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Evita Bezuidenhout | Friday 4 March 2016 | THE GUARDIAN
As South African students protest over ongoing inequality, the nation’s beloved fictional character enters the debate on white privilege
I watched a film on TV with my grandchildren last night. I can’t remember the name, or much of the plot, but I remember it was about a man who had a drinking problem and he went to a meeting.
You could see how much courage it took him to go up onto the stage in front of everyone and say: “Hi, my name is John and I am an alcoholic.” And all the alcoholics in the audience answered: “Hi John.”
Well, I decided that maybe I should start this conversation by saying: “Hi, my name is Evita and I’m a racist.” Now you can all say: “Hi Evita!”
Let me quote the French philosopher Voltaire: “Racism is the hostile attitude or behaviour to members of other races based on a belief in the innate superiority of one’s own race. It is not restricted to whites only.”
The only way for an alcoholic to confront the disease of alcoholism is to admit it: I drink therefore I will not drink. Then surely one way for a racist to confront that disease is to be honest: I am a racist therefore I will not be a racist.
I will not judge people because of the colour of their skin, or how they dress, or what they eat. I will not be a racist in the city traffic when the township taxi cuts in front of me. I will not be a racist when politics passes me by. I will not believe in the innate superiority of my race.
I was born in South Africa in 1935 into a racist family. I went to a racist school and a racist church. My God was a racist and so was his Son. I married into a racist family. I became the wife of a racist member of a racist parliament who served in the racist cabinet of a racist prime minister and praised by a racist press.
My children were brought up as racists. In fact, till my 59th year and the country’s first democratic election, if I hadn’t been a racist I would have been locked up in jail as a communist or a terrorist.
An enemy of the state. A traitor. And it is only because a man came out of darkness on 11 February 1990 and gave me light that I realised that it was no longer politically correct to be a racist in South Africa. Nelson Mandela allowed me to stop being scared of who I was, and to celebrate who I am – an African who is not black.
“My God was racist and so was his Son. I married into a racist family… My children were brought up as racists”
There are so many urgent areas of our survival that need to be touched upon in this conversation. Education, poverty, violence, crime, security, corruption, xenophobia, the past, the present and the future. So why do I start with this issue?
Racism is not new. It’s not unexpected. It’s not profound. But if we here in 2016 do not allow ourselves to get beyond it with understanding and honesty, we will once again be imprisoned by that accusation and every other issue will fade by comparison. The first step in the right direction towards our planned non-racial, non-sexist society is to admit that the majority of South Africans are racists one way or another, finish en klaar.
South Africa has nearly completed its 21st year of democracy and considering where we come from, we are doing remarkably well. Everyone’s fingerprints are on that silver chalice of freedom. Everybody has the right to be seen and to be heard. And so democracy will never be perfect and so it isn’t. It is confused. It is corrupt. It is crippled. It is unfair. It is infuriating. But it is the best thing we have.
Either we accept that and make it better, or we shrug our shoulders and allow our hiccup of hope to slide into the mists of historical memory. In a healthy democracy the people must lead and then the government will follow. But free expression also attracts those new obstacles littering the internet highway.
Today, social media forces us down high roads of political correctness and along low paths of innuendo and insult. On Monday, #FeesMustFall. (If only they would, but in reality they won’t.) On Tuesday, #RhodesMustFall. (Alas, the only roads that do are the ones falling prey to potholes and disrepair.) What will a hashtag trend today? #XenophobiaMustFall?
And tomorrow? Economic inequality must fall! (It’s happening; we’ll all soon be equally bankrupt.) And yes, racism should have fallen 22 years ago; and yet today it just keeps trending and being tweeted and retweeted.
I was very nervous when I joined the African National Congress. Why would they welcome me? Everyone knows who I am and where I come from: Evita Bezuidenhout, former apartheid government icon, ambassador to the homeland of Bapetikosweti and racist supporter of former president PW Botha. “Sanibona,” I said, “I want to join the ANC.” “Do you have cash?” they asked. I said yes. “Okay, you’re in.”
I know people still say: seeing Evita Bezuidenhout in the ANC is like seeing Angela Merkel as a Greek bank manager. I have been in the party headquaters Luthuli House for over a year and I am still shocked when I realise with how much prejudice I arrived there. Yes, the familiar accusation that all members of the ANC are corrupt, are criminals, are stealing state funds.
We will always find six corrupt cadres to fill the front pages of the newspapers every morning, but there are hundreds of thousands of members of the ANC who are not corrupt. They are working hard to keep the fragile balance of our democracy so that hopefully we will be able to vote freely and fairly when the next election comes around.
But we as the ANC must admit that many of today’s problems are not the legacy of apartheid. The drought, textbooks not in schools, the HIV epidemic, Zuma’s tax-payer funded home Nkandla, problems at the electricity public utility Eskom, the telecommunication provider Telkom, and the national post office. The fall of the currency.
One thing that definitely is the legacy of apartheid and responsible for a lot of our troubles is seeing and counting people in terms of their race. Black vs white. Coloured vs black, Zulu vs Xhosa, rural vs urban, revolutionary vs counter-revolutionary.
Blah vs blah.
I am sick of being white. I am tired of listening to white outrage and complaint. Enough white noise. When will we realise that white South Africans in our rainbow nation have been given the greatest liberation of all its people. We are now totally irrelevant.
No one cares a damn about us. So we can do everything to make this country a better place. We don’t need permission to go to the local school and help the learners with their homework. We don’t have to submit tenders to share our optimism and hopes. It can just be done by doing it. We are what we do.
As news breaks from Europe, I realise that history is repeating itself. I have been approached off the record by persons who wish to remain nameless for obvious reasons. They are from France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom and Germany. And all they say is: “Comrade Bezuidenhout, we are having a little problem in Europe with uninvited guests. Maybe you can help? Surely you remember the way it was done so successfully?”
Yes, during apartheid we called it influx control. We had pass laws, mixed marriage acts, locations, groups areas acts, a population registration act made sure who belonged where. Easy to rub out “coloured, black, Indian, Chinese” and replace them with “Muslim”.
Who would have thought that apartheid was 25 years ahead of the world? But I must be careful how well I advise the Europeans. With whites making up a mere 6% of the South Africa population, the possibility of us clustered at the Croatian border with a few pathetic possessions clutched in shopping bags is not so far-fetched.
So are we white South Africans prepared to take the back seat? Believe me, as a member of the ANC from a protected minority, I have found the back seat very comfortable. As long as the driver isn’t drunk, or carrying a forged licence. We whites can never and we whites will never again lead, but we can lead by example. Things will not go back to what they were. What you see is what we’ve got. This is it. Let’s make the best of what wehave got.
“Hi! My name is Evita – and I am a South African.”
This is an edited version of a speech given to the Cape Town Press Club. Evita Bezuidenhout is a fictitious Afrikaner character created by Pieter-Dirk Uys in the 1980s, using satire to overcome apartheid censorship and criticise the state. The character was imagined as the wife of an apartheid cabinet minister, she became the South African ambassador in the fictitious black homeland republic of Bapetikosweti. She interviewed Nelson Mandela on national television in 1994, addressed parliament in 1999 and is now a member of the ruling ANC. She has her own political party, Evita’s People’s Party, which focuses on voter education. Pieter-Dirk Uys regards her as his premier clown in the struggle against fear, racism and political correctness and says: ‘Just because she doesn’t exist doesn’t mean she’s not real’