Episode 4: Land Reform, Decolonisation, Equity and Race in South Africa

About this episode:

The demand for land reform in South Africa is linked to the unmended repercussions of South Africa’s brutal history of a settler economy and apartheid and is seen by some as linked to nationalism, national identity and righting the wrongs of the past. Episode #4 of explores the land debate in South Africa and its links to national identity, nationalism and the long run and brutal impact of apartheid. Andries talks about the different positions being taken on the land debate and identifies a possible alternative approach. He sees this alternative as one which might give South Africa the chance to build a future without denying the past, which is a danger of some of the polarised positions being taken in the land debate currently.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Andries covers nation building, the trap of ‘best whiteism’, the need for social solidarity and local action, and how White people engaging in anti-racist and decolonisation spaces need to work on themselves and take personal responsibility. He ends by providing listeners and viewers with simple and doable advice which we can all implement in our daily lives – swapping ‘we’ for ‘I’ when talking about the progressive changes that we would like to see in the world. This ensures that we are ‘showing up’ honestly, rather than assuming membership of an unarticulated collective.

Episode 4: Full Transcript

The Power Shift: Decolonising Development

Episode 4

Land reform, decolonisation, equity and race in South Africa. Prof Andries du Toit interviewed.

Kate Bird: [00:00:00] Hello. I am Professor Kate Bird and I’m really happy to introduce this, the fourth episode of the Power Shift: Decolonising Development with Professor Andries du Toit and Charmaine McCaulay, my co-host. Today, we’re going to be talking about the land debate in South Africa. And linked to that, we’re going to be talking about national identity and nationalism and how the land debate in South Africa is perhaps the manifestation of the unmended repercussions of settler colonialism and apartheid.

Andries in this episode articulates how for him, very personal experiences and self-reflection, including, through talking to other men, both White and Black has made it more possible for him to engage in the decolonisation process. He also talks about ‘best-whiteism’, [00:01:00] which I think is a fantastic phrase and it’s very evocative and I think it’s going to help me to change the way that I show up in this debate as well. And in that he’s reflecting, I suppose, um, oh, white sensitivity and, uh, white fragility. And how, many White people, struggle to acknowledge and confront their own part in the colonial, and racist, structures that they’re part of. So, Andries also talks about, taking personal responsibility and how important taking personal responsibility is and how that needs to come from a place of self-reflection. 

He talks also about the importance of knowing when to stay silent and listen, particularly as a White person in, these debates and, he gives us all a really practical [00:02:00] and doable first step to practical action, which I’m not going to tell you now. I challenge you to listen through to the end, because I think his suggestion will certainly contribute, to my best efforts to show up properly in the decolonisation space, both as a person in conversations and through my work. 

So this is a really meaty episode, and it’s delivered in Andries’s accessible, conversational style with Charmaine providing some really challenging and thought provoking questions.

So I would encourage you to listen on, and to see the show notes, for more on Andres and on PLAAS, the research institute that he belongs to, that he leads actually, and also for the books and the groups that he mentions in the episode. So enjoy the episode. 

[00:03:00] Bye for now. 

Charmaine McCaulay: Hi. Welcome to the Power Shift: Decolonising Development, the podcast series seeking to bring together thinkers, practitioners, and activists to share ideas, inspire, change, and identify tools for practical action. 

I am Charmaine McCaulay, a body psychotherapist, Director of Kokoro and lead facilitator of the groundbreaking training program, ‘Racism in Real Time’, a programme that explores how BIPOC and White folks experience racialised interactions and provides them with the tools to show up differently.

I’m also interested in decolonising psychotherapy and the visceral impact that colonialism and privilege has on our racialised bodies. 

I’d like to take this opportunity now to introduce my co-host, wonderful Professor Kate Bird, Director of the Development Hub. Kate is a researcher who works on poverty, gender, and bottom up growth.

She was drawn to the [00:04:00] topic of decolonising development during Covid Pandemic when the way she worked had to radically change, and in reflecting about how the Black Lives Matter movement should inform her work. Over to you lovely Kate. 

Kate Bird: Thanks, Charmaine. Oh, welcome. Today we’re talking to Professor Andries Du Toit.

Our speaker is the Director of PLAAS, the Institute of Poverty Land and Agrarian studies at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. He’s a political economist who’s published on the social relations of labour, on commercial fruit and wine farms in the Western Cape. Chronic structural poverty and the dynamics of marginalised livelihoods and informal social protection in migrant networks in the Eastern and Western 

I’ve known Andries now for, gosh over 20 years, and we worked as researchers together on an international research project. So I know Andries of old, and it’s really nice to be talking to him again today. If you’d like to know more about Andries, please click on the show notes below this episode and you’ll [00:05:00] find out more about him.

But I’ll pass now back to Charmaine who’s going to ask our first question. 

Charmaine McCaulay: Yes, and I’ve just met Andries just recently, so this has been a lovely opportunity to get to know you better. So our first question to you is, what work have you done in terms of personal transformation to enable you to work confidently on decolonisation? Especially because whether you like it or not, you do carry the legacy of your ancestors who were brutal colonisers. 

Andries du Toit: Yes. I wouldn’t say I work confidently. 

Charmaine McCaulay: Okay. 

Andries du Toit: I think in a way I’ve been, I’m very aware of the particular history that I carry with me as a, as the descendant of White settlers.

The Du Toits have been around in South Africa since about 1689. They were Huguenots I think to, to some extent, I’ve often been in, in denial about what that history meant. 

And then some years ago, my grandfather wrote his [00:06:00] autobiography, of which like three, three copies came out. One for each of the sons or something like that. He recounted the early history of our family in the early days of this colonial settlement. And I was….. I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I was to see just how implicated our family had been in colonialism. Red and tooth and claw. They were very much part of the the original processes of genocide and dispossession that, that created this economy. It shouldn’t have been a shock to me, but it was . 

My family is a family of kind of dissident Afrikaaners. I’ve always been opposed to apartheid and I’d always somehow had the idea that somehow we were we were, we didn’t have such dirty hands as the rest of White South Africans, and that illusion was rudely shattered.

But for some reason, I think how I got to be involved in land and agricultural issues at all, some of it is simply a matter of coincidence and historical accident, but I always go back to a [00:07:00] day when I must have been quite a small little boy, probably four or five years old on my grandfather’s small holding outside Cradock, and somebody had done something wrong. I think a gate had been left open. And the cattle had gotten out into the Lucerne and my grandfather summoned all the farm workers together and gave them a…. sort of a long talking to, and I remember looking at them and looking at him and thinking, this is not even touching sides because I know what it’s like to be given a talking to by him. And they were just standing there sullenly waiting for the White man to finish. And I suppose that image of people talking past each other and living past each other has long….. has remained in my being somewhere so that I, many years later came to find that I was doing a PhD about the relationship between Black farm workers and White farmers. And how does it happen that, Black [00:08:00] farm workers seem to accept the legitimacy of the relationships that were oppressing them and seem to not be resisting and not be rebelling and standing up against oppression. 

So I’ve always felt very much part of the whole drama implicated in the, in the terrible conflict between White overloads and Black subjects and servants in South Africa, as it was. White people always having the identity of mastery and Black people automatically being consigned to servitude and those are identities that are still with us today.

I can speak to a Black person in the Eastern Cape on the phone and they will still address me as “Sir”, for absolutely no reason other than that they know I’m a White person. 

Would you ask me what is it that, that enables me to, to work confidently or not on this, and how I deal with a legacy of brutal colonialism.

[00:09:00] I think one fortunate privilege I had is that for a long time I was, married to a Black woman. We parted our ways many years ago for for better or for worse, but it was a crash course in the reality and the embodied reality in, in, in racism even today, even after the end of apartheid. So I learned early on how just trying to pretend that it’s all happened elsewhere and all happened in the past, doesn’t just cut it. And about the need to try to find a way of having a relationship, having a conversation that’s not just a reiteration of a previous algorithms.

And I think another thing that I find very useful is, for many years I was part of something called ‘The Mankind Project’. I don’t know whether you’ve come across it. It’s a kind of progressive men’s network seeking to empower men into positive ways of in inhabiting masculinity. And it came to South Africa via the United States [00:10:00] and it’s tried to create a place where men can address each other openly and be vulnerable with each other. And, lo and behold, in South Africa, it meant that White men and Black men had to actually be honest with each other about how they felt about each other and sit in the fire of some very uncomfortable feelings.

So I suppose that’s a very useful thing to have to learn how to have, is to, how to be with the kind of sometimes unbearable, uncomfortable feelings of anxiety or shame or rage that come up when you, when I, suddenly see a picture of myself in the mirror that’s actually not very flattering and not aligned with how I want to be. So I think those are some of the resources that I still find really useful now, when we are dealing with extremely hot and charged and difficult issues relating to whiteness and blackness and the legacy of land dispossession and how to deal with it. 

Charmaine McCaulay: Thank you. I’m just, I’m gonna ask you another question since the transition to democracy, and we can debate what kind of democracy [00:11:00] we’re talking about, but I’ll let the word stand.

It has been widely accepted in South Africa that the resolution to the land question is essential. If South Africa is to have a peaceful and prosperous future. Yeah. Why then has land reform in South Africa particularly been so beset with problems? Why does it seem so difficult to resolve more than 25 years after liberation?

Andries du Toit: Yup. It’s something that is very much with us still. And particularly in over the last four or five years. It has very much come to the foreground. I would say, in a way there are a number of ready made answers to this question. If you speak to many South Africans, over the last five years the answer would be that the problem is the Constitution.

Charmaine McCaulay: Sure 

Andries du Toit: That the Constitution entrenches a right to property and that the right to property makes it impossible to [00:12:00] expropriate or to cheaply expropriate White farmers who have been one of the beneficiaries of apartheid and colonial dispossession. And that therefore, what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so as to make , expropriation without compensation possible. 

And that is the way in which many people understand it. 

The difficulty with that answer is that it’s, if you look at the Constitution, it’s doesn’t make expropriation without compensation impossible. The Constitution specifically allows expropriation for the purposes of land reform.

And if justice and equity demands that compensation should be zero, the Constitution allows for it. And furthermore, if you look at the facts of the matter, the cost of land expropriation has not been a major obstacle to land restitution at all. The reason why land reform is not happening is more because the basic policies and programmes that have been set in place for land reform are [00:13:00] fundamentally unworkable. So a second kind of answer is to say the problem lies at the level of inappropriate policy. 

And there’s a kind of a debate, I’m not gonna go into the details, on the one hand, on the kind of a right wing, neo-liberal side of the debate, there are the people who say, all you need to do is de-racialise the agricultural sector, get a few more Black capitalist farmers in to change the kind of public face of agriculture, but essentially keep the structure, which is very concentrated, very industrialised, dependent on fossil fuels and agrichemicals and strongly linked into relations with supermarkets, where the supermarkets are very powerful and basically set the tone, determine the prices, and so on.

 And on the left side of the debate, which is where my Institute stands to say ‘No, what we need is a fundamental transformation of the agro-food system. Change the way in which agriculture is done. There’s 200,000 smallholder farmers. There’s 2 million people doing [00:14:00] subsistence agriculture and land reform should be about them.’ 

 And round that debate goes and has gone for the last 25, 28 years without any resolution. 

And I suppose more and more, it has seemed to me that policy debate misses the point. Because in a way, I don’t think the land question in South Africa, as it is understood, as it plays out, and what drives it is is amenable to policy resolutions of this kind because it’s actually not a policy question. It’s a far more emotional and political question, I think. 

I mean in a way to make it quite simple, or concrete. A few years ago we had quite a wave of radicalised young Black students at South African universities known as ‘The Fees Must Fall Movement’, ‘The Fallists’, I don’t know whether you’ve heard about them in the UK.

Very strongly sort of questioning the legacy of colonialism in South African universities. And these young [00:15:00] people would say things like, ‘Just give us the land first, and then we can talk. There shouldn’t even be a negotiation about this. Just give us the land!’ And the interesting thing to me is that these young people who were (a) extremely passionate about this, but (b) they did not seem to me to have any desire to actually own any land. They were not wanting to do agriculture. They wanted law degrees or or, degrees in, in commerce. They wanted to have paying urban jobs. And they should. 

So land was not about land. It seemed to be a symbol of something much more powerful and charged than the question of who should be farming and how should our farming sector look? 

And it seemed to me that what, when people talk about the land question, they’re actually talking about a much…… it’s a kind of a symbol of a bigger and deeper injustice, which is the fact that 25 years, 28 years after the transition to democracy in South Africa, we still [00:16:00] have a situation which is deep racialised inequality.

The vast majority of poor Black people in South Africa feel like second class citizens in their own country and have to live lives without dignity. Lives in which citizenship, actually, doesn’t really mean very much because there’s not enough food on the table. And because they might be evicted from the place where they are at any moment in time.

And it’s that injustice. It’s really the betrayal of the promise of emancipation. The betrayal of the promise of freedom that’s going on here. So that’s, in a way, the land question is really the national question. The land question is not who should own that farm over there, but who does this country belong to and who belongs in this country. And that’s an extremely charged and heated and difficult question. And a question that’s, in a way, been taboo in the Rainbow Nation. You’re not [00:17:00] supposed to, ask that question. We are all supposed to join our hands and sing Kumbaya and forget the past, and so on.

So it’s it’s an incredibly important question being asked in a kind of indirect, displaced way. And I think that’s really where we need to focus our attention, to that underlying, unstated question. 

Charmaine McCaulay: Thank you. 

Thank you, Kate. 

Kate Bird: I’ll jump in with the next question. Andries, I’m really enjoying listening to you teasing apart these issues and the kind of reflective approach you’re taking to them. But how do you think South Africans, more broadly, have tended to deal with these contentious and charged questions, both inside and outside the land debate? And how do you think that South Africans should deal with the emotional and charged, unspoken issues that flicker through the debate on land?

Andries du Toit: Yeah. Thank you. One way to deal with something like this is just denial. [00:18:00] It’s, it works a lot of the time. A lot of people who have been involved in the land debate are very aware of the kind of supercharged political and emotional undertones to the land question and and just how troubling those questions are. 

And then the response is often to say those questions are dangerous. Those questions are irresolvable, they’re being exploited by opportunist populist politicians for vote garnering purposes. And what we should do as, as responsible South Africans is to put all those emotions aside and look at the, the rational ways in which one can make policy sense out of this debate.

And then that can become a kind of, almost like a gaslighting process in which you try to avoid or sidestep and ignore the real and current experiences of trauma, anger, and injustice that are informing the debate and think that you can [00:19:00] out outwit it or finesse it or evade it or avoid it. And the difficulty with that process is it can work up to a point, but the re repressed has a kind of habit of returning. And in a way, this is what we have seen in the more recent period of discussion about the landing debate is in a way the, it’s not been possible to finesse the underlying extremely disruptive energies of the colonial debate by trying to make it all about the most rational use of agricultural land or the creation of jobs. 

Another way of dealing, is to, in a way go into various kinds of vengeful or reparative fantasies. Which I think in a way, I think that’s where the demand for expropriation without compensation comes from. It’s a demand that somebody should pay. Somebody has to be punished, or has got to feel the pain. Even if it, even if you weren’t [00:20:00] personally implicit in apartheid. Even if you were maybe just came to South Africa recently and you bought a farm and paid money for it. Even if you don’t have kind of blood in your hands, we don’t care, somebody’s got to suffer. Or you can have a kind of a reparative fantasy, which or you often get on the kind of political left, that we are, we are of the people who are going to make it all right again and try to sort of…… And I think both the vengeful, and the repetitive fantasy is in a way of uh, uh, trying to make the past unhappen.

Can we find a way of pressing a reset button, which will just make the past disappear? And then we can go into the future that we’d rather have. I don’t know whether there is an alternative, but I’m very interested in …. Is there a way of talking about it, which is not trying to make the past unhappen?

And which is also not trying to deny the injustice or the trauma of the past, but which is in a way more about acknowledging the damage done, counting the damage done, and trying to [00:21:00] figure out how does one live and how do people live in the aftermath of the absolute disastrous injustice (I, I hesitate to be word, used the word holocaust because it’s so charged)…. but the inhuman disaster that, that colonialism was, in a way that does not perpetuate or reinscribe it again.

And that’s, I think a difficult job, and I don’t have any clear answers there. 

But it seems to me that’s the place where we need to start is, what remains of the notion of a South African nation of a South African people and how can we think the South African people without trying to erase or trying to deny the reality of of the legacy of colonialism as it was in the past and without fantasising that it could just be all washed, clean through some act of retribution or absolution? 

Kate Bird: I think those are some very [00:22:00] interesting reflections there and to come clean. I’m also from Huguenot and Afrikaana heritage. I was actually born in Pretoria, but raised largely in the UK. And have a British passport and consider myself now to be British. But I grew up thinking of myself as a White South African. And it was only when I visited South Africa for the first time after I left. So I left at four, went back at 18 to visit relatives. It was only when I went back, I realised just how British I had become. I had a British sensibility, British sense of humour, British expectations in terms of justice and human rights and all of that kind of stuff. And my first boyfriend had been Black, my second boyfriend had been. So I realised, in terms of upbringing how British I’ve been, but I don’t think it’s been possible ever for me to erase the um, the history of my family and it’s something I’ve reflected on a lot.

And that’s, one of the reasons that I’m interested in, in, in hosting this podcast because I think for me, certainly identity is a very layered thing. It’s led and it can shift over time. So it was only [00:23:00] as an adult, I discovered that my my paternal grandfather was mixed race and that again, shifted things for me and I was like, oh. Gosh. That’s why I never needed sun cream as a kid, but it’s, it’s those silly things like that. But it was later that I did the calculation and worked out that during the time of slavery, I would’ve been a slave. And then it’s “Oh!” Because then you look at the world, again, slightly differently. So, for me, sort of identity is layered and can shift. 

But thinking about South Africa, I’ve often thought about it as almost a post-conflict state, with the era of apartheid being a suppressed but intense conflict. And you talk about trauma and looking at my own family, but also my experiences when I visited South Africa there’s a sense of psychological ill-being from the impact of denial, denying the reality that you are living, in denying that the person who pretty much raised you as a child who was Black, is now somebody who – as [00:24:00] an adult – you don’t talk to. I think there’s a lot in South Africa, I think there’s a lot of kind of fracture and denial, or at least that, that’s what I’ve seen it. 

And given the reality of colonialism and its aftermath in South Africa, do you think it’s actually possible to decolonise the South African identity? 

Andries du Toit: Yeah. I don’t know. There’s only one way to find out. And let’s to try. I think it’s very interesting how it’s tempting it is to try to find little sources of absolution. I’m very aware that many Afrikaans people will take great pleasure in pointing out how, just how bad the British were and try to argue that actually racism was originally invented by the Brits. We just perfected it maybe, I don’t know. But and also how our family also has some intermarriage with Black enslaved people in the past. But I don’t think it allows me to retroactively launder or change [00:25:00] where I’m standing in this debate. I think. I think when there’s a number of things going on here, I think, I mean you can talk about it in a, at a personal level, how I stand about as well as a White man.

But I think there’s also a broader political level. And so maybe you can start, stand with that and then we can go to the more personal issue a little bit later. 

I I think I’m very interested by this notion of emancipation. And about the notion that the Constitution of 1994 was a betrayal and that the real emancipation of South Africa still has to happen. I think it’s a very powerful, and evocative notion. And at the same time, I think there are ways in which the debate around emanation in South Africa at the moment, risks repeating the colonial moment. 

The notion of one way of thinking about emancipation is very much a European enlightenment notion of [00:26:00] emancipation, which is that emancipation is the liberation of somebody from external shackles. I used to be free. Now I am in chains and I have to throw off my chains to become free again. 

And in the European tradition, that tradition of emancipation was always the emancipation of a people that was ethnically and linguistically defined. France for the French and Germany for the Germans. That was the whole tradition of throwing off the yoke of the Habsburg Empire. And to some extent that’s what my, quote unquote, my people, the Afrikaaners did, is they took that ethno-racial, emancipatory discourse and turned it into a tool of oppression. 

And I think, in a way, there’s some difficulties with trying to do that now. And I think one of the difficulties that we have at the moment in the world is that the notion of emancipation only takes you so far in a situation where so many of the problems that we have are problems of coexistence in a complex and brutal world from which we [00:27:00] can’t step aside, there isn’t a possibility of. There’s some people who fantasise about going off-grid, but that’s only the most wealthy and right-wing among us can actually ever hope to succeed to our little Bitcoin islands, and go off-grid in that sense. The rest of us have to live here in a, in this unfolding eco-crisis that we see around us. And the ethno-nationalist bitters has never really worked particularly well in sub-Saharan Africa.

And the interesting thing is that if you look at the political traditions of pre-colonial Africa, when there were strong and deep traditions of state-craft and politics. But they were never founded on this ethno-nationalist template. 

There were always traditions of….. the Zulu Empire was not a empire in which you had to become Zulu or had to speak Zulu. And neither it was the Xhosa Kingdom, a kingdom that enforced a Xhosa ethnic identity. It was a kind of…. in a process of incorporating [00:28:00] different people and working out relationships of cohabiting. And it was a much more multicultural approach to political identity. 

So there’s very powerful traditions in South Africa that hawk back to that tradition. 

And I think actually if you look at the South African Constitution the preamble, which is a language you get from this, from The Freedom Charter says that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. Which is a, on the one hand, a kind of it’s a quite a nice inspiring …. liberal idea. But it’s also quite a shocking statement to say. Because it says that the descendants of those from whom the land was stolen shall live in….. or maybe not in peace and harmony … but in a relationship of political equality and moral equality with the descendants [00:29:00] of those who stole the land. 

And that’s a radical thing to say in, in a way, I don’t know whether it’s a retroactive legitimisation of colonialism, but it is saying ‘Colonialism happened and the people who have been created by it, White and Black, have to find a way of living together!’

Kate Bird: It’s almost going back to what you said a few moments ago. About this idea that people almost want to draw a line. They want to draw a line under history and say, okay, yeah, history happened, but let’s all be friends now and hold hands and move forwards together.

Andries du Toit: Yeah. 

Kate Bird: So that bit of the Constitution, it’s almost doing that. Let’s just say that we are One People and let’s be friends and develop the country together, moving forwards together. 

Andries du Toit: I, Well I think that line can be interpreted in two ways. There’s a kind of a liberal interpretation, which is that ‘Let’s just be friends and draw a line’. 

But there’s a different way of interpreting which is to say that ‘South Africans don’t exist!’ And this is the idea I get from Ivor Chipkin who wrote a book called ‘Do South Africans Exist?’ 

And the answer is, South Africans don’t exist. [00:30:00] Except in the places where South Africans strive to address each other in relationships of solidarity and trying to build a country in which equality can be real. So in other words, South Africa is not a given. South Africa is something that still has to be made. And it is the responsibility of White and Black South Africans to make it. And that Making cannot be a painless process. It is a Making that would have to involve a lot of truth telling and a lot of cost accounting. It’s not a debate in which White people can just say, okay, it was me. It is a place. I have to take responsibility for my own privilege, and I have to understand the consequences of generations of abjection and denial. And I think it’s the beginning of a very difficult and a painful conversation.

And I think it’s [00:31:00] not just about joining hands and saying kumbaya.

I’ll give you an example of what I think it could mean. And I’ll take it back to land. 

Not far from where I live. There’s a working class suburb called Woodstock. It’s a place where. Black people, Coloured people as they were called under apartheid times, were able to hold onto some land in the urban center, close to the city center. So it’s a working class suburb. And there’s a large hospital, Woodstock Hospital, which has been standing empty for many years. And sometime ago it was occupied by poor Black people who want jobs or have jobs in the city, but who don’t want to live in the kind of poor ghettos to which Black people have been relegated in the post-apartheid society – which is where all the cheap land is, so far away from Cape Town that you’re almost in the sea – so, they have occupied the hospital. 

They live there . And they have said, in their occupation, “what we are doing is not [00:32:00] illegally stealing something that belongs to government. We are creating value. What used to be an empty hospital (where – you know – you would be scared of your daughter walking past at night. And where drug dealers and other unsavory elements hung out and made life dangerous) there’s now community living. So, we are creating social value by occupying this land and by insisting on our right to be here, because where else would we go?” And so now there’s actually a debate happening in Woodstock and I think that kind of, there are parts of the Woodstock Rate Payers Association that are saying “Actually we are also quite worried about gentrification”. And who are it seems to be that they might be the possibility of, for a kind of a discussion of of accepting the validity of occupiers of public land to be there. 

And that means that we need to start saying what happens to sanitation? What happens to municipal services?

And the same is true here, in my neighborhood Hout Bay, [00:33:00] which is a wealthy White suburb that 30 years ago was occupied by poor Black people who, quote unquote, squatted the land and who have resisted attempts to be displaced and whose legal right to live here has now been recognised by by government.

But what does it mean beyond that? If we in White Hout Bay, accept the right of poor Black people to live here, then we should also look at the conditions in which they’re living here. 

Why is it that the township of Imizamo Yethu, or Mandela Park, as it’s known by its residents, still does not have proper sanitation so that raw sewage runs into the river and into the sea?

So we, we can’t just point a finger at government and say “They have to solve it!” We live here and we are wealthy. So there needs to be a discussion of what can we do to be part of the solution. So I think in a way it’s about saying that the South Africa [00:34:00] that we want is still possible, but the answer, as Linton Kwezi Johnson used to say, lies at our own gate.

And, and I think if we are not willing to go there, then the consequence will be further polarisation and dissent into bitterness and fantasies of revenge and absolution. But I think the possibility is there of making uh, of, of uh, of the politics of solidarity. 

Kate Bird: Yeah, I was just about say it, it sounds to me is what you’re talking about there is about sort of individual responsibility to reflect and transform, but also to engage in collective action and and solidarity with others. So rather than othering people who are poorer or people who are of different ethnicities to actually try to, not just build bridges, but to create , yeah, an economic smoothing so you don’t have these huge inequalities and inequalities [00:35:00] of wellbeing and comfort. 

Andries du Toit: Yeah. And what is not an option to is to withdraw. But what is not an option is for me to withdraw into my gated community and to try to create a little pod of safety and security just for me and mine. That is not something that that, that has any future as far as I can see. 

Kate Bird: Okay. 

We were just going to hear from Charmaine. 

Charmaine McCaulay: I’m interested, Andries, to hear about how you navigate issues around, I think we just already talked about it a little bit, around legitimacy in the South African context, and how do you engage with these issues and land reform and race, coloniality as a White man. And I want add a little bit to that and look at it from a kind of a Black and Brown perspective. When I think about race uh, um, I don’t just think about as me as the individual. I look at the collective that [00:36:00] comes with me, right? The Institutions that make it difficult for me to live, the systemic denial of healthcare. So it’s a collective, it’s like it’s a huge force that’s there. And I often think that when Whites talk about it, they think of it just themselves as an individual. I don’t think they actually give credence to the reason why White people can do what they do is because they’ve got full backup. So, when I say as a White man, I also want you to kind of talk about what, what gives you the legitimacy to do what you want to do or do what you don’t want to do. So I don’t want you just talk about I as the individual, because for Black people, we don’t see it that way. So when we get hurt we don’t say “You did it!” We say “There’s a whole cast of characters that enabled a White person to hurt me”. Does that make sense?

Andries du Toit: Mm-hmm. .. Yeah, I I hear you. 

Ja, I just for some reason I just had a flashback to a moment during the transition from apartheid. In which the South African Post Office had, for [00:37:00] the first time, been de-racialised. Her Black people and White people were queuing together and in the same standing in the same queues. 

And in a way that was no big deal. But I remember a moment which I thought, “was there a way in which unconsciously I had all my life been relying on that notion of having that invisible backup, there”. And I had to admit to myself that I had and in a way the choice to stay in South Africa was the choice to, to be willing to give up that backup, but the backup is still there in the form of wealth.

Charmaine McCaulay: Yeah. 

Andries du Toit: Self-confidence, privilege, et cetera. So your question is how to deal with legitimacy and…..

Charmaine McCaulay: I guess it’s partly recognising that it’s not just the individual as a…. the question is, as a White man and I’m saying, how do you do that with the invisible stuff that it’s not invisible to the Black and Brown person.

Andries du Toit: No 

Charmaine McCaulay: We deal that. But you say it’s invisible to you. So even to talk about. [00:38:00] that you have all this stuff with you, you carry it with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And with that army, let’s say, how do you then deal with this? 

Andries du Toit: Yeah, I’m I can I can only answer about the little bits that I know about.

Yeah. I think one common, I mean, I mean, accepting the reality of complicity and privilege is not an easy thing. And I think that one big temptation for myself and for others is to, in a way, do a kind of “Not all White people” move. So, that’s what I, there’s a South African journalist Rebecca Davis wrote a book called something like ‘Best White and Other Anxieties’.

And it’s this notion of trying to be the ‘best White’. Yes. We know that Barts and terrible people and “look at those people over there, aren’t they dreadful!” And that “I’m not like that!” Yes. And that inevitably has to involve some degree of deception and dishonesty and disavowal.

And it can also allow [00:39:00] a situation, and this is one of the things that I struggle with a lot in our sector , where we can think that – because we are on the left side of the ideological spectrum, we are allowed to just boss people around. 

Charmaine McCaulay: Yeah. 

Andries du Toit: I’m often struck by how easy it is for people who regard themselves as socialist and Marxists to insist on their class privilege and their and to use their racialised self-confidence without giving it a second thought. 

So, that is part of the, that terrain that we’re on. So for me, it’s been a long process of simply accepting the complicity and therefore often knowing that it’s not about me, if there’s a debate happening sometimes I just need to let other people go into the debate and listen and maybe intervene when I think it’s useful or say something when I think it’s useful. And resisting those moments of ‘Best Whitism’ and in a way, I think one of the things that us white [00:40:00] academics have had to unlearn is the fantastic vantage point on the Mount Olympus that theory gives us, so I actually think one of the functions of development policy discourse is it allows us to, it’s a defense mechanism.

It allows us to talk about all of this stuff as if we’re not really part of it, but sitting, looking down at it from a distance. . And I think coming down from Mount Olympus means coming down into a place where sometimes I listen to the debate happening and learn from it or sometimes I, and also sometimes I have to be willing to let somebody hold up a mirror in quite unpleasant or painful way and just not squirm too much.

And I think also the other thing is in, in South Africa, I think. I’m often struck by how different the relationship between white and black feels to me when I’m in the US or in the UK than when I’m here. I feel that in South Africa there’s, maybe I make this up, but I’ve I think there’s a lot of [00:41:00] tiny little ways in which if Black and White meet, below the level of consciousness, there seems to be that there’s some sort of signaling going on.

What are you, are you one of those or are you one of those, how are you going to be with me? So that it’s possible to communicate with relative ease. And I so I feel when I speak to a Black South African, I’m not automatically assumed to be one of “Those” really racist white op, which are still in, in plentiful supply.

And it’s always struck to uh, uh, I think there’s all kinds of ways of getting along and negotiating relationships that happens below the level of the discursive, maybe in body language, maybe in, I don’t know, just how people speak to each other that, that allow people to negotiate and find whatever legitimacy there, there is.

But it, it doesn’t mean the [00:42:00] discomfort ever goes away, and I think. I am always aware of just how, I mean, you’re, Charmaine, you’re being very nice and friendly and accommodating. So I feel safe in this discussion with you, but I’m often aware of just how, how quickly it can feel charged for me. And by extension, if it feels charged for me when just a little thing wobbles or something goes slightly amiss and I suddenly feel hectically uncomfortable, how much more intense and this unsettling must it be for a person who doesn’t come with all my layers of protection and privilege and entitlement and , not only am I White, but I’m the eldest son in an Afrikaans family in which I’m the only son with three sisters.

Now those are levels of Crown Princedom, of which only few people can dream. So yeah I’m [00:43:00] often aware of how safe I actually am. Yeah. And I think we, I don’t know I still feel that we only really scratched the surface in, in our engagement around these issues in South Africa. 

Charmaine McCaulay: Thank you. I just wanted to add . So with that level of safety that you have. I think it, it’s even more difficult to risk that. So, let’s say to come and join me on my side because from what you’ve just said, to give up that level of safety, that level of comfort, that level of support that you get with the invisible backing that you say.

Andries du Toit: Yeah. 

Charmaine McCaulay: My sense is then, and as sitting across from, I really feel, I really feel in my body, that …… level of safety. And my question in turn is how willing is he to give up that level of safety? So to me it’s like, what is the risk for you, right, in, in these everyday situations to say, not just to say, but to actively move your body, [00:44:00] your soul, your heart, and come and align with me, stay with me, hold my hand. Be yeah. Be sister to sister, brother to brother, face-to-face, back to back. So that’s one of the things I’m often aware of in these kinds of situations. I’m always thinking, what’s the risk? What’s the risk? What’s the risk? 

Andries du Toit: Yeah. The risk is often, what the perceived risk or the experienced risk is the feelings of discomfort, shame, pain, that I’m not as as I’m not the rescuer or I’m not the hero, or I’m not the nice White guy that I think I am, seeing myself in the distorted reflection of somebody else’s…. So that’s, that is the perceived risk there.

 The reality, I think in a way, the question is there might be a kind of a defensive response to that. I think the beyond that risk is the possibility of real relationship of [00:45:00] learning something, about seeing the world through eyes that are not mine. So, I don’t know whether that’s the risk of what the reward. I’m very aware of how I have to watch out against my…. I often get extremely angry at White people who are in my view, unconscious. . And I think what’s driving my feelings of judgmental and anger is like who, who does that remind you of?

Yeah, I think the risk is there’s a lot of real and imagined rage. And the fear is of being rejected. And also there’s a fear of annihilation that either the angry person will either in reality or psychologically reject me and deprive me of my, my…… I’m a progressive intellectual, I’m one of the good guys.

And I’ve stacked my whole reputation and my career and my identity on being one of the good people. 

Charmaine McCaulay: Thank you. And good people hold 

Andries du Toit: and it’s real nice. 

Charmaine McCaulay: Yeah. And good people is, good people. Nice people hold the [00:46:00] gun to my head and they don’t know they got the gun. So yeah. So that’s difficult. 

Andries du Toit: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 

Kate Bird: Okay. 

Thanks Andries. I would I’d like to wrap up now with just a simple question, which is given the nuanced and sensitive picture that you have presented us with, what would you say our listeners and viewers can do? What is one practical thing that they can do to help to contribute to the process of decolonisation. And either in their personal lives or in their professional lives – one practical ‘take away’? 

Andries du Toit: The first thing that pops into my head is…. Don’t ever say “We”. I’m struck by when I read, like, progressive opinion, how tempting it is to imagine that I am speaking for all of humanity. What do we need to do. What we want. What do we need? Especially like at the moment around climate [00:47:00] change, there’s this tendency of the part of people, quite progressive people to think, no, we are talking here about the planet and about the needs of future generations, and….. I’m trying saying “I” for a change. 

One formative experience for me was when I was a war resistor. We were conscientious objectors. And I was a conscious objector. Not only because I didn’t want to kill for a apartheid, but also because I didn’t want to die for a apartheid. And there was a slogan that I remember from the anti-Vietnam resistance, the “Resisting Imperialism. The life you save, maybe your own” and I think it is very healthy for people to, for me, to be quite honest about what’s in it for me. What am I trying to be free of here? What am I trying to change for me. Rather than imagine that I’m, I must kind of position myself on the good side of the moral continuum and inhabit that place if I just wear the right badges and sign the right declarations or use the right language.

So yeah, don’t [00:48:00] say “We”, say “I”. 

That would be one thing that I would very much encourage. 

Kate Bird: I think that’s, really nice Andries, because it’s reinforcing the idea that we actually, this whole process starts with ourselves and it starts with a process of personal transformation. And and a lot of what you have said is that it…we’re not necessarily there, yet, as individuals. It’s a process . It’s a process of increasing awareness. It’s a process of learning. It’s a process of listening and engaging. 

Andries du Toit: Yeah. 

Kate Bird: So I’m, I like that and I’ll very much try to apply that in my own life because I’m guilty of writing and saying “We”, because I I think I like the idea of being part of a collective and feeling that I’m part of a positive, progressive, collective process of change.

And I definitely like to see myself as one of the, the good guys. But, I obviously have to [00:49:00] continue that process of increasing self-awareness and use “I”. 

So I’d like to draw this session to a close and to thank you for talking to Charmaine and myself and to say goodbye to our listeners and viewers.

Goodbye everyone, and thank you very much. 

Andries du Toit: Thank you Charmaine and thank you for your challenging questions. I really appreciate them.

Charmaine McCaulay: You’re welcome. That’s right. Thank you. Alright.

This weeks guest:

Prof Andries du Toit, Director of PLAAS

Prof Andries du Toit is Director of PLAAS (Institute for Politics, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape), South Africa’s leading research institute exploring land, chronic poverty, structural inequality and the rural economy.

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