Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Black or white

So begins another chapter of my tumultuous relationship with race in South Africa.

Even as I stepped off the plane, speaking my first words of Zulu since leaving last year, I was gawked at. I probably deserve it, because I judge right back.

I find myself resentful of whites here, as I always have. Even at the ticket counter, the white South African lies to me that the plane I'd like to get on is full. The black worker at the counter would later tell me that 21 people were on a flight that could hold 50. "You could have been there already!" he exclaims. He seems angry that I was been lied to, and asks if I can point out the man who lied to me two hours earlier, but he's gone.

I get a porter to carry my bags, they're always very friendly and although the Johannesburg airport is notorious for theft, I know the airport well enough to know who to stay away from and who is trustworthy. The porter laughs loudly when I speak in Zulu to him. He says something to the effect of whites not knowing black languages, and applauds me for my flawless accent (he lies, but I tell him I'll pass his compliment on to my teachers).

I struggle when people ask me if I'm afraid to come here. Afraid of the blacks is really what they mean. They don't expect me to be attacked by a white South African when in fact all of my bad experiences in town have been with extremely forward whites, not blacks.

But a glimmer of hope. Two workers from South African airways joke with me that I should be learning Afrikaans from the "coloured" South Africans, as it's different and fun. They get along - a symbol of Mandela's new South Africa, symbolized by the nation's rainbow flag. But it's a pipe dream, so far as I can see. It makes me sad.

I shouldn't judge. White South Africans have also sacrificed and done a lot to help the peace process here, and although I may see them as a symbol of oppression and apartheid, such thoughts need to be pushed aside if real development is to occur.

But I do have hope that one day it will be better. For now though, I sit remembering the racism of visits past, and it clouds my optimism for the "rainbow nation."

Some of my favourite Nelson Mandela quotes:

"Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement."

"If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness."

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

"After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."

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