Racism is hard dog to kill but skeletons still haunt parents

2010-04-17 10:29

TWO weeks ago I was in

the company of security guards at a studio in ­Johannesburg. One of the guards,

seeing some occupants in a car parked just a few feet away from the studio

gates, asked the others in ­Zulu: “Are those people in there or whites?”

The ease with which the guard asked this question is indicative of

what we experience in South Africa daily: difference is viewed either as

inferior or sub-human.

While black mothers all over the country were shepherding their

children to formerly white schools post-1994, mine took me from a ­Hillbrow

crèche to a diverse ­township school in our new ­neighbourhood.

Our cosmopolitan cocktail ­included a principal from England, a

librarian from Texas, black ­teachers from the township, ­Afrikaans teachers

from the “dorpie” and a Mr Magoo-like ­English teacher from Ireland.

As the school grew a curious thing happened.

A handful of white and Indian kids came to it – not to visit, but

to study.

When I got to varsity the ­segregation was painstakingly clear. I

lived on the Auckland Park campus of the University of ­Johannesburg (UJ),

previously the Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit.

One of the things that shocked me was that whenever we had a

­communal meeting in my ­residence, the freshman group would be split along

racial lines. So much so that there’d be an area covertly reserved for the white

girls and ­another for the black girls. ­Interestingly, the white girls were

also split according to whether they spoke English or Afrikaans.

The apartheid legacy that ­segregated South Africans

­geographically and economically also divided us mentally and ­has followed my

generation like a lost dog.

I went to varsity an idealist with preconceptions of what South

Africa could be, only to be greeted with the reality of what South ­Africa

really is – broken.

So why have I been able to make stable friends with people of other

backgrounds and colours, even though the social environment made it so hard to

do so? I believe that what unites us is deeper than what divides us.

When you decide to shrug off your suspicion, give someone the

benefit of the doubt and learn from them, chances are you’ll undeniably see a

piece of yourself in them.

As an Afrikaans friend Mari-Louise Nawrattel’s tannie once said to

her ­before she went to varsity: “Go in and make up your own mind about


In this vein, I opened my mind to learn about other people and see

things from their perspectives, ­however different from mine.

The experiences of certain people, like my parents and community,

will always shape my own experience – but they don’t have to ­determine


Moaisi is a City Press reporter


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