Jesus can handle it, I can't

2012-06-12 10:59

You know you are in South Africa when the most noise made over the Jesus is Shangaan cartoon is that it’s blasphemous. Personally, I think Jesus can take it, he had real problems in his life and being called Shangaan is not a problem.

The problem my dear South Africans who don’t find any relevance in this cartoon beyond religion, is that this cartoon, reinforces a horrible and harmful stereotype that I thought South Africa was well on its way in putting it behind us: That to be Shangaan is to be less than human.

When the Shangaan Jesus asked, “How will people take me seriously? I remembered an incident years ago when I went to see a lady to plait my hair. Since her business was an informal one I went to her house. I sat there while she did my hair and her daughter, who seemed no older than 5-years-old, played about on the floor.

At some point her child said something to her in Shangaan. She slapped her tiny hand. “Khuluma isiZulu,” (“Speak Zulu”) she told her sternly. The girl did not cry, but promptly switched to isiZulu.

And I bet if she lived in a Sotho area (remnants of the Group Areas Act) she would have been instructed to speak Sotho.

As I sat shocked but silent, I realised that while it was cruel of her to hit the child, the action was that of a mother who knew the persecution that awaited her child if she did not teach her, quickly, to dismiss her own language and take up another, more “acceptable” tongue. Her actions showed that, in her experience, people are likely not to take you seriously if you speak Shangaan.

Random slap

Another time I was in a taxi when as we came to a stop at a set of robots, the driver started speaking to a young vendor on the side of the road.

I never heard what they were talking about, or what the driver bought, but as the robot turned green, the taxi driver slapped the young man hard and full on the face and said, this time loud enough for me to hear, “Le Shangane leli” (“You Shangaan”). Then he laughed. A few other people in the taxi laughed too. He didn’t say much, but the few words and the laughter said it all. “How can I take you seriously?”

But it doesn’t just end with the random slap, I’m sure worse has happened to people just because they were Shangaan. Didn’t people die because they were Shangaan, believed by murderous mobs to be in the same league as foreign Africans who according to the killers are also undeserving of the same rights that they are guaranteed?

Yes we live in a country that has a Constitution that promotes free speech and we’re told to lighten up, have a sense of humour. But surely having a laugh at the expense of a group of people who have through recent history been victimised for existing is surely not part of the South Africa we want to live in?

It does not matter that I am not Shangaan, or that there are Shangaan people who find no offence in this cartoon. I do not want to live or raise children in a society that says it’s OK to discriminate, as long as it’s funny.

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