“THE past is not yet past” – a single quote from Damon Galgut’s The Good Doctor saves my sanity when it comes to my frustrations about South Africa. A while ago it suddenly occurred to me that some of those who supported apartheid still sat in positions of power, in academic institutions and in work places. Much like the younger character in Galgut’s book, change for me was frustratingly slow.
For those who had lived longer than I, change must be more apparent. But the reality for the current younger generation is that it is hard to appreciate Nelson Mandela’s work because it seems to have benefited a few.
And those few have kept the status quo.
I am still ashamed when I have to write my address because it forces me to acknowledge that I reside in the Native Units (NU) of Mdantsane. There are more pressing needs in our province and our country than wasting money on changing more names, many would argue. Most people do not even stop to think they live in Native Units.
But that is the point. If you want to preserve your humanity and sanity you cannot be a thinking community.
An unthinking culture is however, more dangerous than a thinking one.
Unthinking communities go on strikes and burn down the very scarce resources they do have in order to demand what they need. They wait for months and years and then end up with burnt out, broken and useless buildings while the demands that led them to that path of destruction are barely met, if at all.
Thinking communities watch the streets of unthinking communities burn. They shake their heads, call the people stupid, forget the news and carry on with their good lives – without another thought.
The irony is that an overwhelming majority of people who were supported by apartheid say they did not know about its effects. This was while they had maids they called “girls” and gardeners they called “boys”. This was while their schools only had children and teachers of a uniform hue in an African country. This was while they were happy to be called Europeans and others were non-Europeans in South Africa.
What does this tell us? It tells us that in order for unjust systems and beliefs to be upheld one needs to remain an unthinking culture – a culture that does not question or imagine a different reality.
Ironically the previous unthinking culture had literacy levels far higher than the ones of those currently burning down their assets.
To think would have meant that they were evil people which could not be entirely true.
In 2013 researchers reported that nearly 50% of whites did not believe apartheid was a crime against humanity. This was an improvement from the pre-1994 statistic but is still disturbing after 20 years of democracy.
It may explain why in the last few years violent acts of racism have been committed at the learning institutes of the born-frees. Some of the born-frees allegedly involved are from East London.
True change is not possible in South Africa until we forsake denying what we are. We largely still uphold the thoughts of the past and these are relived through the new generation.
We can only begin to think new constructive thoughts if we catch the old thoughts and bury them. It is time for the past to pass so that the future can finally come home.
The article first published today on 17 March 2015, The Daily Dispatch Newspaper, South Africa.