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”.
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.
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.
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.