Thirteen years have passed since those youthful days of dashed love.
Meanwhile South Africa came of age. At 25, this youthful democracy on which I had placed so many of my hopes and dreams still hasn’t learned to look beyond skin color.
Some of the born frees (born after 1994) have so much going for them. They never knew apartheid and they grew up believing that their dreams could come true. They have managed to study, are making their footprint in industry, medicine, economics and they are slowly moving up in the world. These are the South Africans I have fallen in love with. They represent everything that is wonderful about living in a multi-racial country. They are open-minded, they are hopeful, they are full of the energy of the potential that life offers them.
But they still represent a tiny minority. The majority remain impoverished, poorly educated, unemployed and unemployable….and angry. They believe the lies the politicians tell them: they haven’t advanced because white people still keep them down. While it’s true that the wealthy elite are mostly still white and big business needs transformation, what the politicians forget to tell them is that government corruption has syphoned money allocated to better schools and economic opportunities into the pockets of the very politicians who promised them a better life for all.
And so, my white skin remains a liability. I had hoped that as I grew older and South Africa grew wiser, that I would learn to become more comfortable in my skin.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Some days I want to rip off this skin and cut out the tongue that speaks in the polished tones of English private school education.
When I walk into a room full of strangers, I often feel that some of the black people in the room judge me by my appearance and my accent. White. Nearing middle age. Conservative. Highly educated. Rich. Racist. Because I can’t possess only some of those qualities. If I am one, I must be them all. And therefore I must be despised.
In some white circles, especially in small, rural dorpies (towns), the same judgement earns me a privileged place at the table with disgruntled boers (white farmers) who hope to find a sympathetic ear as they talk about how things were better in the good old days, before the blacks took over.
In situations like those, I feel ashamed to be white. It’s clear that my generation of South Africans didn’t deal well with the transition from apartheid to chaotic democracy. Rabid white racism still exists and whenever a white person rants about the number of black people on a beach, or calls a black police officer offensive and derogatory names, it makes national headlines. In many cases, legal action is, rightly, taken against the perpetrators.
And every time it happens, I feel the eyes of judgement on me. Accusing me.
I want to scream back: “I’m nothing like those people. Why do you judge me, without knowing me?”
Thato, one of my black friend once told me: “You feel bad if people think you’re racist? Now you know how we felt, how my parents felt, how my grandparents felt. Your people looked at us and assumed we were ignorant, thought we were little more than apes, thought we were good for nothing but to be their servants. No matter what we told them, your people didn’t believe us. It’s your turn now.”
I don’t want to justify myself. I just want to live without needing to. But as time goes by, that hard armor of pretending not to care begins to wear away.
In my student days, I had a place where I could escape – a close-knit group of four as multi-colored as the South African flag. We represented the heady hopes of the late 1990s and the dream of the rainbow nation. Today, we’re scattered all over the country, but try to see each other from time to time. Whenever we get together, it’s a homecoming. Each can be themselves, without judgement. It’s a safe space where we can speak openly about anything.
In this sacred space, we give voice to our deepest thoughts, our silent reservations, our frustrations at the state of our country, our fears for our children’s future. Some of what we say would be strongly judged in our respective communities. We disagree, we discuss, we argue, we say things we’d never dare to say in any other space.
After a few bottles of wine, the differences of opinion and politics are forgiven and forgotten as we fall into a state of nostalgia.
“Do you remember teaching Alicia to drive in Sebokeng?” Nandipha asks. We collapsed into giggles, trying to imagine what it must have looked like to an outsider. A white girl in the passenger seat of a beat up old car, with a colored girl behind the wheel trying to drive through the streets of Sebokeng, a dusty, impoverished black township on the edges of Johannesburg, all while trying to dodge stray dogs and toddlers playing in the street. In the back seat, Nan was clinging to the back of the passenger seat, looking positively terrified!
We were spending the weekend at Nan’s place, and my car became an opportunity to teach my friends to drive. Nan and Alicia took turns practicing how to steer the car through the crowded streets. Other than a few shaking fists, nobody paid us much attention. I wonder if today, someone would call the police on us and accuse of being racist and trying to kill black people!
I also have not been inside a township for many years. I just don’t feel safe. Instead, I feel eyes of judgement and hatred. Is my gut feeling correct? Or is there a hint of racism in my sense of insecurity?
Or perhaps it’s the fact that at the heart of it all, I don’t feel at home in my home country. Where once I felt that I was a beloved child of this rough and beautiful land, now I feel that I am not welcome here anymore.
But where else can I go? Where do I belong?
(to be continued…)
In the Middle – An International Transposition (Fiction)
Introduction to In the Middle – An International Transposition, edited by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey
January: Forgetting – Turkey, by Seyit Ali Dastan
February: The Unreal in Real – Armenia, by Armine Asryan
March: Catching Water – Argentina, by Javier Gómez
April: Unwanted – South Africa, by Sarah Leah Pimentel
May: House with a Stucco Ship – Ukraine, by Gennady Bondarenko
June: A Girl Pedaling up the Road of Life – Cuba, by Marilin Guerrero Casas
July: The Last Day – Poland, by Pawel Awdejuk
August: Through my Hands – Venezuela, by Veronica Cordido
September: Amelia’s Euphemism – Spain, by Jonay Quintero Hernández
October: Until Love Do Us Part – Uruguay, by Alejandra Baccino
November: A Journey to the Edge – Lebanon, by Rayan Harake
December: I Used to Smoke – Russia, by Kate Korneeva
Background – Context
Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)
L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)
From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)
More work by Toni Wallis
Living for Today – Toni Wallis (transposing emblem)
Walls and Resettlement – Toni Wallis (transposing emblem)
Emblems and stories on the international community
Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world
Cover photo: South Africa – Pearly Beach – Sincerely Media (Unsplash)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed