A Footnote on Race

In South Africa if you walk out of the house in the morning not knowing what race you are, you are guaranteed to have a bad day. 100 percent of social situations in this country are almost categorically informed by skin color. Some of those situations are light. For example fifteen years after democracy even a learned person like myself still finds it strange to sit next to a white or even an Indian person in a taxi. Then there are more extreme cases such as the ever increasing presence right wing groups like the Boeremag and the AWB. (more on that later).

Collectively as a nation we are guilty of reading too much into things. Recently I was listening to a colleague’s interpretations of an advert on TV (The Vodacom daddy cool ad). He stated that he was not at all comfortable with the tagline “life is cooler connected to the Vodacom family”. Why? Well because he says the advert has an Indian man in it and what the tagline really means is that “life is KULA connected to the Vodacom family”. For those unaware the term “kula” is a racist slur usually directed towards Indian people. My friend was black. Yes I said it, think about it subconsciously you were already wondering what race he was. See what I mean.  I was amused by his statements for several reasons. Chief of which were my own considerations that this could actually be true. If it were true surely it would be bad form for me to pontificate on the racial implications of an advert by “South Africa’s biggest cellular network”.

It would be a shame if we were to see scenes like this again

 Most people in this country are puzzled as to why in a post-Apartheid society race is such a key factor to the way we live. The answer is simple and absurd; the issue of race has shifted from being a political frontline to being an economic one. In the bid to level the playing field we are doing more damage than anything else.  That’s why people leaving the country to plant their skills in Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Canada and the likes are not as ridiculous as they might seem. Politicians say that they are “adjusting the injustice of the past”. Well Apartheid was present for a long time so how long do other sectors of our society have to wait before the playing field can be regarded as level? And how do you measure it? Statistically we are the most divided society in the world in terms of the income bracket. And that divide has increased exponentially since the implementation of policies like BEE, OR BBBEE or whatever you call it. Trust me the numbers don’t lie. I for one think it won’t be long before that dived really starts showing its ugly head in ways that are of more consequence than spam videos and outraged blog posts.

We are seeing a more clear and active right. Now I will not blame the rise of white right wing extremists on black economic empowerment, but for people who lack common sense it’s always a good place to start. Between April 26th and 27th 1994 the political landscape shifted in ways that we are still battling to understand. As democracy drags on however we seem to have moved away from the vibrant and dynamic debate under which that shift came. When the issue of race is discussed we personalize issues instead of attacking their core. That is why I am increasingly disgusted by the Manuel-Manyi race row. I was also surprised by people who were labeling Kuli Roberts a racist. To hell with the fact that she has a white husband and colored kids. Citing that her comments were irresponsible as a public figure. Maybe here comments were worrying but I am more worried about a society that thinks its ok to leave racial debate to public figures and not take ownership of it. We are seemingly stuck in a recurring state of only being called upon to give our opinion when it is time to take sides.

When it comes to race in South Africa there are three things that we have to understand and accept. Firstly we do not know each other. Misinformation is the key factor when it comes to race relations in this country. We do not know enough about each other. Admittedly I went to a primarily Indian and colored school yet even today if you were to ask me I know very little about both cultures.  Unfortunately this pattern of misinformation lends itself to decisions that should be made from an informed stand point. That is why I don’t find it funny and I am actually shocked when I hear a person say “I will not vote for the DA because they are whites”.  Granted there are several reasons why one should not Vote for the DA, or the ANC or for any other party for that matter but race should not be one of them.

She has colored children, A white husband and she is black.

Secondly the issue of race has moved beyond skin color. We are not immune from tribalism. Over the past three years there has been a growing sphere of more tribal conscious public intellectuals. But this is not merely limited to them,  During the 2009 election a significant number of people came out openly and said that they moved from the IFP to vote for Jacob Zuma because he was Zulu. This is worrying because if they identity as one thing and not the other, who knows what power they may yield. History has taught us that our think tanks and social circles alike should not be identified by tribal groups. Rwanda is firm testimony to that assertion.

Thirdly and perhaps most crucially we cannot at the most basic level afford to sweep the matter under the carpet. To hell with post 2010 patriotism. If there are skeletons in the cardboard let is bring them out. Let us talk to each other and not at each other about race. Hiding behind patriotism whilst the pot boils underneath us is not an option. On a lighter note I would like to end by saying perhaps a rainbow nation is not the perfect metaphor for the South Africa that we are trying to build. After all a rainbow is one thing with each color separate in its place. Reminds you of apartheid doesn’t it? Oops there I go reading too much into things again.

5 Responses to “A Footnote on Race”
  1. Sanelisiwe Malinga says:

    Very good piece Sihle. It is sad to say but it’s true that I’m also victim of not voting for the DA because they are white. Some people I know have even changed the meaning of DA to “DARKIES ALLIANCE” so as to not feel bad about voting for the DA.Concerning the race issues, I say we should do something about it as we are still unsure of ourselves as a country. I’m not saying we should do something drastic like Egypt overthrowing their president, but we should do something to combat race in SA as it’s still a very raw issue.

  2. Zandile Mahlobo says:

    Omg!!! The article is very well written… I have to be honest and say that we are still living under the shadow of aparthied but as a society we don’t bother to look into that shadow….I’m almost 21 and i still await for the day that one has no fear if a black man is walking behind them at night.

  3. Charity says:

    When democracy came our country was set on proving the world wrong that a civil war would occur on the issue of race. So we were quick in naming ourselves a rainbow nation and as years went by we quickly adopted the slogan of UBUNTU as a way to describe ourselves. The sad reality is we have not even srcatched the surface in dealing with white on black racism or tribalism and whenever an opportunity raises up to debate it, we quickly become outraged fearing it would put salt on old wounds when the wound has never healed. Good piece Sihle.

  4. SihleMlambo says:

    Well written, but as for the I will not vote for the DA because they are white, yes I am guilty of that too, but more so to that, the DA is hell bent on making the ANC look bad all the time, I found them very convincing in their manifesto’s and what not, but I still find a huge cloud over their heads, maybe I’m being fickle and not tackling the real issue, but everytime there are service delivery protests in the Western Cape, it is always in black areas like Langa or Gugulethu or whatever, leave aside that those are ANC territories, but what is the DA as the chief of that province doing about it?

    About the race issue, it has been said time and time again that we are experiencing a different form of Apartheid, economy and power is the ruler now, the poor get poorer, while the rich get richer, sad truth, but what can be done? Eyi these guys are living the life while people cry for bread and butter, it’s not fair, but who said life is fair?

    And this notion of that black people are lazy and all they do is complain, partly true, but what would you do if you were promised a happy meal at 8AM, come 2PM you are still waiting… it’s unfairon the people, good piece man

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