Grahamstown, South Africa, Where White Supremacy Is A Daily Reality

Grahamstown South Africa  (1)
Grahamstown, South Africa

AFRICANGLOBE – The road from Port Elizabeth to Grahamstown winds past one luxury game farm after another. John Graham, a British soldier, drove the Xhosa people off this land, the Zuurveld, between 1811 and 1812. His soldiers burnt their homes, destroyed their crops and killed any man that resisted.

It was John Cradock, the governor of the Cape Colony, who had given Graham his orders. Cradock had some experience in these matters. He had crushed anti-colonial rebellions in Ireland and India before being posted to Cape Town. In 1812 he reported to the British cabinet that the inhabitants of the Zuurveld had been forced across the Fish River with “a proper degree of terror”. Just more than 200 years later, and 20 years after the end of White apartheid, neither the degree of inequality in Grahamstown, nor the manner in which it is racialised, can be denied.

Racism is rooted in the deep structure of our society. It is also rooted in the ways in which our own country is connected to social and economic forces with a planetary reach. It is deeply etched into everything from the distribution of land, to how our press understands the idea of the “international community” or what counts as academic sophistication in our universities. It is not undone by the simple act of people treating each other with respect. It will not be undone until political and economic power are no longer racialised.

But none of this means that the way in which the flow of day-to-day bourgeois life in a town like Grahamstown is constantly poisoned by racism is trivial. The assault from everyday racism is relentless. Last week a young White woman working at a sushi restaurant casually and publicly observed to a customer that her electric fly swatter was useful for street children as well as flies. The week before that a student, a young White woman, mentioned to her White doctor that she was moving to Durban. He immediately assured her that he would find her a White doctor in Durban so that she didn’t end up in what his sick mind imagines to be the inherently lecherous hands of an African doctor.

Before that an estate agent, bringing a potential buyer to see a rented flat, asked the African woman who answered the door if she could speak to her boss. It didn’t occur to the estate agent that the White man she could see inside the flat was the woman’s husband. Buying a second-hand desk at a local shop to furnish the same flat meant that an old White man arrived with two younger Black men who he openly racially abused as they struggled to carry the desk up the stairs.

In Grahamstown even an act as ordinary as buying a loaf of bread can require an encounter with the sort of moronic view of the world that reads Zuma’s flaws in racial rather than personal and political terms.

The town’s university, Rhodes, has a principled and progressive African leadership but this has not inoculated the institution against everyday racism. A young African woman in her thirties, in the first days of a new job, went to the library for the first time. The librarian flatly refused to believe that she was a staff member, suggesting that she was lying.

White colleagues, imagining themselves to be enlightened feminists, often assumed that her father was a domineering man and that the university was a site of new freedom for her. In fact her father, born into poverty, worked hard to be able to send his daughter to university and, when she got her first degree, advised her against marriage on the grounds that it oppresses women.

Some of her colleagues assumed that she, from a family with two professors on her mother’s side, was new to the university environment and offered their support in the manner that one would speak to a child about adult matters. While taking her scheduled break during the invigilation of an exam, a White woman rushed over and berated her in the overbearing and contemptuous manner that White people adopt when they assume the right to police the behaviour of African people.

The constant experience of racism has led to her having panic attacks every time she has to return to Grahamstown after the holidays. After the long years of unpaid commitment required to make an academic life she has started looking for jobs, any job that can get her out of a space in which day-to-day life requires either constant rage or constant mutilation of the self.

Off the record it is not unusual for academics and administrative staff at the university to say the most vile things dressed up in what they imagine to be a weary cosmopolitanism. There was, for instance, the White woman who began a conversation with a White colleague recently arrived from Durban by saying that he must have been so happy to get out of Durban. Stunned that anyone could imagine that life in a provincial backwater like Grahamstown was preferable to Durban he asked her why she held this view. “It must have been such a relief to get away from the Indians,” she replied. When he protested, she tried to back down and, as what she imagined to be compensation, offered the view that “Indians have such a colourful culture”.

Then there was the White man, who thinks he’s a Marxist, who, in a private conversation after a seminar, ascribed corruption in the ANC to Indian people simultaneously reinforcing two colonial stereotypes – one about the cunning Indian, the other about the child-like African.

Racism is also written into the public discourse at the university although of course here it is always implicit. It is not unusual for academics to have no sense at all of being intellectuals in Africa or the global South and for Africans to only appear in their research and teaching as a problem, a problem to be investigated with intellectual resources drawn from the white North.

Sometimes it is the people that identify as activists who say or do the most outrageous things on the assumption that identifying as an activist gives them a pass on having to take racism seriously. Human rights, the constitution, feminism and socialism are all misused to reinscribe White power and to place it in a relationship to Africa and Africans that is framed in terms of an enlightening pedagogy rather than enduring domination.

Yet despite the ubiquity of everyday racism the biggest controversy on campus in recent years has centred on a grotesque and consistently dishonest attempt to misuse the struggles for the full equality of women to legitimise the occupation of Palestine. In some cases it is clear that the desire to ally with a central thrust in the ideology of contemporary American imperialism, an often murderous project that continues where Graham and Craddock left off, is rooted in a commitment to asserting the authority and legitimacy of the White West over the rest of the world. Israel, like Zimbabwe, becomes a proxy for debates about South Africa that cannot be openly prosecuted here.

Almost 20 years after White apartheid it is clear that neither the constitution nor political rhetoric are going to excise racism. It is being reproduced through the White family where it often has an explicit formulation. It is also being reproduced through some institutions, including those funded by the state, where, although it cannot speak its name, it still finds a convivial home. We can’t carry on like this. Racism has to be confronted far more directly than it has over the past 20 years.


By: Richard Pithouse 


South Africa’s Secret White Power Training Camps 


  1. insult? what eva. i know the pain i know how it feels but also am good enough to know afro history. through the history i observe that they r playing zero sum game. so who should change dis to win win game? uh? i like “survival of the featest theory” , its universal truth. if u dont accept the weakness n build strong sheild, they gonna build their sucker home on the top of ur head okay…

  2. The only way indigenous South Africans could attain true liberation is by expelling these animals, with NO compensation whatsoever. What is it gong to take for native South Africans to realize these people will never change? They hate their guts, yet live lavishly off of their resources.They have been allowed to get away with murder for the longest, and Black South Africans, have been for more lenient to these people more than they deserve. What kills me, is that these people are so quick to claim they are Africans, while looking down on the true natives of the land and treating them like foreigners in their own land. What South Africans have is not even remotely close to an democracy, but an oligarchy. We need to think logically, and stop following the ” God will take care of things, turn the other cheek” method, when dealing with our enemies, since such a logic has failed, and they openly wish harm on us. In other words, we need to fight fire with fire. Black people, need to start being selfish and stop caring how outsiders view us, because they will always have a collective negative outlook on us. Black FIRST!

  3. blame puppet, ignorant and selfish black leaders, leave the whites cos everybody look for economic superiority and domination. the weakness is on our side.

  4. i feel bad whenever i see african nations represent by non black. i think continent of africa the only place to be possesed totally by blacks. our lone asset

  5. South Afrika has been created for whites and a few blacks have been included to make us think that there’s progress for the black man. The truth of the matter is whites are enjoying this so called democracy, they’re now free to exploit the black man in the workplace and if he dare tries to fight for his rights – they use the courts to grant an interdict preventing strike action, if the black man is lucky enough to be granted a right to strike then police are sent to harass him. White people in this country are not genuine, they’re pretenders just like the incumbent government. The only time I have ever seen white people protesting was when one of the students in UKZN had killed a baboon. White people love animals more than blacks. This analogy can be proven in so many ways when time permits. If white settlers were really genuine in their quest for a just and free society then they would continuously vote for a black liberation movement but the evidence prove that whites have always voted for right wing political parties whose sole aim is to serve monopoly capital at the expense of the poor black majority.

  6. White people from Dutch and Germany quick to call themselves Africans as white as they are. Africa is not your home just as is other places. Your nation shall crumble by your own hands