QUESTION 2: [Graeme Broster]
I don’t believe we can even begin to discuss issues of race, reconciliation etc before we begin to discuss and answer the issue of identity. Not sure if it’s clear but give it some thought
Race panel question: When, if ever, will it be OK to be “over” apartheid? If possible put a number of years to your answer.
[Brett: Hot question i know but i followed it up with Graeme to get some clarity]
Graeme: When, if ever will the issues we have with race become class issues instead?
Brett: That one may not go down well but a great question – can you define a little more closely what you mean by “over apartheid”?
Graeme: In the sense that the white privilege set say “it was 20 yrs ago, I didn’t vote for it, etc, why can’t we just see people #nocolour and so on”
There must come a day when the enforced inequalities of apartheid are soooooo distant that they cease to be relevant?
Brett: One would hope…
As I was typing thus it occurred to me that there may be a parallel with the grief journey where some linger on their loss much longer than others. When does it (if ever) become OK to say “let it go”?
And now some answers, thoughts and ideas from our panel:
I don’t think anyone is in a position to put a number of years to forgiveness and healing because everyone is different and has experienced hurt differently, and perhaps some have been through too much to ever truly be “over” it. I firmly believe in the power a testimony has to inspire life change. Melody Beattie said, “Live your life from your heart. Share from your heart. And your story will touch and heal people’s souls.” If we mourn forever the horrors of the past would have been in vain.
I understand why people get frustrated and say that we should let it go. Letting go is good, letting go is freeing but we should be careful to say let it go with things like apartheid. Because really, what do we mean?
I think that people who are still harbouring anger over apartheid need to let it go because it’s crippling but I also think we should take a minute to remember that apartheid was forty years long and twenty years later, its legacy lives on. You still see evidence of the Group Areas Act. We still have white areas, black areas, coloured areas… It’s in our faces everyday. The poverty of the majority of the country is a result of having been denied quality education and fair opportunities by the oppressive system that was apartheid.
The question we should be asking is how do we move forward? And the answer cannot be as simple as letting go because the scars of something like apartheid need a while to heal. It was a big deal and it’s not something that we can just let go but we can learn from it and swear to never let it or anything similar happen again. But that kind of thing doesn’t just take a few people, it takes the effort of every South African. It requires mind sets/attitudes to be transformed.
We think we have talked enough but we haven’t and that’s why it still hasn’t been let go. As long as we are afraid to talk about what happened and race in general, we will never truly let it go.
To be able to declare that we are over apartheid would firstly require that we are able to define what it would look like for us to “over apartheid.” I am not confident that we are yet able, if ever, to do this. One could argue in a technical aspect that the law books are clean and that apartheid is gone, as do the “twenty years already” squad. But apartheid was so much more than a legal system designed to favour whites. Apartheid was a total system targeting everything from geography, to education, to romance to economic ability to religion. Just a cursory glance at the geography of most South African cities should be enough to tell you that the spirit of apartheid is far from dead. The lines of legal code that have successfully been removed from our law books are but the formal implementation of a bigger system of oppression and racial control, which has a far longer history than 1948 and I sadly foresee having a far more extensive future than twenty years.
If, however, there ever does come a time when we are “over” apartheid, it will not be the place of us white people to decide when that is. Does an adulterer get to decide when the spouse should be “over it”? Does the rapist get to decide how long is enough for healing to have taken place? Does the extortionist get to decide how far reaching the consequences of his greed are in the lives of his victims? Why does it work differently when the perpetrators are privileged white people?
When will race issues become class issues instead? The nuances in our society between these two are infinite and we must recognise them as both intricately intertwined and yet not synonymous. So while a middle-class black woman might face the same set of racial prejudices that a poor black woman from a township might experience, she will probably have greater access to economic assets than her counterpart will. Both have deep roots in apartheid policies and apartheid mindsets. I am not sure we will ever be able to separate race and class in South Africa. In truth, I am not convinced there are many, if any, other places where the two are wholly separate. The only difference is that in most other places, it is the minority groupings that often occupy the poorer classes. In South Africa it is the minority white populace who mainly consist of the middle to upper classes.
Tasha Melissa Govender:
I think we need to remember that our democracy is still young. We’re still learning to cope with this new found freedom to be who we want and live how we want. And like a child with no defined boundaries I think at times it’s simple to go overboard. Having said that I don’t believe reconciliation is a fantasy, it’s an amazing ideal that we should all work hard to strive for, daily. I do acknowledge that there have been many who have been hurt amidst apartheid and within the years of freedom that has followed.
The one thing I feel we should strive to move away from is generalization. As much as it can be said “the blacks control and the whites still suffer…” we must remember that the majority of the ‘black’ population live below the poverty line and whilst BEE may be seen as reverse racism it really is a system, if implemented the way it was intended, that works well.
The only way we will be able to move past the hurt is to forgive. I’ve heard horror stories from my parents and grandparents concerning things that happened to them during apartheid- friends of my parents going into exile, many we’re killed and my mother being arrested whilst she was pregnant for me purely because she wore a shirt that held an image of the Black Panthers. My family has adopted the stance of forgiveness, it is a core pillar of our faith and I believe it is the only way for us to move forward and find a way to be released from the sins of the past.