Can all my white friends please read this

2015-01-27 12:17

Fatigued by the shrill, predictable noise that has been ricocheting off the congested social media space this month, a Facebook post from my son’s Afrikaans teacher still caught my jaded eye.

“Can all my white friends please read this,” she appealed, linking to a post from a blogger, Sifiso Mazibuko, in which he offered some New Year’s resolutions for white South Africans. Unlike the disturbing rants from both sides of the seemingly widening racial divide, Mazibuko’s tone was gentle and conciliatory.

Committed to a united country, it was a heartfelt wish for South Africans to not retreat but to reach out to each other.

He said there was a tendency for whites to believe that after 1994, we “were all automatically made equal” so we should put the past behind us. But it was easier for those who had not been the victims of discrimination to move on. It was his view that blacks had “come to the party”, that forgiveness and reconciliation had largely been one-sided.

The Springboks were adopted, Die Stem was melded into the national anthem, the National Party was included in the government and perpetrators of violent atrocities were given amnesty under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Twenty years into democracy, Mazibuko’s 2015 resolutions are simple.

Whites could:

» Learn an indigenous language to connect with the “culture and the heart of the person”;

» Support a PSL football team;

» Stop telling black people to “just get over it”; and

» Be empathetic, making an effort to acknowledge the pain of the past.

“Then we can figure out a way forward together,” he said, ending with: “Ons vir jou Suid Afrika”.

Unlike so many posts that drive a wedge instead of building bridges, Mazibuko’s thoughtful piece, which tried to make sense of the growing frustration among black South Africans, did not trigger a finger-pointing exercise. What it did was get people to think about how much we have done to genuinely learn about cultures other than our own, and how much transformation had taken place within our own lives.

I discussed it with my family at the dinner table. Even though I was among the ’80s generation inspired by the struggle for a nonracial South Africa, I now risked becoming complacent. I was retreating into my comfort zone, not making an effort to cross barriers. I had always been outspoken about racist comments from white suburbia, but I now caught myself slipping towards passive protest: ignoring it but lamely moving away.

As a typical lazy English-speaking South African, I had only made a feeble attempt to learn more than a few phrases of isiXhosa. I could get away with it. Everybody else was taking the trouble to master my home language.

But now, were my children at risk of also growing up where the conversation would stop shortly after introductory greetings?

These thoughts had bubbled up after my daughter Ella, who was about to start high school, had told me she was going to switch her second additional language choice from isiXhosa to French.

“IsiXhosa is so hard,” she said, after I asked why.

I had given in to her, not wanting to force my will on her.

But in the car on her first day of school last week, I had a 15-minute window. I reminded her of our dinner table conversation, where we resolved together to make more effort. IsiXhosa would enrich her life. Ella was silent. Just before we reached the school, she said, “Okay mom, I will stick with isiXhosa.” And off she went.

If forcing one’s own agenda is bad parenting and Ella resents me later, I won’t resort to the South African blame game. I won’t point a finger at Mazibuko. But if Ella thanks me later, I will extend my gratitude to him.

» This article first appeared in Beeld and Die Burger

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