We needed to move on, and we have

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

IN THE far west Free State a decade ago, I met ami­able Hannes, gung-ho about ris­ing to new times. He as­sured me that “You guys have to stop think­ing of us as rough peo­ple who bully our work­ers. It’s dif­fer­ent now. Ask my boys, they’ll tell you.”

I look around for Hannes’s sons. They seem ab­sent. He con­tin­ues: “I tell them ‘boys, it’s dif­fer­ent now, hey? All about equal hu­man re­spect’, and they tell me ‘Ja, Baas Hannes, that’s right’.”

The Race Po­lice would doubt­less klutz at Baas Hannes’s ter­mi­nol­ogy – bla­tant echoes of racism, hang­ing over shame­lessly, tsk.

As I saw it, Hannes’s heart had shifted mag­nif­i­cently; that his lex­i­con, and his work­ers’, lagged a tad behind was less than wicked; they’d catch up.

In a sim­i­lar ge­og­ra­phy last week, I be­held our times mov­ing fur­ther.

Story 1: I’m with sev­eral peo­ple, only one of whom, Chris, is black, at a dorp ho­tel that was white man’s land from the Great Trek on­ward.

En­ter a guy whose ap­pear­ance tells his history. Bot­tles have played a big part, fists prob­a­bly too, un­til some years ago. His ca­reer has not been in of­fices. His pol­i­tics did not in­cline to­wards the Progs. (For Hol­lard main­te­nance man Vuyani and other younger readers, the Pro­gres­sives were the most anti-apartheid party in the old Par­lia­ment. Thanks, Vuyani, for your com­ments at our chance meet­ing.)

The new guy looks around, sees Chris sit­ting down to his steak, and stares. He stares too long for com­fort. This is omi­nous. I’m right be­tween him and Chris. I’ll have to do some­thing. I don’t know what that some­thing is. I don’t think I like it.

New guy bursts into a bab­ble of Afrikaans, hard to make out. He stops sud­denly, faces Chris, and says in English, loud, clar­ion as cheer­ing a rugby team, “I love you, I love you, I love you”.

He turns to the rest of us, af­terthoughtishly mut­ters “It’s okay, I love you too”, and leaves.

There may be many the­o­ries of what that was about. I doubt there is a sor­did one. Which­ever the­ory is right, it was damn touch­ing.

Story 2: We stay in a very dis­tinc­tive place, tended to by a young Malaw­ian who des­ig­nates him­self “But­ler”. Our but­ler is a phe­nom­e­non – in qual­ity and quan­tity of work, in his in­ter­ests, his stud­ies, his ex­tra­mu­ral pur­suits. Also in his re­spect to his clients.

He is very re­spect­ful, ex­tremely re­spect­ful, too frikken re­spect­ful al­to­gether! He ad­dresses us each as “Mas­ter”, three times per ev­ery sen­tence.

This causes de­bate. Is it a mit­i­ga­tion that he is en­tirely un-racial about his “Mas­ter”? Can we see “Mas­ter” as a male ver­sion of fairly in­nocu­ously race­lessly re­spect­ful “Madam”?

No, how­ever we soften it, we cringe at the very word “Mas­ter”, ag­gra­vated by its ob­se­quious history.

Sev­eral peo­ple try deMas­ter­ing. One gets the sto­ry­tale re­sponse to “Don’t call me Mas­ter”, namely “Yes, Mas­ter”. I think I suc­ceed but by morn­ing I’m Mas­ter again.

Here’s a curve­ball ques­tion for un­fold­ing Africa:

Does his as­pi­ra­tion to be a “But­ler”, not just an amor­phous hired hand, re­quire “Masters”, not just Freds and Petes? Should we sti­fle our post-colo­nial sen­si­tiv­i­ties to up­hold his self-im­age?

Story 3: Our core con­gre­ga­tion is eight Afrikan­ers, two per­sons whose fore­bears hailed from Bri­tain, and black home-grown Tswana Chris. When Chris pulls off a bril­liant (or lucky) move at the pool ta­ble, one of the lo­cals shouts ad­mir­ingly: “Mooi skoot, En­gels­man!”

Amen. Will the Race Po­lice care to tell us again how noth­ing has changed?

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