Life in the Racist Republic of South Africa

Do I wish that we could all stop talking about race and move on? YES! Will ignoring it change anything? No, because talking about race, seeing race (or colour) is not the issue. I love my brown skin #MELANIN. When you look at me, before I even speak to you, you see two things:

  1. I am female.
  2. I am black.

 

So this colour-blind ish is problematic. I want people to see me. I want them to see my brown melanin enriched skin. I am black but that does not make me more or less of a person. We all see colour, it’s beautiful. Whether you are iNdoni yamanzi or nawe Phuma langa sikothe. The issue is when people look at you, see your colour and then arrive at an arbitrary conclusion that you are either

 

a) not good enough

b) lazy

c) a criminal

d) rich

e) racist

f) like curry

g) are in a gang

h) sell drugs

i) are in the oil business

j) are really intelligent

k) listen to rap or

l) confused

 

Race should not be an indication of any of these things. We should all know by now that, scientifically, race does not exist. It is a social construct. Social constructs are supported and maintained by society. We are society. It’s our fault. We, as a collective, are the problem. So, realistically speaking, race is totally a thing. As long as lines can be drawn between black and white, as easily as they are between rich and poor, we will always revert back into this way of thinking. We cannot break the “us vs them” complex if at every given opportunity to address it (and hopefully move onto addressing classism) people deny the very real and uncomfortable racial issues that exist and dismiss the possible solutions.

 

Some topics may seem personal and deep but when they are brought to the surface people are too quick to get touched. If you cannot see how people were (AND CONTINUE TO BE) unjustly enriched or how the scales, even after so many years of (failed) B-BBEE, are still in favour of the privileged minority, then you are not living the reality of this country or the world.

 

White people: (I say this with love) STOP! STAHP! YEKANI telling black people what racism is. You never feel the negative effects of it. You never have to question whether or not you have been condemned to live a cursed existence. Yes, in the previous regime it was easier to spot the racism because that ish was legislated. Now the subtle or covert racism REQUIRES us to call it out. Even if you never meet a black person, your mere existence maintains and perpetuates it. This is the world we live in. This is the world we have created. You can only claim to not be racist if you are working against the system. If your aunt says something ignorant and you let it go you are guilty by association, call her out! Don’t let these things happen in your presence.

Colonialism and apartheid lasted a heck of a long time and do not, for a second convince yourselves that either of these things were solely brought down by white people. Were there white people in the struggle? Hell yes! Shout out to all of them but voting “YES” in the referendum didn’t end apartheid. If it was that simple and easy wouldn’t you have done it at least 50 years ago? Years of struggle, negotiations and sacrifices brought the shameful regime to its knees. The referendum hold its significance because it indicated that most white people were over apartheid. Some were over it because they genuinely saw the evil, others held economic interests, and others wanted the Springboks to play in the world cup… Whatever the reasons, white people were over it. If you are willing to learn and if you are willing to listen then you are on the right track. If you think race doesn’t affect you then that is privilege in itself. As black people we are not afforded that luxury… Not yet anyway. Give us a few years to get #WOKE

Whether you accept this notion or not is up to you. Until you have been a part of an oppressed group, you do not know what oppression is. You may think you do. You may sympathise at times but empathy is a learning process.

 

Ma-Afrika amahle, anikakhathali ukuthathwa kancane? How much longer will we be satisfied with mediocrity? A matric and an undergrad mean very little these days. Popping bottles and the latest kicks mean nothing. Where are the Honours, the Master’s and the PhDs? And for the people that are more technical or skills-based, where are the success stories from FETs? What are successful black people doing to give back to their communities? Where are the bursaries and scholarships? Where is the funding? Where is the support? Where is the support for entrepreneurs?

If we are to take back this country, from the self-serving capitalists who are hiding behind a socialist manifesto, why are we not doing enough? It is one thing to point out the obvious privileges that we don’t have but it is another to actually take steps to ensure that, even if the scales are not in our favour, we still stand a fighting chance.

 

I know that black tax is a real thing and sending money home to educate and support the sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces, nephews, gogos, etc is an obligation (because UBUNTU) and we should always Khumbul’Ekhaya BUT… we should ensure that we also invest. It is not enough for us to strive to get out of the “lokshini”. Our mission should be to change our OWN communities into districts that thrive and compete with the CBDs. Why should people waste 45 minutes every morning travelling to work in the city when our own communities could provide job opportunities? Why can I name the kasi “hotspots” like Mzoli’s, Max’s Lifestyle Tavern Eyadini Lounge? Why aren’t there more? Why do we feel the need to take our money elsewhere?

 

I tend to ramble when I am upset but if you refuse to engage or at least entertain the idea of certain privileges being given to people from birth then the long walk to freedom is even longer than we anticipated. We claim to want a rainbow nation but when it comes to practicality, do we even know what that means? Do we even want the same thing? It seems that some colours or shades seem to want to dominate or even erase the next. There is no teamwork because we can’t even agree if we are on the same team. Race, religion, class, sex, gender, sexuality, age etc are all concepts that we created. We continue to let these things get in the way of our common humanity because those in power flourish when the subjects are divided.

This is a tiresome and frustrating journey, Inde le ndlela, but it is one that the Constitution demands of us.

See you in 2016

Siyakhuluma Mzansi

Kind Regards

Busi Mjiyakho

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6 thoughts on “Life in the Racist Republic of South Africa

  1. I’ve commented previously as PetruJViljoen. Started a new blog https://johannesburgwithaheart.wordpress.com recording life in the inner city of Johannesburg during the 1990s. Just felt it’s high time I record it somehow to relieve my very full heart. This blog, this post, in fact prompted me to start the new blog.

    Currently living in just about rural South Africa, Mpumalanga, I promised myself I’m now living my own life, and will remove myself from the race conversation in SA. Not to be. It’s just about impossible. From both white people and black people. This said: I don’t blame the black people.

    I came to realise the patience this is going to take. How one has conducted one’s life up until the present time, further patience and tolerance will be necessary. It’s worth it. We live in an amazing country. People on the ground, the day to day interactions, more patience, more tolerance, more holding on to one’s beliefs, one’s insights. Blessed be.

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  2. I don’t know what colour-blindness means. Perhaps it is the pretense of not seeing the differences in pigmentation between people. That would be weird, and not particularly useful. The colour-blindness I grew up with was a medical condition in which some people were unable to distinguish between reds and browns (for example). If your interpretation of colour-blindness as a flat refusal to see the physical differences between different people is correct, then I must agree, non-medical colour-blindness makes no sense at all.

    The way I understood non-medical colour-blindness, was that it is a refusal to arrive at arbitrary conclusions about people on the basis of their skin colour. In this sense, I would recommend we all cultivated colour-blindness. As you say, “…scientifically, race does not exist. It is a social construct.”, but then you go on to say that “…we will always revert back into this way of thinking.” I don’t believe the latter is entirely accurate.

    I cannot disagree that people were unjustly enriched on the basis of race, and that many of these use that enrichment to maintain the privilege, but if we make it an issue of race, then we miss the point. The fact that a minority of Black people have so enriched themselves at the expense of others via the (failed) B-BBEEE, proves that greed and abuse is an aspect of humanity, not race. We need to isolate and target the specific perpetrators and, as humanely as possible, force compliance and redress regardless of race.th supporting evidence.

    What makes race special is that it has become an accepted category, and it is an accepted category that provides continuous supporting evidence. Very often, we make assumptions according to race, and before long, we’re rewarded with evidence that our assumptions were correct.

    What is really happening, is that we’re misinterpreting the evidence. Very often, the evidence we assume confirms our position, is actually confirming something else entirely. If we discover that all the big-handed people we know are also left-handed, we might assume that all big-handed people are left-handed. The day we discover a big-handed person who is right-handed, we’ll probably write that off as an exception. What we might not be taking into consideration is that all the big-handed people we know are all from the same family in which even the smaller-handed are left-handed. It is not the size of their hands which make them left-handed, it’s a family trait that we’ve misinterpreted.

    In the case of race, the misinterpretation usually involves cultural or religious traits. Those of the right race without the traits are regarded as exceptions instead of red flags highlighting our mistake. We tend to maintain and nurture our misconceptions as long as they go unchallenged.

    The greatest, and most important aspect of racism, is not to do with the particular ways that people practice it, it is that it exists at all. Race should be as important to us as the sizes of hands. The only reason it isn’t so, is because we consider race a legitimate construct, and a legitimate way of distinguishing between people.

    The problem is that “…scientifically, race does not exist. It is a social construct. Social constructs are supported and maintained by society. We are society. It’s our fault.” We support and maintain the boundaries by continuing to refer to them as legitimate.

    When a racist says “Black people are like this” and you say “No, Black people are like that” you’re effectively saying “Your categorisation is correct, but not your specific observation.” You are legitimising the racism. You will then go off on a tangent dispute about what black people are and are not, and the entire discussion will hinge on personal opinion. If you were rather to have said “On what scientific evidence do you base your claim”, you’re pulling the rug out from under the racist. You will be challenging the underlying premise of racism itself. Instead of discussing how a particular race is or isn’t different, you would be forcing a discussion on how any race can be regarded different to any other. You have the scientific high-ground.

    Enough challenges of this nature, will force more and more people to examine their prejudices, and will bring more and more of them around to a sensible viewpoint. Instead of reinforcing the “us vs them” syndrome, we’ll be undermining it. We will be denying the very false racial issues and can turn the spotlight on the very real social and psychological issues which do exist, thus bringing us closer to a possible solution.

    I cannot disagree that people were unjustly enriched on the basis of race, and that many of these use that enrichment to maintian the privilege, but if we make it an issue of race, then we miss the point. The fact that a minority of Black people have so enriched themselves at the expense of others via the (failed) B-BBEEE, proves that greed and abuse is an aspect of humanity, not race. We need to isolate and target the specific perpetrators and, as humanely as possible, force compliance and redress regardless of race.

    I would like to challenge you on your statement that I never felt the negative effects of “it”. I grew up as an Englishman in a world dominated by Afrikaners who associated me with the atrocious treatment of their ancestors in the concentration camps during the Boer War. Between the ages of 10 and 13, I lived in a predominantly Afrikaner neighbourhood where I couldn’t leave home without my nose being bloodied. My adamant refusal to be part of the system landed me in various “reform” institutions and ensured that I never made it past Std. 7 (would that be form 9 these days?)

    Three months after my 18th birthday, I was forced into training to kill people I had never met, and who had committed no greater crime than request the right to independence and self-government – Values I fully embraced myself.

    Refusing to do this placed my life in jeopardy to the extent that I never expected to live to my 19th birthday. When I made 19, I considered myself lucky, but never expected to reach 20, and so it continued. Throughout this period I supported myself as best I could. My family and “friends” actively told the authorities of my whereabouts. I did numerous stints in the detention barracks as a deserter. There was no ECC (End Conscription Campaign) in the seventies. Conscientious objection was only allowed with proof of membership to one of two specific religious groups. Moral objection did not become fashionable until the mid-eighties. I was entirely on my own.

    By the mid-eighties, the authorities had given up on me as a hopeless case, but I continued my objections to all forms of discrimination. When the Weekly Mail put a photograph of the first 700 members of the ECC on the front page, I was in it.

    During all of this I continued to read and further my education. It was obvious that I would never get to university because I not only didn’t qualify, but I could never get the money either. I consider myself fortunate in this respect because it gave me the opportunity to develop my own, broader, syllabus, instead of the generally prescribed one. Aside from an interest in the humanities, I taught myself to program computers.

    After 1994 I started a career programming computers, but in 1997 I found myself on the wrong side of BEE and started working in restaurants and bookshops instead. While I had been well treated and regarded by the people I defended before ’94, I have found myself increasingly regarded as umlungu and enemy post ’94, based exclusively on the colour of my skin.

    I have friends of many races, and I am yet to be called racist by anyone who actually knows me. We try to understand our differences and handicaps, and sometimes we disagree vehemently, but we’re always fellow human beings first and different cultures and religions next. Whatever the people who know me think, on the street I find myself the prejudicial victim of those who know nothing but my skin colour.

    So maybe I don’t know what oppression is, and maybe I owe you for the privilege of being white, but I’m looking forward to your explanation of how this is not itself racist, and what it is exactly that you expect from me that I have not already given. Please describe this terrible life you’ve lived, how exactly I contributed to it, and what exactly you’re expecting in recompense.

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  3. I must admit my heart is a bit full at the moment. You mention to call people out, even in one’s own family and amongst one’s friends. The denial of the situation is such that I’ve found myself sometimes, often these days, letting it go rather than addressing it face to face and on the spot as I’ve been doing for years, purely because one gets tired. One gives up trying to educate people through discussion, relating of facts, pointing out examples of how exactly the same we all are in our ambitions, in our striving to be human.
    I’ve lost friendships, jobs and relations with family members have become so strained about this very topic that we’ve stopped talking. From my name it would be clear that I’m Afrikaans. That some Afrikaners have embraced the new political regime is true, but most have not and I’m born into a particularly stoic and conservative Afrikaans family, from the lower middle classes whom it is hard to educate. The badgering and the yes-buts just do not stop. How I came to think differently – I’m really not sure. Just living with and amongst black people, rubbing shoulders with them daily.
    However, that I’ve become a bit tired of this conversation between me and black people has also become true. I have to use a (black) taxi to get around as I do not have my own car. The questions I’m confronted with: who are you white woman that you’re here with us, what are you about, being treated with mistrust, being pulled apart by questions which just does not stop?
    I’m from Johannesburg and have lived in the cbd for 14 years, very happily. I was celebrated, respected and at the worst politely tolerated for my presence, through using the shops, the streets, the transport, clearly not just a casual visitor. I’ve been very safe for those 14 years. Never, ever once was I accosted. The only time I was asked what I was doing there was by a foreigner, from the Congo I think it was but we could have that conversation some other time if you like.
    It’s just these days, now living in the countryside, where people; the Sothos, Zulus, Xhosas, Afrikaners and English, the coloureds and the Chinese for that matter are moving in their own circles mainly and have little tolerance of each other. I think black people have become terribly disillusioned by their efforts failing, being failed by those in power and they’re angry.
    That it still is mostly the white people that remain in their illusion of being superior is abundantly clear. The fights I’ve had with them around racism were epic. See https://pviljoen.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/graskop-a-small-town-that-needs-its-mind-broadened-2/ and https://pviljoen.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/graskop-left-behind-in-the-mists-of-white-time/
    I’m forever between the two groups, having to field questions and educate about the other to the point I wish I could go live on the moon where there won’t be this conversation. It’s impossible to get away from it. Luckily I live fairly remote and see people seldom these days and am trying to organise my life so that it will remain so!
    It’s always been black people that reached out first to whites in invitation and it has always been whites that stubbornly refused to get drawn in. Fact.
    Whites have very sharp edges around them while black people as a collective have a warmth that’s heartening.
    Oye.
    Much regard. Petru

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  4. A few (many) white South Africans work as expats in various African countries. I work in a West African country run by a democratic dictator.

    Many of these expats will look around them and find reasons to validate their racist attitudes (be they conscious of these attitudes or not). I am also guilty of this.

    But, I have to challenge your remark that whites cannot know discrimination and racism directed at them. I concede I will never “know” it to the core of my being, I acknowledge the privilege accorded me at birth.

    In this small West African country, if you’re not part off the ruling elite, you are discriminated against. Whites (and the Chinese) are especially targeted by the police and military (possibly due to the dictator’s paranoia). In government dealings we are often treated as surplus goods, a “necessary evil” to keep the oil-USD pouring in for the coffers (private and state).

    This discrimination, the stripping away of the “privilege” I’m accustomed to, has opened my eyes to what is happening at home. (Yes, home, because I am as African as anybody else living in RSA.) I find I am more aware of the subtle, endemic racism in our society, although I still struggle on how to deal with it and try make a difference for good.

    Which is why I follow your posts Business – you challenge my paradigm and force me to evaluate my (re)actions.

    You also give me hope for the generation after yours, that we might yet reach a more equal civil society.

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