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HOW WE LIVED. 9. The racist me? [7min read]

Round-the-Cape-Peninsula Drive

It’s a must-do drive for visitors and locals.  For the energetic, it’s a must do cycle ride.  I biked it annually while I was still a student at senior school.

[1] Table Cloth and Lion’s Head behind Athlone shanties on the way in from the Cape Flats.  Good day for a drive, but not up the Table Mt cable car.

The racist me?

I lived under the yoke of apartheid for thirty-five years.  These are the memories of half of my lifetime.  I was a year older than the system which so distorted our lives and our visions of each other.

Homo sapien was not enough. No; other divisions were necessary.  We were  a much-denied people of colour.  People without colour had it all.  Being pink offered one a lofty status, generally referred to as White.  Those of colour, the Blacks, ranged from real black to real White.  Mental hoops and gymnastics are needed to work through some of this – see my first blog.

First though, what is a racist?  It’s one who believes that a particular race is superior to another. It can be a lot more technical than that – religion, colour, creed, ethnicity……..  Under apartheid, it was race.

So what’s a racialist?  Another term for racist?  Many dictionaries say it is.  Others would regard it as a recognition that the human species is naturally divided into races, with no distinctions of supremacy.

Is racialism a value-neutral term and is racism a value-charged term?  See WEB Du Bois and KA Appiah at opposite ends of the twentieth century – it is an old and ongoing debate.

Did I think that one race was superior to another?  No.

Did I like Whites in those twisted times?  No.

They were our oppressors.  They were the Boers.  They were the English- AND Afrikaans-speaking seventy percent of the Whites-only electorate who voted the National Party into power for forty-six years.  They coined the term Apartheid – literally, Apartness.

We grew up in our segregated locales.  The visual state-funded graffiti of discriminating signs blighted our everyday lives.  Europeans and Non-Europeans Only signs blighted so many structures from park benches to Government offices, hospitals, buses, trains, station platforms……  It was endless.  It was relentless.  It affected almost every aspect of our daily lives.

When there were no signs around, it felt unnatural.  Surely, there had to be one somewhere?  What if I was in the wrong queue or in the wrong end of the building?  Was I even in the right building?  These were daily realities.  DAILY.

Later Whites and Non-Whites Only signs replaced the old ones with the realisation that most Whites were NOT European; they were African, but they believed themselves to be superior.

So, could one live in the world of the ultimate colour divide and not be a racist?   Was I a racist?

I grew up in a household where the word bloody always preceded the word White as an appropriate descriptive.  In fact, there was hardly a house in our street where that and other more graphic attributives were not used.  Friendships across the colour line were as rare as hens’ teeth.  One’s childhood perceptions were reinforced daily into adulthood.  The colour line became our own Berlin Wall.

Any White person represented The System.  It was a collective they who subjugated and repressed us to the point of enslavement of the masses of whom more than eighty percent were indigenous people.  They had all the

benefits; they lived in the best parts of town and moved into our homes when the Group Areas displaced over two hundred thousand of us from vista-rich areas onto the Cape Flats dumping grounds; they were managers, foremen and the professionals; seventy percent  [yes, seventy!] of them worked in cushy State jobs with benefits to drool over [read salaries, SEBAA – a buy aid association – health funds, pensions, forty percent of their mortgages…….]; and they never worked as labourers or in other menial jobs, NEVER.

A simple, sad story will illustrate how I had warped into an anti-White monster.                I was in my fifth year of medical training.  During one of our lectures, I sat on the right-hand side close to the back of the non-segregated lecture theatre.  A latecomer, JP Duminy, came to join me in the row.  I was the first person in the row.  There were a couple of seats alongside me.  JP approached me to sit in the row.  Instead of moving down the row, I edged forward on my seat to let him crawl through behind me.  Why he did it, I do not know; but he did, even though his arm was in a sling!  I did not even bother to ask him whether he had a fracture or a dislocation. He was an Afrikaner.  I had absolutely no interest in him.  Two years later, JP was the intern in the Obstetrics ward during the birth of our son Sohrab by Caesarean section at Groote Schuur Hospital.  I never thanked JP.

I wrote about this episode for our twenty-fifth reunion which I was unable to attend at the University of Cape Town.  My Lest we forget letter was read out to my colleagues.

So, was I a racist?  Anti-White, yes, but I did not believe I was superior.  Was I  an anti-White racialist?  Is there such a thing?  Did that change?  Could it ever?




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