MISTRA held a Roundtable on 5 November 2015 entitled: "Whites, Afrikaans, Afrikaners: Addressing Post-Apartheid Legacies, Privileges and Burdens". This was a follow-up to the National Formation and Social Cohesion (NFSC) Report
released by MISTRA in August 2014.
Below is a citation of the speech delivered by Former President, Mr Kgalema Motlanthe.
ADDRESS BY FORMER PRESIDENT MR KGALEMA MOTLANTHE
MISTRA ‘WHITENESS’ ROUNDTBALE
05 November 2015
Programme Director, Ms Gail Smith
Honourable Deputy Minister, Mr Andries Nel,
MISTRA’s Executive Director, Mr Joel Netshitenzhe,
MISTRA Director of Operations, Amb Yacoob Abba Omar,
Distinguished guests, and
Ladies and gentlemen:
I am pleased to join you today as we undertake to discourse on a topic we rarely converse about in South Africa, namely ‘whiteness’ and what it means, or should mean, in post-apartheid society. I take this opportunity to thank the organisers of this Roundtable, the Mapungubwe Institute (MISTRA). You should be congratulated for daring to be brave by providing a platform for all of us to understand the history of whiteness, recognise its political-economic structures and the architecture of its power relations and privileges.
This subject is topical given recent events that have occupied our landscape, from the student protests against fee increases, growing calls for transformation in both our public and private institutions, to the movement calling for decolonisation of curriculum and staff representativity. What unites all these events is the perception, rightly or wrongly depending on one’s social and ideological position, that identity issues remain satisfactorily unresolved, two decades into our Constitutional Democracy. We do well to remember that the Preamble to our Constitution command and impel all of us to prioritise the creation of “a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights”.
What then contributes to preventing the full and maximal realisation of these human rights and freedoms? Indeed, racial discrimination is no longer sanctionable either in our legislative framework or allowed in public practice, but this has not prevented the perceptions to grow and fester that some racial groups remain, consciously and unconsciously, untransformed in attitudes and unreconstructed in behaviours.
I would say what contributes to this unfortunate status quo, to a large extent, is both a wilful ignorance and protection about the intellectual notion and social practice that accrues from ‘whiteness’. As a subject of study and an issue for discussion in our homes, schools, and churches, ‘whiteness’ is still in its nascent stage. We easily talk, debate, and complain about the effects of ‘whiteness’ but scarcely on its underlying causes.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This, I hope, is what this Roundtable seeks to achieve in its stated objectives, that is, attempt to untangle the webs of mystery surrounding the foundations of ‘whiteness’. Allow me to offer my few thoughts on these underlying causes.
Firstly, I would venture to say, ‘whiteness’ derives its privileged position in the past and present history, in the centredness of ‘whiteness’ from the Greco-Roman period, to the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment all the way to the nineteenth century’s industrial revolution which has given us our modern society. Throughout these historical epochs, it has been assumed that the symbolism and material reality of ‘whiteness’ has remained central to developments that have driven civilisations in contrast to the static subalterns who were regarded as not central to driving the levers of science, technology, and knowledge production. And therefore, if we are serious about advancing a more inclusive narrative, we have to decentre whiteness and create spaces for other narratives.
Download full paper: Kgalema Motlanthe Address Whiteness.pdf