The ba­sis of de­cency is a word of thanks

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

IN MY lightweight years an Afrikaner was a man from Mars. A tri­an­gle fanned out north­ward from town en­com­pass­ing Lit­tle Eng­land in the Veld, where the only Afrikaans to cross a kid’s life was the sign in the bus, Moe­nie Spoeg Nie, do not spit.

To meet an Afrikaner meant the sergeant com­ing to ar­rest the maid’s hus­band for Pass Of­fence, and even then you didn’t hear any Afrikaans. He spoke painstak­ing laboured English with man­gled tenses and mu­ti­lated per­son, like “did you got” and “you is”.

No-one who wasn’t born English spoke an okay or an al­right English, in those days.

A rare Afrikaner and a rarer dark per­son spoke out­stand­ing English, so ul­tra-cor­rect that we snot-nose lit­tle snobs mim­icked their ex­cel­lence as cru­elly as we mim­icked the flaws that nor­mally came up in an Afrikaans or African ac­cent, or coloured or In­dian.

We were undis­crim­i­na­tory in our right­eous­ness, at least. We were un­trou­bled in it, too. If you’d said “ex­cuse, brats, would you kindly of­fer any of these good non-English peo­ple a few words of their own lan­guage” we’d be scan­dalised. How could you ask that? Didn’t you know God spoke English?

Well, Good Reader, we have sure moved on. You may say there is a heck of a lot of space for fur­ther move­ment, and who’d ar­gue? But never un­der­rate how far we have come, we many trib­u­taries ma­tur­ing and strength­en­ing as we merge into a greater whole.

So it is with love in my heart that I con­fess, writ­ing this at a scruffy ta­ble on the scruffy stoep of a scruffy bar in Bo­ere­dorp, to a cer­tain sour­ness.

“Bo­ere­dorp” is not the word on this town’s wel­come sign. I’m not telling you that word, or the anti-racist racists will gal­lop in on their high horses. I’m merely ac­knowl­edg­ing that this Bo­ere­dorp is solidly bil­tong, beer-boep, and khaki socks. It is so Boer that I feel a stranger, and if my proudly 100 per­cent Afrikaans lawyer neigh­bour was here, he’d feel a stranger too.

And here’s the thing: my ta­ble aside, 30 peo­ple are giv­ing or re­ceiv­ing re­fresh­ments, and 29 of them are in­sid­ers, all Afrikaans, all know­ing each other, mostly coloured peo­ple on the giv­ing side and white ones on the re­ceiv­ing.

That leaves out one per­son, the Xhosa woman who clears the ta­bles. This woman is so out that it’s painful, a wraith shut­tling un­no­ticed through the throng, re­triev­ing bot­tles and beer mugs and gravy-splat­tered plates with never a word of thank-you or a glance of ac­knowl­edge­ment. In­vis­i­ble per­son.

I doubt that this thing has the dreaded “racist” mo­ti­va­tion, at least not con­sciously. In Dor­dogne, Ok­la­homa, Katanga, coun­try towns or ru­ral prov­inces any­where, you surely find work­ing men’s bars where the hum­ble cleaner is ig­nored.

But it’s ob­nox­ious. It would be ob­nox­ious any­where and is more ob­nox­ious be­cause of the race fac­tor. What is she to make of our ma­tur­ing and strength­en­ing as we merge into a greater whole?

There are many places to re­spect white/Afrikaner peo­ple feel­ing jumpy about their wel­come in the new so­ci­ety. But, damn, we/they had bet­ter do some ris­ing.

If one per­son is the out­sider in an in-crowd the start­ing point of civilised­ness is to make her wel­come. If some­one pro­vides you a ser­vice, the ba­sis of de­cency is a word of thanks.

For years it’s been easy to see peo­ple deal ever more re­spect­fully, more de­cently, with one an­other. What a cheer­ful process that is. What a jolt to crash into a wall of rude­ness, need­ing a wake-up.

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