Race: How far have we come?

2014-11-02 15:00

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Do blacks hate whites? Do whites hate blacks? This was explored by writer Nat Nakasa in 1958 in an investigation for Drum magazine. Now, 56 years later and two decades into democracy, race is still an issue in SA.

A recent study on racial integration released by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory confirmed we are still divided along racial lines.At least 73% of Africans agreed that blacks and whites will never trust each other.

This is 4% higher than in 2011. Equally, 44% of whites agreed that blacks and whites will never trust each other, an increase of 3% from 2011.

Below are Nakasa’s edited findings:

NOVEMBER 1958

What do black men hate whites for? The overall answer is white insistence on the retention of all power; and their arrogant, untampered, ill-tempered way of exercising that power. This ranges from high acts of government supporters speaking about blacks in Parliament, from high-handed official behaviour and encounters with the police, down to the secure insolence of petty officials and the casual day-to-day heartlessness of many white people.

The reason next in importance is the white organisation of life so as to rob blacks of opportunities to better themselves. In a land of promise, the black man thinks he could go very much further than he is allowed.

Africans abhor illogicality, detest injustice and are quick to spot it. They hate Christians who say, “Love thy neighbour as thyself” and echo, “The black man should not even by thy neighbour.”

If sport is international and a builder of goodwill, they wonder why a white South African boxing champion should not meet a black South African boxing champion and “settle the issue”.

They reckon the best way of saving Western civilisation in these times, when the whites seem so anxious about saving it, is to invest in civilisation in Africa: decidedly not to try keep Africans away from civilisation.

But oddly, and happily, the basic human instinct to love all mankind and to prevent injury and discomfort continually breaks through.

In May this year, Johannesburg’s ambulance chief had to call on the whites: “Please leave our African ambulance men alone. Interference may cost a life.” The statement was a sequel to an incident in which an African ambulance man had been prevented from responding to his instinct to help, irrespective of race.

A white person badly injured in a road accident was lying in the street. Another white slapped the first-aid man when he tried to give help. None of the whites present had any knowledge of first aid and told the African to shut up when he offered advice from the background. So the victim died.

Perhaps a little race tolerance might had led to his life being saved.

In September this year, a black Joburg nanny, Grace Ramapelane, rushed through a burning room to another room where her employer’s son, 13-year-old Schalk Bergh, was sleeping. She woke him up and dragged him out to safety while the house was burning. Later she said: “I am a mother of two children. I would do anything to save the life of any child.”

Our mine labourers are near legendary for their gallant rescues of their bosses and foremen in dangerous situations, all past rebukes forgotten.

And everybody has heard of the tremendous goodwill that springs from “soulless” Johannesburg when our seasonal train disasters take place. Blood donors from the white community rush to help the African victims.

Perhaps it is a little rough to talk of the blacks “hating” the whites. Perhaps it is only deep resentment at certain policies fostered by most whites; certain needless cruelties, insults and follies.

But this resentment, continually bottled down, has led to a situation in which bad feeling on both sides is terribly and dangerously near the surface. To think in terms of which side would win if ever there should be an outbreak is sheer folly. Both sides must lose disastrously.

Are there, then, no grounds for optimism?

There have, it is said, been some signs of a change in the attitudes of the more thinking section of the white population. It is the thoughtful section of any mass which in the long run influences the whole. But how long is the run and how much time is left for running?

The tragedy can be, as Msimangu says in Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country: “I have one great fear in my heart, that one day they are turned to loving.

“They will find we are turned to hating.”

Our Drum investigation shows that the moment of turning might be desperately close.

DECEMBER 1958

In contrast to the blacks we interviewed last month, few whites were willing to say outright what they felt. They preferred to take refuge in generalisations about what other people felt or did not feel.

Subsidiary questions often had to be asked. They ranged from the delicate, “Would you dine with a black man?” to the rough “Do you know that black men hate being called k*****s?” to larger, more significant ones such as “What is the main dilemma in South Africa’s race relations?”

The answers to these subsidiary questions were again constantly evasive. To one question, many people replied: “I’d rather say nothing about that.” Others, with their hands twitching, replied: “The neighbours object to black people coming to our area.”

Senior men in political and religious offices insisted on getting their colleagues to answer the question in their stead. Responsible, obviously intelligent men would not have their views in print at all. They seemed to be constantly haunted by fear – fear of “my neighbours”, the “volk” – and of criticism by the political and other organisations to which they belonged.

It took a platteland university student several minutes to make up his mind whether or not it was right to allow his black friends into his home. “Well,” he said, “I don’t know. It’s hard to say. My parents may not be ready for that. And then the neighbours would complain.”

Other people displayed surprising ignorance of the normal reactions of black people to the attitudes most whites have towards them.

One minister of the Dutch Reformed Church assured us whites attach no insult or derogatory meaning to the words ‘k****r’ and ‘coolie’, and that most blacks realise that and, therefore, take no offence. He said: “Used by an individual, such words are quite innocent. Perhaps when groups of whites, especially during clashes, use them, they may be intended to insult.”

A little more consciousness of what goes on outside his white community would have been enough to disillusion this disciple of Christ.

What has Drum found out in this investigation? What does Drum conclude? Without doubt, the overall answer is not white hatred of blacks. Perhaps not even resentment or dislike. It is plain fear. The very word ‘fear’ appeared more than 30 times in the statements given by 10 of the people interviewed.

They spoke of the insecurity felt by whites and their efforts to carve a protected destiny for their offspring. The few black men interviewed supported this view, even agreed that these fears are understandable.

Fear accounts, to a large extent, for the haughtiness of most whites towards black people. In the same way, it accounts for their attempts to discipline blacks, “keep them in their own place” and remain a “master race”.

Though most people, according to the investigation, know little or nothing of what goes on in the segregated areas where blacks live, there are many who are concerned about black-white relations in the country. Those who are have a feeling of guilt because they live in comfort, indeed luxury, while more than three-quarters of the race-divided South African nation is in want.

They risk the disfavour of their friends or neighbours and brave the spate of difficulties coming from apartheid legislation to express active sympathy with blacks.

There are also those people, much fewer in number, who tell themselves daily they are just men and women, members of a larger group, the human race. They have no special attitudes to any particular racial group.

They have friends on both sides of the colour line. To talk of them hating blacks as such would be nonsense.

They are, in fact, worried about the attitudes of the whites, which they consider disastrous to the future of the country as a whole. But they are still only a small minority. Can it be hoped the majority of whites will revise their attitude towards blacks for the better? Soon enough? Maybe yes. But perhaps not soon enough.

Or is that all wishful thinking? If it is, one might well wonder for how long the black millions will be able to support the contempt, hostility and arrogance of many whites in a world in which change is at the same time so rapid and so certain.

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