At first I thought these words were directed at someone else until I felt a hand grab my shoulder. It was in Rondebosch, 2005. The sun had just set and I was walking to the shops. I was frisked and asked where I was going. Having lived there for five years already I didn’t bother to dignify that question with a response - just stared at the potbellied Afrikaner cop and his silent partner.
Without giving it any second thoughts I mumbled “f****** racists” – needless to say the cop lost his marbles until I eventually told him I lived there.
To cut a long story short, I will place this experience against the backdrop of Mam’ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s latest incident in which her cavalcade was pulled over for alleged speeding and some roughing up before she intervened with expletives and is now laying charging against the police.
Let’s get one thing straight. I do not endorse the actions of Madikizela-Mandela and agree that going over the speed limit is wrong. However, it would be unwise of us to not dig deeper into the dynamics of what was at play here.
Somehow, I sympathise with Madikizela-Mandela as within her I am sure she sensed - a common feeling amongst many blacks - an invisible type of racism that sought to make her unseen or unaccepted. Yes, an alleged crime was committed, but bear with me. To immediately dismiss her response to police as political arrogance or undermining the law would be naiveté on our part.
To give you an idea of where I’m going: Did Madikizela-Mandela’s car not bear any blue lights during its reckless weaving between cars to indicate its “precious cargo”? Furthermore the police were driving an unmarked BMW; how on earth is a member of parliament or anyone for that matter expected to stop for unmarked police vehicles, especially in Gauteng? And lastly would the encounter have panned out differently were she pulled over by black police officers?
I ask this because I often wonder how transformation within South Africa’s police force has turned out to be. You cannot tell me that the very same police, who tortured, looked down upon and called blacks K*****s at every turn, have now suddenly been lulled by a mere voter’s tick in 1994.
Where I’m going with this is that where white police officers are involved it is far easier to evoke racial paranoia from their black subjects – because such police are icons of racism. Nothing they do or say can ever be merited with sincerity in the eyes of blacks even when the blacks are indeed in the wrong. This is a sad realisation and known within white communities: “Nothing we ever do will ever be right in the eyes of blacks.”
How is it that a society such as South Africa has not looked into relationships between white policemen and black subjects? To make matters worse the authority that police uniforms afford white officers opens itself up to being misread as being stuck-in-the-past - via symbolism of past - hence Madikizela-Mandela’s bodyguard was allegedly able to jump out of the car yelling “Who the hell do you think you are to want to search this vehicle, we are not in the era of apartheid anymore.”
We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sands of racial enmity and wish away race because essentially it is a large determinant factor in our day-to-day encounters – subtle or blatant – it is still a lived reality for many blacks and not just a perception as many would have it.
Fact of the matter is that black people were and are wounded. However, today they are proverbial patients dealing with proverbial doctors who do not want to engage nor examine their wounds and merely tell them “The pain will go away, put a plaster” even though the wound is rotting inside.
Do you perhaps not think that every time a doctor tells you this, you will eventually develop a thick skin or perhaps come to resent that doctor and all doctors alike?
This is our reality and incidents such as Madikizela-Mandela’s are outbursts or symptoms of the boiling pot of race and if we continue to simmer in not-the-race-card-again dismissals the pot might spill over.
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