

As Chigumadzi points out, many black people would have a problem with this technique of combating racism. By way of example, she mentions Thando Mgqolozana’s experience and statement at Franschhoek Literary Festival last year.

Mgqolozana said:

“One of the things I advise – when young white people come to me and say ‘what can I do’ – the first thing you can do is stop the charity work you are doing in Khayelitsha, it’s not helping anyone. Just stop it. Stop the soup kitchens and donating blankets. It’s just making people more angry, it doesn’t change anything.”

At this point an audience member shouted out “bullshit!”

Chigumadzi explains:

Firstly, the thing about going to “spend a few hours a week at a charity” or at isiXhosa lessons is that they are actions that happen on white people‘s terms — they happen on his or her time, at his or her comfort. These are not terms dictated by black people.

Second, and most importantly, these are actions that appease white guilt but don’t do much to attack the very root of our historical “racial” problem. They do nothing to dismantle the structural racism that is founded on the theft of land and subsequent accumulation of white generational wealth on the back of black labour.

The fact that Taylor spends a few hours at the charity will not change the fact that the face of poverty in South Africa is a black woman.

Chigumadzi’s debut novel, Sweet Medicine, is available now.

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