The thief left it behind: the moon at my window - Ryokan

Sunday, April 12, 2009

South Africa's history and the world in 40 seconds

This blog sprouted from a conversation with Meenakshi

in the World Heritage Society group in Gaia

In South Africa it seems so often there's a self consciousness which creeps in when people of different colour or culture are in each other's company - so often there's mutual distrust. Ive seen sometimes people are apologetic or feel personally guilty because of our history and go to great lengths to try and 'make up for it all' - all in one conversation over tea - it can be quite exhausting to witness! Sometimes people are anxious because of assumptions they imagine the other to be making about them and they eager to prove they're not 'like that' and start acting out these issues. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable because of differences they perceive and this leads to awkward behaviour. Sometimes people over generalise ... all sorts.

There's racial awareness and also racism - sometimes the lines between the two blur - one or both are so often an underlying flavour when people from different cultures are together. I dream of a world where theres an embracing of both the differences and the common humanity of all beings. I guess the experience of the country I grew up in has created this yearning. This is a country where the average person you meet over a certain age has spent some time in jail.

I was no major activist yet I spent a night in jail in Pretoria, covered in a grey blanket which smelt of vomit and received a 3 year suspended sentence if I were ever 'involved in mass action' again. A couple of days later there was a tiny article in one of the papers accusing us of fraud rather than the change we'd actually called for in the racial structure of how the state theater was being run at the time. There were times I would be on the phone having a conversation with a friend or family member when a voice would jut in letting me know I was 'being watched'. The art centre I taught at in one of the townships was raided and they told us minutest details about each one of us who taught there. Sometimes on my way home my car was stopped by soldiers and the seats would be removed and the whole car searched inch by inch - for who knows what? And all I was doing was giving a fellow staff member a lift home - but I was a white girl in a black township and therefore suspect. That's all it took. Then sometimes I would experience a smash and grab after I'd left the township, losing my handbag to some person who needed to put food on the table...

I decided I was going to simply live in 'an ordinary way' and not spend my time and energy looking over my shoulder. And so my phone calls to friends continued as if no one was listening and I still gave my friends a lift home.

I remember meeting an African American in the days before Apartheid was history who told me that in his experience he felt the racism in the States was simply more sophisticated and he actually preferred the South Africans he'd met. I have never been to America and could not judge this for myself - also his words were but those of one person who'd had very a limited experience of South Africa.

South Africa was a backward and damaged country with an insane law imposing Apartheid on its people. We have not recovered and recently it feels we're going back to almost square one and many are wondering what we'd been fighting for for so many years. This time its not about racism but human rights more generally and democracy.

In some of the newer countries on our planet, the indigenous people have been all but obliterated by colonialists and older nations have similar histories buried in their past. Now we witness the Communist Chinese Government which responded to the west who fed them opium and caused terrible harm to their people. ... and how often does good grow from harm?

We see what feels like a replay of bygone centuries when we look at what's happening in Tibet, Burma and other countries - now the Communist Chinese government makes it's inroads into Africa and most recently we see our government in South Africa bow to the Communist Chinese government under the weight of financial arrangements.

The mind starts to wonder about us human beings and our tendencies to power mongering and war.

I have said a lot more than I thought I would and also so little! I guess this is what
happens when one scratches the surface of 100s years of history...


On a lighter note, I've heard people from other countries ask questions about South Africa which reveal that they imagine our country is jungle - they ask questions like 'do we have lions roaming round the air port?' And we have to chuckle and respond, we actually have cars in our country!

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