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Jason Ferret
 
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Cutting a whip for one's tormentor

09 June 2014, 07:26

My ID number has changed. And there are no sheets on the beds in parliament.

For a Visa application my mother found my original birth certificate from behind some old clothes at the very top shelf of her wall cupboard; on the card presented to me, the last two digits of ID number were different from what they are now.

How could that be? The back of the birth certificate was fortunately helpful in explaining that to me, it said the last digits: “indicates the person’s citizenship and population group”. It then went on provide the list of codes and which each race indicates:

White 00

Black 07

Indian 05

Coloured 01

These were the digits that changed in my ID number. Well, it is clear then that the government at the time must have changed all our ID numbers to non-race based digits near the end of apartheid.

The apartheid government could have used the ID information to assist them in managing race-based policies. If the current government do not have access to similar information, how do they manage their race-based policies?

That begs the question: Did the government of old really need those numbers on people’s ID documents if the current government get along so well without it? Perhaps the current government have caught onto something that the previous government never has: Instead of finding the numbers at the back of our ID numbers, they find it in our heads. Yes, that is it. When asked for it we blurt out:

“Black!” “White!” “Indian!” “Coloured!”

The current separate treatment of races by the state depends completely on the idea we have of ourselves. We order ourselves automatically into queues. In one queue go the entitled ones, in the other those who fight over what is left.

Are you following these orders? That is OK. Humans do that. Most of the responsibility lies with the person who came up with the order anyway. One is like the guard at the concentration camp, loading more prisoners into the camp that he knows starves and diseases its inmates. Just following orders. And you as business owner: Do you exclude the best people qualified people from filling vacancies because of their race? You are not a bad person for doing that. You are just following orders.

But as we follow orders I sense dissatisfaction with the orders... So if the trailing two numbers have been taken off our ID numbers, to make us more equal. Could we hide them in our heads as well? When we are prodded for them, can we not all just blurt out: “Black!”

And then we are all finally treated the same?

No, not yet. First the government will become suspicious of all the large numbers of black employees being reported by companies and an auditor from a government office will come in and investigate. When he calls the suspicious employees to the fore he will immediately see who do not match their numbers, because not only do we still remember our own two digits that fell off the back of our ID numbers, we remember everybody else’s as well. But now it will be the government auditor who will need to call the numbers out:

“Black!” “White!” “Indian!” “Coloured!”

And the sound of his voice will hark back to the rural citizen registration office of old, with a fan whirring in the corner and a sweating official seated at a single slatted, wooden desk. His tools out in front of him: a pencil and a brown paper bag. Across the red, plastic tiled floor South Africans shuffle towards him to receive their first ID document. The official lifts the bag next to their faces and checks whether the pencil will fall through their hair.

“Black!” “White!” “Indian!” “Coloured!”

So let new employees at any company’s work induction day be led off to a modernized facility, a room with measuring tape and all types of instruments; where a team of spectacled professionals in white coats measure their skulls and thread their hair. As well as putting their skin a specified distance from a standardised light globe and measure the pigmentation with a photometer; like the umpires at a cricket match measure the amount light left in the day.

And yes, this will fascinate the rest of the world: Roll in the foreign news cameras that will film the procedure. Interview the employees and ask them how they feel. And it will be a remarkable occurrence if South Africa does not again emerge as the skunk of the world.  Will the government continue along this line? Will they persist? They might. And they will find out what the bald, spectacled men of the National Party found out as well: That despite the most carefully thought out justifications; discrimination just, looks: dirty.

And it is then, when the member in parliament roll out of his sheet-less bed in the morning, and stand up in front of the mirror; like the pig in George Orwell’s Animal Farm he will know: that even though a farmer has been chased away long ago, there is now another farmer on the farm.

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