‘Dear Elon’ — an open letter from a fellow White South African Settler

Published Jul 10, 2024


By Gillian Schutte

Dear Elon Musk,

As a fellow White South African Settler, I feel an unrelenting urge to write to you from the intersection of colonialism and people's struggle.

This urge stems from the need to address the selective outrage and historical amnesia that underpin your current stance on free speech and power dynamics. In my witnessing of your responses to Julius Malema and, more recently, Andile Mngxitama, I have noted a troubling dearth of critical thinking regarding your input into the racialised power dynamics that unfold on your influential platform - X.

It seems to me that, in your peculiar imaginary, there exists only one kind of free speech reserved for a select few, a privilege that conveniently obliterates the profound complexities of our shared history—a history in which our white ancestors enacted oppressive violence and engaged in the usurpation of people native to this land in both the colonial and the apartheid eras. Your reactions have laid bare your profound erasure of these dynamics.

It appears to be lost on you that statements from prominent figures like Malema and the contentious Mngxitama, despite echoing the sentiments of a substantial portion of the South African populace, have not sparked a white genocide. Have you reflected on this conspicuous absence of black-on-white bloodshed that stands in stark contrast to your apparent endorsement to the doomsday proclamations of a white genocide in South Africa?

With all your public pioneering, perhaps it's time you conquered new frontiers by confronting these disquieting truths rather than taking refuge behind the all-too-convenient shield of white privilege and selective indignation.

While your platform, X, advocates for free speech, your response to Mngxitama’s statements—an exclamation mark leaving them open for interpretation—reveals a troubling bias. And while you have expressed disdain towards figures like Julius Malema, you have overlooked or downplayed the explicitly racist and incendiary remarks made by Renaldo Gouws and other white genocide-pushing South Africans. This selective treatment propagates the very inequalities and power imbalances that your platform should aim to address.

Let me lay it out for you, in the hopes that something will shift into the ‘aha’ moment your soul surely desperately craves: to bring your critical thinking around social issues to the same level of excellence that your inventive engineering mind occupies. The gap between the two has always irked me when watching your interviews.

You should at least acknowledge that our white ancestors were intrinsic to South Africa's colonial and apartheid history, which has left indelible scars on its social, political, and economic structures. This systemic oppression of the black majority by the white minority was premised in cultural and physical subjugation with punitive restrictions on freedoms and opportunities for black people. These historical injustices reverberate today, contributing to ongoing desperation, mammoth disparities and obvious tensions. It is not your place to erase this all in a fit of ahistorical White male entitlement.

This is exactly what makes Renaldo Gouws' call for the killing of Africans, made 16 years ago, an unambiguous reminder of the violent ideologies that underpinned colonialism and apartheid. Statements such as these are not mere expressions of personal opinion. Rather they are deeply rooted in a legacy of white supremacy and racist brutality.

Even though made in the past, they clearly attempt to immortalise harmful narratives that dehumanise Africans and justify violence against the majority. Further, Gouws' rhetoric reflects a visceral desire to maintain racial hierarchies through white supremacy. Even you should realise that this makes his continued presence in political office untenable and dangerous to the majority of people in this land.

In contrast, Andile Mngxitama's statements in 2018 were made in response to a provocative assertion by Johan Rupert, a prominent white billionaire, who in a Power FM interview, said: "Jabu [Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabuza] and I have one thing in common: He’s chairman of the [South African Black] Taxi Association and one of the first [partners] in Business Partners was the taxi association. So I also have my own army. When those red guys [EFF supporters] come, they’ve got to remember the taxi association."

In order to fully grasp the gravitas of these statements, let me introduce you to the insights offered by Critical Race Theory (CRT) as well as the philosophies of Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko. This framework makes it evident that Mngxitama's rhetoric is a defensive response to systemic oppression. In this light calls for his removal from parliament are unjust. Gouws' statements, however, represent a continuation of oppressive violence that warrants his removal from political positions.

To explain this further we must turn to Critical Race Theory (CRT) which posits that not all acts of violence or calls for violence are morally equivalent; the context of oppression and power dynamics matters significantly. Mngxitama, as a member of the historically oppressed class, is not only responding to Rupert, he is reacting to an entire history of white violence and contemporary structural oppression.

To reiterate, his rhetoric is a form of defensive resistance against a backdrop of witnessed multi-layered brutality at the hands of usurping settlers. Rupert pushed that button wilfully by making such a thinly veiled threat of violence on a public platform. On the other hand, Gouws’ statements are rooted in the desire to maintain and perpetuate a system of racial domination through the settler fantasy of eliminating all blacks, ni**s and Kaf*rs, as he loudly proclaimed.

It will serve you well to look to Fanon’s seminal works "Black Skin, White Masks" and "The Wretched of the Earth," in which he provides a framework for understanding the psychology of oppression and the legitimacy of violent resistance. Here Fanon succinctly argues that the violence of the oppressed is fundamentally different from the violence of the oppressor.

The former is a reaction to systemic and structural violence, a means of reclaiming humanity and agency in the face of dehumanisation. Instead of being viewed through the narrow prism of white privilege, Mngxitama's statements ought to be interpreted through this Fanonian Psychoanalytical lens as a form of structural post-traumatic stress and thus a psychological and physical resistance against the continuous threats posed by figures of power like Rupert.

Within this framework, the fantasy of killing all white settlers among the colonised people is a proxy for the profound desire for emancipation from the oppression of racism and colonialism. It is a wish-fulfilment fantasy not driven by an inherent biological desire for violence, as fear mongering whites most often interpret it, but by a desperate yearning for liberation from systemic exploitation and dehumanisation. It is symbolic of the moral and existential struggle of the colonised to reclaim their dignity and humanity.

Settler's genocidal fantasies, on the other hand, are rooted in the maintenance of power and dominance – unlike the colonised people's desire for the end of their oppressors, a desire which reflects a pursuit of justice and an end to their suffering. This is an assertion of their right to exist freely and fully, unshackled from the pervasive violence of colonial rule.

Elon, let me intersect your potential whataboutism quip by pointing out that when violence against settlers has arisen it is always as a final strategy, an absolute necessity to dismantle the unsustainable and destructive policies of settler administrations, which consistently ignore and eviscerate the lives of the people whose lands they have taken. It is the settlers who provoke conflict by refusing to change, not the oppressed.

Steve Biko’s philosophy of Black Consciousness further supports the legitimacy of Mngxitama’s defensive rhetoric. Biko emphasised the importance of psychological liberation and the need for Black people to assert their identity and resist internalised oppression. Mngxitama's statements are an assertion of Black Consciousness, a rejection of passive acceptance of threats, and a call for active defence of the black community’s rights and dignity.

So, as I begin to end off Elon, again I will say that support for the petition calling for Mngxitama's removal from parliament can only point to tacit agreement that oppressed people have no right to defend themselves. This mirrors a broader global narrative, often seen in Western discourse, that delegitimises the defensive actions of oppressed groups. For instance, the disavowal of Hamas's attacks by some international actors often extends to a broader denial of Palestine's right to defend itself against occupation and aggression. Those who fail to acknowledge the context of Mngxitama's statements only reinforce the notion that only the narratives and actions of the white and powerful are valid, while the legitimate defensive reactions of the oppressed are deemed prohibitable.

Are you willing to continue to be a part of this harmful neo-colonial phenomenon Elon, or has it become clear to you why Renaldo Gouws was rightfully asked to step down due to his violent, oppressive rhetoric, which aligns with the historical oppression of Africans? Can you see why calls to remove Andile Mngxitama from parliament, on the other hand, are oppressive attempts to silence voices that are challenging centuries of systemic decimation?

Do you have it in you to accept that this nuanced understanding should guide your judgments to ensure the voices of the oppressed are not unjustly silenced on public stages such as X – or will you continue to imbue your platform with white-centric bias that further suppresses Black voices and their right to self-defence?

Yours sincerely,

Gillian Schutte

* Gillian Schutte is a film-maker, and a well-known social justice and race-justice activist and public intellectual.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.