New SA's generation battles

2008-02-19 00:00

I recently watched a really interesting programme on TV called Born Free, about South African children of all races born after 1994 and their experiences in the new South Africa. It got me thinking. What do people born in the eighties call themselves and what kind of life do they enjoy now?

I’ve got friends of all races who you can tell have not experienced much interaction with other race groups. The biggest weakness I find in my buddies whom I would call “born almost free” is that they are sometimes unnecessarily antagonistic towards either people who are of another race group or people of the same group who associate with people of the other races.

You see, the “born almost free” were the first to freely socialise across colour lines and for some it was a shock to the system. For example, no white people in my experience suffered more abuse from us black people than the ones who tried to make friends with us. I owe Dustin an apology when I see him. Blacks suffered for crossing colour lines too. In both situations the common denominator was that the abuse came from blacks.

An experience I went through was being labelled a coconut by a “born-far-from-free” boss who was, ironically, a former freedom fighter. In fact “the Englishman” was this educated individual’s favourite thing to call me, usually if I pronounced a word the way a first-language English speaker would. Needless to say that situation didn’t work out but the point is the fact that achieving what you feel you’re expected to achieve can bear punitive fruit.

Going to the best schools coupled with the challenges in being some of the first to racially integrate has alienated some of my friends from the very communities they could be contributing to. It is not because of my friends’ dislike for their people or even their not relating to them. It boils down to the original society’s hostility towards you for having been cooked into adulthood with different ingredients. Some of us refuse to meet each other halfway and appreciate each other’s wounds. We all suffered.

It is mentally strenuous getting to school, work and play environments where initially the “born far from free” (of all races) are hostile and then once you’ve proved your worth, accepting — unless they’re your own colour. Why is everyone proud except our own people? These critics (black) then become more hostile and your sticking to the job description and performing optimally can be tantamount to sabotaging your ambitions. Why not call me aside and tell me to be mediocre to avoid being seen as a race traitor? If I refuse to compromise my standards it is not insubordination, but pride in my being able to represent the potential of a free black mind. I’m angry but not bitter because I see the big picture. To these people I caution, however, that sending your “born free” children to good schools might just produce a similar product. Would you want them treated the same?

There is a burning desire to be predictable and discuss affirmative action and the grossly low expectations it has facilitated, but I will sound like I’m criticising something I’d support fully were it not for its flawed implementation. I’ve had plenty of black people kick my black behind simply because it is smaller than theirs, but of course, there are more black people in South Africa.

I was never taught anywhere that it is all right to be victimised by a victim, so I simply do not take abuse from anyone, even if they’re born far from free. My mother taught me to pray for them and I’m sure that is different.

My pen and I are trying to overcome being defensive because the “born almost free” sometimes fear I will offend the “born far from free” by actually living as though I’m free. Rights and responsibilities must be considered even if controversial. I am always telling people: “I’m talking in general about stuff everyone needs to think about.”

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