Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It's Been 20 Years, But The Racist Mind Still Has Much Work To Do

Siphumelele Zondi

My first memory of apartheid in South Africa was the murder of Chris Hani in 1993, I even barely remember that. At the time my age was in the single digits. I remember my parents watching all news reports about it. I remember his daughters and wife Limpho crying on television. I also remember TV news anchor Noxolo Grootboom crying on television as she was an eye witness who had seen what had happened from her house which was next door to Hani's. I don't remember much else from that day and I didn't really know who Hani was until the day he was brutally murdered. I also remember his massive funeral that made me think that's how big all funerals are supposed to be.As I grew older I obviously learnt who he was and how his murder could have changed South Africa's road to democracy.

A year later I had a conversation with my father. It was the evening of the 26th of April in 1994. My father was preparing to vote for the very first time the following day. I asked him who he would want to win the election. His response was, "Anyone, just not the National Party."  

I asked my father why he didn't want the National Party to win and he said, "Son, I have suffered under their rule. I couldn't even walk on the pavement if I saw a white person walking towards me on it." 

The following day my parents did vote. April 27 in 1994 was a day full of jubilation as they probably spent the entire day in that queue that wasn't far from home. Every once in a while they would ask someone to tell us to bring them something to drink and to eat. My white teachers in the private primary school I was attending didn't appear to have my parents excitement about what was happening. In fact, I remember one teacher complaining that we were taking too much time off school. That same teacher would complain that I was too smart of a pupil to speak the amount of Zulu I'd speak in school, she raised that with dad as well.

Then there was 10 May 1994. That's the day Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president. It was a huge affair and all black people were happy. I also knew Nelson Mandela was the right man for the job, but I just didn't know why he was. Then my mother's white colleagues started leaving South Africa for Australia. Every once in a while my mother and her friends would discuss stories of colleagues who were planning to leave the country. They didn't share in the same joy of a free and democratic South Africa that gave black people equal rights.

Then it was the following year and South Africa was in a rugby World Cup. Teachers just didn't know how to deal with a growing number of black pupils in the school. I was still hearing that line, "You are smart, but ...". There too teachers were planning to move to Australia because the country would go to the dogs in the hands of the black man. This is despite that the black man had hosted a successful rugby World Cup.

Then I fast forward to today. The black man has been in power for 20 years but from time to time we read of people who use the word 'kaffir' an equivalent of 'nigger' in America. A story that made big news two years ago was of 20-year-old model Jessica Leandre. Because of her age, she probably would have no memory of apartheid. Then recently we heard of Ericsson firing an employee for using that word on Facebook. There are other instances which then show that as much as we tolerate each other in public spaces, such words are still used by parents when they talk to their children.

It's been twenty years and we're constantly told to celebrate and publicly hold hands as we've come a long way. We have come a long way, but we should also be told to work on ourselves. Parents should probably be told to check themselves before speaking in front of their children because if that doesn't happen then we will have many future generations of Jessica Leandre's who feel their skin colour should grant them certain privileges and they can use words like 'monkeys' and 'kaffir' when referring to black people.

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