By Athambile Masola
As a product of a Eurocentric, former white educational institution, I was once very quick to embrace non-racialism (that race should no longer be used as a marker to understand our experiences). I’ve been living in Cape Town for over a year and have come face to face with the politics of being black in the new SA. As someone who teaches young people who have been labelled as the “born-free” generation I am sceptical of non-racialism. At some point there needs to be an acceptance that the rainbow nation does not exist. The nexus between race and class highlights the complexity of simply wanting to be “over race”. The income disparity drives a wedge between people rather than the wonderful and awe-inspiring image of a rainbow where all the colours come together leaving people with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
A few weeks ago I watched a documentary about Orania. While watching the documentary I considered how most of the people in the audience would probably be appalled by the idea. There were moments of mirth in the documentary with awkward laughter from the audience and I wondered “why are we laughing at this ludicrous idea?”. There are people in this country who are convinced that black and white people cannot and should not live alongside each other.
There are many Oranias in SA.
There are many people who have been raised, educated and socialised with people who think, look and sound exactly as they do. They experience diversity only through the warped version of popular media and stereotypes they are fed about other people who do not come from their communities. Most of the focus has been on the spaces that protect “white privilege”. Where many white South Africans grow up in a world of privilege, cocooned from other realities unless they are forced to confront the world around them. When we think of spaces that have protected white privilege we seldom think of what the alternative has been for black, coloured or Indian people who have not made it up the middle-class ladder of success.
So what now? We should begin by discouraging people who say “we need to get over race”. It seems the only people concerned about race are comedians, which has limitations of its own, but thanks Trevor Noah and Nik Rabinowitz for helping South Africans laugh at themselves.
Slavery happened many decades ago but Americans haven’t forgotten it. The Holocaust happened and we dare not forget that. Apartheid supposedly ended two decades ago but we lambaste anyone who wants to raise the “race issue”. Error! We should know better especially because we dare not forget the injustices that happened in other countries, but when it’s too close to home, we invoke amnesia or ignorance, especially for those born post-1994.
Biko’s words ring true for me: “Does this mean I am against integration? If by integration you understand a breakthrough into white society by blacks, an assimilation and acceptance of blacks into an already established set of norms and behaviour set up and maintained by whites, then YES I am against it. I am against the superior-inferior, white-black stratification that makes the white a perpetual teacher and the black a perpetual pupil (and a poor one at that) … I am against the fact that a settler minority should impose an entire system of values on an indigenous people.”
Integration needs to be revisited. Who are we integrating with and why? The public and political failure of integration brings into question what happens in people’s personal and private lives. What happens when we are not in public, without the judgment of any gaze? Do we seriously consider our own consciousness and what it means to have certain privileges or no privileges at all? I’m not one to re-imagine a consciousness as Mamphela Ramphele would have us vote for. It seems it might be another form of glazing over the complexities in South Africa. Like Koketso Moeti I am of the opinion that the rainbow nation illusion must come to an end if we are to see this country for what it is. Harsh, complex and uncomfortable.
Athambile Masola is a high school teacher in Cape Town.