Encore – South Africans cannot get enough of racism
Last December I returned back to South Africa after a miserable time in Saudi Arabia. Being back brought a genuine feeling of happiness. Wherever I will end up in future, South Africa will always be home. The air was familiar, I got to speak English again knowing that I will be understood … unlike in Saudi where English is akin to Russian roulette – you never really know what you will get in response (if any). Upon my return I even greeted someone in Afrikaans which gave the impression that I was coloured. This immediately became a problem because I had to answer a flood of words that came afterwards. Aside from “omdat” & “ek kan nie Afrikaans verstaan nie“, “Goeie more” is the extent of my Afrikaans vocabulary.
I got to see my Zulu people again. Spoke my home language again. And that was pure bliss. Therefore, you can imagine my annoyance when I notice South Africa regressing to its favourite topic yet again – RACISM.
I grew tired of this topic a long time ago – which probably does not make me a very good black South African. Either that or it shows my level of disillusion I have felt for my own country. The statements that have been made by various people through various forms of media have again shown the cracks that South Africa still have as a country. A country undeniably still in transition. Black people still have to prove their worth to be taken seriously by their white counterparts. This week saw Temba Bavuma hit an unbeaten century in one of the more memorable test match draws of all time. Yet regardless of the fact that there are a few other white players in the cricket team whose selection has been very questionable, the stigma of being quota selected hangs very strong over any player of colour that is selected to the national cricket team.
This constant pressure (or perceived sense of pressure) which every black professional can relate with is apocalyptically frustrating – especially when racism is still very real in the workplace. This frustration by professionals, coupled with the socio-economic conditions of most black South Africans who are still in the lower class of society along with a country’s economy which is still being controlled by the whites, are all the tinder that was already in place before the recent storm of ill-advised racist facebook/twitter statements.
It is rather incredible and despairing that there are people in South Africa like Velaphi Khumalo … and that there are people who actually support his statements. I cannot help but recall the villain Bane from The Dark Knight Rises. Through a series of completely ridiculous events, he managed to take control of Gotham. And then what? In the poorly explained timeline of the (terrible) movie, he actually held the city for over 3 months. And what did that achieve? Absolutely nothing. So after we send all the white people to gas chambers and do eugenics experiments on them – then what?
This is the kind of short-sighted retarded thinking that is clearly prevalent in our society.
And this is a person who works for the government. If that is any measure of the state of the ANC and government as a whole – the debacle which cost the country R15 billion rands surrounding who is heading the Finance Ministry should not come as unexpected.
One of the unfortunate realities that have emerged out of the whole mess is that black people have very long memories. As any black person in South Africa knows, those memories of pain have not gone away. Whites on the other hand sometimes have very short memories and can take history very casually. And on this topic – this is purely human nature. The aggressed always remembers the pain more than the aggressor. I doubt that the Americans lose sleep over the hydrogen bombs they dropped in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Meanwhile, the Japanese developed entire subcultures about the destruction of those cities. Most prominent is the legend of Godzilla in order to describe, portray and visualise the sheer psychological shock and trauma the nation suffered in 1945.
That analogy can be applied almost exactly to what happened in South Africa. While the white population does know what happened during apartheid, most simply did not have to live with its harsh reality. Quite the opposite. Most benefited. So is it not a surprise that people like Panny Sparrow exist. I would think that she misses the days of white-only beaches during the apartheid era and calling black people monkeys was probably as common to her as was enjoying tea on a Sunday afternoon. As despicable as her words were, the fact that she has somewhat apologised does not change the fact that those words are true to her. Even if someone finds a means to throw her in jail, those internal thoughts won’t change. The same can be said about the words said by what was a very respected South African economist. Him being suspended by his employer and possibly being shamed for the rest of his existence does not change the thoughts of what the person genuinely feels. I am not advocating that nothing be done. On the contrary – especially in the case of Velaphi Khumalo.
Here is the problem though. What happens when everybody is right in their minds? Who do you arrest, who do you send to a racist rehab centre, who you publicly shame, who do you slap on the wrist – when does it end? Public shaming does very little to change the behaviours of people. Bigots, racist, even to the subtlest degree, will always be there in society. And yes, it is a social duty for every person to be responsible for their own thoughts … especially the thoughts which one chooses to make public. That is not a legal obligation but rather a social evolutionary process that has taken over two hundred thousand years. The same process that explains why humans tend to be more tribal – it’s how we survived. And that’s not going to change overnight or over 21 years.
There is nothing that South Africans obsess over more than race relations. We live in the past. The past largely defined by race relations and therefore by extension – we live in racism. The focus on reconciliation only plunges us back in that same cycle of living in that past. What if the focus on the country became general excellence in everything? Academia, social systems, governance and the health systems, engineering, etc. We are so focused on racism that the fabric of the country is at the risk of being split on very fundamental lines. Very few countries have been able to make it back from that.
As a start, one country made it back to civilisation by executing a whole lot of people after the Nuremberg trials. Mr Khumalo might want to remember that part of history as well.