Verashni's column: I don’t hide the fact that it is seriously time to 'move on'
I am a white South African, but I don’t hide the fact that it is seriously time to “move on”. Neither do any of my white, or even black and coloured friends. You don’t need any “inside info” to hear our thoughts.
I am going to tell you the story of a few white families and one black South African family, from apartheid through to date, and titling it:
Seven families that show race is not the issue.
FAMILY #1 (White)
My father. And after your article, even more of a hero to me than he was before. During apartheid, when “all whites” had “all the opportunities”, my father, the youngest of four, and his family lived in a small mudbrick house (no cement). My grandfather was a busdriver. My grandmother left school at standard 6. Her brilliant photographic brain was wasted because she had no opportunities.
They later made additions to the house using hessian bags, that they themselves hardened using old newspapers in a sort of paper maché method. My father and his brother both slept on one stretcher, they didn’t have beds. They did not have running water. My father and his siblings had to fetch water in a drum, which they rolled home because it was too heavy to carry. For a very long time they didn’t have flush toilets.
They had to walk to school and back. During winter months they put three, sometimes four pairs of socks over their hands, for they didn’t have gloves. My grandmother’s motto was that you can wear patched clothing with pride as long as it is clean. They went to a government school, but my father studied hard and he did well.
After school he didn’t have the luxury of choosing which degree he would like to study. Along with every other white man, he did his compulsory military service. It was fortunate, however, that he got paid for this service, because his parents couldn’t make ends meet, and he had to pay his full salary to his parents. All he lived on, was the danger pay he got for serving on the border.
And please note that he paid money to his mother until the day she died.
After his military service, he applied for and received an apprenticeship (for Electromechanics), something a black South African gets much easier than a white South African today. He had the choice to use the opportunity of the apprenticeship, or waste it. He used it by working and studying hard. After the apprenticeship, he worked. Somewhere in the mix, we (me and my two siblings) were born. My father got up before we woke up to go to work, because he drove the company bus and “taxied” other workers to work and home.
Then he got home at 5.30pm, quickly ate and rushed to college, which started at 6pm. He was at college until 10pm, when he first really went home. But not to relax and rest in bed. My mother re-arranged our routine so that we would be awake at 10pm to spend just an hour with our dad, and at least know him. Then, when we went to bed, he still had to do homework. Then he could rest, only to get up early again and repeat the process every single day.
Through this process he managed to get his N5, N6 and later Diplomas as an Electrical and Mechanical Engineer.
The point? He had all the disadvantages that some black, and some white men, have today. He didn’t have apartheid to blame. He also doesn’t walk with his background on his sleeve. If it wasn’t for a story he told about seeing an angel praying at his bedside one night, we, his own family, wouldn’t even know that he shared a stretcher with his brother. My father has started many companies, many have failed. He has been in dire financial situations. But his attitude was one of making it work, working hard and pushing forward. And he prayed and held onto God’s hand all the time.
Today he is a very successful man, that many people look up to. He also takes care of many people.
FAMILY #2 (White)
As for my mother … well she got an inheritance from her parents. When my grandmother died young, my mother was 8 months pregnant. My alcoholic grandfather was incapable of taking care of her matric brother and 12 year old sister, so my mother inherited them. Not only did she have her first new born baby, she also suddenly had two more children to bring up.
Children who were broken and grieving, while she herself was grieving. She did an incredible job! She didn’t have a mother to ask for advice on how to teach us all those pre-school skills. She didn’t even have matric, as she left school at standard 8. But she did have a library, the radio and a television. And she used it. She educated herself on educating us.
We didn’t have the money to go to Chinese restaurants to learn how it works. She would hold “Chinese nights”, where she would cook Chinese food (anything with rice), and give us sticks to eat it with. We had Italian nights, with pasta. We even had African nights where we ate Pap and sheba from a pan with our hands. She taught us to respect every culture.
Being Afrikaans, we had the disadvantage of speaking English with an accent. So she created “English” days, where we would only speak English to each other for the whole day, in order to perfect our accent. It didn’t come naturally, it was deliberately practiced. The only thing my mother had to lean on was her faith in Christ. And it saved her from burning out and giving up, many times.
FAMILY #3 (White)
My husband. His father died young, and his mother didn’t have the money to pay for college or university. My husband did not finish matric. As a white male it is difficult for him to get work. But you know, he doesn’t complain, and he doesn’t blame our country, our government, affirmative action or any other institution. He found work as a refrigeration assistant and started at the bottom, knowing nothing about refrigeration.
And he went through all the “you’re not going anywhere” looks and attitudes at work, even through being blamed for other people’s mistakes and seen as a no-good, worthless employee. But he made it his mission to do what he does well. Now he knows more than the technicians and in some instances even more than the electricians at the company!
He works physically hard and with an incredible drive. So much so that black men come to him and tell him that they are not willing to work that hard. And he inspires his team, so that they finish work in a fraction of the time it takes other teams.
He did not get a car from his family. He worked himself into the position where he could get a vehicle allowance from the company and now has his first bakkie, which still has many years before it is paid off, and is being used for company purposes 90% of the time. He isn’t a rich man either, and has to work outside the country for long periods of time, missing the growth of his two, soon three, children. All this to make ends meet, even if only just. Even so, his drive never stops. He works with the same attitude and vigor every day, and he learns every day.
My brother’s wife. Her mother had all the advantages you mentioned in your article, but it was sadly wasted. My sister-in-law grew up without knowing her father. She worked hard in school and finished her matric with good marks. She was even lucky enough to receive a bursary, despite affirmative action. However, the college was in a different town, resulting in costly, daily traveling costs.
Add to that the fact that she moved out and had to take care of herself. She got up early to catch te bus, went to college all day, came home late after waiting for the bus, and then she worked as a waitress, until the early hours of the morning. She worked public holidays, she worked weekends, she worked double shifts every chance she got.
At one point she agreed to “watch” a dilapidated building by living in it, in order to get free lodging when things were tough. Amidst this she had to help her mother financially from time to time, when her mother couldn’t make ends meet. Today my sister-in-law is qualified and she and my brother live an average (financially) and full (emotionally) life.
FAMILY #5 (White)
My sister-in-law’s gran. Gran was the 6th child of 10. When she was in school they didn’t have the money for a car, so they had to leave 2 weeks before school started, with an oxwagon, and hope the river wasn’t full. When she was in standard 2 (grd 4), she was pulled from school to help in the house. There was not enough food in the house for everyone, so they would cook bones, for a meaty sauce.
The children literally lived off brown bread and meat sauce, while the father of the house ate the little meat that was on the bones. When the financial burden became too heavy, she had to start working at the school hostel in order to help the family survive. After many years of hard work and loyalty she became the hostel matron.
Till today it was never said, but they suspect that she was also molested by her father. She too did not have apartheid, affirmative action or anything else to blame. And until her death the other day, did not carry her past on her sleeve, but lived with an attitude of possibility and accomplishment.
FAMILY #6 (White)
Gran’s husband. So he is, according to the article, the “typical” rich boy who got his farm from his father. Note how he is 1 out of 6. However, the family responsibility was not to be bypassed. When his father died and left him the farm, he also ordered that he pay the value of the farm, in money, to his four sisters.
Therefore, if he got the farm at a value of R100 000, he had to dish up R400 000, one hundred for each of his sisters. They had to go into great debt in order to pay the amounts out, and had to make this money up again. There wasn’t enough to hire help, so they farmed themselves, alone. They pushed on and pushed through. They made it!
FAMILY #7 (Black)
This is about the Sotho man who currently works for my father. He has never been in school. Never, none, no schooling whatsoever. When he started working for my father (15 years ago), he only spoke a few Afrikaans words. Today he can read, and often brings his Bible to talk to us about things that he came across during his bible study. He can write, he converses with us solely in Afrikaans.
He can weld, he can fix refrigerators, he can build (houses), he can fix any engine, he can do panelbeating. No, he doesn’t have diplomas or certificates for any of these skills. He did not go to college or university. He learnt these things by watching and asking. With the attitude of “I can do it”.
Failing is not an option for him. When we come to him with an idea, he doesn’t fold his arms and say “I don’t know how”. He lies awake at night figuring out the most effective way to make it work. He has a brilliant mind and always tries to make, construct and create new things. This has resulted in him being able to build his house, buy, sell and buy better vehicles and more.
He works provinces away from his wife and two children to make ends meet. He provides for them and for his brother. Never do you hear a mention of apartheid. In his words “to blame something or someone doesn’t put food on the table”. He is now looking to buy property in the area, so he can move his family closer. After 15 years he is part of our family, and a man that we look up to.
Since the end of your article mentions that there are “exceptions”, I assume you will brush my letter off as the “exception”. So before you can do that, let me give you some perspective. I just gave you 6 white families and 1 black family examples from my immediate circles.
My father was the youngest of 4, making it three more white families, with the same disadvantaged background. My grandmother came from the same background, and she was one of 13. That means 12 more families from the same disadvantaged background. Are all the successes from these stories “exceptions”? No. The truth is, the rich family stories are the exception, not the rule.
I am not unphased when I see people struggle, and I don’t pretend that they are not struggling. Everyone has some sort of drawback. Whether it is financial, educational, or even emotional. What sets the successful apart from the rest is not the era they come from, it is the attitude they have towards their situation. Ambition, a positive attitude and the willingness to work…hard…that is what gets you somewhere.
The “you owe me” attitude from the government has been and is still affecting South Africans, black, white, coloured, indian and all in between. I am surprised that that has not yet cured you. So excuse me if I don’t fit into your little bubble when I say, it is seriously time to MOVE ON from apartheid.
Yesterday can never come back, no matter how hard we try. Let’s rather come together as South Africans and make today a better yesterday for tomorrow. Let’s be steadfast in our faith, and adopt the attitude of the Sotho man I’ve just told you about. An attitude of “We can do it!”…failing is not an option.