That is what we have been experiencing from the dawn of our South African democracy. I need not tell you about the many racial tensions we have had as a country that calls itself a rainbow nation go against everything we desire achieve harmony. I yet have to witness a rainbow in the sky where the different colours are fighting. We are not representative of a rainbow. We might have to get another phrase to describe ourselves – no disrespect to Archbishop Desmond Tutu who coined the term. I guess he coined it with a lot of optimism.
Our country is getting more and more racially polarised and that is disturbing, thanks to our politicians. The solution lies with ordinary South Africans, together we can create the harmony we desire. We need to take the time to know each other, understand each other, and communicate with each other. And we need to stop making assumptions about each other because those assumptions stick and we make them the truth, we make them a matter of fact.
Blacks are stupid. Whites are intelligent. Blacks are poor. Whites are rich. Blacks are uneducated. Whites are educated. Blacks are lazy. Whites are hardworking. I have tested all these assumptions and they are general statements that have no truth in them.
President Nelson Mandela was deliberate about reconciliation but after his death, no one took up the baton. Of course one can never just put a plaster on a wound that has pus and hope that it will heal. One has to cut the wound open, squeeze the puss out, clean it, and then it will be well on its way to healing. We have just put a plaster on the wound full of pus and we wonder why this wound is not healing.
Let me digress a bit. After some lecture I got, I was asked to take my black T-shirt and my white T-shirt next to each other and then decide which human being looks like any of the T-shirts. So, I stopped calling people black or white. African and European is what I will address. A European born in Africa is an African European. An African born in Europe is a European African. So, I call people using their continent of origin.
Once the wound is cleaned up, it is easy for it to heal. Smiling at each other and deceiving each other when we win the Rugby World Cup telling each other how sport can bring people together, is temporary. Once the euphoria dissipates, we go back to our own comfortable spaces where we call each other names and label each other.
We do not discuss issues of race with each other because we claim they are sensitive. We think being different is a disadvantage, a liability, instead of it being an advantage, an asset. Imagine watching a green rainbow and not the one with seven colours.
I was taught to greet. It is African to greet. It is a way of acknowledging the presence of another human being as human-like you even if you have never met that person. I get offended by people who find me in a room and they don’t greet me and then want to ask me something. Someone greeted me and said “Namaste”. It is an Indian/Hindu greeting but the spiritual meaning of this greeting says “the divine in me respectfully recognises the divine in you”. How beautiful. Just from the greeting, how will it be possible to ill-treat the person I greet with “Namaste”.
I asked my European friends why they don’t greet me. They told me that they would get a “warm klap” when they were young after greeting somebody they don’t know. They must only greet people they know. This explanation sorted out an experience I had when I greeted an oldish European man in a shop because he was next to me.
He came closer and carefully examined my face and walked away. So, it could be that he wanted to check if he knows me. The assumption is that he did not greet me back because he does not know me. Problem solved. I now understand why Europeans don’t greet.
Let us allow each other to differ because we are human. Differing from someone should not be reduced to race. I should not feel that a European differs from me as an African because I am “black”. A European should not feel that he was mugged because he is “white”. What is the colour of love? What is the colour of pain? When I suddenly lose a loved one, do I cry first as an African or as a human being? Will a European first cry as a European or as a human being?
Let us begin to be open about our racial differences and how we can channel these differences for the betterment of our country and not for the polarisation of our country. Of course, Cape Town seceding is no solution at all.