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23 June 2008 @ 03:48 pm
'n Paar gedagtes oor kollektiewe skuld  
(Scroll down for English version)


Kollektiewe skuldvrae en skuldgevoelens lê aan die kern van die denkpatrone van die moderne Suid-Afrikaner. ‘n Mens kan sien hoedat daar in deesdae se politieke milieu alewig na kollektiewe skuld verwys word wanneer een of ander ongeregtigheid ter sprake kom. Die Afrikaner is skuldig aan apartheid, die Engelsman aan kolonialisme, die swart man aan korrupsie en nepotisme (en dalk selfs die moorddadige aanvalle op onwettige immigrante). Vingers word gewys, humeure ontvlam, beskuldigings word heen en weer geslinger. Suid-Afrikaners sal weet waarvan ek praat.

Dis dié dat ons sulke eienaardige verskeinsels moet aanskou soos ouers wat weier om met hulle kinders Afrikaans te praat, of wit jongmense wat ewe druipstert die voete van ‘n “voorheen benadeelde” was. Dis daarom dat die retoriek van Swart Ekonomiese Bemagtiging so maklik en onophoudelik vloei. Dis die rede hoekom talle Afrikaners onder die wanindruk van aktiewe, agressiewe kulturele bedreiging verkeer. Dis dalk selfs een van die redes hoekom die skuldige wit massas so emigreer.

En dan is daar natuurlik die teenreaksie: die draer van kollektiewe skuld wat beweer dat hý die een is wat hier verontreg en verkeerd voorgestel word. Daar het jy onder andere die trotse ou Engelse omie wat, veilig in sy onskuld aan apartheid, hewig sal ontken dat die Britte se gedrag in die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog verkeerd was, en selfs die storie van “glas in die kos” sal probeer belaglik maak; daar het jy die Afrikaner wat vas daarvan oortuig is dat die vorige bedeling eintlik tot voordeel van almal was, of dat dit hoofsaaklik deur die Britte onder die Unie geïmplementeer was; daar het jy die Zulu wat speel dat hy nog nooit van die Mfecane gehoor het nie.

En tog... is dit nie ‘n natuurlike reaksie nie? Is dit nie te verwagte dat ‘n mens homself só sal verdedig nie? Hy word mos nou van iets beskuldig waarin hy geen rol gespeel het nie. Is dit nie vanselfsprekend dat hy sy skuld sal probeer ontken nie? Sy lidmaatskap aan die skuldige groep kan hy tog nie ontken sonder om sy eie volk, of taal, of rassegroep te bedrieg nie. Veel eerder sal hy homself en sy “groep” (wat dit ook al mag wees) totaal onskuldig probeer hou.

Party mense doen dinge effens anders: hulle skep vir hulself ‘n nuwe klassifikasie. Onder Afrikaners, soos ek uit my eie ondervinding weet, neem dit in die algemeen die vorm van liberalisme aan. ‘Nee, nie ons nie,’ sê die moderne “Afrikaanses”, ‘dis daai slegte lot regses se skuld, daai Orania klomp met hulle snorre en hulle gewere. Ons is mooi polities korrek en liberaal, ons gaan maak aspres met swartmense vriende. Ons was nou ons hande in onskuld.’ Die liberalisme is nou hulle wit mantel.

Myns insiens lê die probleem egter nie in die kwessie van aan watter groep jy behoort nie. Ek dink dat die swaartepunt van die hele saak nie by die lidmaatskap aan ‘n groep lê nie, maar by die toerekening van kollektiewe skuld in die eerste plek. Dit klink miskien ekstreem; laat my toe om verder te verduidelik.

In die wetlike sin is skuld slegs persoonlik. As iemand self ‘n wandaad begaan het, is hy skuldig en moet hy gestraf word. As hy nie self ‘n rol gespeel het nie, is hy onskuldig. Óf die een, óf die ander. As hy self skuldig is en hy weet dit, is sy gedrag definitief strafbaar. In die konteks van apartheidskuld moet die vraag van persoonlike skuld aan die regsproses - of so nie, aan die gewete van die indiwidu - oorgelaat word.

Maar die kollektiewe skuld werk heeltemaal anders: ‘n mens se lidmaatskap aan ‘n skuldige groep maak hóm skuldig, selfs al is hy in die wetlike sin onskuldig. As hy ‘n middelklas Afrikaner is, kan skuldgevoelens hom op alle fronte aanval. Elke keer as hy lekker eet, elke keer as hy warm water uit sy geyser gebruik, elke keer as hy die outomatiese sekuriteitshek van sy gemaklike woning agter hom toeskiet, elke keer as hy geld spandeer op iets wat nie noodsaaklik is nie, tref daardie dowwe skuldpyn sy diepste binneste. Hy vind dit dalk selfs moelik om ‘n swart man in die oë te kyk wanneer hy hom op straat ontmoet; hy kan maar net ongemaklik glimlag en verbystorm. En wat hy ookal mag doen, is daar geen uitweg uit hierdie kollektiewe skuld uit nie.

Waar lê nou die oplossing? Dis tog nie moontlik om te ontken dat daar groot misdade in die naam van die Afrikaner gepleeg is nie. Dis nie moontlik om daardie kollektiewe skuld te ontken nie. Ja, apartheid lê nou al meer as ‘n dekade in die verlede, maar mense leef en onthou langer terug as dit. Gevolge, persoonlik sowel as sosioekonomies, hou langer as dit.

En juis hier lê die belangrike punt: as iemand kollektief skuldig is, moet hy mos immers iets doen om die gevolge te versag, om die ongeregtighede reg te maak. En juis dit is wat ‘n vae gevoel van kollektiewe skuld nie kan uitrig nie. Teen so ‘n onversoenbare skuldgevoel is die mens hulpeloos; hy kan homself nie daaruit red nie, altans, nie sonder om sy identiteit te verloën nie. Die skuld slaan elke dag aan hom, en hy laat dit maar gebeur. Hy dink dan dat hy dit verdien. In sy eie oë is hy skuldig; hy moet nou minste ook skuldig voel.

Maar so ‘n skuldgevoel is nutteloos. Dit help hom nie, en dit help die mense aan wie hy verskuldig is nog minder. Niemand trek daaruit voordeel nie. En as ‘n Afrikaner nou miskien die voete van ‘n swart man was, wat help dit? Die swart man het nou nat voete en die mens wat sy voete gewas het, se gewete is vir ‘n rukkie gepaai. Maar niks het werklik verander nie. Die simboliek is miskien reg, maar dit is van geen praktiese nut nie.

My oplossing is dít: dat die konsep van die kollektiewe skuld eerder met die konsep van kollektiewe verantwoordelikheid vervang word. Die mens wat homself skuldig ag, is in sy eie oë minderwaardig, en dink hy verdien enige slegte dinge wat met hom gebeur. Hy is passief. En as hy dit regkry om deur leë simboliese gebare van sy skuldgevoel ontslae te raak, ag hy dit onnodig om die verlede se ongeregtighede reg te stel.

Daarteenoor stel ek iemand wat homself onskuldig maar verantwoordelik ag. Hierdie (hipotetiese) mens is nie daarin geïnterresseerd om homself te verontskuldig nie; hy is nie geïnterresseerd in leë, nuttelose gebare nie. Hy het die moed om die verontregde in die oë te kyk, die vryheid om met hom eerlik te wees, en om sy gelyke en sy vriend te kan wees. Hy besef dat hy in (en volgens) sy kapasiteit die negatiewe situasies waarvoor hy kollektief verantwoordelik is, moet beredder - maar juis omdat dit die regte ding is om te doen, nie omdat hy homself van skuld wil vryspreek nie. Hy hoef nie deur skuldgevoelens daartoe gedwing te word nie; hy doen dit vrywillig en met ‘n goeie gesindheid.

Dít, dink ek, is die geheim wat sal werk. Laat die skuld lê; neem die verantwoordelikheid op. Vergeet van selfbejammering; neem aksie. Hou op om ‘n slagoffer te wees; wees eerder ‘n selfstandige en verantwoordelike burger. As ons só kan handel en só kan saamstaan, dan is ons eers waarlik vry.

Nkosi sikelel’ i-Afrika!



----- English -----

Questions and feelings of collective guilt are central to the thinking of the modern South African. One can see how the concept of collective guilt is continually being referred to in today’s political climate. The Afrikaner is guilty of apartheid, the Englishman of colonialism, the black man of corruption and nepotism (and perhaps even the so-called xenophobic attacks on illegal immigrants). Fingers point, tempers explode, accusations are flung back and forth.

That’s why we have to behold such strage phenomena as parents that refuse to speak Afrikaans to their children, or white youths guiltily washing the feet of someone who was “previously disadvantaged”. That’s why the rhetoric of Black Economic Empowerment flows so easily and ceaselessly. That’s why so many Afrikaners are under the mistaken impression that their culture is under immediate, and actively hostile, threat. It may even be a contributing factor to why the guilty white masses are emigrating in droves.

And then, of course, we have the counter-reaction: the person who is collectively guilty but who says that he is himself the one being misrepresented. For example, you’ll have the proud old English gent who, secure in his innocence regarding apartheid, will vehemently deny that the British were in the wrong in the Anglo-Boer War, and will even deny that those infamous shards of glass were put into the food of the concentration camp inmates; you’ll find Afrikaners who will try to argue that apartheid was for the benefit of all, or was primarily implemented by the British under the Union; you’ll find the Zulu who pretends never to have heard of the Mfecane.

And yet... is this not a natural reaction? Isn’t it to be expected that someone would defend himself in this way? After all, he is being accused of something in which he played no role. Doesn’t it go without saying that he will try to deny his guilt? He cannot deny his membership to a guilty group without betraying his own nation, or language, or “race”, as the case may be. He’d much rather try to consider his “group” innocent.

Others do things slightly differently: they create a new classification for themselves. Among Afrikaners, as I can attest from my own experience, this often takes the form of liberalism. ‘No, not us,’ say the modern “Afrikaanses”, ‘it’s that lot of conservatives who are at fault. That Orania crowd with their moustaches and their guns. We, on the other hand, are politically correct and liberal, we go out of our way to make friends with black people. We wash our hands in innocence.’ Liberalism has become their white robe of innocence.

But as I see it, the problem does not lie in which group you happen to belong to. I think that the crux of the whole matter does not lie in membership of a group, but with the assignment of collective guilt in the first place. That may sound extreme; allow me to explain further.

In the lawful sense, guilt is strictly personal. If someone did a misdeed, he is guilty and must be punished. If he played no role, he is innocent. Either the one or the other. He cannot be held guilty (and punishable) for the actions of another. On the other hand, if he is personally guilty, then he is definitely to be punished. In the context of guilt pertaining to the apartheid system, this question lies in the domain of judicial prcedures, or otherwise with personal conscience.

But collective guilt works differently: a person’s membership in a collectively guilty demographic renders him personally guilty, even if he is not personally guilty in the lawful sense. If he is a middle class Afrikaner, he is beset by guilt from all directions. Every time he has a good meal, every time he uses hot water from his geyser, every time he closes the automatic security gate behind him, every time he spends money on something which is not strictly essential, a pang of guilt assaults him. He may even find it difficult to look a black man in the eyes when he meets him along the road; he can only smile uncomfortably and hurry past. And, whatever he does, there is no way out of this collective guilt.

Where lies the solution? It is, after all, not possible to deny that great crimes were committed in the name of the Afrikaner. It is not possible to deny that collective guilt as long as you play by its rules. Granted, apartheid lies more than a decade in the past, but people live longer than that, and remember farther back than that. Consequences, personal as well as socioeconomic, remain longer than that.

And exactly here lies the important point: if someone is collectively guilty, mustn’t he do something to mitigate the consequences, to end and repair the injustices? And that is exactly what a feeling of collective guilt cannot accomplish. Against such an irredeemable feeling of guilt the human creature is helpless; he cannot save himself from it, or at least not without denying and betraying his own identity. He is attacked by guilt every day, and he lets it happen. He thinks that he deserves it. In his own eyes he is guilty; the least he can do is to feel guilty.

But this feeling of guilt is practically useless. It does not help him, and it helps the person he is guilty towards even less. Nobody can benefit from it. And if an Afrikaner now decides to wash the feet of a black man, of what use is that? The black man now has wet feet and the man who washed his feet has appeased his own conscience for a while. But nothing has really changed. The symbolism may be correct, but it has not been of any practical use whatsoever.

My solution is this: that the concept of collective guilt rather be replaced by the concept of collective responsibility. The person who considers himself guilty is inferior in his own eyes, and thinks that he deserves any misfortune that crosses his path. He is passive. And if he manages to rid himself of the feeling of guilt through empty symbolic gestures, he no longer considers it necessary to correct the past’s injustices.

In contrast I propose someone who considers himself innocent, yet responsible. This (hypothetical) person is not interested in excusing himself from guilt; he is not interested in empty, useless posturing. He has the courage to look the formerly wronged in the eye, he has the freedom to be honest with them, and he has the capacity to be their equal and their friend. He realises that he can, in and according to his capacity, help to negate the negative situations for which he is responsible - but because it is the right thing to do, not because he is trying to save himself from guilt. He does not need to be forced by means of a guilty conscience; he lends a hand freely and with clear intentions.

In my opinion, this is the secret that will work. Let guilt lie; take up responsibility. Forget self-pity; take action. Stop being a victim; instead, be an independent and responsible citizen. If we can can act and stand together in this manner, only then can we be truly free.

Nkosi sikelel’ i-Afrika!
 
 
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