The ‘Rainbow Nation’ recently had its rainbow cracked and seen to be what it is, an illusion of how 18 years can undo over 350 years of oppression and hatred. We are eager to ignore that Apartheid was not mere hatred which just magically vanished when Mandela was democratically elected as the country’s president in 1994; it was an entire system- a system which affected and was deeply entrenched into every facet of everyday life in South Africa- something that will take a long time to undo.
South Africans though have a taste for being ‘politically correct’, which has seen to it that race and racism become ‘taboo’ or ‘difficult’ topics to discuss- when in fact our history as a nation cannot be separated from these- nor can we move beyond it without the necessary discourse- which holds the key for paving a way forward . Former FHM model Jessica Leandra did the nation a favour by calling someone a ‘kaffir’ and an ‘African Monkey’ on Twitter recently, which saw the battle lines drawn and drew real responses from people, rather than the ‘politically correct’ bull-shit we are used to hearing.
Despite the great condemnation which came from both black and white, it was most fascinating to see- as Gillian Schutte eloquently describes in ‘The Whiteness Smorgasbord’- how “whiteness is often presented as victim to the ‘savagery’ of blackness in the form of endless whinging about crime, corruption, inefficiency and BEE. From intellectual discourse, to mainstream chatter, to barely-educated braai banter, whiteness is always sure of one thing – superiority over other races – particularly the African race. Whether it is disguised in liberal equanimity or downright racism, this whiteness discourse espouses the same learnt notion that white is right – even in a so-called Rainbow Nation”. There was more outrage about the word k****r being used publicly, than outrage about the clearly still alive and lurking racism in our country.
Whether or not the word the word is used openly, there is no doubt that at dinner tables it is used; it is used on farms, campuses, and schools and even clearly passed on to those of the so-called ‘Born Free’ generation- judging by Jessica Leandra’s date of birth. It can be argued that to presume this based on one person’s tweet is very questionable, however it goes beyond that tweet. That black people are still referred to as k****rs is evidenced in many tweets such as this one from @toann13 saying, “Kaffirs het vir die tweede keer in 2 weke my laptop uit my kar gesteel. Well done ANC! Ons land is great!” [K****rs have stolen my laptop from my car for the second time in 2 weeks… …Our land is great!], amongst many others. It can be seen on News24 comments; the 3rd Degree Facebook page; the way some white folk say to a black person “your government”, when they too are South Africans living in the country- therefore being ruled by the same government.
Leandra apologised, saying that the word was said in anger, but reality is, words you normally do not use do not just magically find themselves in your vocabulary when angry. It is clear that referring to black people as ‘African Monkeys’ and ‘k****rs’ is something that she is used to and with humans being the social beings that they are, she has obviously used those words in the presence of others- who clearly condone this or she would have never thought it an appropriate thing to say in public. Some people were sympathetic towards Jessica Leandra and many comments were made about how black people should “get over it”; about how it is “just a word”. There were even discussions about where the word originated from and what it means, all of which I strongly believe to be misguided as within the South African context, it was used to degrade, oppress and dehumanise an entire race of human beings- something which should surely transcend its origins.
Those who sympathise with her and feel that people came down too heavy on her seem to overlook that the poverty and the deep-rooted inequality we have in South Africa are a direct consequence of apartheid, which saw to the deliberate underdevelopment of black communities; the dispossession of people from their land and in turn housing, as well as discrimination in the quality of all basic rights and services including healthcare, education and social security. Despite all that has been achieved in the last 18 years, reality is we still have two education systems and two healthcare systems, amongst many more. It is often argued that black people have full access to all the privileges that were once exclusively for white people, this is in fact misleading as the majority of black people cannot afford these services which renders them still inaccessible. It is clear that what was in fact done was to remove the visible ‘Whites Only’ signs, but the barriers are still there- evidenced by how the majority of black people are still limited to the below standard services that came with apartheid. For those benefitting from the privilege that came with this system, it is very easy to condone such words and even comment about how it is acceptable because “They sing Dubula Ibhunu” and for those who have ended up privileged today despite the past, it is also easier to overlook all this by virtue of being blinded to the suffering of our people- as a direct result of apartheid- that continues today despite the ‘freedom’ we claim to have.
We preach ‘rainbow nation’ but reality is, it’s going to take a whole lot more than the removal of ‘whites only’ signs to undo the damage and hurt caused by apartheid. This is a truth we are expected to sweep under the rug, because many don’t want to both hear and accept it- but until this truth is openly spoken about- a way forward will not be paved and people will continue to be ‘shocked’ and ‘appalled’ by manifestations of the racism that lurks below the surface of our precious ‘Rainbow Nation’.