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THE WAY WE LIVED. 15. I’m a victim aka Because I‘m Black [9min read] [Part two]. 

[Part two]

One could be a victim in many ways [see earlier blog part one]. The system in South Africa was designed for Blacks to be subservient. Cheap and compliant labour was a requirement of what became a flawed economic model. Education was meant to be basic; it was used as an instrument of servitude. The Eiselen-de Vos Malan educational model was designed thus for Africans and Coloureds. Anyone born after 1945 was meant to be a product of this system Many did not follow the blueprint and instead adopted prototypes of resistance that finally overthrew apartheid.

Those who did not resist, took on the prescribed rules. Many of us knew of those households where we heard the comment “We never discuss politics”. I suspect that these people were part of the mental Victims. They included those parents who pulled their children out of school before or after Standards 5 or 6 [years 7 or 8] and sent them off to work, usually to feed the labour-hungry factories of the day. [Admittedly, sometimes this was unavoidable eg death of a parent, usually the father].

Our girls suffered disproportionately [don’t they always]. It was usual to have only three to seven girls in our matriculation classes which had up to thirty-five pupils in total. While we all had wonderful role models, we also had unfortunate examples where the I’m a victim because I’m Black mentality impeded a more visionary outlook on life and stunted initiative and a more positive direction for parents and their offspring.

My own Because I am Black moments impacted on me when I started my radiology specialist training at GSH [Groote Schuur Hospital] of first heart transplant fame. <–        The experience was salutary and coincided with my transition to a state as a colour-blind citizen, who tried to cope with child-rearing in a schizophrenic environment. [See earlier blog on “Rebirth of a non-racist”].

The late neurologist, Brian Kies and I were virtually the first people of colour to be appointed to the formerly Whites-only trainee hospital. I did not think much of it at the time. To me, this was NOT a privilege. It was my right to work there if my qualifications allowed me to. Getting to my endpoint mattered and there should have been many more Black doctors at GSH. [More trainees in other specialities followed in later years].

So I could work in a mainly all-White department where the only Black coworkers were cleaners and darkroom assistants. Nurses and radiographers and my medical colleagues were all pink people. In my short pants safari suits, fashionable in summer at the time, there was no mistaking that I was not pink. My regular beach outings assured that I was well-bronzed from the sun exposure at a time in life when it was PC to tan away for hours at a time. Who knew about the southern hemispheric ozone hole in 1975? Summer was not summer without at least one episode of blistered skin. [My apologies;my digressions are a weakness! Ask my family].

Radiographers love shortcuts. Let a lousy X-Ray slip through and leave the trainee radiologist to struggle to read it. I was certain that they did it deliberately to me. You guessed it. Because I was Black!  I used to stew over the issue while seated at my reporting station, film-viewing box of yesteryear [Now it’s all on monitors and old X-Ray films and viewing boxes are museum pieces.]

It took me about a year to realise, that it was just their slackness. Why repeat the X-Ray? Let the newbie sweat with an over- or underexposed X-Ray. Even my White counterparts complained. I firmed up to this poor practice. I switched off the I’m a victim mentality. I brutalised my way through and let them do repeats until I was satisfied. They soon learnt the lesson. Word spread, and it was best that they repeat the lousy X-Ray before I honed in on them and had them do it again. The staff told me the story when I resigned several years later to start my overseas wanderings that were to take me through four countries over thirty plus years. During that time, I found that radiographers are the same, worldwide – surprise, surprise!

I enjoyed my work at GSH. Life’s big pleasures are about the people one encounters. Seeing my dedicated colleagues with a collective goal of education and health improvement made a difference. There were staff functions around Xmas; soccer matches and softball challenges between the radiologists, and radiographers. Friendships formed and we went to dinners at colleagues’ houses and they ate at ours. In our little, mixed hospital enclave, life felt normal. I managed to shed my hatred. Eventually, it felt right not to be a victim, even though I was Black.

While on a Cape Town tour of the townships in 2006, our tour guide said that he enjoyed the post-democratic changes after twelve years of democracy. He had taken the education and employment opportunities that had come his way since majority rule. His main gripe was that he could no longer blame things on apartheid!  Because I am Black was no longer a suitable excuse.

I am a victim is not a mentality unique to South Africa. Like racism and many other issues, it’s universal. Victims can be those on the dole who feel that they have specific entitlements which, at times, is redolent of the I’m a victim status. I believe in the need for a social welfare net, but it annoys me to see interviewed beneficiaries who smoke during a television interview about changes in their dole payments. These issues are not necessarily about race, though it too can raise its head in Australia and New Zealand.

The trouble is that I’m a victim is not a cover under which one hides. As much as possible, it needs to be ripped away. Look in the mirror. Enjoy the sight. I did and I still do!

Part three will follow – THE WAY WE LIVED. 16. I am a victim aka Because I am White.


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