After a long break from the internet (I almost died), and naturally blogging, I have come back, revived and inspired to conquer. Well, most times when one returns from holiday trips, we are often left more tired than before we left, right?
This time it was different. I did so much thinking and introspection and of course, observing people and their behaviour. My blog post will focus on the race back-lash I experienced in the Vaal Triangle*.
*(The Vaal Triangle is a triangular area of land formed by Vereeniging, Vanderbijlpark and Sasolburg – together they comprise a substantial urban complex in South Africa. Meyerton, just north of Vereeniging, is also generally included in the complex, and residents of Sharpeville, Boipatong, Bophelong, the greater Sebokeng area (including Evaton, Orange Farm, etc), Heidelberg, Zamdela, andPotchefstroom also generally tend to consider themselves to live in the Vaal Triangle. The area straddles the Vaal River and is a major industrial region, which is home to former Iron and Steel Corporation Iscor, now ArcelorMittal South Africa and Sasol, the steel and oil-from-coal processing facilities. ) Taken from Wikipedia, of course.
Although I was born in Cape Town many, many years ago, I was bred in the Vaal, as we call it. We moved to Sasolburg in 1993. Yes, that was before 1994. It was rough, for a 7 year-old trying to find herself in a situation where you had to change to fit in, to be accepted. I blogged a bit about that experience in “She speaks funny”. With my trip to JHB and the Vaal, I decided to go to the primary school, and visit the area I grew up in, Vaalpark. This is the area that laid the foundation for my dry, dry sense of humour.
Now, there wasn’t much to begin with in Vaalpark, but after leaving primary school in 1998, you would think, or expect things to change a little. Nope, nothing. Nothing changed, not even the mentality of the residents. I say this, trying to stand on some neutral ground. I know people of all races in that area, but we are well aware how ‘stiff’ things can get in that place. The racial tension is so real, you can chew on it, like good quality biltong.
I had frank conversations about the culture in the Vaal, about gay and lesbian rights and attitudes towards homosexuals and of course race issues. The most interesting, for me, were the race talks. I was thinking about a metaphor to describe the kind of talks we had, as it wasn’t really just sugar coated. It was more like this super sour sweet coated with a thin layer of, again, good quality sugar. The truth was and still is that I was ‘coloured’ and not white. Even though I could ‘pass for white’, as my Afrikaans was learnt in the Vaal and I was somewhat accepted in that community (Ok, let’s leave out my hair issues and the shape of my nose), I wasn’t. The truth isn’t bitter, it’s sour. But some people like sour stuff, so it’s cool.
Frank talks happened around the fire, with some meat and of course, brandy and Coke. Listening to the view of others, I tried to understand how do they, as some like to call white people, “our oppressors”, live with the forced guilt and then the shame and pride of the Afrikaner nation’s history? I had to try to listen so hard, as in, not get defensive when statements like, “for a coloured girl, you are cool” were uttered. I could have gotten upset, but I understand that this would be the wrong reaction. Funnily, in the Vaal, being a minority, being constantly reminded that I was coloured, actually gave me some sort of identity. A pretty junk one, but an identity, a label that I could walk around with. When we moved to Cape Town, and I was amongst “my people”, I didn’t know who I was. There was no one to remind me. My label was removed and I had to do some work to discover my roots.
I do not wonder when the mentality will change there. We don’t have time to wait, or cause wars and unnecessary blood shed. I wonder about how we could maybe learn to understand the way people think, behave and interpret their history. We need to understand that we all speak with pain, or shame. Our DNA is tainted with the effects of Apartheid, directly or indirectly. So, we need to understand this in any conversation or debate. This pain and shame informs our way of thinking and thus, if not understood correctly perpetuates the ideas and assumptions we have of one another. This, undoubtedly, has a huge impact on how we can move forward. We can move forward though.
My perspective on the issues race in South Africa has not changed, it has actually become more complex trying to develop some sort of solution for it.
I could say, and probably should say, that “I have white Afrikaans friends who are really cool”, but I cringe as the words appear on the screen. It’s like I had the impulse to mention it, but at the same time, I felt like I was bragging, subsequently feeling guilty about it. I like that I can be honest with those I speak to about these issues. As a student leader at UCT, talking about the race issues I found to be quite different, in comparison to my chats in the Vaal. Here, in Cape Town, we speak of the Black Child (blanket term for the previously disadvantaged) and the rights owed to them etc. We speak of the years they are owed. But there are conversations I don’t think happen enough, without politics, without censorship. This all within reason of course. The talks centered around race are not real, they are often orchestrated. That’s the look and feel I get from it anyway. Not that it is fake, per se, it is just not real enough. We rob ourselves of genuine healing then. I’m not saying we should sit around a fire and sip on Brandy and Coke (not that bad of an idea), but we need to re-think our attitudes towards understanding one another. Just because someone identifies you as ‘coloured’, and labels you openly, doesn’t mean they do not respect you. In the same breath, of speaking with pain and shame, we listen with those emotions too.
We are so complicated.
It’s possible that we are still living in “The Struggle”, just a different kind of struggle. One where we all are trying to, still, come to terms with the past, without dwelling on it, but also giving it the recognition it, errr, so rightly deserves. It’s a complex little situation we find ourselves in. I don’t have answers, well not really cool ones, but I do have perspective and it helps me decide how to move forward, positively.
“Not Black enough, Not White enough.”
No, that wasn’t my ending, it’s the title of a book- by Prof. Mohammed Adhikari.
– That coloured chick who used to be blonde and had blue contacts-
At the same time, however, I found that honesty, that sour sweet is a tad much to handle.