Apartheid was so much more than calling black people demeaning names like the k-word. It was a system that dehumanised them. The entire state machinery was designed in such a way that the black person would always be deemed inferior and would not have access to resources in a way that would improve his circumstances.
The brutality, subjugation and violence was a way of ensuring that people knew their place and kept to the areas designated fit for them by the Afrikaner minority rule.
This may be well known by the majority of South Africans. However, I think a reminder is necessary as a lesson for our latest racist gaffe-prone citizens.
First there were the giggling and gormless models Jessica Leandra dos Santos and Tshidi Thamana. It was really disturbing to watch them at their kiss-and-make-up press conference. The reconciliatory get-together was the brainchild of the Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson, Mmusi Maimane.
Television cameras were invited to witness the “kumbaya” moment.
Tall and lean, with a steely, unrelenting glare, Dos Santos tried to explain that her use of the word “monkey” to describe a black shop assistant was not meant to cause offence because she also referred to members of her own family as monkeys. So, we were led to believe, she did not mean to insult anyone.
The big-toothed Thamana apologised for having resurrected Peter Mokaba’s Kill the Boer song, which was meant to incite violence against white South Africans.
What a shameful thing it was to watch. Neither seemed to grasp fully that the words they spoke and their actions irritated a wound that refuses to heal in South Africa.
For those experiencing revisionism about what apartheid was and those rightwingers wishing to reassert their authority it is always worth remembering that the more insidious effects of it were less visible and quantifiable than name-calling. Our parents witnessed the worst of this kind of discrimination. People who grew up in the townships in the 1950s and 1960s will relate how their matchbox homes were maintained by local authorities – that is, by the superintendent in charge of blacks.
Without notice or invitation, you would see workmen appear in your yard, paintbrush at the ready, to paint the door or fix whatever they deemed necessary. From year to year this pattern would repeat itself, houses painted pink, yellow or whatever colour deemed appropriate by the authorities.
These were people’s homes. Men and women raised their children there. No thought was given to what the inhabitants themselves might want or whether they found this presumption invasive or intrusive. You would simply make way for this work to be done and not ask questions because you would be mindful that, after all, the property was not yours – not by choice but because the law forbade you to own property.
The law did not recognise your existence. You were a non-person.
Can you imagine how disempowering and emasculating it was for a generation of families or fathers who knew that, in essence, they had no say in how their homes were run? My cousin suggests that is why so many men turned to drink.
So for Dos Santos and Thamana, just in case you missed those lessons in class or have simply embraced an ahistorical stance, that is where we come from and it is just one of the reasons why we do not want to go back to a country with racial prejudice as the cornerstone of its agenda.
But for all of us South Africans it is so much easier to focus on two silly models and an ageing apartheid relic who reveals his true nature in an unguarded moment in a televised interview. There are greater threats to our social and racial cohesion. Real and significant economic transformation is yet to happen. Debates over land remain deeply divisive and not much progress is being made.
We have seen reports of the existence of alleged right-wing training camps where young boys are trained to dislike black people and told they are intellectually inferior. There seems to be farmland and money available to do this. We have also seen the growing strength and influence of Afriforum, the Afrikaner civil rights group lobby.
It would be instructive to know who funds such a group, because their many campaigns and dominance suggest a well-oiled and resourceful group whose well is not about to run dry. Boeremag triallists are allowed to use social media platforms such as Facebook to galvanise support and share ideas with like-minded volkmense. We are quick to dismiss it as extremism with no real grassroots support, but time will tell.
Are we aware of these threats, or is our crime intelligence too embroiled in narrow factional battles such as the brouhaha over Richard Mdluli?
The pioneer intellectual Dr WB Rubusana wrote the acclaimed poem Zemk’ inkomo magwala ndini in 1906, which, loosely translated into English, means “the cattle are departing, you cowards”. He was suggesting that if the rights or freedoms that people hold dear are not defended, one will rue what one begets. In other words, while we squabble among ourselves over petty and nonsensical things, the barbarians are at the gate waiting to feast on and exploit our failures.