“…it was a crime to walk through a Whites Only door, a crime to ride a Whites Only bus, a crime to use a Whites Only drinking fountain, a crime to walk on a Whites Only beach, a crime to be on the streets after 11p.m., a crime not to have a pass book and a crime to have the wrong signature in that book, a crime to be unemployed and a crime to be employed in the wrong place, a crime to live in certain places and a crime to have no place to live.”
On the 27 of April 1994, South Africa had its first Democratic election. This, after many years of Oppression and discrimination by a white minority government. 18 years later, I’ve enjoyed the fruits of a free South Africa. I’ve had the privilege to attend good schools, had opportunities that my very own parents never had. I’m truly blessed.
South Africa is not where it can be. I admit, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but we sure are better than we were 18 years ago and therefore I choose to acknowledge the progress and celebrate this day. It marked the removal of “White’s Only” signs. I too could, now enjoy these privileges that were limited to a few. I’m not writing to complain about how the lack of service delivery, a corrupt government to demonstrate how we are still not free, I’ll leave that to the cynics. It’s what they are good at. I know that freedom was not free. I know of the economic challenges we face, but I also understand that I can no longer wait for a government to “free” me further than this.
Quite frankly, I truly believe as long as we are still waiting for Nelson Mandela to be freed, we will never be truly free. We need to realise that Nelson Mandela has been freed – FOR YEARS NOW! And has been blessed to live a long post-apartheid life to see the fruits of his hard work and even meet now 18 year born-frees. So freedom is truly now our responsibility – not that of tata Mandela.
Most importantly we need to realise that WE ARE FREE! Free to begin to think differently. Sometimes it feels as though we are still stuck in a state of victim mentality. I understand that we’ve been victimised for years and healing takes time. And perhaps, my upbringing in Johannesburg –a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan city shielded me from the “still racists” communities in the Small Towns of South Africa, and therefore making it easier for me to think the way I do – I’m grateful for that.
This is my take on things. I am South African. Fully. I am in no way apologetic for being and living in my country of birth. I walk into any restaurant, shop at any boutique, and stay at any hotel and I don’t feel intimidated or as if I don’t belong. I can be the only black person on a beach in Plettenberg bay and not even be aware of it or feel like I’m being looked at funny. Not that I don’t know that I am black amongst many white people in a particular environment, rather that it is irrelevant information in my mind. It’s worthless information, adds no value to my life. I don’t think or dwell on it. I actually just don’t care, so I don’t bother looking to see if I’m being looked at funny. Perhaps I am an ignorant twit. If that’s the case, I’m fine with it, it makes me happier and I get to enjoy my country freely.
This is how I see it. As long as you (yourself) feel apologetic or uncomfortable to be in a space where the majority of the patrons do not look like you, you’ll be conscious and attach any “negative” experience as “racist”. I’m actually sick and tired of listening to people who say that Cape Town is a racist’s city. Cape Town will be as “racist as you make it to be”.
The reality is this: We are a diverse country. One of the most ethnically diverse in the world! Our challenge is truly understanding each other’s differences and then RESPECTING them. If you travel to Tanzania, you will find that the Tanzanians are truly warm and welcoming. In fact one of the first words of Swahili you will learn is “Karibu” meaning you are welcome. And truth Is Tanzanians will actively make you feel welcome. I’ve found this to be the case with most African Countries. In Nigeria, they have a tendency to say “well-done”, this is their way of acknowledging you on a daily basis. It is no wonder then, most Africans find it rude when you don’t “acknowledge” their presence through a greeting. Yet, if you go to Europe, you’ll soon learn that Europeans generally mind their own business. They actually don’t care about you (white or black) and they certainly will not make you FEEL WELCOME. Do your thing and they’ll do theirs. So if you are the type of person who needs to be made to feel welcome, you might find them to be “Cold and unwelcoming”. In South Africa, you might even label this as racist. And it’s not behaviour towards Black people; it’s behaviour towards other white people too. It’s just how they are. When the Dutch landed in the Cape in 1652, they came with that same culture. And let’s face it, restaurants, hotels and many other social environments in South Africa are derived from the “western culture” and therefore it is no wonder to me that I will see more “western” people than any other group in most South African restaurants. In fact growing up, my mom took us to a restaurant (limited to Mikes Kitchen or Wimpy) only once a month (payday joys). It was always a big deal to us – not culture. It was only in high school and more post school that restaurants became my culture too.
Living in a multicultural country means we can never have a perfectly homogeneous culture. However, what we all CAN do is to EDUCATE ourselves and RESPECT each other instead of looking down on each other based on our differences. YES I’m realising that it also means, RESPECTING the choice of a culturally Zulu State Leader, who marries many wives and the wives who agree to it. Yes, it also means, respecting a neighbour who in their own home slaughters a goat to honour his ancestors. Yes, it also means, respecting a Muslim man for walking in front of his wife or the wife whose only feature you see is her eyes. Whatever my opinions may be, I still need to respect that. It’s hard to accept different people especially when you are convinced that your way is the better one.
But this is the Freedom that Nelson Mandela fought for.
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” –Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
So, if you are a black South African, living in Cape Town, stop feeling unwelcome in restaurants. Stop looking for a racist comment or treatment – what you look for, you sure will find. You might argue that you are not looking for it, however if you walk in and immediately find yourself noting that the only “blacks” are the waiters, your attitude will prepare for combat! Understand that any South African who is still bonded by their racial and hateful heart is much more miserable than you are and that racism is actually a mental dysfunction on their side than it is your problem. That mentally dysfunctional person? You ignore. If after 18 years they haven’t changed, your arguing or being emotional about it is not about to change it. That person is still bonded by the chains of the past. You are in the present. You are Free!
When going out, allow yourself the experience and make it part of your life too. And yes learn the “etiquette” of these environments –there is etiquette to every environment. In the same way when you might invite a French person to your home and teach them about how one eats Umqusho , when you go into a French restaurant learn how to eat frog-legs. Don’t label this etiquette lesson as a form of oppression of who you are. You are not being forced to being “them”, instead you are exposing yourself to a new culture, learning and beginning to appreciate it. If it’s not harmful, don’t restrict yourself from the experience. You are Free!
Apply the same thinking it in a so-called “western” social environment”. Learn how they do. Pay tip to the hotel porter who assisted you with your luggage, it’s part and parcel of “western” etiquette. All I’m saying is, to fully enjoy these privileges we’ve only had for 18 years, learn how the people who have enjoyed them have being doing it for years before us. It’s the best way to experience and should you like it, slowly fuse yourself in it.
The first time I had sushi I was with my Chinese friend and although Sushi is Japanese, she sure knew a little more than me. She also taught me how to use the chopsticks properly; my point is that, I learnt to do it like they do. It was a fun experience and I’ve never looked back. I wasn’t trying to be Japanese in anyway. I was still the beautiful South African Xhosa girl, in the company of a beautiful South African Chinese friend enjoying a Japanese meal! That was me freely enjoying my diverse country.
You are FREE to enjoy these things; they are not limited to a few people. The only difference between white and black is a protein in the skin that’s produced to protect the skin from the harsh sun (If you are black you just have more of it), surely that’s a good thing, it shouldn’t restrict you. Stop waiting for an invite into your own country. Start understanding that you too are as much part of South Africa as any other South African and therefore have the same rights and and RESPONSIBILITIES to your Country.
No one is going to give you a warm welcome. You have to be content with yourself and feel free to be anywhere without looking for acknowledgement. Stop labelling things as “white things” the “white’s only sign” was removed years ago why you are still stuck there?
Staying away from these interracial social environments only perpetuates the idea of a separated country. If you are going to wait for another human being to make you feel welcome, or make you feel equal or make you feel deserving, or less inferior you will wait a long time. We may be celebrating 18 years into democracy, but if we ourselves have not yet liberated our minds, we will never be free.
Steve Biko wrote: “The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.
We need a paradigm shift.
“Chains be broken, lives be changed…” – In Christ I found my true freedom.