I want to talk about race. The colour of one’s skin. Its pigmentation. The first thing one may or very often may not notice when one sees someone.
But I am treading a fine line. I am White. I was born in the country that segregated Whites from Blacks. And I was brought up in a country which encourages feelings of guilt in the White Man to make up for all the transgressions of Colonizing White Men who went before us in years gone by, especially the Privileged White Men. I am White and I am privileged. What right do I have to write about race. Right?
I have lived as an ethnic minority. In Korea. In Hounslow. But never as a Black woman in a White man’s world. And so I do not assume to know racism and discrimination as they may have done. My visits to South Africa have been numerous over the last twenty years, yet I have not had a chance to live and observe in detail the shifting cultural landscape. Even from last year to this year I was surprised by the number of white beggars I noticed on street corners and at traffic lights. This year I saw a White man working collecting trolleys in a mall car park – something one would never have seen in previous years, even well after 1994.
South Africa is a country almost 20 years into its true independence trying to reclaim and reinvent its identity after being destroyed by apartheid. Destroyed by the strife and hate that will undoubtedly come with enforced racism on a people. And it is taking a while for the country to purge itself from that inflicted culture. For hundreds of years it was deprived a chance to live out and show off its indigenous colours on a world stage. Now it has that chance. And if a few Whites get sacrificed in the process that ain’t a problem.
And by sacrificed I mean deprived of opportunities that would have been denied Blacks during colonial rule. Deprived by default with the quotas – brought in by the Black Economic Empowerment legislation – imposed on companies in minimum numbers of black employees and board members. And more insidiously when teachers live under constant fear of making a wrong move or uttering the wrong syllable and are all but blackmailed into letting off lightly offending school children who happen to also be Black.
Discrimination against Whites and other minorities has also included instant rejection of Whites who apply for South African Airway’s pilot cadet scheme and higher entry grades required by White and Indian students (80% in the benchmark test) compared to Black students (53% in the benchmark test) applying to the University of Cape Town to do medicine.
I am always surprised and overjoyed when I meet Africans all over the world and when telling them that I – I, the white woman – was born in Cape Town, their faces light up into smiles and they cry out “you are my sister!” – be they from Nigeria, Ghana or Tanzania. Their open minds that sees this vibrant continent as not having borders of countries or borders of colours is so refreshing. If only the powers that be could be so embracing and inclusive.
If only it were that simple. South Africa won’t be run into the ground because it discriminates against non-Blacks. Its corrupt and greedy government will destroy it with initiatives that make no economic sense. And these will create the poverty that leads to greater and greater wealth inequality and poor education that does nothing for a country’s well-being.
South Africa is sitting on plenty of gold mines – literally and figuratively. Natural resources, agriculture, wine, a fast growing film, TV and commercials industry, fantastic food, stunning landscapes and a lot of creative energy. And Cape Town has the chance to become a lot more important than it is already is in the maritime and shipping industries, given the number of vessels which sail around the tip of Africa to avoid the more treacherous waters of Puntland.
There is so much opportunity to make South Africa the strong economy it can become which will create the jobs and incomes needed by its poor. This will go unreaped if it spirals downwards as Zimbabwe has done because of a corrupt and shortsighted government. India also suffered from White Rule and a society divided by class, but it has risen out from its old status quo into one of the world’s biggest and most innovative economies over the sixty-odd years since its independence in 1947.
Modern South Africa is only twenty years independent. But it can not afford to wait any longer to put measures into place that will help it become prosperous.