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Anodised aluminium plate

Engraved and filled in with black ink

Engraving and manufacture: Gloworm Technologies

1200 mm X 1200 mm X 3 mm

Edition size: 5 (+ 1 artist’s proof)

Exhibition record: 2011 Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg; 2012; SMAC Gallery Stellenbosch; 2015 South African pavilion, Venice Biennale

Racist in South Africa

  • Of course I am not a racist. The very idea of unfair discrimination against others, for whatever reason, deeply offends and nauseates me.


    But then, my artwork says I am proud to be labelled a ‘racist’, not that I am proud to be one. I say this under duress because I, and so many others in South Africa, have been branded ‘racist’ by inept politicians, particularly by our former president, Thabo Mbeki and the current one, Jacob Zuma. Our apparent wrongdoing stems from the fact that we have taken a stand against the terrible crime wave that has our country in its grip. White persons complaining about maladministration and criminality in government are ‘racist’, and frequently get told to leave South Africa and go back to the countries ‘their kind’ comes from.


    The items from my list that might earn the ‘racist’ reproach are in themselves good and honorable if one understands that one has a social duty to eradicate crime, lack of education and training, breakdown of civil administration and so on. Those who wish to see a better life for all ought to take a stand against the things that are messing up the country and their efforts should be applauded, not punished by disingenuous invective.


    Be careful what you say when your friends or family are killed, you might be on the receiving end of those who ought to protect your basic human rights. Watch out next time you complain when your electricity is repeatedly cut for hours on end. You could, and often will, land up being a ‘racist’.


    During the 2012 London Olympics South African athletes managed three gold medals, two silver and a bronze. I was suitably delighted. Unfortunately that same year I checked out the rise of murder and discovered that Honduras was the only country that had more violent murders per capita than us. Ironically we somehow managed a silver medal. Sadly, a number of my close friends and some family have been murdered and I dare say there are very few South Africans of which the same cannot be said. See my artwork DUBUL’IBHUNU at:


    But, on the crimes table we have one solid gold medal to our credit. We are the top country when it comes to rape. It upset me terribly when I learnt that the average South African woman stands a far better chance of being raped, some of them being raped repeatedly, than learning to read and write. I thought we were a democracy, but with a president lucky to escape the rape charge brought against him, it turns out that we are a veritable phallocracy.


    As it turns out we are also a kleptocracy – a country ruled by a gang of thieves. Our Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke out publicly against the corruption, crime and injustice that has spiralled out of control. He has angered the powers that be to the extent that he was not allowed at the funeral of our beloved Nelson Mandela. I wholeheartedly applaud his brave stance and fortunately for him he has escaped the ‘racist’ epithet.


    I have been careful not to use words like ‘white’ or ‘black’ in my work. I am prepared to stand up for all South Africans equally and I have a long track record of abhorring apartheid and the injustices it once brought and often still brings.


    Why then, am I prepared to be a scapegoat in making an artwork that might easily be used to lynch me? I do it for two reasons.


    In the first place I use it to encourage debate. I intend it as a trap for those with a superficial take on the complex South African situation. Hopefully I shall ferret out the self-assured, misguided souls who see all injustice as the result of white, apartheid domination when in fact moral weakness and the ability to fail are part of the challenges of life facing each and every one of us. Their real concern is to squeeze the social situation for all it is worth and not really a concern over human rights. A desperate sense of professional hegemony comes to mind.


    My second reason for making the work is rather personal. For most of my artistic career I have used my work to expose injustices I feel deeply about. Sometimes, I have quite an internal conflict before making a risky work. A voice inside me will argue that I am committing artistic suicide and that if I make and show troublesome work, I will be ostracised by the artistic community or the people at the receiving end of the work. Then, another small voice comes from very deep and far away. It will tell me that if I don’t make problematic work I would be a coward of the worst kind and that I might as well stop making art altogether.


    So far some RACIST IN SOUTH AFRICA plates have been sold and the reception has been positive from visitors to the exhibitions where it has been shown. Of course a negative reaction has been experienced from those with political axes to grind and brownie points to score. The most angry response I have experienced is a reverse kind of racism in which all whites are sworn at and wished dead.



    The text of my RACIST IN SOUTH AFRICA artwork reads:







    I am revolted by ineffective, dim-witted 4 X 4 politicians

    I am shocked that countless farm murders go unchallenged

    I loathe it when the police take bribes without being punished

    I am dismayed that unemployment and poverty keep getting worse

    I am disgusted that education is so poorly managed and neglected

    I appreciate security walls, electrical fences, alarms and guard dogs

    I detest crime and criminals, no matter what the colour of their skin

    My temper rises when violent car-jackings are not brought under control

    I am afraid for the lives of my children when they walk out onto the street

    I fly into a rage when sport teams are forced to select undeserving players

    My blood boils when the police hoodwink us with false or no crime statistics

    I find it intolerable that politicians line their own pockets at the expense of the poor

    I view bankruptcy in metropolitan councils as a fraudulent waste of taxpayers’ money

    I become infuriated when objections to administrative incompetence are ignored

    I am repulsed that money is wasted on useless military aircraft and submarines

    I am appalled at the shocking and inadequate treatment in public hospitals

    I can’t stand that more and more tourists are avoiding us like the plague

    I could scream in frustration when jobs are given to unqualified people

    I feel insulted that a cold shower after sex is believed to prevent Aids

    I find it insufferable that my country is the rape capital of the world

    I fume when thousands of destitute Aids orphans live without care

    I weep when villains’ rights are protected more than their victims

    I find the severe, prolonged power failures unacceptable

    I totally detest corruption by government officials


    Willem Boshoff

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