A BLUE MONDAY: THINGS FALL APART BUT THE CENTER HOLDS

It is perhaps a little ironic that the statue of Cecil John Rhodes should fall or more aptly be removed from its pedestal in the same week that South African journalist, writer and cultural activist Peter Makurube passed on. As the University of Cape Town students staged protests on campus grounds demanding that #RhodesMustfall, I was busy writing a proposal applying for the second time for the annual Ruth First Journalism Fellowship hosted and adjudicated by Wits University.  Applicants for the fellowship were required to write a one page research proposal on how conversations about race in the country have progressed.  While I kept one eye on the racial bigotry disguised as debates making headlines on all major news media outlets and resulted in the suspension of SABC Newsroom Anchor presenter Eben Jensen for losing his cool while interviewing an EFF member of parliament on the same issue, I attempted to do the impossible and write a compelling one page proposal on race relations in South Africa with the other. In another corner of the same universe Bra Peter as he was affectionately known by those who knew him, was struggling to breathe. You may be wondering just now how these three seemingly unrelated events are connected.   It was never my intention to comment or write about the #RhodesMustfall campaign here.  I was hoping that my thoughts on the subject would find their voice through a public lecture at Wits University after becoming the recipient of the 2015 Ruth First Fellowship.  My aim was to begin the conversation where it ended with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and work my way to where we are today.   The TRC hearings were meant to promote reconciliation and forgiveness among perpetrators and victims of Apartheid by the full disclosure of the truth.  Perhaps the dismantling and removal of the symbolic and concrete structures of Apartheid should have been part of the recommendations and actions taken back when the idea of freedom was still fresh and real to our minds.  But my quest to achieve this failed as I sat at our dinner table and listened while my sister read to me yet another thank you rejection email. I went on Facebook to seek some relief for my bruised ego only to be met with rest in peace acronyms with Bra Peter’s name next to them. It always seems like just the other day we were together debating how to get out of this mess we find ourselves in in this  country,  when most of us can’t even afford to keep a roof over heads let alone afford to pay for our own funerals if we were to die today. It was 2013. The year I had a one on one conversation with God for two months isolated in a foreign country, the year I ended up sleeping on Johannesburg’s streets after a close friend chased me out of their home at 3am in the morning without prior warning. It was the year I tasted real poverty not only of material things, but of hope. It was a year I discovered the continuation of the dual mandate which informs South Africa’s economic policy, a policy which has left most of Africa and Africans quenched. When I saw he was gone I was speechless but had no intention of writing about him. I didn’t know him very well. But the last time we were together he said ” keep writing”. We were both up in the middle of the night, I on my laptop writing and he with his papers in the kitchen. He made me coffee.  It was the first time I had a silent conversation with him. We were both trying to stay alive in our own way. So here I am, still writing. I had long known about the legend of Bra Peter Makurube. All the artists living in Beryl Court, Troyville told me about him every chance they got when I moved in there years ago.” A prolific journalist who once worked for the Mail&Guardian who lives on the top floor of the building, in a corner flat”. I was a young radio reporter working for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) at the time. We never met in all the years I lived in Beryl Court, he remained an elusive character for many years until some years later when a friend suggested I show him my writing. I was shocked by the mere suggestion because I had written not a single word. But I was more amused by the fact that people assumed I was a writer in the literary sense of the word when all I was doing every day was writing radio news  and current affairs scripts. Though I harboured a desire to make the transition – to one day write a book as my predecessor Antjie Krog did, following her teams’ award winning coverage of the TRC hearings for the SABC. Even though I wanted to write a book on the TRC from a different perspective, I had written nothing then. So I avoided him. This solitary, lone figure, always dressed in dark, black clothes, his hair kept short in loose unintentional dreadlocks, chewing on a match stick or with a cigarette in hand.  He had a serious countenance with creased lines on his face so that he looked as if he was permanently in the depths of deep, formidable and life changing thought.  To tell the truth I was afraid of him, intimidated by his very presence.  I knew that he was someone way above my league. He was not my peer. And by extension he was someone whose respect and time one had to earn. And one night in 2013 through mutual friends I found I had earned enough respect to be in his company.  To share however minimally stories of our common struggle. I was disarmed by his gentleness, by his kindness which occupied his internal space just as easily  and as comfortably as his defiant, angry, spirit.  I didn’t know how the two could co-exist peacefully but in him they did.  At times I observed that he had  so much more to say, so much more to share but found no place worthy of his mind, there was no place to  hold him,  his words and ideas away from the cold  piercing sun of  a Johannesburg winter.  I heard him listening, intently to us the younger generation as we tried to make sense of our new South Africa. He had been there before. In the 20 years of our democracy we had not saved up enough reserves either because we did not have enough to save or because we thought we didn’t need to, but our resources were running out. The façade of a rainbow nation was starting to crack, revealing the truth of the state of our nation. The invisible signs of apartheid had been removed by law. But South Africans still remained chained in their minds. We were caught unawares. Some of us believed the myth of a rainbow nation and acted as people who were free would, some of us knew a new nation will take years and a conscious persistent effort to rewire our minds, still some of us were knee deep in the muddy past trying to resolve and or conclude past puzzles abandoned in the euphoria of the morning sun. Most of us though had no idea how to combine the past and present to create a future we want to live in. His thoughts on the current systems of oppression were disparaging. Perhaps this is why he has remained on the very edge of  the cultural discourse in South Africa, perhaps this is why his views were unpopular and maybe too risky for the establishment. But he found a way to remain relevant in the public’s mind and provided a platform for hungry young minds and old souls to express their divergent views on the state of the nation in poetry and performance at the popular  Monday Blues sessions held in Melville, Johannesburg for a while there was excitement in the air.  They were always packed. The point is Cecil John Rhodes’ statue may have fallen, but his ideas still stand tall and prominently in the hearts and minds of millions of his black and white students who occupy positions of power and leadership in academia, government, economic, social and cultural sectors of our society.  Students who still believe and use western ideas and culture as the gold standard for progress and development despite evidence to the contrary.  It is a dangerous dogma that dresses itself up as progressive forward thinking policies.  But with the independence of Zaire came the fall of King Leopold the II’s statue which occupied a prominent yet despised place in the minds of the people. But its removal did not result in peace. It birthed the formidable character of Mabutu Seseseko, whose fall from grace also saw everything he had built during his totalitarian presidency vandalized. Yet these actions however empowering and symbolic in the moment did not result in the destruction of both King Leopold the II and Mabutu Seseseko’s  legacy of insane brutality.  The people forgot to also change their minds, their language, their writing, their thinking so that all the dismantling of the physical structures – however symbolic and necessary – had left no lasting positive material changes of any significance in the lives of the citizens of the DRC, a country which has struggled to remain stable since the assassination of its first Prime minister Patrice Lumumba.  Regardless of who is the target of our current wrath or who we blame for our lack of progress, it is not the statue of Cecil John Rhodes that is attacking African foreign migrants in Durban KwaZulu Natal and other parts of the country. It is not the statue of Cecil John Rhodes that is in government today. Whatever change we are able to attain in the moment will not last unless we change our minds about who we are and who we want to be, and then be prepared work and stand for it. I mourn for Bra Peter Makurube today not because he  died, but because we could not hold him. Because we let him go with his archive of knowledge, history, and experience. We didn’t value him enough to give him a place in our collective table to share what we had with him to make what we had larger and richer.  I mourn for him because he is not here to place a bandage over the wounds of indoctrination, to make the fall of a concrete figure meaningful. His voice is not here to speak its own brand of reason, of truth to help us heal in all the ways and in all the places we never thought were wounded. Perhaps the worst of what the oppressive governments have done is to make us blind to each other. To see no value in another human being or their particular struggle. I mourn bra Peter because I can find no place to read him and share him. I mourn because right now I think his voice would make sense. I mourn because we are in such a state as this. Perhaps it is indeed true that one cannot dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools. Yet since this is our house why aren’t we building? On that last and same night we spent together a group of us talked about money and what we would do with it if we suddenly had lots of it. Some of us said we’d buy land and build our  own homes, plant our own food. He said he would pull together all the city’s emerging artists and have a massive cultural festival where artists were paid what  they are  worth. I suppose in some ways, in a small but meaningful way, tonight his dream will come true. “They thought they buried us,  but little did they know that we were seeds” Mexican Proverb. Long Live Bra Peter. Thank you for holding me.

Picture Credit: Muntu Vilakazi

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Oh!Bama… Love is Hard!

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is s...
With his family by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. More than 5,000 men and women in uniform are providing military ceremonial support to the presidential inauguration, a tradition dating back to George Washington’s 1789 inauguration. VIRIN: 090120-F-3961R-919 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

29 June 2013.  A year ago, I met a beautiful man. In the midst of violent protests.   In the midst of some kind of a revolution.   We were friends.  United by a common purpose. Like me he is a journalist, a brilliant mind. A walking encyclopedia of  politics.  A gentleman.  A player. A strategist.  I – a maverick in every sense of the word – the passionate go getter,  the analyst who wears her  heart  on her sleeve  most times  and a visionary sometimes.

Our meeting was a challenge.  At the edge of Independence  Square( Place de la Independence). My passion was waning.  He was wearing dark Ray-Ban sun glasses. Unlike his fellow journalists he wasn’t wearing the customary “Press” flat jacket. Actually he looked quite dapper. With just a pen  in his hand.  If he wasn’t the most sensuous hue of dark chocolate, I would have dismissed him for a  pretentious Frenchman. He laughed at me “You are crazy!” The first words he uttered to me, as if we had been hanging out together the night before “You are new here, you can’t speak French and you want to write a story about the elections?” He shook his head. I was beyond irritated. Yes the odds were against me. “Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do” I said like a wounded child. “You don’t know me or where I’ve been, it’s either you want to help me or you don’t” I said moving to other less intimidating male journalists. He shook his head and continued to stare at something in the distance while I asked anyone who would listen questions… “ so when do you expect the march to start” in broken English and French. My frustration was growing, like a gene he rubbed me up the wrong way and smoke was coming out of my every pore.   “Non, no English, French” they each responded to my incoherent list of questions, they were not even trying, but I was relentless.

“What do you want to know?” He eventually turned to me as if to shut me up. “Everything “ I replied  raising my eyebrows. He continued to stare into the distance and told me everything as if he were an insider, a lawyer, a protester, the activist, the public, the politician, the president, a passerby “here’s my number” he said jotting it down on my green notepad as if to a child “call me if there’s anything you don’t understand with your stories, I will help you” he said jumping into a white van which came from no-where and disappeared just as fast.

I resolved not to call him. He had given me more than enough. I can take it from here.

Time passed. Eventually, suddenly we were friends. It was not anyone’s plan.  I was in distress when he called me for the umpteenth time, in a taxi to no particular destination. He was right. I am crazy.

We became friends. Really good friends. We talked all night. He sang with Luciano and I thought how cute.  We shared a vision, a meeting of two minds. One day we discovered that love is infinitely possible and can be found in the simplest of  moments together – sharing milk and honey  – coffee and tea – fish and rice a ride on  his beloved motorbike – a football match – a football game – a basketball game, skipping – working. Listening.  Dancing. “That score was for you baby!” He would say kissing me in celebration.  I would be half reading something, half writing something, crocheting a baby blanket for his sister or mine I hadn’t decided, half marveling on how easily pleased he was by something so well… small. It was just a game. I had no doubt of his love for me and neither did he.  One day as I was basking in a vision of infinite possibilities, he took my hand lovingly and said “ It’s going to be hard,   and you will have to be have to be strong” I smiled his favourite smile. He held my hand even tighter and continued “ I believe in you Jedi, I know you, you are strong”  I believed him. My strength renewed. I thought I was ready. Come what may.

He ,dear reader, is not a  man of a thousand words, so when he spoke I listened and it is hard not to believe what he says.  It became even harder to doubt him when my mother, a woman of even fewer words said to me  “He is a man of his word”.

But I guess I didn’t believe every word he said  after all – because nothing – nothing in the world could have ever prepared me for what would follow.  Nothing could have prepared me for just how hard things would get,  how much I, we were up against. How high the mountain I would have to climb, how many lives would be at stake, hopes, dreams, aspirations would have to die in the process. How many, many very small but heartbreaking decisions I would have to take. How so many would be disappointed, angered, be  betrayed. How much I would have to compromise, overlook, confront. How much opposition would come my way from all sides, every side, everywhere I look.  I guess I didn’t quite comprehend how much hate our love would have to fight..  How much I would have to CHANGE. My mind. I didn’t know how many times I would be ripped to pieces, how much my world would be turned up-side down inside out, scrutinized, analyzed, checked, and surveyed.  I never knew how easily I could be forgotten, left for dead, made irrelevant, of no consequence even to my own blood.

I didn’t know how mad I could get.  How crazy I would become – when Isolated from you. I never knew how lonely and alone I could feel right there in your arms.  I never knew how much self-control I would need  to just keep it all together. For  you. For us.  For me. I never knew how far my heart  would have to stretch to accommodate, each and every bitterly, cold blow.  Actually, I don’t think I knew what it actually meant to be strong. To believe in something,  in someone.  I didn’t know that it would require EVERYTHING!, blood sweat and Oh so many tears. And then  some.  I didn’t know how much I could grow, how- ever soft and tender my heart could get. I didn’t know that I could be capable of greatness even in my weakest of weakest   moments. I didn’t know how much power I had in being vulnerable, how empowering powerlessness could be. I never knew that  I could be this gentle, this patient, this peaceful in the eye of a raging furnace. Yes I never knew I had so much love in me, pulsating from the very core of my being.  I didn’t know that I was love or that love is my essence .  Enfin,  what  I didn’t expect, and this is altogether laughable, I didn’t expect that I would find, in right here in me, my greatest challenger. My greatest fan. My very own  hero. Myself.

Even as I get ready to let go and to hold on, even as I from time to time lose hope, faith; even as I begin to doubt  the vision which was once so clear, so vivid, so ultimately possible . The irony of American President Barack Obama’s African Safari – from Senegal to South Africa – not withstanding – brings it all together,  my past, present and future.  I thought it can’t be true after all.  I never knew love like this before. I pick up a book on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Antjie Krog almost accidentally, briefly, takes me back to Goree Island… where we danced under the moonlight.

“I know it’s hard, harder than you ever imagined, but it’s possible, yes, we can.”  “If you believe, anything is possible” my younger sister gently encourages me every day.   And then I see her ,on her wedding day, So radiant, so beautiful  in her white and pink All Stars… about to walk down the Isle  and  suddenly, poetically her feet give way, to some kind of a dance , a cha-cha-cha,  a folks trot,  running on the spot,  a jog,  shaking it all off,  at the starting line, warming up to a  marathon of a lifetime.  I will never forget that image. I now understand what was unfathomable at the time.  Yes, I cannot say with any certainty that I know what tomorrow holds, or if I will like its presence.  All I have is now, today.  And I am excited. I am happy to be here.  To be Alive.  In  this moment in time.  I am so grateful for the gift of love, in all its shapes and forms, because love never ever fails.

“I never said it would easy, I only said it would be worth it” Mae West.

Love.

.

I AM SORRY. THINGS WENT HORRIBLY WRONG.

Photojournalist. Waiting For the smoke to clear. 2012. Pic  Jedi Ramalapa
Photojournalist. Waiting For the smoke to clear. 2012. Pic Jedi Ramalapa

27-06-2013 These are highly stressful days for any journalist… in fact for most South Africans and perhaps even the world at large. Our beacon of hope, our best example of a human being Former South African President Nelson Mandela is critical in hospital. On life support. We are again at the precipice of the unknown.  We are at a point of no return. Things are changing. Any day now, any minute now we’ll get the call. Life is changing. We are indeed yet again a country in transition, we are “growing up” and regardless of how hard we try to stall, to delay, to postpone hoping and wishing – nature will and must take its course. The book I’m reading now Country of my Skull by Antjie Krog puts that fact so vividly into perspective, makes the fragility of life so ruthlessly definite, and so final.  I am beside myself with anger, with anxiety. I have been staring blankly through the window at the IT Corner – trying to finish the last couple of pages.  Tears interrupt me they stream down my face. I don’t care this time. I am so full of remorse, full of shame, maybe I feel guilty. I am angry. I don’t know what to do with myself, where to place the anger… how to package my emotions in a neatly coherent articulate English sentence that will make sense to you my dear learnerd reader. What’s worse there’s a huge  part of me feels that these “feelings” these “these moments when I feel so tender a look could shatter me, dissolve me,”  are a luxuries I cannot afford. They are Illegitimate, Bastard feelings.  There’s  no time. People before me endured and survived worse. I need strength. More courage. More wisdom.

I stand up – I am finding it incredibly challenging to finish the book. The testimonies of Apartheid atrocities worse that the holocaust. Beyond what I imagine to be humanly possible.  I am reading the Epilogue. I have been doing so well.  But I stand up and walk up the streets of Melville, Johannesburg,  once an artists preferred watering hole…

…I walk up 7th Street and each ever-changing establishments brings back memories…as if it was yesterday, Mojitos at Six the ever popular cocktail bar, dinners with friends at what used to the  Asian restaurant –SOI- now dark and empty, nights spent talking nonsense or watching soccer at former Wish, Spiro’s, Now Poppy’s…prawns I devoured with friends at the now vacant Portuguese fish market, which used to be Full Stop where we used to have breakfast.  I remember potato skins and cheese at Xai Xai, laughing over Oliver Mtukudzi lament on repeat  “ I’m feeling low I feeling low, help me lord I’m feeling low” ahead of a night spent jumping   and spinning to Drum ‘n Base in Transkei which used to be  home to the  famed Jazz establishment the  Baseline… now it’s on its way to becoming something else again. The vacant image of 7th street stings and suddenly I feel this emptiness growing  in my heart … new owners announce their imminent arrival on a few still  vacant shops…but that does not fill my heart with hope…I don’t know what I should put in this gaping hole in my heart..

There’s a soundtrack for this moment in life. It’s Hometown Glory by Adel.

 I’ve been walking in the same way as I did

And missing out the cracks in the pavement

And tutting my heel and strutting my feet

“Is there anything I can do for you dear? Is there anyone I could call?

No, and thank you, please madam, I ain’t lost, just wandering”

 

Round my hometown, memories are fresh

Round my hometown, ooh, the people I’ve met

Are the wonders of my world, are the wonders of my world

Are the wonders of this world, are the wonders and now

I go to the corner café on 7th and 2nd Avenue, thankfully it still exists but like so many business in Melville it’s also under new management.  In a quivering voice I ask for a single Stuyvesant Blue, my first cigarette in over two months. I know it won’t change anything now but I want to smoke it. I smoke it slowly as I walk back down I watch as new hiply-weaved young people spill out and smoke coolly on the pavements of what used to be PHAT JOE’s studios. – I choke on mine  and put it out.   I really could use a glass of the most crimson Pinotage.  I understand religion, I understand the need to hold on to a ritual a cleansing, a practice,  a fellowship, a heaven, a happily ever after, to be born again, to be absolved, forgiven – Since I can’t even trust myself to quit smoking, keep a roof over my head, or a job, be a functional human being, have friends, stay in a relationship, have children, build my own family. Take care of something. Someone. People who cannot do that are not trustworthy. Does not matter about your Politics. Be optimistic; be balanced, mature. Be responsible, accountable. Make something of yourself for god’s sake…  Me too really I want to be happy like Lira. Or at the very least content,  grateful, Thankful.  I feel more ashamed. What will it take?

Eyewitness news reporter Alex Aleesive is receiving kudos from a fellow colleague and new author Mandy Wiener  at Talk radio 702 for writing a great piece on the legacy of Mandela, he quotes veteran journalist Max du Preez – The face of the Truth and Reconciliation reports at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) back in the day.  “Mandela is living proof that good can triumph over evil” He is moved by Madiba’s  supernatural ability to just be human.  I can’t stop myself from crying. I think maybe I’m jealous.  I’m young, black and still not qualified to tell the story of our struggle, not free to tell it as I see it.  Sorry that position has been filled.  We had more qualified applicants. You seem to have a problem with commitment.   I am still waiting for so and so to “come back to me”.  Thank you.  But I know for sure it’s way deeper than that.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela (Photo credit: Festival Karsh Ottawa)

Instinctively, intuitively  I feel like Madibas daughter, his grandchild, his great-grand daughter – I feel like one of his off-spring who have  been pleading, begging asking the Media and the world  to back off a while they spend this crucial time with their father – who was never theirs to begin with. I want to say wait. Shut up. Don’t interpret my words, don’t put them another way. Don’t tell me how to feel; don’t translate, don’t tell me what to say and how to say it. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t be angry –just for once back off. Don’t tell me how things should be done,  don’t tell me how to be civil, don’t tell me what you think Ubuntu is,  don’t outline to me what’s  appropriate or inappropriate to do at this time, don’t try and analyze me, understand me,  Don’t pretend to know me or to “get” me. Don’t educate me. You’ve spoken for me for long enough. You’ve twisted my story, my history, my culture, my being for long enough. You’ve spoken for, about and over me for long enough.  Just don’t tell me how to behave, don’t mediate,  don’t HELP! Just Stand back for once, don’t take this moment from me, and make it yours, don’t force me to feel sorry for your pain once again.  Don’t try to fit me us him into your ideas of what makes you the better man or human.  Don’t taint this time with your pity, empathy or admiration. It’s not about you.  Please don’t interfere, don’t try and fit this moment in your very busy schedule, your plan… don’t speed it up or slow it down, just let it be what it is. Its importants. Don’t steal it, make me pay for it, work for it, earn it. Don’t ask me how I feel. Today that is none of your business. I want to be left with my nearest and dearest as we  spend time with “our father” to share sweet nothing moments, – for as long as it takes – to exchange  sacred secretes, moments, to hear “Things went horribly wrong, and for that I’m sorry.” To  Say “I’m sorry too Tata. So – so sorry for making my happiness, our happiness, your sole responsibility.  We cannot ask for more. Thank you. I love you”

CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?

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So many people who consider themselves progressive  have their own weird notions about the native, but they all have one thing in common. They want to decide who the native is and they want to do good things for him. You know what I mean. They want to lead him. To tell him what to do. They want to think for him and he must be accepting of their thoughts. And they like him to depend on them. Your Zuma makes an excellent “good native” for progressive folk. That’s why you like him”  – Frederick Cooper, Conflict and Connection -re thinking Colonial African history  ( Abrahams 1963,68)

I wrote the following piece “Un-begging to be white” in  2011. I continue to think deeply about  many of the issues raised in my piece since and more so now that I find myself re-listening to archive testimonies from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996-1999). Testimonies from which South African writer, poet and journalist Antjie Krog (whom I deeply admire) wrote her most famous non-fiction book Country of My Skull.  The bubbling racial (sic) tensions in South Africa today and around the world make this piece more relevant.  I would like you to keep these words by  Nobel Laureate, Political activist, professor novelist and former Auschwitz prisoner and survivor – Elie Wiesel,  in mind as you read. Prof Wiesel believed strongly that indifference is the  epitome of evil. And offered memory as an antidote to it. Below is his answer to the question on how to fight indifference, he said:

Through memory.  Memory may not be the only answer but there is no answer without memory. As a writer I have always been tempted by silence. I have tried to introduce silence into every word of mine. I have tried to surround my words with silence. And yet I know that  though the memory of silence is important, the silence of memory would be scandal. ( Wiesel 1988,19).

UN-BEGGING TO BE WHITE. (sic) Recently I  had a matter of fact conversation with a dear friend. It was matter of fact because it was what I assumed to be a matter of fact tale of (my) life. The on-line conversation revolved around my progress in securing accommodation. I was looking for a one bedroom flat. My dear friend was assisting me by finding links to places she found thousands of miles away from Johannesburg the city I inhabit.  And here’s the matter of fact part, I found myself typing this: In this situation I wish I were a white, rich woman, because I think it would make the process of finding a place easier. She responded by saying, being a  “white South African is not easy. It’s hard, because you’re always looked at, judged at face-value, assumed to be a bad person (racist)”. I brushed over her comment by saying yeah but there are pros and cons (to being black or white) and in this case I think it would be a pro for me as I would be able to eliminate all other possibilities.  She said she didn’t think it was a racial thing. I agreed with her in part. But instead of telling her this I continued by saying that two of my friends ( white expats) were also looking for accommodation  and while viewing a cottage in Brixton they were told that they were only considered because they were white . The landlord  didn’t want black people living in their backyard.  At that point she said she didn’t want to have a black/ white conversation and promptly logged off.

The conversation left me with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. It left me pained,and I had to really take a long, hard look at myself. I wished  I  could take what I said back because just like my flat hunting experience, I wasn’t sure if the conversation had ended because she really had to go or because I had hurt her feelings and she wasn’t willing to  engage with me anymore. I had said to her that I wish it were simple; either the place I was looking for had already been taken or that I couldn’t afford it.

But I found myself thinking that perhaps there is more. After the conversation I had to question whether as a black South African, race is my default answer to all my problems? If I don’t get what I want – do I always assume that there must be a racial rationale? Why had I thought to even say that, why was that the uppermost thing on my mind?

Even as I write this I am finding it hard to pin down my thoughts, my reasons, my position. Why was  her response to what I thought was part of my normal so disturbing for me?  Did it disturb me because I had never  thought of what being a white South African must be like, feel, like taste like? Is it because I did not have a white South African view to life,  my vision is skewed by my skin colour,  my skin  colours how I look at life, defines how and when I move. I tried to think about her statement: How hard it must be to be a white South African; a descendant/beneficiary of a white racists regime, carrying the guilt of privilege, the burden of wealth on your skin; – despite what your actual personal circumstances may be. The assumption that you are racists, just because you are white.

It does sound hard and harsh. Just as hard and harsh as being black. So where do we find common ground. How can my statement not hurt my friend whom I love dearly who is also a white  South African woman? How can I be sure that race has nothing to do with my difficulty in securing a place to stay, in one of the richest, leafiest suburbs of Johannesburg?

The conversation reminded me of an experience I had in Cape Town a few years ago. I had been in the city  on a work assignment when it was finished I decided to stay on for a few days to experience  more of the city.  I decided that booking into a backpackers would be the most affordable option for me since it was after all a last minute plan. Cape Town’s long street was central, and offered a host of social venues where I could meet new people as I knew no one in the city.  That night accompanied by a friend and colleague I walked down Long street  and  knocked on  every backpacker  – there were many of them.  Most of them were full, others  didn’t answer the door. Eventually we arrived at one where the door did open. They had  room(s) available and I could  afford it.  There was just one problem. I was South African.  They had a policy that explicitly  favored, preferred  foreigners over locals.  I asked why in exasperation and fatigue and the man replied saying something I didn’t quite hear because the I was thinking of where the hell I was going to sleep that night.  Yes, my race was the last thing on my mind.

But on re-telling the story to friends and colleagues they found it a veiled racist’s rejection. They found that whatever reason he had given was hard to justify in a country where racial segregation shaped every part of our lives. Then in 2004, I could not  sleep at a backpackers  which  had  a room I could afford because I was South African. But Cape Town is another country – or is it? Do other countries reserve accommodation only for foreigners too? Where locals are not allowed? Maybe. But I have come to define that incident as being a racist one  even thought I didn’t think of it those terms initially. And wonder to this day,  if the story would be different had I been a  white female. Of course I have no way of knowing this for sure.

Did that experience raise my antennas? To  label anything I could not understand as being racist?  Am I a walking talking racist person?  How can I have a colour-blind outlook to life? What does being colour blind mean, where do I draw the line… when is it acceptable to take issue? When is it not? Is my assumption that life must be easier for South African (rich) white women or white people in general true? Is  it fair?

When thinking about this, Antjie Krog’s book, Begging to be  Black – comes to mind. Perhaps I may be subconsciously begging to be white also, as she is begging to be black. To be under a white woman’s skin, to  think as  a white person does, to feel & smell as a  white person.  Maybe I have white person envy.  My black friends often remind me, tell me, state it as a matter of fact  whenever they can, that I LOVE white people. They say it as if it were a crime, something bad, that I should be ashamed of. I cannot count how many times I’ve had to count how many black friends I have to justify the number of white people I hang out with. It is an interesting subject. I think it  really would be  more interesting for me to  say that I am begging to be white.  I would be the embodiment of the the oppressed, who Frantzs Fanon described thus : “Having judged, condemned and ignored their cultural forms, his language, his food habits, his sexual habits, his way of sitting down, of resting, of laughing , of enjoying himself the oppressed flings himself upon the imposed culture with the desperation of a drowning man”  Frantz Fanon.

That would be a logical  and easy assumption to make. An automatic logical expression of my oppression would be to hate  myself, my heritage, my identity, my background.  denying the past.  I would be and probably am  no different to  those  people who bleach their skin in order to have a fairer complexion, who loved their masters more than themselves,  who devised ways to straighten their hair, so that it’s lighter, softer and gentler to the touch. Those among us who dated and married white men so they could have nice brown and light-skinned children who would by extension have a better or easier hand at life. In this world which favours lightness – the closer one is to the Aryan race the better.   But I have never until that point given much thought to what being white must be like, except for the fact that I think the experience whatever it may be, must be generally easier than being a black woman.  I guess I never had time to think about how hard it must be to be white  – because I was busy trying to survive. Live.

Or perhaps my begging to be white could be an equally condescending and patronizing exercise as found in Krog’s  analysis of black culture  or ethos …” how they think”, her musings in orderly, efficient  Europe about the missed  benefits of Ubuntu. I could wonder how Europeans rationalize and justify their ideas  of “civilization” and if they are proud of the civilization (s) they have achieved so far in Africa and in Europe. The African continent should be by now a bright shining example of white innovation, intelligence, supremacy. After years of practice in Europe their systems, machinery,isms, education,  industrialization etc should have been easier and faster to implement here. How then has their efficiency, precision, logic, analytical mind (s) , all the “good” and genius that has  always been their birth right benefited anyone?

I am not begging to be white or black for that matter.  What I am doing is begging to understand why it is that I should (must) understand, how hard it must be to white – when the very  white people have not tried to understand what it must be like to be black – and their only reflection on the matter is only in response to their own guilty feelings about what black people must think and  feel about them? Why is it that I must be asked to constantly  measure, balance my experience, be polite, nice, not hurt any one’s feelings, to hear all sides before I can say something which is  my experience – not a feeling, but a fact. When it might reflect badly, upset, offend a white person?  Why must I understand that all black people are lazy, that we have never invented anything, that we are thieves, corrupt, diseased, as a matter of fact and  that the only way I can succeed is with some assistance or sponsorship, the AID of white people, why is it that I should be asked to understand that I am who I am, know what I know, live the way I do, speak the way I do, am because of my colonial saviours, because if they hadn’t  saved me  – I probably would be living in a rural mud-hut dressed in nothing but cow skin and breeding millions of children for  an old abusive patriarch if not dead?

Why must I understand that most things about my life have nothing to do with race actually, when they don’t understand that everything about their life is about race, because of race? On a more personal level, why is it that I cannot speak about my experience without being a racists ungrateful and disrespectful person. Why can’t we have a conversation?

I would love to live in a world, where I didn’t have to sell my DNA/My soul/My dignity in order to have a roof over my head. I would love to live in a world where my house is your house; my land is your land, where community is community. But I don’t and that is largely because Europeans, thought it  backward, uncivilized, uncultured, primitive and un-educated  to share. So they took that away centuries ago, made sure that any semblance of equity  was thoroughly destroyed. So yes, for me right now, in this country it is a matter of fact that it would be easier for me to find a place had I been white and rich. I look forward to the day when this would not be a matter of fact. 

” Historians of economic thought should be heedful therefore, not only of what gets said, but what is left unsaid.  And what in a sense cannot be said in arguments and articles meant to be heard and paid attention to. By considering the relationship between power, interests, and rhetoric among the elite producers of economic knowledge. Historians of economic thought may be able to further illuminate the nature and history of story-telling in economics. But in connecting these accounts historians of economic thought (must) should recognize that they themselves are storytellers, building partial accounts of the partial accounts written by economists. To the extent that the storytellers of economics however have been selected and socialized  to believe in and to have a stake in stories of individual objectivity and the free market place of ideas, these storytellers will continue  to present themselves as authoritative agents of truth. And as long as the rhetoric of the discipline in enforced thought and intellectual hierarchy resistant to transformative challenges, the telling of dissonant stories remains  fraught with professional peril.Diana Strassmann; The stories of Economics and the power of the storyteller (1993)