Ferial Haffajee

I am African

2010-07-13 13:06

One of the unexpected boons of the World Cup has been how it has fried the chips on our shoulders.

We are a country of a scatalogical sense of nationhood, divided and scarred by our ongoing racial skirmishes in which our patriotism and right to belong is subject to near permanent contestation.

As Mark Gevisser wrote in the Guardian, the World Cup gave us an opportunity to call ourselves “we” and to walk across our divisions to find a common sense of being South African. This is not a fool’s paradise: we have a long, long road to travel to effective and substantive racial redress but the unity of joy and purpose has been wonderful.

Yes, I know that white squatter camps dot the urban landscape as do largely black ones, but on the whole, poverty still wears a black face. If you study the income levels, the wealthiest homes are still largely white though the black middle class has grown substantially. The greatest income gaps are now intra-racial, rather than inter-racial, but assets are still largely white-owned.

Assets are defined for my purposes as land, property, inter-generational wealth, trust funds, shares, annuities and the like.

These are simple and painful facts that we can’t squabble about and even the respondent called “fairboy”, among other racially blind people on this site cannot deny. One of the tasks of the next five years must be to work out more fair and equitable ways of redistributing wealth while growing GDP. The past decade has seen hundreds of billions of Rands transferred in BEE deals yet black ownership on the JSE and in non-listed companies is nowhere near the critical mass levels which would define a transformed economy.

In senior management levels, the picture is exactly the same where the annual employment equity reports as well as the Business Women’s Association census of women executives show that corporate South Africa remains a white boys club. As a country, we have yet to learn to leverage our diversity toward economic power rather than to treat it as the candy floss rainbow nation back-drop of little purpose or substance.

Part of the fun of the past month has been the ability to put these difficult facts and conversations aside and revel in a common purpose and sense of being.

We can use the Cup to find better ways of having this shared dialogue rather than, for example, the bigotry that characterises the race debate on most South African news websites. It is often as if we never agreed to shared outcomes and joint ownership of our beloved country in 1994.

Take, for example, several responses to my last column called I am an AA beneficiary.  Dismally old world, these declared me to be neither black nor an African nor of disadvantaged background as my Indian surname must surely mean that my family are all wealthy shop-owning Muslims. In the latest New Internationalist, Hadani Ditmar, the co-editor writes of a trip to Iraq and of sitting between a US soldier and an Iraqi man.

She assumed, before speaking to him, that the US soldier would be gung-ho for the occupation. In fact, he turned out to be a Muslim convert, married to a local Iraqi woman and firmly opposed to occupation.

My surname notwithstanding, I was classified coloured, grew up in Bosmont of clothing worker parents and am not from the mercantile class. Should I assume that the respondent Bulelwa who took such exception to my declaring myself black to be a wealthy but moderately bright black diamond with minimal productivity given the amount of time she spends online? I’d probably be wrong, which is the problem with racial profiling and other assumptions.

Stereotype upon stereotype litters the ether with no quest for truth nor fact nor knowledge of how dumb pigeon-holing is.  All this is plain baggage wrapped in prejudice. And the World Cup has liberated me of having to treat this nonsense seriously any longer.

I can be whatever I want to be and through this World Cup, I was South African, Ghanaian, Brazilian and Argentinian before returning to my South African roots. I was an early adopter of Steve Biko’s philosophy so believe I am black and since I live in Africa, was born here of stock now four generations old, I am African.

My World Cup legacy is multifaceted: I understand the off-side rule, am a firm fan of Kevin Prince Boateng who is Ghanaian but who grew up in Germany and chose to play for his motherland but mostly, it has given me an unapologetic sense of being both in my nation and my continent.

- Ferial Haffajee is editor of City Press.

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