Is apartheid over? I hadn’t no­ticed

CityPress - - Voices - An­drew Petlele Petlele is a Cape Town-based public ser­vant

Read­ing through the pa­pers, lis­ten­ing to ra­dio talk shows and trawl­ing the so­cial me­dia, as fre­quently as I do, I find my­self com­pelled to com­ment. Firstly, as a black man and, se­condly, as a black man. I am afraid I can­not sep­a­rate my hu­man­ity from my colour.

I was born and bred in this coun­try. I am a ben­e­fi­ciary of Bantu ed­u­ca­tion. I am not po­lit­i­cally con­nected and I am not a mem­ber of the gov­ern­ing party. And no, my kids are not re­ceiv­ing grants and I don’t live in an RDP house. I state this to pre-empt any­one whose first line of at­tack would be along th­ese lines.

But I am a proud mem­ber of a ho­moge­nous group com­monly re­ferred to as “you peo­ple”. Any self-re­spect­ing black per­son has been lumped into this group at some point in their life. If you live in this coun­try, you will also know who does the name-call­ing. It is “my peo­ple” who are run­ning the coun­try down.

I have of­ten won­dered if white peo­ple in this coun­try re­ally know what it feels like to be black. To be a mem­ber of a large group of peo­ple who are mise­d­u­cated, un­em­ployed and land­less? Sure, most of them have black peo­ple as “friends”. Some­how this feat of hu­man­ity sets them apart from the rest. The froth­ing-at-the-mouth type. For any white per­son, having a black friend ex­on­er­ates them from colo­nial­ism, slav­ery, apartheid and, fash­ion­ably, racism. You can­not be that bad, or can you?

Twenty years down the line, it’s a shame that very few white peo­ple have made any con­certed ef­fort to know what it re­ally means to be black. But the ma­jor­ity of them feel con­fi­dent to write about me and “my peo­ple”.

Many of them were also born in this coun­try, but they can hardly say a word in any of the in­dige­nous lan­guages. That alone should in­di­cate the level of so­cial co­he­sion and all that jazz. But then again, the coloniser does not need to learn the lan­guage of his sub­ju­gated sub­jects, does he? He is the mas­ter, af­ter all. It’s a pity my peo­ple thought that be­cause they have po­lit­i­cal power, they have ev­ery­thing. How wrong they were! So then, is apartheid dead?

Any­one who fol­lows the news in this coun­try will ob­serve the dis­course that is fu­elled by

Twenty years down the line, it’s a shame that very few white peo­ple have made any con­certed ef­fort to know what it re­ally means to be black

vit­riol, most of it un­war­ranted.

The death of Stel­len­bosch vice-chan­cel­lor Rus­sel Bot­man ex­posed raw wounds of a coun­try strug­gling to heal. Pro­fes­sor Jonathan Jansen, of the Univer­sity of the Free State, dared to air his views on the mat­ter and the re­sponses his col­umn elicited are telling. The Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria stu­dents’ night of “harm­less fun” is an­other event that cap­tured the pulse of our na­tion. The fun part in­cluded ridi­cul­ing the black woman. Again, the ma­jor­ity of re­ac­tions pointed to­wards a na­tion that is “sep­a­rate but equal”. And then, the shock­ing statis­tics of black pro­fes­sors in “white” uni­ver­si­ties, as ex­posed re­cently by City Press.

Lastly, let me bore you by men­tion­ing Steve Hofmeyr’s mo­ment when he burst into Die Stem at an Afrikaans cul­tural fes­ti­val in Nel­spruit re­cently. Most white peo­ple will pub­licly de­nounce his an­tics but pri­vately wor­ship him.

Th­ese are but some of the ex­cit­ing snip­pets of our repub­lic, a na­tion that is noth­ing short of a “mir­a­cle”.

Has any­one seen or met a white per­son who has ben­e­fited from apartheid? Or bet­ter yet, a white per­son who is proudly racist? I bet not, so blacks must just get on with the pro­gramme al­ready. Apartheid is long dead and buried, or is it, re­ally?

So then, my peo­ple and I will have to con­tinue to man­age our in­ter­ac­tions with our white coun­ter­parts. We are go­ing to bend over back­wards to speak their lan­guage, and we are go­ing to speak it well.

We are also go­ing to live next to them, in their sub­urbs, even if they look at us with sus­pi­cion. We are go­ing to cruise around in those ex­pen­sive Ger­man sedans and go on holidays like them.

Just a word of cau­tion: do not call them “racist”, and if you’re for­tu­nate enough to have a white “friend” and you get the rare op­por­tu­nity to be in­vited to din­ner, steer the con­ver­sa­tion away from apartheid or af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion. I hear the play­ing fields have been “lev­elled”. So this pref­er­en­tial treat­ment is ac­tu­ally hurt­ing me, I must be ac­corded any sta­tus on “merit”. Apartheid is dead, yes?

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