Brother, love thy black brother

2009-09-12 12:25

I TAKE a taxi every morning from The Reeds in Centurion to the Tshwane CBD to catch a connecting bus to work. One morning something bizarre happened. Just after I got on the taxi an elderly white Afrikaans-speaking gentleman also got in. Our ­driver took us all by surprise by politely saying to him: “Goeie môre ­meneer, waa’n toe gaan meneer?” (Good morning Sir. Where are you going Sir?)

With uncharacteristic patience our driver directed him to a seat and after he was comfortably tucked in he pulled off. I and the other regular passengers couldn’t believe what we had just witnessed. Not only were we stunned by the taxi driver’s competence in Afrikaans but also by his sheer courtesy.

About 30 minutes into our journey an elderly black woman who usually rides with us started shouting frantically: “He e driver, o fitile stopo saka!” (No, no driver. You’ve just passed my stop). Realising that the driver couldn’t hear the shouting woman, another sitting next to him tried to alert him. He violently pulled the taxi off the road and as the elderly passenger was climbing out he subjected her to a verbal tirade that made me regret that I had ears. Not surprisingly, none of us bothered to reply. With all sorts of emotions ­fermenting inside us we recoiled ­deeper into our seats.

I spent most of the day reflecting on what had transpired and came to two ­realisations. Firstly, even though most us were visibly disgusted by the driver’s boorishness none of us did anything to help the abused woman.

Secondly, as contemptuous as it may have been, our driver’s behaviour wasn’t really a product of the taxi industry but rather a reflection of a broader mentality that pervades the black community.

For instance, when a black person ­enters any supermarket or clothing store he or she instinctively knows they are likely to get shoddy treatment from black people working in those stores.

In the public service we all know black public servants are more likely to treat each other or their black clients with ­contempt. In fact, even respected blacks in senior positions in politics, business and academia show the same contempt towards their black colleagues or those they are supposed to serve.

So even though we are the biggest economy in Africa and are about to host the World Cup, blackness continues to be synonymous with crime, corruption, ­laziness, poor service delivery, academic mediocrity, disease and poverty.

This negative image of black people persists not only because we lack group consciousness and solidarity but also ­because we lack a leadership that will boldly take up issues that face them.

Therefore the attitude of our taxi driver was no different from the attitude most of us display towards one another.

While the affect of colonialism and ­racism on the psyche of black people can never be underestimated we must also accept that we are perpetuating this in the way we continue to treat each other.

Until we confront this phenomenon we won’t change the attitudes of our ­brothers in the taxi ­industry.

  •  Mbele is president of the Azanian Youth ­Organisation

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