Last week I attended a fascinating evening at Jubilee Church in Cape Town, nominally focussed on The Land Question. The speaker was Sharlene Swartz, author of the (must-read) book on social restitution, Another Country. She’s controversial at times, regularly receiving various degrees of vitriol from both the extreme right and the far left, but her take on what restitution looks like for South Africans in the light of our extreme – and increasing – inequality is eye-opening to most listeners.
Many aren’t aware that white South Africans earn six times their non-white counterparts on average, and are 15 times less likely to live in poverty. Astoundingly, white South Africans have expected lifespans 20 YEARS longer than those of other races. Anyone who says that white privilege, even by these prima facie statements, does not exist, is clearly deluded. The Land Question (at least 47% in white hands) is merely one element of this, and one that is loaded with emotion. Other aspects are probably more worthy of airtime than The Land Question, but the intrinsic dignity issues and historic shame that goes with lost land and homes makes for stories and sound clips that drive clicks on news and social media sites.
Sharlene, an academic and researcher held in high regard worldwide, has some interesting ideas on what the average citizen can do in the restitution arena, from small daily acts to life-changing financial decisions, and I’d encourage you to read Another Country and get involved in a 10-10-10 Restitution Dialogue group at the very least – but at The Social Project we have a pretty amazing programme which is a great first step for most white South Africans, called Imbeko.
Speaking someone’s home language speaks helps you connect with his or her heart, as Nelson Mandela famously said, and in the crowded church hall that night less than 5% of the whites present claimed to be able to speak even a little Xhosa (the most commonly spoken African language in Cape Town).
This is a massive problem, and that to connect and break prejudices we need to make more of an effort in this regard. Imbeko is a 12 or 15-week programme where we connect Xhosa and Zulu tutors with groups of English or Afrikaans-speaking people who want to learn the language. Usually it’s in someone’s home, although a few forward-thinking companies have started running groups in their offices, and the tutor earns a good income at the same time. Visit Imbeko.org and sign up – it’s inexpensive and a great start to understanding. Imbeko means respect – let’s show some!
PS: Learning a new language as an adult is also known to be one of the most effective ways to delay the onset of dementia!