Aspiring actress Louise Linton recently released an extract from her memoir detailing her experiences in Zambia as a youngÂ
white saviourÂ idealistic volunteer. In it, she reflects graciously on her trials and tribulations teaching in the rural community of the Bembe â€“ and the valuable life lessons she learned after abandoning them to rebel Congolese soldiers, when shit got too real for her.
â€” #EndChildMarriage (@PetraChikasa) July 4, 2016
In the subsequent public backlash that followed, the Scottish-born actress was criticised, dragged and put to task in the media â€“ see #LintonLies for the flames. From Zambians decrying Lintonâ€
â€” Tchiyiwe T Chihana (@AfriWoman) July 4, 2016
Although Linton has since apologised for “misrepresenting Zambia” and taken her memoir off the shelves, her cringeworthy case is not new or unique. The white saviour complex has a long history. Thereâ€
Born out of a desire to explore the world while simultaneously appeasing feelings of guilt for being the benefactors of international inequality, many students from the Western world take to doing volunteer work in so-called â€œunderdevelopedâ€ countries â€“ Sub-Saharan Africa is a popular destination for this. The prospective volunteers usually pay social development agencies to facilitate the logistics of the trip. It also invariably involves opportunities for privileged volunteers to travel, explore and perhaps dabble in poverty porn by taking selfies to document their enlightened cultural exposure and selfless dedication to aiding the wretched of the earth.
Given the demand for this among affluent youth, this volunteer tourism – â€œvoluntourismâ€ – has become an incredibly lucrative industry â€“ worth about $173 billion annually. Much like township tourism, it has been met with great skepticism in terms of its incentives, objectives and effects. Some would even go as far as to say that the industry does more harm than good.
Part of the reason for the skepticism is that the projects run by development organisations are seen as somewhat dubious in their scope and effectiveness. The concern is that their function is merely to create the faÃ§ade of sustainable development, when in fact that is not their primary objective. The NGOs, local agencies and international volunteer recruitment firms are argued to be driven primarily by a profit motive in catering to their clientsâ€
Perhaps not coincidentally, Linton chooses to describe the young Bembe girl she comes to form a bond with, Zimba, as a young orphan with HIV.
I find it is difficult to read Linton’s account without being reminded of the words of Steve Biko. Particularly when considering the passage in theÂ memoir where she faces great internal turmoil over the choice to leave Zambia, and the pleading Zimba, or to stay and struggle with them. In the end she chooses to leave, and thus breathes renewed life into one of Bikoâ€
â€œThe liberals view the oppression of blacks as a problem that has to be solved, an eyesore spoiling an otherwise beautiful view. From time to time the liberals make themselves forget about the problem or take their eyes off the eyesore. On the other hand, in oppression the blacks are experiencing a situation from which they are unable to escape at any given moment. Theirs is a struggle to get out of the situation and not merely to solve a peripheral problem as in the case of the liberalsâ€.
Linton came to realise that she didnâ€
Perhaps the most relevant of #LintonLies was the pretence that her relationship with the Bembe was one based on shared humanity, with equal stakes. In reality, the Bembeâ€