When former "all white" schools opened to black children, my small town of Giyani was not exempt. There was already a private school for the upwardly mobile residents of the former capital city of the Gazankulu homeland, but that was too expensive for the black middle class, or in my mother’s case, single, middle-class parents.
Sure, we had a notable surname, but that was not enough. Fortunately for us, I graduated pre-school in 1995 and could go to Laerskool Kremetart in the former all white suburb of Kremetart in my hometown. There are now barely any white people in the town and we have serious water issues, but that is a story for another day.
I didn’t make the 1996 cut (long story) but made it into the school in 1997 for Grade 2. A big pre-requisite for black pupils was that we had to speak Afrikaans all the time. My Tsonga-speaking mother had me watch strictly Afrikaans programming on TV and bought me newspapers and magazines, the latter being the reason why I became a journalist and listened to Jacaranda FM, so that I could learn the language quicker.
In later years, in one of the classes on a Friday, we were given the last 30 minutes of class to play music on the old cassette player. That is how I got exposed to Afrikaans artists.
Through the TV I got to love Johan Stemmet from Noot vir Noot (I still want a kiss from him), Tolla van der Merwe (I cried when he died) and Steve Hofmeyr (Mnet "open time" was life). I’m also a Blue Bulls fan because of Steve. The height of my love for him was in high school when he was on 7de Laan where he played Brandt, who was in love with Paula at the time. In my teenage head, he was in love with me. The 17-year-old me wished he would call my name the same way he called Paula’s.
In 2014 I started working for the Afrikaans daily, Beeld, a newspaper I grew up reading. Around this time, Steve sent some tweets in which he said black people were the architects of apartheid.
He also made unfounded comments about black people and rape and said there was a white genocide in South Africa. At the rate we black people were killing "his tribe", we would soon fill a whole stadium, he said.
I couldn’t understand. Did he hate black people? I loved him, how could he hate us?
Factually speaking, what have we (black people) done to him? Crime affects us all, I have never stopped at a robot or walked down the street and felt that I had special privilege exempting me from being mugged, hijacked, sexually assaulted or worse, killed. Sure, a lot of black people, and especially the youth, harbour resentment over apartheid and white privilege, but not enough to want to do away with an entire population group.
Last year, while I still worked in Nelspruit, in the days leading up to Black Monday, a (white) colleague jokingly said there were rumours that black people were congregating to kill all white people on Black Monday. I replied, (as the only black person on my team) "don’t worry, I like you, so I won’t tell them where you live".
This led to a conversation that concluded in saying "we" are given way too much credit. We are angry, yes, but genocide? We took a few lessons from apartheid and, contrary to what you might believe and for all the years of drama, we actually like this peace thing.
I got to meet Steve a week after his comments and he was a consummate gentleman. He chatted, he joked, he offered everyone food and gave us copies of his CDs. I was shocked. Was this the same man? I couldn’t even be a fan in that moment. Why should I like him when he doesn’t like me?
It was painful, like a real break-up. I know the proper word when someone consistently does the predictable thing true to his character. We say: "He doesn’t disappoint." But Steve continues to disappoint.
His latest disappointment was when he wanted to start a debate on Twitter on whether it is wrong to call black people k***rs when white people were doing it for years before it presumably got negative connotations. You know, long before "we" had literature.
No, Steve, it is not alright. It is not alright to show up in someone’s house, take over and then call them names to demean and dehumanise them, then centuries later tell them to get over it. Or try to convince their descendants that your people did them a favour showing up, Helen, and when they finally take ownership of their narrative and identity, you cry foul and want to run to your cousins in Australia.
Our great-grandparents were stripped of their identities in more ways than one and we as their descendants are working our hardest to regain what was lost, including what you call us.
Steve Biko said, "the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." I am not a k****r, you will not call us that, it is not alright, it never was. You will not spring us into what we should allow ourselves to be called. You will call us by our names and pronounce them properly, or say nothing at all.
- Mavundza is a journalist at Business Insider SA.
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