An open letter to Ntokozo Qwabe, from a fellow South African

Oppressed white people do exist in South Africa, erasing history is stupid and Rhodes Must Fall is the opposite of progress.


Dear Ntokozo Qwabe,

I grew up in Pretoria. We are both South African citizens, living and studying in the UK, and from that perspective, we write from a place of commonality. But that is where the similarity ends. You see, one of us is an increasingly more downtrodden minority, while the other is a member of a majority with ever growing power. Hopefully by the end of this letter, the reader will be able to tell who is who.

I would like to address in particular your participation in the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, and ask you who granted you the supreme and overarching power to be able to rewrite history? The fact that you don’t have the mental toughness to walk past a statue of a dead man without feeling offended and violated, makes me question the rigor that Oxford apply to their selection process. What you, and so many students today seem to forget, is that universities are not supposed to be ‘safe spaces’  of intellectual comfort. In fact, the opposite is true. Ask anyone who has ever achieved anything in their lives and they will tell you, that it is discomfort that brings growth.

Dr Christina Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute puts it perfectly when she says “since the time of Socrates, education has been synonymous with debate, inquiry, challenge, but if universities replace the ideals of free inquiry and critical thinking with safety, they will have lost their reason for being.”

The truth is, that there is no nation for whom the past is an entirely pleasant place, but when we attempt to edit our exposure to all the atrocities that live there, two things happen:

  1. We take the first step on a path of censorship and indoctrination.
  2. We erase the good, along with the bad.

That is how getting rid of something works. You can’t say I want to wipe out all the evidence that water exists, except the water that comes from my tap. Its all or nothing with these things.

So if we are to erase everyone who was racist from history, lets do it; lets erase Gandhi, and put India back in the state it was before him. Let’s get rid of Jefferson, and set fire to the USA as we know it. Let’s forget Walt Disney, and wipe-out everyone’s childhood memories. Let Rhodes fall. Break down his statues and remove his name from history, but with that, get rid of the Rhodes scholarship that has you studying in Oxford in the first place.

The truth is, I am not being deliberately antagonistic towards you because our opinions differ, it is just that as a philosophy student I can only accept arguments that are based on logic, and facts, and rational thinking. Yours is not.

You say that there is no oppressed white person, but here are the facts of South Africa, from someone who had the whole trajectory of their life changed by them. I will focus on education for the sake of brevity, since this is a privilege you enjoy in its highest form.

I will quote from the University of Cape Town Undergraduate Admissions Policy: “If there are fewer South African Black…applicants who meet the required APS scores than places for that population group, consideration for a mainstream place will be given to applicants [with grades] below the minimum required.”

The same booklet states that if more white students achieve their entry requirements than the white quota allows, they will not be accepted. I could go on to explain this for pages, but I think the following screenshot of the admissions booklet sums it up for me perfectly.

Now I am not opposing affirmative action per se, but I am opposing the fact that education standards are constantly dropping as universities adjust their material to accommodate for students who did not meet the requirements to study their course. In addition to that, South Africa has gotten to the point where affirmative action is being exploited, at the expense of intelligent, ambitious white children, who lose their place at university to people with half their grades on the virtue of skin colour alone. I am not denying that there may be issues with high school education in black communities, but rather saying that affirmative action is being abused instead of more relevant solutions to issues being pursued.

The London Time’s quote of the week posted on the 10th of April 2012 phrases it perfectly:

“South Africa is the only country in the world where affirmative action is in favour of the majority who has complete political control. The fact that the political majority requires affirmative action to protect them against the 9% minority group is a testament to a complete failure on their part…”

That said, while I oppose your cause, I respect your zeal and your passion because I can understand the thrill of feeling like you are fighting for something greater than yourself. But if we are going to talk history, and discuss what deserves to live through the ages, I suggest you take some advice from the past: zeal and passion need to be morally interrogated. Every time they are not, we see civilizations descending into chaos.

Further, always remember that there has not been one person in history who committed atrocities and didn’t think he was entirely justified in committing those atrocities. The current state of our world is fragile. Be careful of the impact your actions can have.

I hope one day, that all us South Africans can once again unite under the banner of the rainbow nation. I hope one day there will be a South Africa where people are judged, “not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character,” so that all of us who have left, can return to a home that will embrace us with open arms.

Unfortunately, the reality is, that as long as view points like yours, that are built on bitterness rather than progress exist, we will only go backwards.