The illovo hand-washing lecture: A socioeconomic assault

By Mark Beare

The events on this video are not patronising.

Patronising is to be ‘politely discriminating’ (if that’s even a defendable concept). This is far worse as it goes to the heart of the political economy in South Africa. Let’s break it down;

Were the workers consulted about how to deal collectively with this crisis? Why were there only black workers being ‘trained’ – where are the rest of the residents? Were workers given the opportunity to refuse to attend – would they get fired if they had done so? Was a trained trainer used – apparently not, so this was not ‘enlightened’ education but derogatory instruction.

Also, we need to address is from both perspectives. The workers standing there likely felt completely disrespected, however from the input side, this is naked white privilege and entitlement. Can one just try to conceptualise (especially as a white observer) the double whammy of being utterly disrespected and powerless to do anything about it – which goes to the fundamentally perverse power relations in our society. Disempowerment of the abused empowers the abuser and this is where incidents such as this insidiously act to empower entitled racist and further acts of violence.

So no this was not patronising this was socioeconomic assault – powerful white residents socially assaulting disempowered black workers with impunity and feeling entitled to do so whilst the workers felt no such sense of being entitled to refuse to partake.

It is the tip of the ugly white iceberg that haunts South Africa – political and economic disempowerment of millions who have no choice but to obey or face the economic and, depending on the context (such as a racist employer out of the glare of accountability), violent outcomes of resisting social assault (aka ‘patronising’ behaviour). The reason this must be exposed is because it needs to be challenged and called out for what it is – emotional and material disempowerment of people who are perceived as ‘less’.

Now let’s go to the motivation. The whites in this video only saw the need to ‘educate’ the ‘lesser’ people because it was for their self-preservation – if the worker doesn’t wash their hands properly, then I could die…or worse we could die…so let’s act collectively to prevent ‘them’ from killing ‘us’ and hey presto you’re back to the ‘swart gevaar’ of apartheid!

I could go on but I think that what is needed here is exposure with critique so that we are not just accused of ‘playing the race card’ or ‘making everything political’ – so let’s try to see if the same people in the video (racists and workers) can be interviewed and critically asked questions such as those posed earlier – so that disempowered workers can be empowered through the exposure and ignorant racist whites have a chance to be remorseful (and not just those in the video but also people exposed to the critique who might have instinctively defended the actions of the racists but with education could reason a more inclusive approach to this and other challenges we face and if not then they deserve all the anger they will get from this).

These incidents can be turned into an opportunity to explore and learn as conflict resolution comes from understanding and pragmatism and here I believe by asking sober questions and getting evidence we can build one incident at a time a better understanding of our beautiful but damaged land and its people to build our communities from the ground up.

This is not meant in any way as a whitesplaining rant but more an attempt to share an understanding and if people believe my thinking is white centric, I’m open to being educated.

Aluta Continua! Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika

Anthony Oluoch

I am a lawyer, a brother, a son, a friend, a neighbor, a confidant, a student of life and I am Kenyan. Became a human rights activist so suddenly sometimes I ask myself if this really is something I wanted. But I have come to embrace it. I have come to realize that I like what I do. That on some level, what I do makes life easier for someone and hopefully, eventually, for myself…Probably the best way to describe me is in the words of Winston Churchill, I am a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

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