Fallout from the ‘k word’

2008-02-28 00:00

As part of the fallout of Irvin Khoza using the dreaded “k word” (God knows why we are all being so coy about it, when the use of the word “kaffir” is precisely what the whole thing is all about), a certain Mxolisi Mgxashe, described in the article as an “author”, made a rather astonishing statement: “No African has ever … been discriminated against by any black person”.

Admittedly, there are some dots in this quote. And one can never be certain of what those dots are hiding, but let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the gist and intention of the quote is correct.

I have recently returned from a trip to Ghana. We went mostly to learn about the African Cup of Nations, but also to see how tourism could get leverage off big tournaments such as this. We found ourselves in the Pikworo Slave Camp in the northern regions of the country.

It was utterly authentic in that nothing has been built there. There is virtually no interpretation, bar a guide. It is a harsh landscape, a rocky outcrop in the middle of a fairly flat terrain. It was once flanked by a thicket, which would have made it impossible to get out of, on the one side, and boulders on the other, which could easily be guarded. In some of the boulders, there are odd oval hollows. These were made by the slaves and served as their plates. Even more horrific was what is called the punishment rock. This is a rock, shaped something like a low stool, to which disobedient slaves were chained. The evidence of those chains is there, in a neat hollow around the base of the rock, where, their feet in front and their hands behind them, the slaves would have been tied. Here they would roast in the unforgiving heat of the equatorial sun. Some of them would die and be thrown on to a nearby mass grave site.

In this sad place, there are two fairly large boulders next to each other. When hit with stones held in the hand at various points they make different sounds. Not quite drumming and not quite musical. They produce an eerie, almost ethereal sound. And the singing which accompanied the hammering sounds was thin and mournful. It left the throats of the rag-bag players and sounded down the centuries to when slaves would beat these rocks in the evening, and sing. And those who played would be given a little more food in order to sustain them for longer so that they should not tire too quickly.

One member of the party commented, with of a click of her tongue: “Ah, we blacks have had to suffer”. Being the only white in the party, I needed to consider my position. After all, was it not the colonialists who created the slave trade and for whom the slaves were intended? I suppose, if I dug back far enough, I’m sure I would find some reason for guilt and colour loathing. I’m sure that I would have, if only the person who had sighed so deeply about the universal lot of black people had not had a very profound dose of selective hearing. Because the guide had made it quite clear that the Pikworo Slave Camp was run in the 1800s by black people, one of whom had come from his village. Black people had benefited from the slave trade here. Black people had held the slaves in the camp. Black people had tortured and maimed and killed black people. Black people. Not white people. Not here, anyway.

Of course, somewhere over the seas, there was a market. But where is the white oppressor in Zimbabwe? Or am I missing something? Where is the white satan in Darfur? Or again, do I miss the point? Or Kenya? Chad? No, I am afraid, white people do not have a monopoly on inhuman behaviour. Anyone can do it, anywhere and at any time. It’s a pity, because the world would be simpler to explain if it was really like that. But it isn’t.

So, Mr Mgxashe, “No African has ever … been discriminated against by a black person”? My white arse.

• Michael Worsnip is director: 2010 World Cup Unit, Western Cape Province, Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport. He writes in his personal capacity.

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