The International Writers Magazine: Comment

I Don’t Want Your Freedom
Eugene Englebrecht

After 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 month’s 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: "That’s 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 gone unanswered.
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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