Being a black person in South Africa hurts. It is the bittersweet equivalent of containing so much magic that you are misinterpreted as a witch and burnt daily at the stake; writes Marungwane “Shadi” Ramashapa.
It is important to understand that the apartheid administration made a lot of efforts to redefine and psychologically control how black South Africans viewed themselves. Beyond the spatial segregation caused by the apartheid policy, the system told us who we are and how to value ourselves and each other, all while affecting the structure of the black household. So it is not surprising that today, black people are always ready to call-out anyone and anything which threatens the future we are working towards. We are stubbornly standing up for our rights. We dare anyone to say anything contrary to our beliefs of who we are.
This is perhaps part of the reasons why when the image of an email allegedly sent by an employee of MiWay Insurance circulated social media, caused an uproar. The email mentions a managers meeting and the decision to reject a large majority of claims made by black people. It also refers to black people as baboons who are easy to target for increased profit margins. After investigation, the company released a statement where it claims the email was fabricated by a disgruntled client. The validity of which is still being questioned by many.
The statement was met with mixed responses from the public. While some posed sensible questions (which encourage dialogue) such as ‘Are we too quick to believe all that we read on social media?’ Others opted to blame black people for believing the image’s authenticity. They suggested that black people are always too eager to pull out the race-card, always too eager to start a riot. Some described black people as clinging to the past and being unwilling to get over apartheid.
I believe that there is an insensitivity towards black people. At times I feel as though being black means being unheard. As though we are talking to walls and deaf ears with eyes unwilling to lip-read. At times I feel as though being black means apologising that racist people do exist. I feel as though being black means apologising for not turning a blind eye; blamed for not pretending that the apartheid era never occurred. Let us not start the ‘not all …’ argument, as a friend once said ‘I do not have the time to discuss how imperfect your life is too.’
For many years I was an advocate for the ‘forgive and forget’ argument. I could not understand why we could not just place the whole ugly mess behind us and move on. Time has taught me that there is nothing romantic about this story and there is an emptiness in apologies which come with no action towards change. We can no longer agree to disagree if we aim to save this relationship. We have a long way before we can kiss and make-up.
More than just changing government policy in order to generate reparations, we need a change in perception. Rather than merely changing laws and providing access to amenities, there needs to be a change in the perceptions of the people these policies are made to benefit. It is important to note that all South Africans could benefit from the collaboration which comes from changed perceptions.
This may begin with open dialogue with representatives from all racial groups to identify misconceptions we have about each other. This may begin with the realisation that, in most cases, black South Africans do not have the same starting point as others. That we do not and did not have the same opportunities as our white counterparts. That we often still have to jump over obstacles placed by the apartheid system. This may begin with acknowledging that although dismantling the apartheid laws allowed black people spatial access, there are many other areas we are still being excluded from.
I am constantly battling with my understanding that it is time to heal and let go of the past, but also realising that there is no getting over what which has not been fixed. I am standing on a broken bridge and being asked to take a leap over the trolls of the past and raging fires of today’s inequality. Issa trap. Build towards me, I will build towards you. That’s the only way we are going to get over this. Neither of us have all the tools to do this alone.
Marungwane “Shadi” Ramashapa [@Thee_Shadi] is a Masters candidate at the University of Johannesburg. Her interests lie in social development and governance. She also uses writing, arts and poetry in achieving a sustainable society.