I, TOO, HAVE A DREAM …
(IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED OR POLITICALLY VERY CORRECT, THIS POST IS … ESPECIALLY FOR YOU!)
Oh, not necessarily you, Mr Malema – this is intended for all the Juliuses, Tumi’s. Jan Rappe (and their friends), Toms, Dicks, Harrys, Jane and John Does of South Africa (or, in fact, to anyone who cares to read this). So many people air their views on “racial issues” these days, so I thought – Why not join the conversation? After all, I still believe that communication is more constructive than burning city halls or campuses.
I am frequently reminded that I am white and Afrikaans and therefore in a privileged position. Well, am I? Privileged, that is – these days I’m not so sure. I did have a bicycle (metaphorically and a real one, too) when I was a child, but it was not stolen (referring to the now infamous remark by Jacaranda-Tumi). My dad worked his butt off to buy me that bike – and, of course, everything else that we possessed. He worked on the railways (as we used to say) and, as the eldest son from a poor family, as many Afrikaans families in the 1930’s and 1940’s were, he had to leave the nest at 16 to help provide for the family – like many other young men. When I was a child, my school, with asbestos classrooms (can you believe it!) had very few facilities. That is why every single pupil eagerly took part in planting lawns for a sports field and establishing the gardens. Many an afternoon, after school, was spent doing this. With the proceeds of fundraising projects, everyone – including moms and dads – worked hard to bring about facilities such as a school hall, sports equipment and a piano. We really worked hard for that.
We never discussed politics in our house. My parents taught us to treat all people with respect – whether they were street sweepers or soldiers, servants or bank managers. All people were treated with respect; black, white, brown – everyone. What they also taught us – well, actually it was not really necessary to teach – is to condemn certain acts and deeds. We were, for example, not particularly keen about burglars and killers. Robbers and vandals, too, never received any Christmas cards from us. Nor did paedophiles and men who abused their wives. Oh yes, and of course racists. Yes, there were definitely people who we did not want to be associated with, but then it was not because of who they were or the colour of their skin, but rather about what they were doing. But with people, ordinary law-abiding people who allowed the sun to shine on their fellow-countrymen, we never had a problem with.
Granted, we did not have any close black friends. We did not have any English, French, Portuguese or American friends either. But it wasn’t because we did not like them. Oh no! It was just that, at the time, we kept to what was familiar to us – our language, church, habits and so on. Frankly, even today, I see how most cultural groups (is there still such a thing as culture?) socialise. But despite that, today my own children’s friends come from all walks of the cultural spectrum. By the way, just between me and you, I think all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, have a bit of “racism” in us. This is probably the reason why I regularly see birds of a feather flock together, especially in communities and on social occasions.
Oh, please bear with me. My babbling up to now was just sort of an introduction. I actually have something else on my mind. Well, two things. Part of me is sad and upset. I also want to explain something and then I also want to see if I can get an answer to an issue that is bothering me. Well, OK, that’s three things, then.
I’m sad, outraged and discouraged by the actions of “my” people. Oh, by the way, I have yet to mention that I have been living in England for some time now. All my possessions are still in storage, patiently waiting for me to return to my beloved South Africa, though. Working conditions, or rather , the lack of it, forced me to spread my wings a bit wider to earn my bread. Affirmative action, where the colour of my skin counted against me, left me struggling to find another job in South Africa. I am therefore in a position to observe the events in South Africa from a distance – almost like a foreigner. By no means does this suggest that I am not South African, which I remain with all my heart and soul – compassionate, loyal and involved. Some of my friends regard me as the most loyal Cheetah and Springbok supporter in the world.
With every visit to South Africa, I am overwhelmed by the warmth and kindness of “my” people – South Africans from the rainbow nation. This is so in contrast to what I observe in the newspapers (no, not necessarily the news reports – it is the insulting remarks by readers following the news reports) and on social media, the intolerance, the murders, the inflammatory protest marches, farm murders and the destruction of everything that we and our ancestors worked so hard for.
And that’s why I’m sad and outraged.
I firmly believe that the majority of South Africans truly just want to live in peace and harmony. To feel the warmth of the African sun on them and their families. I always compare South Africa to a glass of clean, wholesome, fresh milk. With a fly in it. And that little fly is the reason why that otherwise pure, fresh milk is spoiled and has lost its appeal. A minority group, a small fly – I believe – that envenoms a whole country. Sixty million people are suffering the affects of these murderers, thugs, corruptors, racists, inciters and the like. People of all creeds and colour who incite hate and intolerance, resulting in stereotyping, hatred and mistrust.
Speaking of stereotyping. It remains a worldwide tendency that will always be a stumbling block towards healthy and peaceful relations between cultures. I regularly witness the suspicion held of Muslims here in Europe (and elsewhere, for that matter) when they board trains or enter public spaces, especially when carrying a backpack. Or how the Romanian gypsies are welcomed nowhere with open arms because all of Europe know what a premises, where they have stayed, look like when they pack up to move on again. And how Nigerians are approached with great caution when money is at stake. Or how the racist remarks and actions of a minority (from all walks of life) taint all the good relations in South Africa. There are many such examples and the common factor leading to this distrust, is almost always the actions of a minority group within those cultures. Here in England, blacks are a minority group. Nevertheless, it is interesting how the police have to jump through hoops to explain their “racist actions” every time after stopping a young black man to search for weapons. Because in 98% of the cases, young black men were involved in knife attacks. And now, all young black men in England and all Muslims (worldwide) are suffering because of the actions of a small group. They are being stereotyped.
As a young conscript in the South African Defence Force, we had to fight off the “Red Danger” and the “Black Danger” and, at the time, it was not that difficult to convince me that they were indeed “dangerous”. In cinemas and newspapers the Red Russians were always portrayed as the villains and as a child, our burglars – and there were quite a few – were all black men. At school we learned how the Zulus and the Xhosas slaughtered the Voortrekkers. Hollywood showed me in the Tarzan movies how the black “cannibals” cooked the whites in big pots. Stereotyping at its best (or worst).
And that confused me, because those images and preconceptions of black people were light years apart from my experiences of daily interactions with people like moruti Mohatla (the friendly preacher who knocked on our door every month for donations for his congregation), Martha (our dear ironing lady), Gabriel (our hardworking gardener), Pechu and Bunny – with their parents, Mieta and Elias – (the warm, lovely people who lived and worked on my uncles’s farm) and so many more. I could not understand why they were not allowed to go to the cinema or church with us. But, then I assumed that, maybe the powers that be were worried that, when they allowed them to go to church and cinema with us, the dangerous lot of cannibals, burglars and slaughterers would also sneak in. Yeah, that is what I was thinking as a child.
Apartheid and racism are wrong! Full stop. It was just immoral to exclude the majority of South Africa’s inhabitants from all that this glorious country of us can offer. Having said that, despite the fact that it was very easy for me to vote “Yes” at the time when we were asked if we wanted to share the power in the country with our black fellow citizens, there was an uneasy worrying feeling deep inside me. A few years later, Johannes, my black gardener, experienced the same troubling thoughts when he was allowed to vote for the first time. I remember how he came to ask my opinion on who he should give his vote to, because, like me, he was also too aware of what was happening in other African countries north of our borders. Collapse of infrastructure, corruption, famine, tribal wars and genocide.
Why were so many white people (and, yes, even black people, like Johannes) in South Africa worried about power sharing? Was it because of the images that got stuck in their memories? Images of the Mau Mau’s, the Congolese Crisis, the faction fights in many African countries or the disintegration of infrastructure all over Africa? Or was it, perhaps, witnessing the total collapse of a once prosperous country like Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in a relatively short time under Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship.
What is happening in South Africa today, almost 20 years later? As in Zimbabwe, farmers in South Africa are now being murdered and driven from their farms at an alarming rate – by black people. As in Zimbabwe, the people keep one of the most corrupt governments in the world in power (as at the time of writing). Crime and decline of infrastructure is a worrying issue and even receive regular international mentioning. Every week reports of yet another destructive protest cripples our country bit by bit with images of burning buses, trains and buildings spreading like wildfire across the world. Machete wielding blacks barricading roads with stones and burning tyres in protest of the actions (or lack thereof) of the same government that they keep in power – and then looting and destroying property of people who have absolutely nothing to do with the protest action. These are the images that I struggle to explain to my neighbours here in England. I struggle to fight off the returning haunting demons of what-ifs that Johannes and I had battled with all those years back.
This is why I am distraught. I feel betrayed by the people to whom Johannes and I entrusted the country that I so deeply love. My worst fears when I made my cross at the polling station all those years back, has come to haunt me. While I’m rejoicing about moruti Mohatla, Martha, Gabriel, Pechu and Bunny who can now go to church and cinema with me, I am all torn up about those “cannibals and burglars and slaughterers” who did sneak in. Those who are doing exactly now what we were worried about all those years back.
OK, those were two of the issues I wanted to get off my chest. Now for the third one – my question.
I truly want to understand the mentality, the reasoning and thought behind so many actions of black people. Because with understanding comes empathy and empathy leads to healing, acceptance and unity. My whole being yearns for peace and unity.
Could someone please explain to me why, in a modern world and with so many opportunities, black people, whether minority or majority groups, are still victims and still insist on affirmative action across the world. Imagine the outcry if there was a Miss White America pageant? But there is a Miss Black America pageant! And the Black British Business Awards, the National Association of Black Journalists, and many more associations exclusively for black people .
In the United Kingdom, a traditional European (read white) country, there are special provisions for the appointment of minority groups (read black people). In South Africa, where black people form the majority, there are quota selections for sports teams, and affirmative action in the workplace and so many more enforcements to give black people, often not on merit, an advantage to prove themselves. Isn’t it degrading?
Successful black people like Nat King Cole, Mohammed Ali, Desmond Tutu, the Williams sisters, Deratu Tulu, Mo Farrah, Ussain Bolt, Tiger Woods, James Earl Jones – too many to name, got to the top of their game with shear hard work and perseverance. No affirmative action, quota selections or special treatment. No sir! They were – and are still – being honoured and loved by the whole world because of their achievements. They’ve earned respect. I don’t see a black person when watching Idris Alba or listening to Gregory Porter. I see a hugely talented human being. I prefer to surround myself with positive, forward-thinking, hardworking people. The majority of my friends – and all of my black friends – tick those boxes.
Oh, and another thing. Why do many black people insist on taking over (and sometimes even destroy!) establishments that were established over years with love, hard work and traditions by white people. Let me give you an example – universities for Afrikaans students, to name but one. Why don’t you (or us) just build universities for Zulu’s or Sotho’s? Hijacking and destructive actions like these remind me of the story about the ants who work hard all year round to gather food and then the locusts come and just help themselves to the ants’ hard-earned food until there is nothing left for either of them. Look what is happening (or, more correctly, not happening) all over Africa – arguably the most beautiful continent with so much potential. Every so often European countries or America have to provide food, or medicine or other necessities. I never see vice versa actions. What is preventing Africa from developing and producing enough food and care for its people? So-called Western countries are for ever assisting some African country or another, going from one crisis to the other, because, after all these years, very little development took shape. It is almost as if there is no future vision or planning ahead. Why?
And please, don’t play the oppression card. So many nations across the world, over centuries, suffered oppression. The Jews, the Afrikaners, the Irish, the Czechs … too many to mention. But they did not stay down. They rose from the ashes and became proud nations. But not in Africa. Zimbabwe, to name but one country, was demolished in a relatively short period under a black government. Is this where South Africa is heading to?
To conclude. What and who I like and don’t like, who I love and don’t love do not make me a racist. Being a racist makes one a racist – people who don’t like others just because of their skin colour. I condemn actions and thoughts, not people.
I was not responsible for what happened to black people anywhere in the world and you have no right or grounds to blame me for your circumstances or your history. It is almost 2018 and time for those of you who keep blaming me to change your attitude. The past is the past. Neither you, nor I – no-one! – can change anything about the past. If we keep living in the past, blaming the whole world for our circumstances, we will never be able to focus on the future. Nothing drags you down like bitterness and hatred. Blaming others and calling others racist just because they are today’s whites, makes you a racist. I am as proud of my country, South Africa, as the next person. I was born there, that is where my roots are. When Africa is in your blood, it is in your blood, your soul, your life. What happened to our ancestors, had nothing to do with me and you. Like you, I wasn’t there. I don’t still blame the British government, after all these years, for all the killings, scorched earth policy and humiliation of the Afrikaners during the Boer War. The rest of Europe do not still blame the Germans for World War II. They have made peace, moved on and rebuild. They focus their energy on today and beyond.
Isn’t it time we’d do the same? Take hands and build a country, a safe haven for us and for our children. How many more years do we want to continue this conflict, this hatred, this destruction?
Like another impressive famous black man, I, too, have a dream. I dream of a peaceful rainbow nation – one rainbow, different cultures.
The South Africa it can be!
With the kindest of regards,