Sitting in an airport in Hong Kong, I had a chat with an Afrikaans South African woman who is about the same age as I am. The woman and I are pretty similar on tastes in music and other interests. We both pretty much grew up in post-apartheid South Africa, but are vastly different on our knowledge of South African movies. One would think we live in two different South Africas when they analyse the movies we watch. I spoke about Jerusalema, iNumber Number and The Forgotten Kingdom. She told me about Grens Pos, Skoonheid and Leon Schuster movies.
We also differed on our views of employment equity laws as she told me she was changing jobs so she could work for an organisation that is opposed to Black Economic Empowerment as she feels her white skin never gave her any privileges. She told me about how she grew up poor in Bloemfontein and she and her brother had to get student loans and bursaries to get through university. I asked her how many white school children in her school or university were going through what she had gone through and that’s when she admitted to me that she realised her views could be biased to her situation at home, but still didn’t think that capable black South Africans should get preference over white South Africans.
As she said this, I then told her about the students that I have lectured in Pretoria. Many of my students have been around the same age as me and were a great eye-opener of how I should never judge society by my circumstances. The majority of the black students I have lectured at Tshwane University of Technology are black, from poor background and would be the first from their families to go through the university process. There is a huge number that comes from rural schools which lack some basic necessities and what is basic is schools that were previously reserved for white students would be a luxury to them. Their high schools don’t have science laboratories, the majority touch the computer for the first time at university and some wouldn’t even qualify for a bank loan for university and the financial aid provided by the government is their only means of university funding.
All the challenges my students are facing today were created by the previous system which did not see the need for their black parents to go through university, gave them inferior education, no university funding and limited the number of black students to go through the university process. I told the Afrikaans woman who is the same age as me that if the system doesn’t favour capable black people now and correct the wrongs of the past then the offsprings of my students would go through the same poverty that my students have endured in life.
I then shifted to a talk that was given to us by journalist, Fred Khumalo when I was a first year student. Khumalo told us that he wanted to study Journalism at the then Technikon Natal (now Durban University of Technology). He was told that he wouldn’t be allowed because of his black skin colour. He said he had to then write to the then Education Minister, FW De Klerk who granted him permission to study there, but the university continued to refuse. He persisted until he was given permission to do his journalism studies there. He said they even told him to go to black institutions which didn’t offer journalism. If Khumalo had given up then and didn’t fight so hard for that education then he would probably be a security guard, cleaning swimming pools or painting someone’s house. His children would be growing up in poverty and if they don’t fight like my students have fought then their children would also grow up poor.
I thought at that point the Afrikaans woman I was speaking to would understand that laws that favour black people are assisting this country to fix demographics and correct injustices of apartheid. Even after I told her those stories, she said she doesn’t understand why white people who are part of our generation must pay for the injustices caused by the previous generation.
At this point I then asked her whether she’s ever had to fight for a job, she responded no. I asked her how much her fees at school were and found out they were in the thousands – she had ealier told me she grew up poor and yet could afford to pay fees in the thousands. I also asked her how many white people she knows, who have been through the university process, can’t find jobs today. She looked at me and smiled as if to say there are none that she knows.
At this point I realised that I couldn’t make her understand that injustices of the past can only be corrected by this generation because if we don’t then the inequalities we continue to see will go on in generations to come and the children and grandchildren of black South Africans will always live in poverty.