The great race debate: Part 1

2015-01-25 06:00

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Nelson Mandela’s former private assistant Zelda la Grange sparked a massive Twitter war that quickly moved into the real world last Saturday when she suggested that white people didn’t feel welcome in South Africa.

After a week of condemnation, support, discussion and debate, City Press asked a number of ordinary South Africans whether they agreed with La Grange. Here’s what they had to say.

Public sector attorney Andrew Gasnolar (29)

Andrew Gasnolar

1. What race are you?

The simple answer would be “coloured”.

2. Given the hue of your skin, do you feel you belong in South Africa?

I know no other place. My family and their family before called South Africa home. How we got here might be different, my own family through Cape Malay, European and Syrian origins (courtesy of colonialism). But my hue does not make me think I am more or less South African than fellow South Africans. This is my home, and it always will be.

3. On race chasms

The legacy of apartheid is what I regard as unfair privilege. After all, that entire system was to favour one group of South Africans to the disadvantage of everyone else.

Race is an emotional issue, a topic that gets sharp and often brutal responses, but it is something that each of us have to deal with.

I can’t recall the number of times I have been in a Woolworths or similar store and have been spoken to as if the default “station” for people of “colour” is for them to work in places like that and to serve “them” (or is it “us”?)

Racism is a reality that many South Africans encounter daily.

We need to grapple honestly with the difficulties of our past and how race continues to play such a big role in our lives. Segregation, spatial planning and apartheid contributed to the “us” and “them” lines in our society.

We need to have a lot more dialogue around who we are and who others are to begin to embrace this wonderful melting pot that is South Africa.

4. On last week’s online meltdown

The meltdown that Zelda la Grange had is indicative of a broader problem that many South Africans have a sense of “us” and “them”, they somehow want to be made comfortable, reassured that they are welcome in their own home, which is ridiculous.

La Grange missed the point completely and didn’t contribute to taking us forward.

President Jacob Zuma’s take on the issue (and it would seem all other problems) is to blame apartheid and negate any of his own responsibility to lead, which is also another problem.

We must not pretend that apartheid never happened, that a certain group did not benefit. We have no time for pretending – we need to have tough and difficult conversations, not this water-downed nonsense or the distractions.

Journalist Rebecca Davis (32)

Rebecca Davis

1. What race are you?

I don’t see race, except on people who don’t look like me.

2. Given the hue of your skin, do you feel you belong in South Africa?

White South Africans seem to have felt that they “belonged” quite nicely when they were oppressing the hell out of the majority of the country. Now that we’re finally striving for a more equal society, it seems like a convenient cop-out to suddenly decide we’re not meant to be part of it.

3. Should black people embrace white folk more?

Look, I think it would be dreamy if, on a daily interpersonal level, we could all just be decent, recognise each other’s humanity and occasionally give each other the benefit of the doubt. To be honest though, if I’d had to eat shit from white people for centuries, I’d be side-eyeing most of them all day long.

4. How welcome are white-skinned people originally from Europe?

Welcome enough to have less than 7% unemployment and quite a lot of swimming pools.

5. On last week’s online meltdown

Zelda was talking kak, but I felt sorry for her because I think most of us are only one ill-advised tweet away from a summons to the Human Rights Commission.

Actor and drag queen Odidi Mfenyana (36)

Odidi Mfenyana

1. What race are you?


2. Given the hue of your skin, do you feel you belong in South Africa?

Yes, I belong here. Africa is my home. Mzansi is a great place to live.

3. Should white folk embrace black people and black culture more?

Black people of the African diaspora are like a battered spouse, emotionally and physically abused over generations. The complete lack of empathy and sympathy for us is galling.

Not only must we try to cope with the scars of this abuse, we are expected to soothe our abusers’ burden of guilt and shame. How can that in any way be considered just?

I reckon non-black-skinned people should embrace Africa more and in particular, the culture and languages around them. We have gone above and beyond to embrace non-black-skinned people – it’s time for authentic reciprocation.

4. How welcome are white-skinned people originally from Europe?

Very welcome, their migration to South Africa for whatever reason is always perceived as a positive sign and welcomed warmly.

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