No country for pale peoples?
Karel is a descendant of working-class Afrikaners.
I first met the young fellow with a crop of blond hair at the now defunct Bela Bela golf course in Limpopo. He worked at the course as a manager.
Karel calls me Oom.
The joke among some golfers – inevitably swapped behind Karel’s back – was a remark he made at the beginning of his working day: “Is every peoples here?”
On the fairways, in the clubhouse, and even in the bar, Karel gave me the impression he had reason to believe that, with my alleged exposure to the big cities, he could draw wisdom from yours truly. I am humbled.
At the end of one of those good days on the fairways, Karel told me a story that refuses to leave my mind.
Karel said in his childhood his situation was one where his parents read him bedtime stories, until he dozed off into sleep.
At dawn, mom and dad would tip-toe into his room, kissing the child totsiens – goodbye – before leaving for work.
Enter Katrina, a black woman in an apron. Outside in the garden another black person, Jakob, was in the habit of singing what sounded like hymns, but in a language Karel did not understand. Katrina also liked to sing.
Karel said Jakob and Katrina gave him so much love that he thought they were part of the family.
And then late afternoon Jakob and Katrina would each take a shower in the back rooms, preparing to disappear once again to someplace Karel did not know. The parents would arrive to take over, a routine that ended on Fridays.
On Sundays when both Karel and his parents were dressed to the nines, ahead of the service at the local NG Kerk, the boy would wonder and ask whatever happened to Jakob and Katrina.
The parents told him not to worry, because the two would return on Monday.
Karel swore his parents never taught him Jakob and Katrina were lesser human beings or any such thing.
They taught him that the two were decent people who were also committed churchgoers, at a place mom called the “Bantu location”.
I bumped into Karel on a recent visit to my mother in Bela Bela. Karel asked if Oom could help him to find a job in the big cities. I suggested he approach the Bela Bela local municipality and other government offices for internships, and perhaps a job.
Suddenly, oh so suddenly, the young fellow dropped his eyes, mumbling that he had tried, but to no avail.
But why, Karel?
The young man ran his fingers through ruffled blond hair, gathered his courage, and replied: “Dem peoples say I is white and male.”
Lord have mercy. Oh black man, have mercy, too.