Apartheid in my head

I have become an emotional person, a person whose days are rarely filled with laughter. Instead, I am confronted continually by an avalanche of grievances, of real, every day national and personal issues. My days are filled with stories of neglect, or crisis, of unsympathetic greed. My nights are filled with confrontations of my own creation; personal reprisals or guilt trips that weigh me down or choke me up. Yesterday I cried about an Apartheid atrocity, today I felt saddened by a South African song.

Having come to Johannesburg two months ago, I have been confronted by the real South Africa, the land I left behind when I was a naive eighteen-year-old. My world was an insulated racist mess, with me trying to break free from its confining narrow-mindedness. Then I went to university and made friends with black people. I thought that made me good. I thought that I had escaped the persecution of having been born during Apartheid, of having a family which contributed in its own small way. After learning to criticise my every thought, I then spent three years in a blissful first world city, geographically separated internally and externally from the crying, fighting, dying nation.

But, now I know that Cape Town is a dream land. I struggled to make friends, because everyone is trying to avoid everyone else. They are not willing to expand their worlds beyond what they know. Because what they know is safe.

I was safe until I had to integrate, until I had to confront my own life and learn from my own Apartheid. I had created Apartheid in my head, apart from the reality of poverty, of crime and fear. I had not made black friends, just acquaintances. I had not made concessions, or given enough or sacrificed enough. But now I don’t know if I can take any of those actions, compromising myself in the process. I don’t know if I can leave my cushy, learned office on the 16th floor of a building that overlooks this reality and walk out into the street and really be there in mind, spirit and body.

I am scared of what I might find there – the same life that many South Africans live. This reality of this country is that millions of its inhabitants live a life of desperation and fear. And I am their enemy.

 

 

 

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I am an African

Have you read the speech by Thabo Mbeki on the day that the Constitution was adopted in South Africa? It is called “I am an African” and I regret that I could not have understood the magnitude of the occasion at the time (1996). Fourteen years have passed and I understand most of it. So many aspects of it stand for what I believe and what I value.

I am unashamedly South Africa, with all its hypocrisies. His speech, despite what came after, reinforces my pride. So I am particularly drawn to the part that states,

“The [C]onstitution, whose adoption we celebrate, constitutes an unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, gender or historical origins.”

I was also affected by another part of the speech which relates to my post about Model Africa.

“I am an African. I am born of the peoples of the continent of Africa. The pain of the violent conflict that the peoples of Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, Burundi and Algeria is a pain I also bear. The dismal shame of poverty, suffering and human degradation of my continent is a blight that we share. The blight on our happiness that derives from this and from our drift to the periphery of the ordering of human affairs leaves us in a persistent shadow of despair. This is a savage road to which nobody should be condemned.”

How far have we come? As much as I love Africa and South Africa, I despair. I don’t understand the politics at the heart of it, but I understand the history. I suffer from what is known as white-guilt.

“Today, as a country, we keep an audible silence about these ancestors of the generations that live, fearful to admit the horror of a former deed, seeking to obliterate from our memories a cruel occurrence which, in its remembering, should teach us not and never to be inhuman again.”

If I can ask  one thing of you, it would be this: don’t hide behind the idea that you were not part of it. Know your history, see the place of your ancestors in its stories, do not be ashamed by what you see, but do not perpetuate it.

Then turn around, with all the despair of your new-found knowledge, and seek light in the darkness. Be an African again by opening your eyes to what was, and what is, and what you can be.

My Guilt-Laced Offerings

 

All shall be equal before the law, by Faith47 (Cape Town)

 

I stand with you, watching my words make punctuations of frosty excuses into the night-time cold. I am so eager to confess to you. I want to believe that I am doing something good and meaningful, giving of myself, but I know that what I feel is a fickle pride. Each steaming, nutritious mouthful of soup is my vehicle to my boastful self-betterment. I feel a liberal’s sense of injustice at what the state is doing to you, my socialistic tendencies tsk tsking at the targeted conspiracy against your human dignity. But, at the end of the hour I still go home. I bring weekly nutritional supplementation as supplication for a lifetime of suffering.

 

I want to empathise with you; I want to cut myself down to your level, so I shout out my hatred for the failures of our post-apartheid system and shake my head at the agonies endured by the homeless. I think that simply being kind and opening my eyes to your plight is enough to obliterate my middle-class guilt. But the truth is this: I am white and I have benefitted from the years of racist pacification and depravation of the masses.

 

I have tried to deny it, I have attempted many excuses as to why I was not part of the past, thrusting my youthful innocence in the face of Anti-Apartheid protagonists. But youth is not innocence and seeing the hangover of the past is enough to ensure that I cannot use any more excuses to justify my life. I have a privileged skin and a moneyed smile. My frosty excuses are insulting but I cannot stop.

 

Your poverty brings to the fore how little of life I really know. I cannot know what it is like to be you. I know, simply, that there are many reasons why you sleep on the sidewalk. I know, simply, that life is difficult, but that sometimes it is less difficult that facing the real world. I have no understanding of what you are thinking when you gratefully accept a meagre cup; but sometimes you smile, sometimes you bow your head, sometimes you talk incessantly about the glory of G-d. You ask for blessings, but my blessing is merely human and contained within the potatoes and carrots that constitute the soup that you are eating. I can only put feeling into every chop and slice and hope that your spiritual sustenance will come from somewhere else. I am glad of you; you give me something to make my life feel worthwhile: feeding the homeless.

 

It does not assuage my white guilt because I am no longer trying to do so. I tried once, but I realise there is a certain happiness in your life; mercies are small, far-apart but satisfactory. If I over-think this I will realise how little I understand and how little I am really contributing to your life. There are braver, better people out there. I can bare this burden of guilt, because I suffer it in a life of surplus and it’s the life I have grown accustomed to.

 

So, tonight, I will stand with you, I will listen to you, I will feed you and I will simply be grateful for my own world of semi-luxury.