On Freedom Day
So, I spent Freedom Day 2018 writing this. After all, I wasn’t invited to a braai and I wasn’t giving one, although I do love a braai as much as the next woman. I also love my friends and family, which is what makes it hard to write what I have to say, although some of them will, thank God, agree with me.
A public holiday – that’s great. It’s called Freedom Day. Yawn. Didn’t it use to be called something else? Let’s braai!
This is an example of white ignorance, because most people of colour know more about the day than whites do. If you feel indignant at my allegation of ignorance, I’m glad, because it means you know very well that it commemorates the day in 1994 when South Africa had its first democratic elections. That’s twenty-four years ago. It’s no big deal, because not much changed for us whites. People who say that we are now discriminated against in some kind of reverse racism are simply wrong. They believe this sincerely, but it is actually a reaction to their loss of absolute power and privilege. Yet the privilege persists in a hundred ways.
For example, the “annual household income for blacks stood at an average of R92,893 compared with R444,446 for whites, according to Statistics South Africa’s Living Conditions Survey, conducted once every five years.”
It is still easier for a white man to find a job than for a black man – much easier, according to research.
“While many whites decry BEE as enemy number one when it comes to blocking career progression, the EEC’s data shows this to be false.”
Take a look at that and then remind yourself that we are 8% of the population and black people are 80%.
Yep because we have always been free, and taken it for granted as our right, we often perceive efforts to extend these rights to others as threatening and unfair, and we encourage one another to buy into this with complaints about imagined losses. I find I need to be brave to think about this. It’s tough to admit and tougher to correct, but we need to change our discourse, and those jokes we tell at braais.
What about those who have not always been free? Well, I guess they have grown accustomed to the rights of movement – without passes, of association with friends of their own choice, and of voting. But look around. Have they become used to driving better cars – yes, a handful… Have they become used to filling up a trolley with groceries? Observe who does that next time you are out buying your boerewors and lamb chops. Are you used to being treated fairly and respectfully? Do you think people of colour are? Just read the news…Did you see the one about the white guys assaulting a homeless man who was showering in Sea Point? They mockingly took selfies with him.
And talking about Cape Town, I wonder whether they will continue to uproot old inhabitants from Sea Point, Woodstock, Wynberg, Salt River and have them, to all intents and purposes, banished from their city? Look at the size of the “townships” and look at their populations, and then hang your head. For example, Masiphumelele covers 0.45 km ²/110 acres and houses about half of the population of the far south. The other half lives from Muizenberg down to Cape Point.
Well, they live there because they’re poor, and they’re poor because they are lazier and stupider than we are. Let’s be honest – that is the spoken or unspoken sub-text for white people. Now the interesting thing about poverty is that it makes you look lazy and stupid. I taught English in South Korea for ten years. It’s a flourishing country, the eleventh largest economy in the world. Yet, after the devastation of the Korean War, a State Department report warned that the South Koreans would always be dependent on the US because they were incapable of becoming truly independent!
Yet we often insist that we worked hard for what we have. And we often did. I did. But if hard work were the one requirement for success, black women would probably be the richest people in our country, and not the poorest. Think about how many of them get up at four and five o’clock to take public transport to their jobs, and return home late to start cooking, cleaning and caring there…
We have had generations of exposure to invisible education. You rode in a car with your grandparents, learning about driving just from observing and listening, usually effortlessly. The same goes for dinner talk; we absorbed facts about our world from geography to economics because our parents had a good education. And our visible education was disproportionately and shamelessly subsidised. On the other hand, many people of colour have suffered generations of deprivation of stimulation, not to mention poor nourishment and poor education.
And we did that. We passed laws, long before apartheid, but especially during apartheid, specifically discriminating against people of colour. These laws were brutally enforced, and dictated where they were allowed to live (usually far from the national and the city hubs), where they were allowed to look for work, which jobs would be blocked to them and reserved for whites, which (vastly inferior) schools they were allowed to attend. Yes, we did that, and more. Not you and I personally, but whites, and you and I personally benefitted from it.
So, what now? The first challenge we face is to make our privilege visible to ourselves. And by the way, whites all over the world need to do this, not just South Africans. It is a fact that the white club is international, but it will not last forever; these clubs never do. A big part of this is to realize that whites are not superior. The one race, the human race, produces outstanding individuals in any and every group, and if the whites seem to predominate it is because they have been advantaged for so long. Remember when people said that people of colour were incapable of playing rugby? Of playing golf or tennis? The academic achievements of people of colour against the odds are impressive indeed. Start observing them. We have so much to learn, and as we learn, we will find we modify our behaviour, our everyday responses, and start to work for a more just society.
But what’s in it for us? This is the best part – we have far more to gain than to lose. When access to decent living is granted to everyone, when resources are fairly distributed, we will live in an open, happier society where we need not fear one another. We have a long way to go, but it can be achieved, and South Africa can still become a rainbow nation for the world to be proud of.