To you, I may be just another name. Just another number in a sea of black faces. To your government and to your Secret Police, I am a persona non grata … An enemy of the State who must be silenced or destroyed. To those true Black people, who share with me a destiny as Children of Africa, I firmly believe that I am a spokesman for Justice and Freedom and Equality … A man moved by the plight and pain of my oppressed brothers and sisters.
I am addressing you as a nation and at the same time I am also aware that many valiant white men and women have raised their voices, offered their lives and the lives of their families in the cause of freedom for all people. I am constantly mindful of their great sacrifice and I know and am convinced that they will forever be enshrined in the hearts of Black people.
I have chosen an Open Letter, because your government has arbitrarily denied me my right publicly to express my feelings. My writings have been outlawed and nothing that I say can be published. My very thoughts are branded a danger to the security of the State which, in the final analysis, is really you. Since the crimes you and your government perpetrated against my people are innumerable and since I lack the courage to rise up against you in their name, and most of all because I hate violence, I will confine this letter to the irreparable damage you and your government have personally caused me and my family.
Until this day, I have ever been united with those who suffer, are poor; with the sick and the dying. It was an inheritance from my family. Yet for nearly six years now, with four more to follow, perhaps until I die, your government has summarily cut me, and countless others, off from that very vital and precious life-giving force called human interaction.
Perhaps your government has told YOU why it took the criminal decision to deny and rob me and my colleagues of all social, political and human intercourse with our fellow-beings, making it a crime even to speak to a group of children.
I was given no reason whatsoever.
And did any of you ask your government why I am prohibited from attending my daughter’s birthday party? Or why I must wait outside a hall when my own son is being handed a trophy or a badge? Or why I have to ask your Chief Magistrate for permission to attend the funeral of a loved one or a friend or a great leader? Have any of you ever been prohibited from weeping at a graveside?
Well, I have been.
Have any of you white people experienced the horror of raids by the Secret Police? Do you know how humiliating it is to hear that loud and vicious banging at the door, and watch helplessly as armed police search the house, pulling blankets off the sleeping children? Searching, scratching and stamping, until the whole damn house is filled with hatred and anger.
Have any Afrikaner mothers or wives ever sat up wide-eyed on their beds, afraid and bewildered with tears flowing uncontrollably as the husband is bundled into a police vehicle? Well, my wife has. And, has any white ten-year-old boy ever run barefoot into the night to the waiting police car and, with his fragile fists, banged against the door, crying and screaming as his father is taken away to some cold and dark cell, perhaps never to return again? My little son has done just that. And it is the same child that rushes to switch off the television set when your South African flag and your anthem appear at the end of the programmes.
I am not telling you these things out of self-pity. Nor do I want to be unbanned.
These things are being said so that you, unlike the German nation, cannot tomorrow say: ‘but we did not know…’ For you there must be no excuse.
History will be the judge.
I don’t think that you can answer these questions unless you are a Helen Joseph, a Braam Fischer or a Beyers Naude. Or any of those white men and women who have stood up to be counted, and are dead or suffering as a result of their consciences. Also, I don’t think you have the capacity for such remorse as would move me to say: ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do…’ You know what you do. And what is being done in your name.
Yes, day by day, bitterness and anger overwhelm me, robbing me of clear thoughts, transforming me to a near vegetable. I have been so demeaned that I can no longer truly fulfill myself as a poet or a person. And today, my children, affected by this terrible change in me, reflect the bitterness I carry within my heart. I don’t know why, though I have tried very hard, I cannot hate you. But my children watch me closely: laughing when I laugh, crying when I am sad. Asking me, forever asking me why it is that I endure so much pain and humiliation. Or why the setting sun no longer moves me. Or why I have rejected Christianity.
They will find the answers.
And no doubt this letter will hurt and offend you and your government, especially your Secret Police. If I know you, as I know your rulers, these words will spur you to vengeance and violence against me. Against my family. It has happened before, but I do not care. I am prepared to die.
Article source: Don Mattera – “Open letter to white people”: Index on Censorship Journal, 1980