Just tell us what we wish to hear

Saturday, 2 March 1996

While we've been barrelling down the road of reconcilliation, white South Africa has never been taught how black South Africa really felt about lots of things...

Decades of state-fed propaganda convinced white South Africa they knew how most black people felt about the ANC, the cultural boycott, the sports boycott, disinvestment, communism, and Nelson Mandela. Any pigmentally well-endowed person expressing approval for any of the above was deemed part of a terrorist minority bent on destruction of civilised norms.

Never mind that Frelimo proved to be overwhelmingly popular in Mozambique in spite of the SABC's claim to the contrary. Never mind the popularity of the MPLA in Angola, or Patriotic Front in Zimbabwe or Swapo in Namibia.

And even today, there's an overwhelming perception on the part of white opinion makers that the ANC is out of step with the rest of the country. They accord Tony Leon more respect than Winnie Mandela, even though his constituency is smaller.

Of course, neither white South Africa nor black South Africa are monoliths. As we move further down the path of democracy, the dividing lines will be increasing blurred.

We will see increasing numbers of black capitalists, and increasing numbers of white socialists. Relationships will by and large be formed on the basis of class and not race.

But there are certain social and historical realities that many white South Africans seem unaware of when dealing with black South Africans, irrespective of social strata. There are certain issues that remain sensitive, and should be treated as such as a simple matter of courtesy.

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I'm going to be presumptious enough to mention some of these. White men in particular should pay attention. These pearls of wisdom are as relevant whether you are sipping cocktails with Nthato Motlana or guzzling jubas in a shebeen.

Don't talk about your fun times in the army. Some of you may have enjoyed your two years dropping the soap in the communal shower, but black South Africans overwhelmingly hated the old SADF. The reason we don't speak about them now is that we are polite.

Don't talk about how advanced we would have been had there not been a sports boycott. Most of us fervently supported the sports boycott. We hated Gerrie Coetzee, Kevin Curren, and all those who carried the flag of white South Africa into the international arena. Yes, we support the Boks today, but it's not backdated.

Don't tell us how mismanaged the rest of Africa is under black rule. Firstly, we know full well how democracy was subverted by South African-sponsored destabilisation. Secondly, the present government might get ideas.

Don't tell us America is our friend. The US is friend to only one country - itself. This is why communist China retains Most Favoured Nation trading status with the US even after the Tiannammen Square massacre, while the world's largest democracy, India, enjoys no such special relationship.

Don't talk about how sad it is that standards have to be lowered for affirmative action to work. With these decades of an unequal educational system, it's a bloody miracle we're as good as we are. Just feel glad you don't live in Potgietersrus.

So then, you may ask, what are reasonable topics of conversation?

Plenty.

Talking about how overpaid our politicians are is always a good thing, as is the way the SABC continues to squander public funds while pleading poverty.

We can wallow together in the glories of today's Springboks and Bafana Bafana.

We can collectively agree that King Proteas is an extremely stupid name for a national team. Why not simply call them King Crickets? After all, that is the common name for that South African symbol of terrifying speed and lightning reflexes - The Parktown Prawn.

We can make a point of acknowledging that more vehicles are hijacked from black South Africans than from whites, getting rid of the notion that only some of us are victims.

These are interesting times we live in. That the ANC, with a socialist heritage, seems to be better at capitalist fiscal responsibility than its predecessor is astounding.

A good example of this is the fact that the ANC-led Gauteng province has balanced its books, while the other economic powerhouses, Western Cape under the Nats and KwaZulu Natal under Inkatha, have not.

There are many other such discoveries awaiting us. Old theories and preconceptions should be merrily stomped on.

Just don't talk about "the good old days."