From January to March I was privileged to work with an American agency that brings volunteers from the States to South Africa. One of their main goals is to learn about South African culture and we learn from them. I was teaching a group of three the XiTsonga language and working as a translator for them in rural communities of Limpopo. In between sessions we had cultural sessions where we taught them about our way of life and they told us about theirs. I realised that as much as there are differences, it’s the similarities that surprised me more and showed me that humans still respond to human emotions, no matter where they’re from in the wold.
The young Americans would get to stay with host families in the rural areas. African Americans later raised their concern of how white people in the group were preferred over them, simply because race. It didn’t matter that the young Americans were all bringing similar skills to the area and much needed help. One host parent complained when she realised that she was to host an African American. She demanded that the person that was to stay in her home be switched, just so she could host a white person. African Americans felt degraded as a result of the rejection.
This has surprised me with issues of race and how some of our people in the rural areas still believe in the superiority of a white person. This is something that apartheid taught us, but we didn’t realise how hard to change what we had been taught by the master would be. It is stuck in the minds of many who still believe their inferiority to white people, people who think a brush with whiteness would give them bragging rights within their communities.
Africa Day will be celebrated when this week ends. We shout about how free we are from chains of colonialism, chains of apartheid and how we, as South Africans, can now attend schools with white people. But I wonder how long it is going to take time to remove the damage from the mind as prejudices from generations before us are passed down to us and we would then pass them down to the next generation.
As I wonder about a mind that is still colonised in our rural areas, I also worry how those young African American volunteers must have felt when they faced rejection in rural Limpopo. I wonder about the story of South Africa they are going to tell back home and I worry that that they will feel fooled by the media that told them about people that have moved on and see no skin colour, I worry that they will think Invictus lied to them and they will see that the rainbow nation doesn’t really exist as long as the black man sees themselves as inferior to the white man.