# Stack Exchange, Prosus, Naspers, apartheid, and white supremacy

I know that this is probably off-topic but I am posting it anyway.

I am having difficulty reconciling myself to contributing content to a site that is now owned by a subsidiary of Naspers, a South African company with a racist past of supporting decades of apartheid and white supremacy.

The company refused to comply with requests from South Africa’s Truth and Reconcilation Commission to detail its complicity. Instead, 127 individual employees told the commission that Naspers “had formed an integral part of the power structure which implemented and maintained apartheid”.

As the company became more global, it decided to “apologize” for its role, but its apology has been criticized as insufficient.

I mentioned Naspers’ past in a comment to the CEO’s blog post, and it was removed. Twice. This is censorship. My comment was completely truthful, but inconvenient to the image of Stack Exchange. Well, in my opinion its image is now awful.

I am going to take a break while I consider whether I can be morally complicit in the new corporate regime.

I am not interested in being encouraged to stay, but I will respectfully listen to opinions arguing why Naspers’ past should be irrelevant.

• From en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naspers#History A group of prominent Cape Afrikaners decided [...] to form a publishing company that would support Afrikaner nationalism, in the wake of the Boer Wars. It therefore also supported the Nationalist Party (NP). [...] Naspers funded the National Party (NP) during apartheid, and that the NP also held 74,000 shares in Naspers in 1984. – PM 2Ring Jun 6 at 7:37
• (cont) In 1997, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission requested that Naspers make a submission about the years between 1960 and 1994, specifically, the media's role during this period. Naspers refused to comply, which led to 127 Naspers employees each making an individual submission to the TRC, apologising for their role in the apartheid years. They said Naspers newspapers had formed an integral part of the power structure which implemented and maintained apartheid through, for instance, supporting the NP in elections and referendums. – PM 2Ring Jun 6 at 7:38
• Do you have similar attitudes for German companies, like Hugo Boss, Puma, Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi, that closely worked with the Nazi party? Or with American companies, such as Ford, whose car dealers were required to distribute antisemitic publications to their customers? – Ray Butterworth Jun 6 at 12:56
• Do you have a question here about this and how it relates to PSE specifically? I wonder if this would be better on the main meta site. – BioPhysicist Jun 6 at 13:00
• @BioPhysicist The specific relevance to Physics is that, if this high-rep, high-activity user decides they can no longer participate on Stack Exchange for ethical reasons, it’s our community that loses the most as a consequence of their decision. – rob Mod Jun 6 at 13:21
• I voted your question up not because I am agreeing with your choice (I have no wish to see you leave the site) but because it is useful to express these things and debate them constructively. – StephenG Jun 6 at 13:40
• @RayButterworth I don’t contribute my labor to any of those companies. – G. Smith Jun 6 at 19:07
• I don't want to defend SE if they actually did censor you but - blog comments are notoriously slow to get approved iirc – Journeyman Geek Jun 7 at 8:23
• @rob So long as the top management team makes a killing from stock options, who gives a toss about "the community"? Don't forget that some of the people who got rid of Monica are still part of the management SE hierarchy. And "apologies" are usually worth no more that the hot air that came out of the mouth of the apologizer. – alephzero Jun 7 at 15:27
• Someone has posted a similar question on the mother meta. – G. Smith Jun 7 at 17:05
• I wonder if someone could explain what is the meaning of up/down votes in meta? I've upvoted this post since I feel the same concern (I was unaware of this until I saw this post). Here this post has received positive attention (I mean upvotes and some nice feedbacks) but there, on the mother meta, a similar question has received a number of downvotes! However, the style of witting of these posts are different but both of them have the same concern. – SG8 Jun 7 at 18:44
• @SG8, I don't vote often on meta, but when I do I generally vote the Question based on how much I care about what is asked (e.g. if it should receive an excellent definitive answer, how much will it affect me); and vote the individual Answers based on whether I agree with them. It's almost entirely subjective. ¶ This is the opposite of how I vote on non-meta sites: is the Question well asked (even if I don't care what the answer is) and is the Answer well written and applicable to the Question (even if I disagree with its conclusion). It's almost entirely objective. – Ray Butterworth Jun 8 at 0:49
• @SG8 1. Note that the linked post on MSE was significantly more hostile in its original form (which you can see in the revision history). 2. Votes on meta posts can indicate agreement / disagreement with the post, as well as their usual meanings. On site metas (like this one), votes don't affect rep. However, on MSE, they do affect rep, and using votes to express agreement / disagreement there has often been a cause for concern. – PM 2Ring Jun 8 at 14:53
• Here's my take: the amount of good you do for people trying to learn physics far outweighs the amount of revenue you are generating for Naspers. – Rishi Jun 8 at 18:35
• I'm curious, are the people who refused to comply with South Africa’s Truth and Reconcilation Commission still working at the company after 26 years? If not, I see no reason to punish the current people working there, since most people today see these actions as a rather vile thing of the past. – user400188 Jun 14 at 6:18

Your time is valuable -- invaluable, actually, since time is the one thing we can't buy or create -- and you have the absolute right (and responsibility) to use it in pursuits you support. So to "answer" your "question" posed at the end of your post -- the past, present, and future of any company or entity you provide your time (and money, for that matter) to is as relevant or irrelevant as you want it to be.

The reality of the world is that, unfortunately, any company that has been around for any length of time will likely have been a party to something objectionable. This is true for all of the major US companies, European companies, Chinese companies, Russian companies, etc. etc., for the past 100+ years (and in some cases, longer). Some of those companies were active participants in the atrocities. Others went along, and still others might have found it offensive but didn't speak up or do anything about it.

Some companies may have tried to atone for their past. Others may have tried to hide it. Still others may refuse to move on. Perhaps it is performative, and perhaps it is substantive.

I can't speak to the issues at play in this particular instance because I don't know the background in enough detail. There may be other issues or concerns with Prosus, its subsidiaries, other holdings, etc..

All I can say is that we are volunteers here with our time and our expertise. Hopefully we're here because we find joy in sharing that with others. But, StackExchange is a for-profit company and our passions and time support their bottom line. If who owns that bottom line gives you pause or troubles, then it's always worth asking yourself if you still enjoy the experience.

I won't attempt to change your mind. That's not my place. And I wholeheartedly support you exploring your social and moral responsibilities with respect to your time and expertise. Do some research, if you want to, into what commitments have been made, or not been made, with regard to the issues you find important. Arguably the most important benefit of a free marketplace is that companies provide what consumers demand. For a long time, the primary demand has been low prices. But there is a growing demand for social responsibility in corporate behavior, whether it is in investing, purchasing, doing other business with, or in our instance, volunteering for/participating in their community.

If you decide you no longer find joy in the experience with the site because of the issues you identify, then I encourage you to use your time in things that do bring you joy. Nobody can replace your time. Your contributions here have been immense and you would definitely be missed.

If you do decide to continue, then I hope it is as rewarding and fun for you as it has been. Okay, well I actually hope it is even more rewarding and even more fun than it has been because this is a great community with tremendous potential and I'd like people to enjoy things more than they already do!

• I’ve accepted this answer because it crystallized the decision for me. I can not find joy in participating as long as Naspers is the owner. I find nothing but anger at the unmitigated arrogance of white oppressors who impoverished generations of black South Africans, and then, when the hand of racial reconciliation was extended by blacks, refused it. I’m not going to contribute further, but I am not deleting my account because I hope that Naspers will eventually be unable to monetize the sites and spin them off to an owner that I find more acceptable. – G. Smith Jun 8 at 23:02
• None of the answers told me anything about Naspers that I did not already know. The more I read about Naspers, the angrier I got, especially when I realized that the “apology” came from a subsidiary, and it did not apologize for refusing to cooperate with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I also looked for philanthropy by Naspers toward racial justice and did not find any. – G. Smith Jun 8 at 23:12
• I plan to delete my question tomorrow, as most members of Stack Exchange clearly do not have the same strong feelings about this acquisition as I do. If you have a way to more permanently delete it, feel free to do so. I have raised the issue, made my choice, and the question is now moot. – G. Smith Jun 8 at 23:19
• @G.Smith We're sorry to lose you, but we respect your decision. Beware that you will probably be unable to delete this question; you may want to poke around the help center to consider your options. – rob Mod Jun 9 at 0:09
• @rob No problem, I’m fine with leaving it. – G. Smith Jun 9 at 0:20
• @G.Smith This is an important and valuable question which has attracted a lot of views. Many Stack Exchange members are concerned about Naspers tainted past. Personally, I would like to see an official statement addressing this issue from the Stack Exchange board, ideally before the acquisition goes through. – PM 2Ring Jun 9 at 11:13
• @G.Smith If you do go (which it sounds like you will), consider going to Physics Codidact. – wizzwizz4 Jun 9 at 19:52
• @G.Smith regardless of whether you'll be able to delete the question, please consider leaving it around in some form, so that other people with similar concerns can know about this issue. – fqq Jun 10 at 23:17
• @G.Smith I encourage you not delete this question. I was completely unaware of this serious and heinous transgression until finding your post. I estimate that most others are unaware of this salient issue as well, and will benefit from reading your thoughtful and well-expressed words. – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket Jun 11 at 6:53
• @G.Smith - re: "I hope that Naspers will eventually be unable to monetize the sites and spin them off to an owner that I find more acceptable", I would wager that Microsoft's Github division takes ownership sometime within the next 4-6 years for roughly $4-$6B. – Travis J Jun 18 at 19:42

While I have some sympathy for your viewpoint, you cannot police the world. The issue surely is whether it's a racist company now, not how it behaved when most of white South Africa was complicit (by action or apathy) in the crime of apartheid.

Experience shows that even when a company or organization senior management want to apologise for some past action or actions (e.g., controlled by departed managers), you will find lawyers advise them not to, simply to not accept potentially unlimited liability claims. What you are looking for probably won't happen for that simple reason.

Is any of that right or ideal? Of course not. It is, however, the fundamental nature of politics that we accept necessary compromise as progress, rather than reject it as that is not constructive. The hope would be (and this does happen) that over time the company can move to a point where its apologies are more complete.

But note, and I have seen this many time in my own country, that for some embittered groups (whether right or wrong), no apology would ever be good enough. South Africans have, in the main, had to accept that whatever happened in the past, some line has to be drawn under it. This same process happened in Northern Ireland (my late father's birthplace) and in many other places. That is necessary practical political reality.

It is a matter for your own conscience whether you feel your actions are appropriate. I do know that your absence here would be felt by a community that has no real power to address the grievance you feel or achieve the goal you seek. Your contributions are valuable to a community that seeks to learn physics - many of them born long after the misery of apartheid ended - and subject to their own miseries in their own time.

I mentioned Naspers’ past in a comment to the CEO’s blog post, and it was removed. Twice. This is censorship. My comment was completely truthful, but inconvenient to the image of Stack Exchange. Well, in my opinion its image is now awful.

This is hardly surprising and it is, let's be honest, overly optimistic to expect a business to let you use their own private resources to attack them. This isn't constructive of them, but it's not like we haven't had to deal with that before on other issues.

There are perhaps better ways (in the long run) to achieve your goals than complete withdrawal. Perhaps an email campaign from interested members direct to Naspers and the South Africa government would be better?

Good luck with your decision and you have my respect for your contributions here on SE.

• I would like to understand what Naspers’ reputation today is among black South Africans. If they now consider Naspers to be an inclusive company, then I agree that the past should be past. – G. Smith Jun 6 at 7:15
• @G.Smith I do not have any direct knowledge of this to share with you. – StephenG Jun 6 at 7:55
• Right, I didn’t expect you to, but maybe someone else does. I appreciate your answer! – G. Smith Jun 6 at 7:57
• @G.Smith I'm not sure how much significance you would give this, however Naspers appointed their first black female CEO in 2019. It's not inconceivable she might simply not care about the past and be chasing a career, but on the other hand it would be perhaps more reasonable to suggest it's a real sign of change from the past for the company. It's a long way from Apartheid to here would be my view. – StephenG Jun 6 at 17:14
• She isn’t the CEO of the global corporation. A white man is. See this page. – G. Smith Jun 6 at 17:39
• @G.Smith I would regard her position being in South Africa as more significant than if she was the head globally. Putting a white man (or woman) in charge in SA would have been easier if the company had a racist "persona" these days. YMMV. – StephenG Jun 6 at 18:04
• The current chairman of Naspers, an Afrikaner multi-billionaire named Koos Bekker, became CEO in 1997. This was around the time that Naspers refused to take part in the country’s racial reconcilation process. He stayed CEO until 2014, without ever apologizing for this affront as far as I can tell. The apology that Naspers eventually offered in 2015 (!) for complicity in apartheid was by an executive of a subsidiary, not by any executive of Naspers itself. I believe that the values of Naspers are those of Mr. Bekker. If not, why is he chairman? – G. Smith Jun 8 at 4:44
• Naspers is apparently worth well over \$100 billion, thanks to a lucky investment in Tencent. Their Stack Exchange purchase is small change for them. Mr. Bekker and his company can continue to make untold billions, without my help. I will no longer be contributing answers, comments, edits, or votes as long as Naspers owns Physics Stack Exchange. Frankly, even without the ethical squalor regarding past white supremacy, I would have no interest in contributing any of my labor to a corporation this wealthy. – G. Smith Jun 8 at 4:58
• Finally, the more I read about some of Naspers’ other investments, such as a major share of Russia’s mail.ru, the queasier I get. – G. Smith Jun 8 at 5:01
• @G.Smith What's wrong with mail.ru? – forest Jun 8 at 8:37
• – G. Smith Jun 8 at 16:49
• @G.Smith I don't know how black South Africans today feel about Naspers, but the South African state-owned Public Investment Corporation is a major shareholder of Naspers. According to this recent Simply Wall St article, "Public Investment Corporation Limited is currently the largest shareholder, with 17% of shares outstanding". – PM 2Ring Jun 9 at 10:53
• From The former mouthpiece of apartheid is now one of the world’s most successful tech investors: Naspers has taken steps to move forward. It has successfully implemented empowerment schemes to increase black ownership of its print and pay TV subsidiaries inside South Africa. (Although, it should be noted that the South African government mandates such programs.) [...] – PM 2Ring Jun 9 at 10:58
• (cont) But it is largely on good terms with the current government. [...] "The company did a good job of repositioning itself in the democratic dispensation and strives to avoid controversy," he [Rhodes University professor of media studies Herman Wasserman] wrote in an email. "They have managed to shake their history as a supporter of apartheid." – PM 2Ring Jun 9 at 10:59

The company’s past is not irrelevant, but what the company does now is more relevant.

Moreover, to quote Desmond Tutu:

If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.

Engagement always works better than annihilation. I suspect that continually posting respectful and well researched questions on their website, and organizing others to do so, will in the long run have a greater impact than boycotting the company, but of course the run might be very long.

One thing to consider is that actions of any individual, company or a nation that has existed for a significat amount of time (on the appropriate time-scale) can be called in question:

1. if we apply modern day standards to the actions committed sufficiently far in the past
2. if we look into it in sufficient detail
3. if we apply standards of our community to other communities

I could give many examples of acceptable points of things generally considered horrible/awful or horrific sides of some people or historical events that are treated as honorable... but this would necessarily generate lots of outrage and name-calling.

Let me also point out that boycotting is not necessarily the best strategy to help those in need - it may actually have the very opposite effects, and thus be just as immoral. In this case, when the crime is in the past, boycotting probably comes at the expense of overlooking human right abuses elsewhere.