T: "Kele is nounet hier weg. 'n Sotho meisie van Pretoria. Ai. So
moeilik om nie teen kultuur vas te kyk nie. Sy sê sy verdien genoeg
geld. Bel my asseblief. Nie maklik nie. Aijaijai. T"
(Translation: Kele just left here. A Sotho girl from Pretoria.
It's so hard to look past culture. She says she earns enough money.
Please call me. Not easy at all.)
Kele: "Sy verstaan ook Afrikaans. I think you sent that sms to
the wrong person. Don't worry about it though. It was nice meeting you.
This was a few short years ago.
I had just come from checking out an apartment in Cape Town.
I'd been in the city exactly three days and was staying at a backpacker
with half the population of Europe. That's what I love about Cape Town.
It's a real cosmopolitan city. In one week, I had lunch with a woman
from Germany, a date with a French guy (I'm not kidding), a braai with
Australians and spent a night partying down Long Street with doctors
Anyway, two days later I got a message from T saying, "Hi Kele,
good luck with ur work today. Everything will go well. I unfortunately
have to inform u that the room hs been taken. All of the best with flat
If I hadn't found another flat, I would have been in moerse
kak. Between starting my new job, unpacking boxes, trying to remember
names and always being lost, I was already in a state of perpetual
confusion. Then last night I was thinking about how I would blow my
first paycheque (YAY!) when this thought struck me: If that racist
b*tch had her way, I would be homeless! I mean literally homeless.
Suddenly the whole plethora of race-based equality policies
made sense. Because the truth is, people like T exist. And they have
the upper hand. As long as they aren't forced to change, they won't. So
now I've developed a love-hate relationship with affirmative action and broad-based black economic empowerment.
And while I may not agree with every single keystroke, I do think they're necessary.
It's not by chance that all the residents of Khayelitsha are
black. Or that most of the lower class population is non-white. As my
new housemate Djuri, said, "Apartheid was an entire manufactured social
system. Do you really think anyone wants to live in a shack? Have you
seen a white family living in a shack yet? Sorry to offend your coconut
There's another term to throw into our South African vocabulary.
Coconut sensitivity refers to the attitude of a black person who is
privileged but doesn't recognize their benefit and doesn't care how it
came about. And yes, sometimes I display just this... coconut
"What's the big deal?" I used to say to my girlfriend, Lebo.
"So I'm black. I like it. Even if I didn't, I can't change it. So let's
all just get over it. Let the past be the past." That is a common
slogan spoken by the coconut sensitive.
I lived with Lebo a few years ago. She studied politics and
law, and knew that race matters. We spent Thursday evenings in front of
the TV debating essays, men and clothes. "But, Kele, don't you see it?
How can you not? In your world everyone is happy-go-lucky. Everything's
perfect. And it's not! It's small stuff that happens every day."
"If you want to see something, you're going to see it. It's all
about perception," I said (I studied psychology, can you tell?). Three
hours later, Lebo would be fuming and trying to slap me. I would duck
and fall back on my anti-baggage argument. "Apartheid happened. That
was then, this is now." The naivety of youth...
Now, I've seen a little more reality. I'm sure
Lebo's jumping in joy on some rooftop in Jozi shouting, "I told you
so". I think I hear her.
Do you think race-based reformation policies are necessary?