Tension between the different races will always be an issue if we don’t address the economic challenges we face in our country, says Khaya Dlanga.
There is one moment that opened my eyes and made me realize that there was something wrong in the country we live in. I had not yet turned 10 and I lived in a village that was about 3km from the N1 in Transkei. It was during the school holidays, when my cousins and I would have to look after my grandfather’s cattle. Although the grazing fields were fenced, some parts of the fence were broken, and others were low enough for the cows to jump over, so we would stand near the N1 to make sure they did not go on to the road and cause accidents or, God forbid, get run over.
Sometimes we’d stand by the highway and count cars or try to guess what brand a car was while it was still very far off. We would guess by the shape and whoever got the most cars correct won. I always won because I would often go to Mdantsane near East London to visit my mother, which exposed me to more cars than the other boys in my village.
The day I realised that all was not well in South Africa was, while playing the game, we saw a white family stop their car on the side of the road. A massive boat was towed by their fancy car. There were fishing rods sticking out of the windows. The family got out of the car and took pictures of us. They looked so happy and healthy and clean, which was in contrast to me, who was probably wearing something I had had on for a few consecutive days.
Then, for the first time in my life, I asked myself: “Why is it that white people have all the nice things and black people don’t?” It didn’t make any sense to me at all. That was the first time I became aware of race and what it meant at the time: to be white meant to be rich and to be black meant to be poor.
Now, more than 20 years later, it stills means the same thing. Yet it shouldn’t. We won’t have a South Africa in absolute harmony with itself when poverty has only a black face. White South Africans feel attacked when this is stated – as if we are saying the reason black people are poor is their fault, which is not true. What we are saying is that a system was created that made white prosperity easy and black poverty even easier. Each group is affected by that system to this day, and it will only be broken when opportunities are created that benefit everyone. And only then will a post-racial South Africa be created.
The reason there is so much talk about race in South Africa is because there does not seem to be fair access to resources. After 20 years of democracy, for every R100 a white person makes, a black person makes R13. When stripped down to it’s bare face, this is the reason for all the race talk in South Africa.
There is fear among some members of the white community that black people want to take from white people. This is very far from the truth. Because white people feel that way, they retreat and say they are under siege and are under threat from black people. White people are not under any economic threat; they continue to thrive.
South Africa is still an “us” and “them” nation. As long as that happens, we will not live in a racially harmonious system. Our diversity will continue to divide us, and we live in constant suspicion of one another and each other’s motives.
Race will always be an issue as long as we don’t address the economic challenges we face. Everything will stop being about race when race stops determining prosperity. When for every R100 made by a white person a black person makes the same, South Africa will become post-racial. Money means leverage, and black people feel they have none while white people feel that theirs is being taken away.
Strangely enough, a post-racial South Africa exists but dies after some time. It is always there. You can see it in children in primary school, how they play and hangout together. Yet the older they get, they retreat into the sad “us” and “them” state of South Africa. The problem in South Africa is that everyone is angry about the “other” and they think they are entitled to that anger.
Instead of us being angry at each other, we should be angry at the situation that has created poverty for the majority and prosperity for the minority, and fix that. South Africa is on a long road to post-racialism, and it’s going to take a while.