Thursday, 3 July 2008

Racism is (sadly) alive and well in some of South Africa’s rural areas

It’s school holidays and my house is overrun with teenagers, many of them visiting our dorpie from the nearest ‘big’ town, a farming centre about 20 kilometres away, where they all attend high school.

A group of five of them – all Afrikaans-speaking except for my daughter – were sitting outside on the verandah today, chatting, while I eavesdropped in a lackadaisical way while catching up on my emails in the adjoining study.

It wasn’t until the k-word (South Africa’s equivalent to the US’s n-word) cropped up that I really started listening. Surely, I thought, I couldn’t have heard right?

But, a few moments later, there it was again, spoken with some heat by one of the young men. I sat with clenched teeth, wondering how to handle this unforgivable breach of manners, when my daughter said, in Afrikaans, ‘If you don’t mind, we don’t use that word around here.’

There was a moment of silence (stunned, I assume), then an outburst of laughter.

Under the pretext of going out to check on the Kreepy-Krawly (with which I have an ongoing combative relationship), I wandered across the verandah, then glanced back to see what was happening. My daughter, her face flushed, was sitting tight-lipped, as was her friend, the divinely decadent E. But the three young men from town were having a good ole laugh at what they clearly perceived to be a ridiculous thing at which to take offence.

I was proud of my daughter for standing up for what’s right (not an easy thing to do when you’re a selfconscious teenager, desperately seeking approval from your peer group and especially the boys in it) and absolutely horrified that such casual racism really does still exist in South Africa.

Talking to her after they’d left, I learnt from my daughter that this is a pervasive attitude among her Afrikaans peers. ‘But, you know, Mom, it’s not them,’ she said. ‘They’re clueless. It’s their parents. They learn this stuff at home.’

I find this deeply disturbing. The Afrikaans kids I’ve met through my own teenagers are, without exception, polite and pleasant people. They greet me when they arrive and say a civil goodbye when they leave; they clean up after themselves; they’re considerate when it comes to music volume. They’re also, from what I’ve seen, respectful and kind to each other.

It’s hard to reconcile the cheerful courtesy of this new generation of Afrikaners with such cruel and unthinking bigotry, but there it is. As I said to my daughter after this morning’s discomfort, ‘We can only hope that when they leave home and go out into the world, they’ll learn that racism is a form of extreme rudeness.’

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Jade Avinir said...


do you guys have a mail address?



Muriel said...

Hi Jade. Yes, it's hobray at (use the @ symbol instead of 'at')

Juno said...

Oh, how disappointing. I can count on one hand the times I have heard someone use the K word in company over the last ten years, and every time I have been aghast. What planet are these people (or their parents) living on?

meggie said...

This is an interesting post from here in OZ. As a Kiwi, I am appalled that the use of the A word here- 'Abbo'- which is still happily used by the older Aussies. I find it extremely offensive, & am so proud of my Granddaughter who has always had friends of all colours & races in her friendship group. We observe friendship with all in our family- after all we are the butt of many jokes here!
We know how it feels!

Johann said...

As an Afrikaans speaking person I am partcularly horrified at this type of racism still practised. On the other end of the scale, however, I have wonderful examples of the new South Africa in daily life. My sister lives in a small farming community in the Free State (read conservative), where they have been forced to live with the new school system and racially mixed classes. With surprising and wonderful results! (Admittedly after a slow and suspicious start). Little Afrikaners from staunch backgrounds now have other races as best friends, mothers bake and visit, fathers teach sports and serve on the same committees and in general the, previously divided community, is starting to interact.
My little nieces address any older people, irrespective of colour, as "Tannie" and "Oom" and seem to be increasingly "colour blind".
I have SO MUCH hope for the new generation! May the little ones teach the older people around them to respect and cherish everyone in their communities.

Muriel said...

Thanks for that good news, Johann, you made my day!

Rush said...

yes its sad but racism is still alive in all forms and from all angles,i doubt that we would ever truly find a solution to this as humans always have a way to devide


While I had to do a little South African to American translation I really was touched by this post. I only hope that my son would be as admirable as your daughter and have the courage to not just know right from wrong, but to express it. Racial slurs aside I try to instill in him the character to step in when people are being cruel in general.