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HOW WE LIVED. 10. Rebirth of a non-racist?  [9min read]  

Round-the-Cape-Peninsula Drive

There are so many ways to do this.  Any weather will do.

2] Highway 1 drive towards the Mother City.

This is a near perfect day with old Dutch sea  Captain van Hunks trying to out-smoke the Devil  on his Peak.  Table cloth rises from the nearly covered Peak to spread out from there.

Rebirth of a non-racist?

Why a rebirth?  It’s obvious; we are all born as cleanskins.

Racism?  Maybe it’s tribalism?  White on white, black on black, brown on brown, other shades on other shades, black on white?  Whatever?

Maybe there were other moments as well, but the PJ incident [blog 9] sticks in my mind as to how anti-White I was.  Had my five years at university made it worse?  It should have made it better, but the medical student was exposed to a South Africa he did not know.   So many medical conditions preyed on poverty and ignorance and the country’s majority Black populations were full of it.  Tuberculosis was rampant even before the days of HIV; Black children died of malnutrition, measles, gastro-enteriitis, pneumonias, parasitoses……; weekends on emergency duty introduced me to the real blood and guts of poverty-inspired rampant crime and violence that was out of control for most of my formative and adult years in South Africa.

How many young doctors carried a knife for protection?  I did.  How many carried guns.  I did not, but I knew of some who did.  We trained to save lives, not be in situations where we would have to take one.

Did the PJ experience make me racist? I did not see myself as superior to him.  So what was it that he had done wrong?  Nothing.  But he was a White Afrikaner.  It was a poison in my system. Years of distorted conditioning had created that state of mind.  Their propaganda had failed; I was an end-product that they did not want.

How could I change?  Did I change before the system did?

Photo of parliamentary dialogue in the Apartheid Museum, Gauteng.      —>

This was the reality of  the ruling class mentality.  This was the world in which I lived.

So enter Zonjia, presently my wonderful wife of nearly fifty years.  Were we to continue down the pathway of bitterness and hatred?  We hated racism when it was directed at us on a scale unprecedented in the world.  How could I then regard Whites as badly as I did? How did this relate to a University graduate who had children aged six months and two  years?  Did one continue and set up generational hatred of people rather than the system?

<—  How could we explain this political gobble-dee-gook  to our children?

Walk tall.  Look people in the eye and regard all as equal became the only option for our children.  How did one live normally in such a segregated environment?  As tough as it was, we agreed to raise children who would be free of the poison we had from birth.  It did not mean that we became colour blind.  In any environment, Black is beautiful, so is White.

We went wherever we could regardless of restrictive signs.  When our fair-skinned daughter was allowed to use the public toilets, but our son was told to use the toilet around the back on our thousand kilometre road trips to and from the mission hospital in Kwazulu, we had to resort to carrying a potty [ “pee pot” in yesteryear’s language.]

Explanations were not easy, but they learnt the word apartheid early on to explain what nonsense it all was.  This extended to their ban on ice-skating – “Blacks only“ on a Wednesday evening at Goodwood stadium when all their pals went along.  That was one of those apartheid no-no’s that they had to learn was wrong.

I suppose we had the luxury of a car so spared them the daily exposure to segregated buses and trains which was our lot during our formative years.  So many parents of our generation started running the regular personal school taxi services for our kids and also dropping them off for after-school activities – a global development which deprives youngsters of cycling to school or sharing a bus seat with the opposite sex!  Add segregated train and bus seating and welcome to the old South Africa!

Maybe they lived a life cocooned from much of apartheid as pre-teens children.  They were certainly spared the dinner table vitriol about “ those bloody Whites”.  We also left three years before the tumultuous years of the mid-1980’s when the student-led revolution of 1976 again stirred things up with the parents more involved, to contribute to a state of ungovernability in the country.  Our children would have been in the thick of school closures and police violence and other horrors of the mid-1980’s.

The angry young man in me calmed down with parenthood.  It was easy to relate to people of no colour which occurred when I left to work in a Zululand mission hospital and returned to specialise in the Whites-only Groote Schuur Hospital.  It was a first, but more of that later.

I needed to look at myself. Did I like the mirror image?  Decidedly not.  Parenthood  required responsibility and it still does; with that came about the needed transformation of the mind which required other areas of tinkering both large and small.

Respect is paramount. All are human, whether white or brown or black in colour. Like us, our kids were non-theists, but they offered up Christian prayers with their maternal grandparents  at meal times.  Our son preferred to say bishmillah so that he could tuck into  his food quicker!  That part was also in deference to my family links.

We stalked the Cape Town pavements, shops and restaurants as if apartheid did not exist.  I do recall us being denied service at the Cape Town City Gardens when we wanted a light lunch there one day.  How did we explain that one away.  Blamed it on  that stupid, cruel apartheid, and the government, of course.  There was no way we could blame the Black attendant.  She told us she would lose her job if we did not leave.

Colour issues are universal.  While at the New English school in Kuwait, the boy came home one day.   They called me a wog, he said.   What’s a wog?  A brief exclamation followed and he was advised to call the offender a honky,  because the boy would not know that honky was the name for a pink pig.  A few days later he came home. He had been involved in a fight with the offensive kid.  Our boy had bested him and my first question to him was whether he had started the fight.   He had retaliated.  I was pleased for him, but recommended that he never start the fight over something like that.  I’m not too sure that I would have been as tolerant in my time!

One has to be colour neutral.  Is there any other way to go in a multicoloured world?  We are all part of Bishop Tutu’s rainbow-nation people,  which is universal.

Homo sapiens – that description is what and who I am, as is everyone around me.  Proudly, I am a part of the early great diaspora of Southern African San origin.  Many of us have continued those early migrations and continue to add to the global hybridisation of the world.  That bigger story is there in our DNA.  Race and colour should be irrelevant.  I wish all would subscribe to that creed.


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