SA is still neurotic about race

2010-12-11 08:21

After nearly two decades in South Africa, I am still wondering why its ­population is as fixated as ever on racial identity.

I can be classified as the same product of African ­migrant workers who crossed the many borders of southern Africa into South Africa in search of a ­better life.

My parents saw an ­opportunity for us to grow and get a better education in South Africa as opposed to my country of birth, Malawi.

Upon my arrival in the new, democratic South Africa under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, everything was brand new and our survival technique was to fit into society and disguise ourselves so that we were not seen as different.

But we were different. We spoke, thought and dressed differently, so we had no choice but to adopt the habits of black South Africans in order to be seen as normal.

Within a year, I had picked up the pace of South African lifestyle as my siblings and I could panel beat Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho.

I ­associated a lot with other ­foreigners and non-black South Africans as we could relate better through language.

Life became a double-edged sword. We couldn’t hang out with black South Africans, as I was too white for them because I spoke English, and I couldn’t hang out with white people as I couldn’t ­relate to their lifestyles.

This gave me an identity ­complex and affected my self-esteem as I felt that I was never good enough to belong.

Fast forward 17 years and I am now married to a South African woman with two children.

I am ­noticing the same trend of low self-esteem in my eight-year-old son with his inability to express himself freely as a black South ­African.He says: “Dad, you know the ­other kids at school laugh at me ­because of my funny name.”

I had noticed as well that he prefers to hang out with the multiracial ­children at the school as they are able to understand him better than the black children.

With his mother being Tswana, we encourage him to speak more of it at home to understand his roots through language and ­culture.

He asks me: “How come you can speak to people and you say you are not Zulu?”I reply to him the trick is to blend in by camouflaging your way into society so that nobody sees the ­difference between you and them.

By making this statement I ­realised that I am saying to him that he shouldn’t be himself.

Many black South Africans are still so obsessed with race and identity that they will not easily­ ­accommodate any other lifestyle and language other than their own.

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