Oct
23
Posted on 23-10-2011
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Before reaching Johannesburg from Zambia, I’d asked friends about the city’s must-see sights and sounds. Surprisingly, all I got were scary warnings. We could be mobbed at anytime, the hotel should arrange airport transfers, even driving a rent-a-car is not safe. This immediately raised my curiosity about South Africa’s inner picture that hadn’t changed even after liberation from official Apartheid racial segregation laws since 1994.

The bitter black-white-skin divide still matters. In most workplaces I observed African natives doing menial work, their bosses were white. A week before we met Japh, our native South African guide, a young white boy had deliberately smashed his car’s rear windscreen. Why? Because he could not overtake him as the traffic light turned red. The white boy’s mother was driving the car, but she didn’t interfere. The boy toted a gun. Instead of getting into a fight, Japh went into the police station. However, without witnesses the police hesitated. The Government of this ‘rainbow’ nation represents 40 million black native Africans, 4 million coloureds and a million Asians and 5 million whites. Yet since historical times, the money’s largely been in with white people. They drive the economy even today, so the blacks tread warily.

Downtown Johannesburg looks very disturbed. You don’t see white people on the street, daytime or night. The whites were mugged and robbed here during the black uprising, so they fled. Now indigenous Africans and Indians man the shops. If you’re unfamiliar with the neighbourhood’s unexpressed feelings, you’re advised to stay away. Only the financial section didn’t move out, these large downtown buildings housing banks have white employees. But white tourists are not encouraged here. In fact, even when we wanted to see a jazz show downtown, our hotel in Sandton was on the lookout for the right taxi to take us, wait for us, and deposit us back after midnight.

The torture and indignity Apartheid inflicted on the blacks, making them homeless, herding them into make-shift black-only colonies like Soweto (South West Territory) created about 50 kms from Johannesburg cannot be forgotten so easily. But today all areas are technically open to all. Soweto had boasted 23 native African millionaires a decade ago. However that number has dwindled in Soweto as wealthy blacks are moving to costly, sophisticated places earlier reserved for whites. The Dutch and English together monopolize the mining rights for diamond, gold and mineral mines that South Africa is rich in. Their exclusive mine owners club is so exclusive that even women are barred, although of late they’ve condescended to allow women through a side door! White living areas are up-market, resembling places like Monte Carlo. Native Africans, poor and in lower stations in life, are generally intimidated from navigating such places. So the continuous racial and rich-poor clash has made a foreigner’s movement in South Africa uneasy and frightening.

We crossed beautiful farms en-route to the Stone Age anthropological site named Cradle of Humankind. In these limestone caves near Gauteng, over 500 hominid fossils were discovered from 3.5 million years ago, including the first human fossil nicknamed Mrs Ples dating back 2.3 million years. In this land we can visibly realize how human beings have evolved to conquer nature and rule the world. “This countryside environment we are passing has gone through many changes in recent times,” explained Japh. Earlier white farm owners used to build homes for their farm hands, provide for this captive labour force generation after generation. But now the owners have hired white managers to run the farms. These managers have asked native labourers to vacate those homes. Their fear is that they will be accused of keeping farm workers as bonded slaves, snatching away labour rights and liberties. So a large number of blacks have become homeless. During Nelson Mandela’s Presidency he started a housing scheme for the homeless. From the highway we can see these rows of basic council houses. If people can prove a certain low wage and homeless situation, they’ll be allotted a house free of cost.

Why did the rich white farm owners leave their land? Japh’s perspective is that they have fled to coastal towns Cape Town and Durban so that if, by chance, the sleeping volcano of native anger erupts, they can quickly take boats to escape the country. “This burst will surely come, we cannot say if it will be in 5, 15 or even 100 years,” Japh said. “White people will have to exit one day just like they did from all our neighbouring African countries.”

From Uncle Tom’s days to Apartheid, racial strains have choked societies in North America and Africa. So the black community in both continents has inculcated a warrior mentality against the whites, a mentality that erupts as soon as the occasion arises. Except when it comes to the arts, white society has gleefully borrowed from African culture, thus enriching the arts and themselves. In his famous African Period (1907-1909), Pablo Picasso painted in a style strongly influenced by African sculpture. The seminal black influence on Rock-n-roll King Elvis Presley was Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s black gospel music. African rhythm and sounds, first brought to the US by African slaves, led to the creation of blues and jazz. It can be established that African music is at the root of a very significant portion of all recent popular or vernacular music in the West, including genres like heavy metal, punk rock, pop music.

Musicians like Paul Simon, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger have contributed to lessening the skin matter, but it has never been resolved. It seems to be like the solar system that cannot be displaced. There have been great integration initiatives from white Americans, but their mindshare is somehow blocked, the two colours cannot make the same cup of tea. The black and white races of the world continue to carry this shame to this day.

To download above article in PDF Skin matters

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/skin-matters/864267/0

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