An award-winning writer has provoked fierce debate in South Africa after candidly saying that she does not like black people.
Annelie Botes, a leading Afrikaner novelist, said she would invite a white, coloured (mixed race) or an Indian man in for a drink, but would “feel threatened by a black man”.
The comments, quoted in South African newspapers, have caused a storm in a country still sensitive about race relations 16 years after the end of apartheid. Botes claims she has received 1,000 supportive emails but there was also widespread condemnation of her views.
The row began when Rapport, an Afrikaans paper, asked her to name people she does not like. Her reply: “Black people.” Soon after, she was sacked as a columnist for another newspaper.
Then South Africa’s Mail & Guardian contacted the author, whom it says is probably the most popular contemporary female writer in Afrikaans, the language of the descendents of Dutch and other European settler farmers. Botes recently won the Afrikaans category of the K Sello Duiker Memorial Literary award for her novel, Thula-thula, which tackles child abuse and incest.
The 53-year-old stood by her original comments. “I’m scared,” she told the paper. “In my daily life there’s no one else that I feel threatened by except black people. If a courier comes to my door and he’s white, coloured or Indian, I’d have no problem inviting him in for a glass of water. But I would feel threatened by a black man.”
She added that two years ago her laptop, containing a manuscript, was stolen while she was asleep and a neighbour was murdered. “You tell me what the face of crime is in South Africa. If you hear the window shatter and confront the perpetrator, who do you expect that crook to be?”
Asked about challenging racial stereotypes, she replied: “I don’t have the means to get my head around that of a black man. I can’t understand that.
“As a writer, I write what I see, what I experience and put it into context. It isn’t my job to be politically correct.”
Botes also said she would never appoint a black gardener. She is planning to emigrate to Britain, where her children already live, as soon her husband goes on a pension.
She added: “Here in Port Elizabeth, I wouldn’t go to a deserted beach alone. It’s simply too dangerous. The English villages where my kids live don’t even have streetlights and I would walk there in the middle of the night without fear.”Her interview triggered dozens of comments on the Mail & Guardian’s website, including one claiming to be one from Botes herself.
The article had chosen to “emphasise the negative”, she wrote, and contained “nothing about my anger regarding the government closing down thousands of farm schools in remote areas and thus depriving black children from an education.
“Nothing about how I as scribe of a village church stood up against the white elders because they treated the church cleaner like scum, and how I lost my job because of my persistent view. Nothing about how I admitted that whites committed unthinkable monstrosities against blacks under the old regime. Or about my acknowledgement that the old government were thieves too. Or how we as whites tend to humiliate “incompetent” blacks at cash points. Or about me having no problem sharing my table and toilet with a black person.”
But there was criticism from other readers. Fungayi Dzvinyangoma posted: “Someone needs to tell this bigoted woman that there are a lot of black people in England. However, if you get burgled in Britain the face is most likely to be white. She seems to forget the history of South Africa so quickly which could explain why the blacks have to resort to criminality. She benefited from state criminality for decades.”
There was support for Botes, however, from a user called George S. “I think the lady should be applauded for her courage in speaking out instead of being vilified. Perhaps she only expresses fears that many whites harbour. Perhaps she generalised this issue but then I say these things work both ways.”
Despite Nelson Mandela’s efforts at reconciliation, racial tensions in South Africa surfaced earlier this year when white supremacist Eugene Terre’Blanche http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/eugene-terre-blanche was hacked to death in his bed, allegedly by black workers on his farm. But the majority of crime victims are poor and black. Last week Brandon Huntley, a South African who argued that whites are targeted by black criminals, lost his refugee status in Canada and now faces a new hearing.
Marga Collings, a manager at Botes’s publisher NB, said today: “We believe that all our authors are entitled to their own views.
“In this case, the publisher does not share the author’s view.”
Botes herself declined to give further interviews. “I regret to say: No further comments,” she wrote in an email to the Guardian.