We in South Africa were taught to be nice to visitors, which, it turned out, was where the problem started.
So, there I was on a plane bound for Sydney, Australia, a number of years ago, on my way to cover that country’s popular tourism sights for the publication I was working for.
Because we’re a friendly and hospitable nation, and not wanting to let the country down after relentless adverts from the likes of South African Tourism and Brand South Africa, I began making small talk with a white middle-aged Australian couple seated next to me in economy class.
Before we’d even taken off from OR Tambo International Airport, the wife told me they’d been all over the Western Cape and the Garden Route, and spent some time in the Kruger National Park. The main mission of the trip was to meet her new daughter-in-law’s South African family.
“So, how was it?” I asked.
“Very beautiful,” she replied, “but there are so many blacks! I didn’t know there were going to so many blacks here. They are everywhere! It’s a real pity.”
The woman’s quote is burnt into my memory, enabling me to recount it here eight years later.
I was shocked at not only how unashamedly racist she was, but how stupid she had to have been to think there would be fewer black people in Africa.
I cannot remember my response quite as accurately, although I recall saying something about how effectively colonial Australians wiped out their indigenous people.
It was an awkward 12-hour flight.
After hearing such overt racism conveyed in a matter-of-fact tone by an Australian who quite obviously had never had these beliefs challenged, this week’s comments by Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton did not shock me in the least.
Dutton said on Wednesday that his department was looking to fast-track visas for white South African farmers who wanted to move there, saying they “deserve special attention” because of the “horrific circumstances” of land grabs and violence in the country.
He also said it was “because from what I have seen, they do need help from a civilised country like ours”.
I think there are a lot more Duttons where he comes from. Their views are fuelled no doubt by tales told by some of our white former countrymen who have moved there since South Africa began being ruled by Africans, in, you know, Africa.
Australia may have enough of its own home-grown racists without importing any more, but if they want ours too, they are welcome to them. In fact, Australians please, you can have them, but you have to keep them. We don’t want them back.