If you have spent some time in ‘post-apartheid’ South Africa, you would not have missed all the talk that goes on about the dire need for racial transformation in the country. 21 years later, since 1994, there has been little progress. The road to complete racial transformation is characterised by more talk than the much needed action. Instead of white people consciously making an effort to embrace change, a lot of them deny that institutionalised racial segregation (which preserves white privilege) still exists. Yes, this is another article on race issues. The pertinent question I have to ask is: have black South Africans become complacent towards racism? They call us angry when we raise the race issue, but are we angry enough?
I was disappointed at myself after an incident which happened at a function I attended recently. It was meant to be a fun event where participants were encouraged to loosen up and just enjoy themselves at each other’s company. As is often the case with team building activities, we were divided into groups and tasked to choose a song to sing to the entire audience. I was in a group comprised of two elderly white men, two black men and myself, a black woman. One of the white men that I knew and have spent quite some time with in different spaces suggested that we search for a song to sing from his phone, a song whose lyrics we may all be familiar with. We all agreed and watched as he fidgeted his phone, scrolling, looking for a song. What he forgot as he was scrolling down was that in one of his folders there was the word KAFFIR in bold letters. It was too late when he quickly pushed the back button, clearly trying to hide this folder.
I felt as if the word was directed towards me, boldly thrown at me and administered like a hot slap across my face and I stood there frozen. Not a word was uttered. That was my reaction; I stood there and said nothing. After the fact, I started growing angrier and angrier; the anger directed more towards myself and my reaction than at anything else. I felt a certain level of bitterness and a sense of betrayal against myself and the people who remain impacted badly by that racist word.
Now, of course I am not ignorant of the fact that some white people within the common circles we belong to may very well be open racists in their living rooms, when they think they are alone, and show signs of closet racism in public spaces. It happens. I’ve seen its ugly claws crawl out into the open but I wasn’t ready for this encounter.
I have witnessed many racist incidents which I was able to speak against one way or the other. With this incident in particular, I was disappointed at myself and in the other people who saw what I had seen from the white man’s phone and did nothing about it at that time. It led me to ask myself questions about why I did nothing. Was it perhaps because I was in shock? Was it that I understood the gravity of the situation but opted to stay mute lest I put anyone (someone other than myself) in an uncomfortable position? Did I think that racism was worse than putting someone in discomfort? Or was it maybe that I was not angry enough? Was I not angry enough because I have been socialised not to confront acts of racism whenever I see them? Was it because I was scared, afraid that I would not be heard? Or maybe I was just a coward? I do not have the answer as yet.
I realise that in my county, the South Africa in which I am supposedly free, I still experience those kinds of emotions, brought about by the actions of a white man who, after the fact, still enjoys life as normal while I am left asking questions and picking up pieces of myself in the process. That is of course not an isolated incident and I believe that as black South Africans (a lot of us who are called angry for raising our voices against racism) we should be more angrier. I find that in a country where black people are, at a young age, taught to hate ourselves; we are constantly shown through the media how we are ‘different’ from white people.
We see awfully racist social media posts from white people, people with names and faces, people that can be tracked down, yet a lot of us do nothing about it other than complain to ourselves. We see prominent white people in politics, Dianne Kohler Barnard of the Democratic Alliance (DA), sharing a racist post on a public platform like Facebook, praising PW Botha. Not long after being expelled, we see her being welcomed back into the party and slapped with a light sanction.
As long as there are still people with hatred in their hearts, it is clear that racism will not be eradicated. There are still people who believe that apartheid is a thing of the past and that black people should just forget and move on. There are also those, who belong to the rainbow nation club, who proclaim that they don’t see colour in any facets of the South African life while enjoying the fruits of their privilege. There are others who do not seem to understand what the anger is all about but I say it is upon us, those who care about the future of this country and its people to intensify the anger and to make it patently clear that racism and all forms of white supremacy will not be tolerated.
By Fentse Mokale