A brief history of modern South Africa


Here is a brief history of modern South Africa: For a long time, white people thought they were better than black people, and acted accordingly. Most black people observed this behaviour and concluded that if white people thought they were better than black people, and acted out this belief, they probably were better. Therefore, most black people did what white people told them to do and behaved in ways white people prescribed to them.

However, a minority of black people never fell for this story that white people are better than black people. This conviction was also evident from the way that they acted. Other black people observed this, too, and started looking at these people as leaders who might bring about a better situation for them. Whites also saw this behaviour, viewed these people as threats, and arrested them, charged them with laws that whites had written to protect themselves and entrench their better positions in society, and – if the people did not leave the country in the middle of the night to go into exilelocked them up for decades. When a new generation yielded new leaders who also did not want to fall for the story that white people were better than black people, their lives were also made very uncomfortable: for example, what they could say and where they could travel were severely restricted. If they still didn’t want to listen, they were simply killed.

And so the modern history of South Africa continued through the seventies, and the eighties, until political developments in other parts of the world pressured the white government to embark on radical changes, and the pressure of more and more black and coloured people who no longer believed white people were better than them also became too much. By the mid-nineteen-nineties, a new dispensation had come to power. At the head of this dispensation were many of the men and women who, decades earlier, had not fallen for the conviction of white people that they were better than black people.

* * *

That brings us to today. I read on News24 that racism is rampant in the Northwest town of Schweizer-Reneke. One of the teachers at a primary school took a photo of a group of children in a classroom on the first day of school. The photo showed a few black children sitting at a table on their own, with the white children at other tables. The photo spread like wildfire on social media. There were protests, at least one suspension, and widespread anger over what was seen as a return to apartheid. [A later explanation was given that the children who were sitting on their own could not speak English or Afrikaans, and that they had to be assisted by an interpreter.] [Also see the interview with a father of one of the black children in the photo.]

Another teacher in the town told the journalist that racism would never end in the town, especially among white people. “We don’t know democracy here,” the teacher said. “Whites think they are superior [to] everyone here.” The report does not specify the teacher’s race. If the person is white, I wonder: Was this an expression of his or her own feelings towards other population groups? If the person is black, how does he or she know what the whites (in plural) think?

A few weeks ago, I read Elaine Hilides’s explanation of the Three Principles of Sydney Banks. She writes, among other things: “We create our reality moment by moment via thought and then we experience that reality via feeling. We are always, 100%, feeling our thinking. It can look like it’s our circumstances that are causing our feeling, but we are only ever feeling our thinking about our circumstances.”

The teacher in Schweizer-Reneke went further in his or her conversation with the journalist: “They [the white people] own everything in this town including public schools. This primary school is an example of their behaviour and hatred toward black children.”

* * *

The story of white domination in South Africa and the oppression of especially black people is a story of one group of people, who were in the minority, who convinced a significant percentage of a bigger group of people that they were better than the majority group, and that the majority should just accept it. Low and behold, it worked! A critical percentage of the majority group fell for it!

Now, in a new century and a new South Africa, their children and grandchildren and other descendants are furious that white people got away with it for so long. They now insist that things must be “corrected” – land should be taken away from the white group, and mostly given to members of the black group. Hundreds of thousands of jobs and thousands of business opportunities should be reserved for members of the previously excluded groups. There is even talk of white people who now have to be more careful about how they talk to black people, to prevent the latter from becoming even angrier.

Will it work? Will everything get better over the next few decades? Perhaps many white people still think they are better than black people. Of course, it is absurd to make a general statement that your group is better than another group, since Person X can only be better than Person Y in some aspects of their person, or abilities. Do many black people think deep inside that white people are actually better than them? Who can say?

* * *

What should one say of racism, of white people insulting black people, of white soccer spectators throwing banana peels on the soccer field to provoke a black player?

Imagine the following situation: Someone gets a sneering look on his face, lifts his finger in your direction, and says:

“Na-na-na-na-na! You can’t bake a souffle!”

The only problem for this joker is that you don’t have any ambitions or pretensions to bake a souffle. He is literally barking up the wrong tree. Nevertheless, you respond.

“What did you say?”

“I said, Na-na-na …”

“Yes, okay,” you’ll stop his taunt, “I caught that part. And then?”

“You can’t bake a souffle …”

Imagine something else. One rude soccer fan has a problem with his eyesight one day, and sees people darker than they really are (without realising it). He sees a black player jogging past the spot where he’s sitting, and throws a banana peel on the field. To rub in his point, he also makes monkey sounds, and jumps around and swings his arms.

What the spectator doesn’t know is that the player is Hans Christiansen from Sweden – probably the whitest player on the team. He sees the banana peel, and he sees the man next to the field jumping from one leg to the other, with his arms gesturing above his head. Will Mr. Christiansen feel insulted? It’s unlikely. Why? Many people will point out that he won’t think much of it, because there is no history of white spectators taunting white players by referring to them as monkeys. Certainly it will also help that he doesn’t think of himself as a monkey. The insult will fall flat. The offender will appear absurd.

What happens when such an uncultivated person tries to provoke and insult a black player? The authorities and the media go berserk. The poor black player, they will say.

What will happen if one black player after another dismisses it as harmless absurd behaviour – because, after all, they do not think of themselves as primates; that the taunting and potential insult roll off the proverbial duck’s back?

The guy who tries to throw me off balance with the reminder that I can’t bake a souffle is only going to be effective with his attempt if I have an obsession about not being able to bake a souffle. How I think about the souffle business is exactly what would give the man the power to taunt me. If I have no ambition to bake a souffle and have no concern about not being able to do it, the person’s efforts will flop as quickly as a pudding baked with rotten eggs.

I know I have never been a black soccer player, and I have never felt what it feels like when someone taunts me about being less human than he is. However, I have a strong suspicion that few if any black athletes feel like monkeys. So, who gives the one in the crowd the ridiculous idea that his taunts and insults will have an effect?

The same can be said when a white South African is captured on film saying something negative about a black South African. If that black person has a positive view of him or herself, and the white man or woman goes on like a crazy person with a red face – who is really the one making a monkey of him or herself?

Instead of telling everyone what they may or may not say, and always thinking of new ways to punish people who make others feel bad about themselves, why not pay more attention to what people think of themselves and how they feel about themselves?

There are strong indications that there are still people who believe they are better or smarter than people who have a redder or browner or blacker or yellower skin than their own pink shade, and that they deserve to be treated better, and must get preferential treatment when it comes to opportunities and access to resources. I reckon if you feel you have no other way to build up your own sense of value other than to break down other people’s dignity, you have a problem, and you should do yourself and everyone around you a favour by doing some introspection. But it also needs to be said that if you go off your head every time someone is unfriendly with you, or plain rude, or deliberately tries to mock, taunt, or offend you, you might need to start working on your perception of yourself.