International Writers Magazine: Comment
Dont Want Your Freedom
more than three hundred years of racial conflict, South Africa
held its first all race, truly representative democratic elections
on 27 April 1994, known ever since as Freedom Day. We will celebrate
that day in just over a months time. I wonder though how
much we really do have to celebrate.
I am one of those
rare creatures, a South African and a human being, who crosses racial,
gender, religious, national and other conceivable divides, and who comes
into contact with many people from many backgrounds all the time because
of my work. My many contacts with many different people has led me to
wonder if we should not start making funeral arrangements for the "New
South Africa" on 27 April 2006 rather than celebrate Freedom Day.
Everywhere I go, I hear racist remarks made and stereotypes spread by
members of one group against another. In the black community, for example
it is okay to refer to "whites" rather than "people"
when saying anything about someone who happens to be white. One day
I was walking in a supermarket and a small child asked his father who
I, a stranger was. His father explained in Zulu: "Thats a
white". As most white South Africans do not understand Zulu, the
father had assumed that I would have missed that remark. He quickly
made up some vague excuse, trying to justify his racism.
Of course, it goes the other way as well. When I am in the company of
white people, they all too often assume that it is "safe"
to say something racist. So, I have to endure listening to poisonous
remarks of how lazy, corrupt, stupid and noisy black people are. When
I confront some of them, they are shocked because I am clearly not like
most whites. Most Indians and so-called coloureds (people of mixed race)
and most members of some other race group also have lots to say about
"outsiders". Of course, prejudiced South Africans tend to
utter their "truisms" when they feel it is safe to do so.
Racism is, unfortunately, not the only problem that pervades South African
society; sexism is a major problem. Women are generally deemed to be
inferior, sex objects or some other such nonsense. Thus I have found
myself in the company of men, who felt safe at the time talking about
"chicks" and saying things like "a ring does not close
a hole" in reference to an attractive woman who was getting married.
Unfortunately, the misogyny in South Africa goes so far that many women
are abused and raped every day and most people do not blink an eye.
Of course, South African women also stereotype men and sometimes stick
together against someone simply because they happen to be male. In their
eyes, all men are useless, are babies and always fit all the negative
stereotypes perfectly. When I confront both men and women about their
sexism and explain that it is as bad as racism, they seem shocked. Then
there are women who try to impose their idea of womanhood on other women
and men who think they are the model man and all men should be macho,
aggressive and generally obnoxious.
Most South Africans also have a "proud" tradition of dehumanising
members of the "wrong" linguistic group. It is thus not uncommon
to hear that all Zulus are violent, that all Afrikaners are backward
or some such stereotype. My father is Afrikaans-speaking and my mother
is English-speaking. One barber I went to told me that if his daughter
ever married an "Englishman" (the word at the time was used
in a derogatory manner), he would disinherit her.
We also "enjoy" widespread homophobia. In the townships, lesbians
are raped so that they can become "real women". Gay men and
women are threatened, beaten and sometimes murdered. Questions about
homophobia that I have directed to the South African government have
We must not forget that most South Africans are xenophobic, especially
if the person in question comes from another African country. Black
South Africans thus often refer to black people from other African countries
as "amakhwerekhwere", just another derogatory term in the
rich South African lingo of prejudice. Then we have South Africans referring
to pommies (British people), Yanks (Americans) and Krauts (Germans)
amongst others, and thinking it is okay.
So, on 27 April this year, I fear most individual South Africans might
be thinking, if they think at all, that freedom and human rights are
paramount as long as we are talking about their freedom and their rights.
© Eugene Engelbrecht
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