Afrikaans was once known as the “language of the oppressor”, and it wasn’t just a label. The 1976 June 16 uprisings were a direct result of the then government legislating that Afrikaans was going to be used as a medium of instruction in schools.
Things have changed a lot since then but we’ve recently seen Afrikaans interest groups going to court to defend the use of the language as a medium of instruction in many institutions of higher learning. How is this affecting our nation-building project? My take:
To many people the Olympics that are currently going on in Rio are just another jamboree designed to only benefit multinationals through advertising. But in truth, to millions of the poor throughout the world, witnessing one of their own take on and beat the world gives them unmatched hope.
South Africans go to the polls on the 3rd of August for what has been termed “the most closely contested elections” since 1994. Here’s why I feel everyone must vote, disgruntled or not.
South Africa is going through interesting times. An irate artist has produced some artwork that depicts the president in compromising positions. Question is: Is this justified. Read my take at http://www.citizen.co.za/1205293/the-emperor-is-very-naked/
Why do our Presidents have a tendency to disappear when the poor rise up? http://www.citizen.co.za/1176389/fiddling-while-tshwane-burns/
- Hi All,
Here’s my latest column on how we can build a common identity im South Africa.
My latest column:
Hello everyone, it’s been a while, haha. Glad to let you know that the writing hasn’t stopped, just changed to a new platform. I will continue to post here as and when I get the time.
My latest column in a local online title, The Citizen, can be accessed through the following link: http://www.citizen.co.za/1144183/the-poor-are-back-in-fashion/
Let me know what you think.
I know, I know, you are feeling all tired and quite worn-out to will yourself to read another piece of writing meant to make you feel guilty for being who you are, for being white. I mean, you didn’t choose to be white, you were simply born that way, and worse still, born on this Southern tip of Africa, where you get reminded everyday that you are white and your ancestors messed up, pretty bad. Just bear with me though, my aim is not to put salt on your already festering wound of whiteness, it’s merely to relay a few sentiments that you might have missed in the recent shouting and screaming match that this country has just been through.
First things first, why write yet another piece when so much has been written on this subject of whiteness in recent weeks?(‘Whiteness’ is used here as reference to the system of white privilege as bestowed upon white people). Sorry to disappoint you, this was no ‘lightbulb’ moment on my part, it’s simply out of the pity that I felt for an ‘ordinary’ white South African who wrote:
“A question – with respect – Most white people are just living their lives, working and paying taxes, paying a home loan, and trying to live as law abiding citizens. Are they less deserving of their homes (land) simply because they are white? A friend works in a corporate company where blacks have to be paid more than whites for the same work. Surely in that company the “playing field” is more than level. I guess my real question is (because maybe I’m a little ignorant) What do black people want me to do? I cannot change the privilege I supposedly have. I am unemployed. My husband works, and we mind our own business. We don’t even vote (and have therefore been blamed for the ANC still being in power). And yet, we are part of the hated minority.”
German philosopher, Karl Jaspers put it aptly when he said “our greatest guilt is that we are alive” in reference to the general feeling of guilt that ordinary Germans felt in relation to the Holocaust. With millions of Jews having lost their lives, it only made sense that the German people take some responsibility for what Hitler had done. To paraphrase him in relation to the ‘ordinary’ South African white person, your biggest guilt “is that you were born white in South Africa”.
To attempt to escape your position within whiteness is to try and deny what has happened, to try and forget, and again, Karl Jaspers issued this warning:
“That which has happened is a warning. To forget it is guilt. It must be continually remembered. It was possible for this to happen, and it remains possible for it to happen again at any minute. Only in knowledge can it be prevented.”
Oh, I nearly forgot. Most white folks are “just busy minding their own business”. They’re not like Penny Sparrow or Steve, spewing racist bile on social media. They are just good white folk trying to get by. Well, I’ve got news for you. Penny Sparrow called black people monkeys not for the sake of it, but because she is assured of her place within whiteness. Steve knows that no matter how much hateful bile he spews “whiteness has got my back”.
The same whiteness that you were born into, the same whiteness that guaranteed that you have a “business to mind”, that whiteness, is what protects the bigots. When you seek to absolve yourself of the responsibility that goes with the privileges that it bestows upon you, you are no better than Penny Sparrow, you make light of the material conditions of the majority of your fellow countrymen whose dire living conditions are a result of a system that legalized white privilege.
Sure, some white people came out and condemned Penny Sparrow, and some declare their hate for the likes of Steve but the truth of the matter is the silent majority of “ordinary” white South Africans still regard Steve as a superstar, he remains a top-selling artist, if not the best in their circles. A huge number of Penny Sparrows sit comfortably in their jobs and come out to share their racist views within the safety net of whiteness, fully knowing, “my people” have my back. Guess what, “my people” are the ordinary white South Africans who allow these bigots to flourish. “My people” keep quiet and mind their own business when the bigots call their compatriots monkeys. Worse still, “my people” react angrily when their black compatriots react angrily and generalize that “all whites are racist”. That angry reaction is very telling if you ask me.
So many “ordinary” white South Africans push themselves to a point of “minding their own business” because look at what happened to Gareth Cliff for not minding his own business. This is exactly why yours is huge responsibility, to ditch the arrogance that whiteness has bestowed upon you and come to a realization that although the problem manifests itself in a million different ways, the primary problem eating away at our supposed social cohesion is nothing other than whiteness. Like an addict, an alcoholic, until the patrons of white privilege come to a moment of clarity, that moment when the addict admits to himself and the world that he has a problem, arrogance will continue to prevail and more “innocent, ordinary” white South Africans will fall by their own sword.
That arrogance manifests in whiteness wanting to retain its superiority complex which seeks to tell black people that “the playing field is level”, “more black people earn above what white people earn”, “there are unemployed white people”, “apartheid ended 22 years ago, get over it”. Listen, the reason some people claim to prefer the outspoken Penny Sparrows of this world is because there is nothing as condescending as whiteness that refuses to acknowledge its arrogance but rather stands on top of a hill and trumpets how ” I am unlike the others”, claiming that it is more enlightened. Yet it cannot believe that a black person can determine how whiteness affects him and how he will choose to react to it.
Steve Biko wrote on the role of ‘liberals’ more than 30 years ago. Not that as an “ordinary” white South African I would expect you to be familiar with the writings of Steve Biko, that would be asking too much of a person “minding their own business”. But since I’ve invited you to read this far let me paraphrase Biko for you: the “ordinary” white South African must fight for himself. He must realize that the bigotry of a Penny Sparrow and Steve oppresses him too. (“The liberal must fight on his own and for himself too…Steve Biko in White Racism and Black Consciousness”)
The question that seems to be a burning one for many “ordinary” white South Africans is “What do black people want me to do?” , because when I open my mouth I’m wrong and when I keep quiet I’m accused of complicity in racism. Biko gave you the answer years ago, “fight for yourself, fight for your own freedom”. Renounce your whiteness. Your white privilege. Truly doing this will mean you will not give the bigots the space to flourish in your midst. You will be the first to scream when a Sparrow or a Steve spew their racist bile at that Sunday lunch where you are all on your own.
When you are truly free, you will not have to be scared that your drunken Facebook post or Tweet could make you trend on the social networks. That man, Karl Jaspers says: “…to forget is guilt”. When you are truly free my dear compatriot, my dear ‘ordinary’ white South African, you will not want us to forget the past in a hurry nor will you feel guilty about it, you will be driven to truly work towards a society in which past injustices are corrected. When you are truly free, you will realize, on your own, that you do not “supposedly have a privilege”. You will simply own up to that privilege. You realize that there is nothing such as an ‘ordinary’ white South African. ‘Ordinary’ carries no privilege
About two months ago my little boy who started school in January this year looked at the wall clock in his room with a serious look on his face. He frowned a little bit. And for a second I thought my little boy is about to tell time for the very first time in his life. It’s a wall clock decorated with the animated characters Woody and Buzz from one of his favourite movies, Toy Story. As I continued dressing him without wanting to give away that I’m rooting for him to give this thing a try, he opened his mouth, carefully mouthing the first word, and it took him a while before any sound came out. “We come to play” he said.
I looked at the wall clock, right next to Woody and Buzz were the words “We came to play”. It didn’t matter that he got the tense of the middle word wrong, I was ecstatic. I wanted to shout, to scream: “My boy can read!” It didn’t matter that he’s still got no concept of time, that will come later, to me, by reading those few words he was confirming that he is getting ready to join that privileged class of people on our continent and indeed the world who can read.
I have recently been involved in social media discussions with a few friends who are consumers of the written word. I have learnt that some of South Africa’s best authors struggle to sell their books. Whatever the reason for that, I’m really concerned that our low literacy levels have indeed translated into an artificially reduced love for books. More worrying for me though is that even amongst the classes of people who are literate, our love for books, especially books by black South African authors is really low.
In my mind, our love for books should be unmatched. Yes we cannot all love books but the majority of us should. The way I see it, a people with our history should not have an option of not loving the written word. I’m almost tempted to say our love for books should be mandatory, not an optional hobby. We owe it to ourselves to discover that which we were denied for decades, or even centuries.
I have to admit, my own love for reading was purely coincidental. I grew up in a large family and unlike other people who love literature I was not born into a world rich in books. I struggle to this day to recall what Cinderella and other children’s classics are all about. I didn’t have access to those. Any of the classics that I read were books that an older cousin had for his English Literature classes. Danny the Champion of The World, The Big Friendly Giant and Oliver Twist come to mind.
But the first assault on my literary senses came in the form of a Tsonga language book, Xisomisana. I read that book at about age eleven, and even though it was a book prescribed for a class 4 or 5 years ahead of me, I learnt that a book can move you from this world we inhabit into a totally new world where you are at the mercy of the author. I was quite a sensitive child and I remember crying copious amounts of tears at Xisomisana’s fate, an orphaned girl who had so much trouble in her life because she seemed to have no one in the world.
By the time I went to boarding school to start my high school and coming into contact with a library for the first time I knew that this world, this physical world wasn’t our only option. There existed a world which could be accessed through reading books. I plunged myself into series’ like the Hardy Boys and read them sequentially that I felt that I knew their world, a world so far away from mine. By my middle year in high school I had discovered James Hardly Chase and Sidney Sheldon. Material I would not recommend for an impressionable fourteen-year-old mind but books nonetheless.
Imagine my joy when I learnt of the trials and tribulations of Mariam Makeba, Don Mattera and other South African artists at the hands of the apartheid government, their years in exile, forced removals and all that was going on then. I learnt of culturally iconic places like Sophiatown throw books. I learnt of Nelson Mandela and his speech in the dock through banned books. I escaped my depression, which hadn’t been diagnosed at the time, through burying myself in a good paperback.
I remember the sadness which would come over me on school holidays at the realisation that I was running out of paperbacks faster than I was running out of holiday time. I had no qualms about being labelled a ‘bookworm’ at some stage in high school. Books that I could lay my hands on were my life.
I regret that I had no adult to guide me towards reading material that could develop me as I grew up because young and impressionable as I was, I realise now that with more guidance I could have discovered more authors who could talk to my age at the different points in my life. I could maybe have developed a more positive approach to poetry and other disciplines.
Of paramount importance though is that books gave me the idea that world is so much more than our physical surroundings. That’s why I find it so difficult to understand that there are people who can read, and should read but don’t.
I honestly believe that the saddest thing that can happen to any individual is to be denied the opportunity to learn how to read. If there was a magic wand that I could use to transform the world I’m afraid I would use it to make everyone literate. Imagine me being asked that not so bright question that is asked of most beauty pageants winners (they still do don’t they): “What are you going to do to change the world during your reign?”, “TEACH THE WHOLE WORLD TO READ!!” would be my answer all the time. That’s why that education activist, the teenager Malaala Yousufzai is my hero. she discovered at a very tender age that books can save the world.
I have at various points in my life gone through dry patches of depression when it has become so difficult to do anything. The first sign that things were improving has always been the return of my need to read. To get buried into a good paperback and forget the world.
I hope I’ll have the presence of mind to feed my kids’ minds the right books at various points in their development and that they will develop a very healthy love for reading. I beamed with pride recently when my boy brought home a little certificate that he has completed 50 kiddies books for his age group, the little certificate states, “Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader”. I can’t argue with that.
I think my obsession with the written word might be clouding my judgement when it comes to a lot of what I observe about our society, mostly African society. Recently there was a discovery of an 18th century Shipwreck off the coast of Cape Town that was confirmed as a slave carrier from Mozambique headed towards Portugal, filled with hundreds of Africans destined for a life of slavery in Portugal.
The media commentary that I heard or read on the discovery labelled it as “fascinating, intriguing, a breakthrough”. None of those voices were African. They were voices of an observer of Africa. It pained me that none of our people have put themselves in a position to cry out and shout “That’s not fascinating, it’s a painful monument to the lives of all those Africans who were shipped off as slaves to continents where to this they are still fighting for full citizenship”.
I cannot see a people who have a deep love for reading letting that happen to their memory. It has been my untested observation that all the indigenous peoples of the world whose cultural heritages are disappearing have been deprived of books.
I digress. The point I’m making here is if enough of us had an appetite for books this discovery would be another chapter in those books, books that we would write with respect about our own past. Our love for books should not be optional. Our history, our continent and our future demands that we develop an insatiable appetite for books.