Becoming Black

This is a letter I wrote which was published in The Star of 16th October 2006.
It would be good to see the bigoted students being given their wish of turning black. (The Star, 6th October). They might realize what it is like to be black in this country. If they can be turned into the average black person, they will discover that they no longer live in privileged areas like Waterkloof or Menlyn, but in low income areas like Mamelodi, Alexandra, or Soweto as average white income far exceeds average black income. If they are lucky enough to have a job they will wake up at 4am. They will have to take a taxi to work.

They will discover that 90% of the economic wealth is held in the hands of the whites (what they call “second class citizens”). They will discover that whites also hold 90% of the top jobs and directorships. They will realize that this situation exists precisely because their forefathers created a policy that systematically denied black people the opportunities that these students’ parents had.

If they become black in rural areas they will not need to wake up at 4am. They will already be awake gathering water and firewood, and worried about making it through another day without jobs, income, medical aid. If they were still of school-going age they would be lucky to have to only walk 15km per day to get to a school with 50 learners to one teacher. They will realize that this terrible situation exists because of the policies adopted and enforced by their forefathers, and they have benefited, whether overtly or covertly. The fact that this policy was abolished only 12 years ago ignores the unfair advantage that they have accumulated over the preceding years.

They will also discover that the regulations, like BEE, are policies that try to make the system slightly more equitable. As black people they will soon see that BEE sets targets in areas of the economy to try to bring in more black people. Our students will be very excited until they discover that the targets are still in favour of white people. For example the targets for economic ownership in the economy state that white people who make up 10% of the population should have 75% of all economic ownership. (The converse, and according to the BEE codes, is that black people who are 90% of the population are targeted to have 25% of the economy.)

Our newly turned black students will find that 50% of all top jobs are intended to be for the benefit of white people. The group they now want to belong to accounts for 90% of the population and yet the BEE targets asks for only 50% of those jobs. As black graduates they will struggle to find jobs because, still today, far too many jobs are covertly reserved for whites and those targets are not being achieved. Which group is getting the better end of the deal? Which group is the second-class citizen? Doesn’t sound so bad now being a white person does it? I think they have been privileged for too long. Please let them be granted their wish.

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