By Nhlaka Hlongwane

Her routine is a simple one. She follows the routine almost every single day like any other parent. She wakes up in the early hours of the morning like the Cape sparrow as it scurries through the morning sky in the hope of being rewarded in some manner for rising this early. Then, being a single parent, she must assist her only daughter to prepare for school. After putting on her school uniform and having her breakfast, she departs for the long day ahead of her. She has to walk to her place of employment every single day, not like a couple taking a morning stroll in the park but like a foot soldier who has been abruptly summoned to his general’s quarters.  She is already late, but she will make it to her workplace. She always makes it. What comes afterwards has taken her years of patience and practice for her now numb soul to accept as the norm.

On the face of it, this scenario seems to be detailing the life of an average person. This contention changes the complete dynamic of the scenario above when we alter a few minor but critical details.  The scene is actually set in 1973. The single mother is young black women trying to bring her daughter up at a stage when apartheid is at its peak in South Africa. The breakfast they eat are either leftovers the woman stole from the bountiful portions at her “Madams” house or bread no longer fit to be eaten by the madam and her family. The meal at breakfast is nothing more than four slices of bread with the crust turning green like the moss harboured by river rocks in the meandering rivers of the Drakensberg. She does not eat, rather she sacrifices this tiny ration for her only daughter just so she can have something in her stomach. “uMadam uyasithanda kodwa, kuncono thina siyasithola kwalesosinkwa”(The madam really likes us, we fortunate that she even gives us this bread), she says as she watches her daughter nibble on the almost stale piece of bread. She has been socialised to believe that the white masters are really looking out for her best interests. On her way to work she has to constantly be on the look-out for Afrikaner farmers, driving in their Toyota bakkies with their favourite boerboel in the passenger seat as a young black man struggles to keep himself warm at the back. Because at these hours of the morning there is a prevailing consensus amongst Afrikaner farmers that the black “native” has an ability to genetically mutate into a monkey or “aap” as it is put in Afrikaans. At her workplace she will be subjected to work almost like slave. Her master’s young children have no regard for her as an adult or even a human being. They will heckle, scream and kick at her for entertainment until her soul has become numb to the effects of this inhumane and undignified torture she is being subjected to. She has no voice, she is only permitted to say two phrases in this household, “ja baas” or “nee baas”.  She is not paid in money, rather she is payed with school books her “baas” gets from his teacher friend, food that is not good enough to be eaten by the master and his family, and on a good day maybe the madam might give her school uniform for daughter. But the remuneration itself is never in the form of money.

For many black South Africans living in post-apartheid South Africa, racism means apartheid and apartheid means racism. In fact many black people use the word apartheid as a direct translation for racism in their native language. The Oxford dictionary defines racism as the “discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”.[1]  The scenario detailed above is one that countless black South Africans were subjected to due to the dehumanising nature of apartheid. It is perhaps for the self-same reason that many black people and predominantly rural people are still of the belief that it is impossible for a black person to be racist (or have apartheid) because they understand apartheid as being the cruel and inhumane discrimination towards the ‘inferior’ black man by the “more superior’ white man. There is also the belief that most white people are racist because they still believe that apartheid was a flawless system of segregation and generally to protect themselves from retaliation from black people.

It is only logical for us to accept that now we cannot change our own history which subjected people of different races to unfair discrimination and infringement on their dignity. However, we can look forward and find viable solutions which will help us eradicate the legacies left by our colonial history. Chief of those legacies being the crippling effect this monster of racism has in our societies.

Around the world and specifically in South Africa there have been numerous cases of what has been labelled by the greater public as racist actions which were recorded and vastly distributed through the various social media networks. Whether it is the fatal shooting of 17 year old Trevan Martin  in Florida USA,[2] the charismatic Julius Malema publicly making remar0ks which seem to encourage the slaughter of white people[3]  or even the undignified comments made by Penny Sparrow on New Year’s day of 2016,[4] all these acts and events seem to diminish the valiant efforts of patriots who had made it their lives mission to fight for equality amongst all races, some even losing their lives in the process.

Nelson Mandela who was seen worldwide as the embodiment of the fight for freedom and equality for all had this to say about the origins of hate and metaphorically racism in his memoir Long walk to freedom, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”[5] This powerful statement disseminates and shows the lack of logic in the argument or excuse used by many people in justification of racist actions, “I was born like this”. In fact this statement by our first president of the democratic dispensation is further supported by the ‘Nurture v Nature theory’ . Many scholars have found that people are socialised to think, act or even speak in a particular as opposed to them being born with these societal and behavioural traits.

According to The South African Human Rights Commission in the year 2016 alone it received 505 complaints on racism.[6] In a country with just under 53 million citizens this may seem like a small number. However, the SAHRC has contended that these are just the incidents which people were able to report and bring to the commission’s attention. This would suggest that there are many undocumented events of racism.

It seems as though the world in general and more specifically our young democracy has reached a stage where the majority of people seek accountability for the soci-economic issues they find themselves in. In a country like South Africa where the World Bank in 2016 stated that it was a country with one of the highest rates of inequality in the world, the government is struggling to close this gap of inequality and as a result the tensions created by these unequal circumstances has reached a boiling where people see the need confront issues and legacies of colonialism which left others in a far better state today, economically than it did those who were subjected to a legal system which made them poor and failed to consider their dignity.

Racism cannot be accepted. Judging an individual because of the colour of their skin is inhumane and illogical. Onus on solving this issue of racism lies not only with our political leaders but the responsibility is placed squarely at the feet of every single human being. We cannot be ashamed of who we are, racially, we had no choice in this and hence cannot be unfairly discriminated against solely because of the colour of our skin. Let us never forget the principle of Ubuntu, “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”. It teaches us the best way to interact with each other as human beings in a way that ensures harmony in society.

ike xarra ke, unity in diversity.

[1] English Oxford Living dictionary. Date accesed:15 March.

[2] Trayvon Martin Shooting Fast Facts. CNN. Feb 2017. Date accesed 15 March 2017

[3] Malema not calling for the slaughter of whites, for now. IOL. November 2016. Date accesed 15 March

[4] Penny Sparrow back in court on criminal charges for racist comments. City Press. 12 September 2016. Date accesed 15 March

[5] Let's take time off to understand Nelson Mandela (Madiba) through his words that came from the heart. Sowetan Live. July 2013. Date accessed 15March

[6] Hanekom D. Call on South Africa to #TakeOnRacism. Ahmed Kathrada Foundation. 14 March 2017. Date accesed 15 March 2017.

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