Dark Roots



We do not have a choice; our heritage is imposed upon us by the location of our parents at the time of our birth.
The world is divided into areas of ownership; ownership which has been gained, for the most part, by violence.

The South Africa where I was born was, for a large proportion of its population a bloody autocracy of Stalinist proportions, but for those of us fortunate enough to be born ‘race-pure’ descendants of the old colonies things appeared to be good.
Those of us born in the once-British colony of Natal were brought up under the delusion that we were better than the Afrikaner who tolerated the inclusion of English as a second language in their schools, bearing in mind that the Boer War was still resident in living memory. So while, to the whites, the indigenous people of South Africa were not really people, to the Afrikaner, English speakers were an unwanted by-product of the union of seized land and ex-colonial states that formed the Republic.

To make matters worse, the Nationalist government (who never lost an election until 1994) where tethered at the belt to the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church, abbreviated NGK), a hypocritical institution trapped in 17th century Calvinist morality.(See Appendix III)
As a kid, the concept of racism was foreign, I was subject to the negative reinforcement of the divisions between English and Afrikaans from my parents but they remained vague in refernce to the blacks who remained almost invisible – gardeners, maids and manual labourers; slaves.
Not that my parents could afford a full-time slave.

The brutal truth for a black man was that the only way to become visible was to step across the fragile blue line of authority; an act that would brand him a troublemaker and incur the wrath of the witbaas.

Because the rules about race were not taught overtly (but rather by example), and because my parents were anti-Afrikaans (which was often mistaken for liberalism), my sisters and I grew up a little confused as to who was who in the race hierarchy.
One brave afternoon, armed with a new word collected from my school friends, I took it upon myself to practice my junior racism on the postman by calling him a kaffir.
The postman smiled at me as he approached, "You bloody kaffir" I said and ran. Putting aside the deeply offensive nature of this word and its usage, I had compounded my insult by the fact that the postman was not Black but, in fact, an Indian. Repercussions were far more severe than would have been the case if the man were in fact black, since the Indian man felt well within his rights to complain to my mother, something a black man would probably have felt he was not permitted to do.

A complicated and painful lesson, but one which stayed with me through my years as a junior and later senior, but always amateur, racist. I never seemed to be able to conjure up the conviction required to truely express my national identity with the correct level of hatred.

My dislike for the Afrikaner, however, was a lot easier to express. I was once approached by a young guy as, against advice, I took a shortcut through the area of railway houses populated by Afrikaners. He greeted me politely before punching me in the gut.

Another painful lesson.
The Apartheid Race Hierarchy

Afrikaner:
Descendant from the Dutch settlers of the Cape who, after becoming disillusioned with the colony, broke away to form the boer states (Transvaal & Orange Free State), leaving in their wake a legacy of blood. Stereotypically narrow-minded, insular and brutal.

English:
(Or non-Afrikaans) For the most part descendants of the British Empire with all the bullshit Victorian baggage included, not least, the class system and moral superiority inbred.

Indian:
brought in from the Tamil region of India between 1860 and 1911 as indentured labourers to work in the cane fields of Natal. In 1899, Ghandi, who was then resident in Natal, helped raise 1100 Indian men to help the British defend Natal against the Boers. Irony doesn’t begin to cover some of the historic facts.

Coloured:
Mixed race descendants of the colonists, a source of guilt among the white and derision among the black population. Sexual congress between the races was illegal under Apartheid

Black:
The indigenous tribes deemed unworthy of full citizenship to the lands they once counted as home; Xhosa; Zulu, Swana, Sothu; the low cost workforce that provided the wealth that ran the country and feathered the nests of many in Europe and America.

Apartheid
A system of racial segregation, both physical and mental which legitimised the minority white rule and brutally oppressed the black population of South Africa. Commonly misconcieved as starting in the 1950's and ending in 1990 but which, in fact, began when the first settlers arrived in the 17th century.
Appendix I  - Apartheid legislation
Appendix II - Apartheid Timeline

Boer
Farmer; the word used with pride by the Afrikaner to describe himself and also used with hatred by black South Africans to describe both the Afrikaner and the South African Police

Kaffir
said to be Arabic for ‘non believer’ This does not, however, explain the true power of the word. Probably best described as the South African hate-word equivalent of nigger. Widely used in everyday language amongst whites and often used directly on blacks as a weapon.

Witbaas
White boss

1 comment:

ArtistsinProgress said...

This is a quick hard lesson here. Its a shame from what I gather SA's problems are far from ironed out and a lot of change is on the horizon (as always?). It often seems to me it is the powers that be prolonging problems if not creating them from virtually nowhere..