What If There Were No Whites In South Africa?

By Megan Thomas

Despite its provocative title, there is no definitive answer – this is Ferial Haffajee’s attempt at fleshing out public opinion.

It‘s not so much a question of what if there were never British or Dutch colonisers in the country. Instead, it asks a question that hovered in South Africa at the time the book was being written: should white people be removed from, or take a step back from South Africa for it to move forward, when it has become clear that waiting for progress to happen organically isn’t working.

South African politics are terse and nuanced, and I’ve never felt it quite so much as when living in the UK – people have no concept of the intricacies, though are alarmingly confident in their views on the country (a lot of which are valid views of Apartheid South Africa, but not its current state).

Ferial grew up in an Indian family under Apartheid, and freedom in 1994 was palpable. She felt it at its raw epicentre as it charged and changed her life and the lives of people of colour around her, allowing her to study, and eventually become editor of the Mail & Guardian and City Press. As a result, she found herself narrow-minded, impatient with those not grabbing freedom and running with it, and infuriated by the 2015 student movements, which suggested that white supremacy is still at play within institutions.


This book is her unpacking, through interviews and discussion, the feelings of residue colonialism, of “whiteness” over “white people”, and the necessity of accepting that moving forward is not achievable without first looking backwards and without regarding whiteness as an aspiration.

Ferial’s inability to answer the question posed in her title is both important and intentional – there is no quick fix and what we have been doing doesn’t work. This doesn’t need to be a point of self-defeat or white-shame, but rather an inspiration to do our own research, ask questions, and most importantly, understand where resentment and anger originate.

South Africa is politically free, but 25 years on from the beginning of its democracy, it is time to put heavy focus on financial and social liberation.

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