We needed to move on, and we have
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?