Somebody Help Me, I’m Having a Kak Gedagte

So, I have a confession to make: lately I’ve been having a kak gedagte, and this thing started to happen on Tuesday night when Baleka Mbete didn’t even have the decency to fake cry when she announced to the dishonourable members of parliament and the waiting country that uJacob and his thieving, plundering ministers will continue to thieve and plunder till the Nguni cows come home. I suppose I was one of those people hoping against hope that the majority of the ruling party were people of integrity who would do the right thing even if it was hard, but clearly this is not the case. And I suppose I just got demoerin and that feeling hasn’t left me yet. And what I want to know is why must we always draw the short straw when it comes to rulers of this lovely country? Why do we always get saddled (Madiba and Mbeki excluded) with the biggest bladdy mamparras the world has ever seen? I mean, this guy?

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Prime Minister PW Botha. No doubt telling everyone how not a racist he is. Or maybe mansplaining a thing to Elise*

I know that when you’re a white South African it’s haram to have an opinion that extends beyond what you’re going to order from UberEATS, but I would also like to say that at no point did Clarence Poephol in the above pic phone me on my landline and ask my opinion on things. Because I can tell you, for free, that if he had done I would have said in no uncertain terms that I don’t think apartheid is very polite nor any kind of good idea moving forward into the future. Except he didn’t give two Kruger Rands for what I – or most of South Africa – thought, so I had to stand there with a mouth full of teeth singing Oranje Blanje Blou and about crags and creaking wagons while these fools made completely kak decisions which would later, round about now, bite us badly in the bums, thanks for that.

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Old poepoog President Zuma having a lekker laugh at the State of the Nation.

And now, for his sins and those before him, we’ve got Billy Sphincter and his swimming pool to contend with. Maybe we’re being punished because it’s so lekker here. Could that be? I mean, try and beat our winelands and coastline. Maybe it’s some kind of retributive justice by the universe, like here’s a very good Chardonnay for the bargain price of 45 ZAR, only you’re also getting Bathabile Dlamini because you can’t have everything, sozzles. I suppose it sort of balances out Addo and the Kruger National Park when we get the most foolish people who’ve ever been born making decisions for us and our country. Otherwise it would be too good and it wouldn’t be fair on the rest of the world. And now the same ANC that saved our souls has grown more vrot than a skaapboud left out in the sun after Nagmaal. What are we even to do?

And, how mad is our history, actually? So, let’s take the most diverse, vibrant, culturally rich and beautiful place on the planet and put this guy in charge:

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Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd. A barrel of laughs, you can tell.

I mean. I don’t think he had a happy day in his entire life. Which might account for why he was hell-bent on making the rest of us miserable. When you’re feeling like a haemorrhoid there’s nothing worse than being surrounded by joyful people. I actually think, had Verwoerd (just the name sounds like you’re making a noise out your bum) and his cronies lived long enough, they would have thoroughly approved of Jacob Zuma’s government. Lord knows they were also robbing us blind during the apartheid years. If old Hendrik was capable of moving those thin lips into a smile, he would have grinned at JZ and slapped him on the back and told him way to go! Censorship of the press, thieving, autocratic governance, corruption… so many parallels between that government and this one. It seems like the ANC learnt well from its predecessors.

So, I’m really hoping my kumbaya mindset returns one of these hours so that I can continue to assure everyone in Perth that it’s all ayoba. People have pointed out that nearly 50% of the ANC opposed Zuma and that that’s a good sign. I suppose they’re right, I’m just impatient. How long will we wait till proper social transformation starts to happen? What is the plan for righting the wrongs? Is there one or will we, the haves, just keep shopping and pretending we live in Europe? When will this wonderful country filled with so much amazingness be rewarded with a proper leader? We have come so far and worked so hard that these setbacks klap a sister.

I suppose it’s no different, really, to what we’ve been dealing with since the Nats ran the show. We hated our government then, we hate our government now. Not a lot has changed. Actually, it’s probably not stretching the truth to say not a lot has changed since the 1600s when the first white ships arrived on our coastline and starting making megaai. So, I’m going to try and cheer up: Zuma’s days are numbered and when he goes, chances are excellent we’ll be awarded an even bigger mamparra because the more things change, the more they stay the same. And there is something quite comforting about that. Plus, we have R45 wine and a good excuse to drink it.

*Elise Botha, his wife.

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On Coming to Terms with Our Arseholery

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Nobody wants to think of themselves as being a bad person. Bad people are ISIS fighters, child molesters, Shrien Dewani. They do horrible things which are blatant and obvious and talked about in the media. But in the last few months I have found myself in spaces where I’ve had to take a long and careful look at who I am in the world, the attitudes that have formed me and how I conduct myself in certain situations. And to say that it’s been an uncomfortable awakening is an understatement. Because many of you who follow my blog know that I’m relatively outspoken about race issues in this country. I have strong feelings about the socio-economic disparities and the white attitudes that feed them, and while I sit behind my computer screen in my nice study on the Atlantic Seaboard it’s easy to wax lyrical about egalitarianism and the way things ‘should’ be in SA. When I write these words, which I wholeheartedly mean, I can nonetheless distance myself a little bit from the ‘racists’ out there; convince myself that I am better than they are.

But the truth is I’m not. I am as guilty as the man who went up to my neighbour’s friend who was recently walking in a supermarket with his newly adopted baby and said, ‘oh look, a special little kaffir.’ The other man who asked a couple who have adopted two HIV positive children of four and six why they are ‘wasting their time.’ The inhabitants of the shop in the town of Oudtshoorn who openly snubbed our white friends because they walked in with their black baby daughter. I could go on and go – there are so many incidents of this kind of thing that happen all the time in this country. But there’s another thing too, and it’s this that I’m guilty of. The white arrogance and sense of entitlement that follows us wherever we go and is so ingrained we aren’t even aware of it. It’s the tone we adopt when the black teller is taking too long to ring up our goods (my ‘madam’ voice). It’s the secret panic when the pilot is black. It’s the us-and-them way we were taught, from the youngest age, to divide the world. This stuff is in our DNA, and the more we deny it, the less chance we have of making it go away.

I regularly hear white South Africans say the most outlandish things: ‘It’s just a pity when it’s the blacks turning on the blacks’. Blacks who? What homogenous entity are we referring to? My char? The heart surgeon at Grootte Schuur? Oprah? What does the council guy who comes to my door asking for R5 for his daughter’s netball tournament have in common with President Zuma? I can tell you: fucking nothing. I have more in common with Zuma than he does. We are both middle class South Africans with a big, fat sense of entitlement. Or, they say: ‘I’m not interested in politics and race relations.’ Oh, you aren’t? Could that be because you have a big house with a lawn and two cars and eat out a few times a week and go to Bali for Christmas? How lovely for you that you’re privileged enough to be apolitical. And for me. And for all of us who live lives of charm and delight, tweeting about SONA over a second bottle of Beaumont Shiraz because fuck sakes, this country is surely going up in flames in five minutes. Please pass the dip.

I don’t mean to be unfair and beat up on white people. Some of my best friends are white. We are all just human beings doing our best in a political situation which scares us to the very marrow. We love this country and – with good reason – are terrified of what the ANC is getting away with; what this recent malarkey means in terms of our constitution and our future. But we all need to do a big, fat audit of our attitudes and the racism we hide even from ourselves. We need to remind ourselves, daily, that our disappointment in our government has nothing to do with the countless black people in South Africa just trying to get by in a country where the structures of apartheid make basic survival a daily struggle. The legislative bit of apartheid might have ended 20 years ago, but it is not white people living in cardboard boxes beside the highway. For those countless people, apartheid is alive and well – only they have no hope of anything ever changing. For them, the cycle of poverty is as entrenched and ongoing as it’s ever been.

Let us make a point of remembering how incredibly privileged and lucky we are to live the lives we do in this extraordinarily beautiful part of the planet. Let’s stop sitting by passively and moaning to each other over skinny lattes about how messed up everything is. We – the ones who enjoy economic power as a birthright – must start speaking up for those who have no voice. And it starts with admitting our racism to ourselves and becoming acutely aware of how it plays out in the day-to-day; how, on subtle levels, it keeps the status quo in place because thoughts lead to words which lead to actions. Truth be told, we can be a stupid, obtuse tribe of people. The other day a young woman who belongs to the Neighbourhood Watch group I had to leave because of comments like hers said, ‘This whole black issue is such a crock.’ I mulled over her comment for days, and in the end I didn’t have enough words for that level of ignorance and myopia. And the saddest thing of all was that everyone agreed.

So, I propose this for each one of us who grew up during apartheid or at any point in this socially and economically segregated society and has been rendered a little bit mad as a result: we need to stand in front of a mirror, look ourselves in the eye and say, ‘I am a racist.’ Then we need to make a daily decision that we are going to challenge these stupid, retrogressive views which are based on nothing but ignorance and fear. In whatever small capacity we can we need to counter our arseholedom by doing selfless things, spreading goodwill and taking the hand of friendship black South Africa – against all odds and to my ongoing astonishment – holds out to us, its arrogant oppressors. Because we have the power to do so much good if we can look up from our iPads long enough.

The morning after the State of the Nation address I went to Clicks Pharmacy to buy Panados for the red wine I’d gulped down when the sound went off for the seventh time. I asked the (black) woman who was ringing up my things if she had watched the madness the previous night. She had. She started telling me how angry and disappointed she was in our government. Her colleague joined in the conversation. Their voices grew so loud a small crowd gathered to hear what they were saying, and they were much more radical in their condemnation of the ANC than I dare to be. They went on for such a long time I almost regretted asking, but it was a very important reminder for me – and I suspect for all the white people who stood there, listening – that we are on the same side. We all want fairness and accountability by the government and a president who is a leader and not a crook. We all want to live in a country where our children’s futures are secure. Let’s do what we can to stop the divisiveness that’s growing in our society like a cancer, and the first step towards achieving that is taking a long, hard look at ourselves.

On Getting off Facebook and Talking to the Petrol Attendant Guy

While apartheid ostensibly ended two decades ago, you’d have to be in all kinds of denial not to see how apartly (made-up word) black and white people still live, and it’s a phenomenon I alternately accept with a kind of soul-weary resignation and then sometimes regale against with all my heart because the fact that we don’t talk to each other lies at the very heart of this country’s ongoing problems. But because of this reality – my age, where I live, where my kids go to school – the only black people I encounter on a day-to-day basis are the ones at the supermarket checkout, the one bringing me my Americano and the guy filling my car up with unleaded. So, when I’m not feeling that I-can-t-make-a-fucking-difference-here-so-I’m-not-even-going-to-try feeling (usually brought on by reading the paper), I’m trying a new thing which is talking to every black person I get a chance to talk to.

Sometimes it will be the woman with the great weave at Sea Point Pick n Pay (there’s this drop dead gorgeous woman who sits there all day ringing up groceries and every day she is so glamorous and perfectly groomed she makes me feel like the bag lady); sometimes it will be the parking attendant – though, less often him, because I’m usually rushing somewhere – and often it’s the petrol attendant guy because he’s standing around, anyway, and you’re sitting there waiting will a few minutes to kill, and what I’ve discovered since doing that is that these micro conversations have probably changed the way I understand how people are feeling in this country.

The first time I did it was when Madiba was very sick and it felt like nobody was telling us the truth about what was going on and for weeks I was distressed and vaguely ill-at-ease. In the context of that shared tragedy it felt less weird to engage a complete stranger, and I put my skaamness about being white and in a fancy Swedish car aside and asked the guy what he thought of the whole thing. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember him telling me his family was from around the Qunu area and, as a young boy, he knew of the Mandela clan and was going there in the next while to pay his respects. Just hearing that was comforting. We shook hands awkwardly – me doing the formal thing, him doing that hand-clasp thing I’ve never quite grasped – but that part didn’t matter. We were just two grieving South Africans.

This week the guy I spoke to works in Green Point and, it as it transpires, he is from East London where I was born and my parents both grew up which means it’s a special part of the world for me and with anyone who comes from the Eastern Cape I feel an instant kinship. His name was Dumisani, and this is how our conversation went:

Me: Oh, wow, I haven’t been back to East London for many years, but I want to go soon. I want to take my mom and dad back.

Him: You’ll be surprised at what you find. It’s not like it used to be. I go back to visit my sister and when you come from Cape Town it’s like arriving in a different country.

Me: Ja, I hear that.

Him: I can’t understand, when people see how badly an area is being governed, they’ll still vote ANC. Look at what the DA does for Cape Town.

Me: Ja, but we’re still in transition. This stuff takes time. People vote for a party, not an individual. You can’t expect black people to vote for a white party.

Him: No. It’s been twenty years now. People need to wake up. The time of thinking like that is over. Who is serving you? Who is making your life better? These are the only issues that matter. I struggle. I do. But I’m providing for my kids, and they won’t struggle like I do. Their lives will be different. I’m teaching them to ask questions. When they vote it won’t be about what’s black and what’s white, it will be about what’s good and what’s right.

I didn’t really have much to say after that, but I thought about our conversation and I repeated it to my parents that evening over supper. Because we all still maintain this myth that there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, and all the time, when I can be bothered to pay attention, I’m reminded that there is just an ‘us.’ If this ship goes down, it’s the under-classes who drown first. We whiteys can still weasel a passport to New Zealand. Dumisani? Not so much. I don’t know this man from Adam, but I can tell you that he’s smart and hard-working and doing everything in his power to make a better South Africa for his family. Unfortunately, his ceiling of opportunity was low and standing around all day washing people’s windscreens was one of the few jobs he was able to get. But he does it with pride and enthusiasm and he has a plan and a purpose and I drove away humbled and with great admiration for that kind of can-do attitude. Because, god knows, we in our nice cars like to whinge.

So, the point, I guess, is that all around us all time are these little windows of opportunity for us to engage and get to know one another a little bit better. It’s just about putting your phone down and taking them. They’re there. And the thing is it’s me who drives away feeling better, feeling more connected and more hopeful about the future. Less of a stranger in my own country. I’m going to try to do it more often.