Coexist

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Black Lives Matter

 

Apartheid, meaning “apartness” in Afrikaans, initiated our division in 1948, by legally keeping black and white people apart. This segregation began after the Afrikaner Nationalist Party came to power, which enforced policies of white supremacy, empowering white South Africans, while oppressing black Africans. The first inhabitants of South Africa collectively referred to as Khoisan, the Khoi Khoi and the San people, lived peacefully upon South African soil as two separate tribes. Another original African tribe known as the Bantus, inhabited equally as peacefully, West and Central Africa. The Bantus migrated down to South Africa, known as the Bantu expansion, encountering Khoisan tribes and white colonists, forming a new multiracial ethnic group known as Coloureds. The first white people to settle in South Africa, in 1652 were of Dutch origin, later evolving into white Afrikaans South Africans that remain today. The discovery of our land's abundant raw riches of gold, diamonds, oil and coal, sparkled the British Empire’s interests, initiating the first South African war known as the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902), in which the British Empire fought the Dutch (Boer) settlers. Following the defeat of the Dutch, South Africa fell under British ruling in 1910, the descendants of white English South Africans that remain today. From 1948-1994 South African politics was dominated by Afrikaner nationalism, of racial segregation and white minority rule. In 1994, the newly formed black political party known as the African National Congress (ANC) achieved victory in the country's first democratic election. Nelson Mandela, after serving 27 years in prison, was released in 1990 and became South Africa’s first black president. Since the abolition of Apartheid in 1994, the ANC has dominated South African politics. Life in South Africa is far from liberal. 

 

"A Day at School in Post-Apartheid"

 

The bell rang announcing the end of our final school period - geography with Mnr Jan De Vries - a massive military type man - who frequently condemned corporal punishment, offering it to those who preferred to receive two lashings with a smooth wooden stick, lasting two seconds than to sit detention, lasting two hours. Being a young lady, I found this public display of child abuse to be mildly undignified and left the beating to my male counterparts as I remained seated, awaiting detention to commence.

 

My classes naturally divided themselves, which some teachers tried to hide by seating us in alphabetical order. Mnr Jan De Vries, a white Afrikaans male, preferred his classes to be taught in our natural division, of white Afrikaans positioned front right, white English positioned front left, black Africans scattered at the back with brown Coloureds grouped somewhere in between. Our young impressionable minds, born post-apartheid, still couldn’t resist the naturalness of our separation, our dark green school uniforms being the only unifying symbol. My classes were further divided, the first half of the period was taught in English and the second half in Afrikaans. These colonial classes forced black Africans to neglect their mother tongue and adopt two oppressive languages or otherwise remain, as before, ignored and uneducated. I sat within my respective group, white English, I wasn’t very popular amongst my white peers, mainly because I was disruptive and expressed a disinterest for learning, making me indifferent to them, which teachers noticed too, as I sat in detention, the only white girl, tangled between a full classroom of over 26 black and coloured boys.

 

Detention consisted of two excruciating hours sat in complete silence, my wondering eyes, started at one corner of the room, intently tracing the building within I sat on this gloomy Friday afternoon. I first notice the spider web, stretched across the left corner of the room, just above Mnr De Vries, whose head buried in grading papers, soon became so consumed with the hefty workload that he forgot to glance up every once in a while to reprimand and awake the children whose heads now rest peacefully in folded arms. My eyes, move across the room, the walls painted mud yellow, have begun peeling, exposing the foundational face brick and cement intersections. I continue to observe my surroundings, the buzzing overhead projector covered in dust, radiates further heat into a room of already 28 degrees Celsius, it displays a faint paragraph with text errors against the derelict projector screen, which hangs forlornly from the ceiling at an annoying angle. I follow the room further until my eyes meet a large window, I observe the trees moving back and forth through the shattered glass. It was a berg wind, I remember Mnr De Vries said, a hot dry wind that blows from the mountains (berg) towards the coast. A boy at the back of the classroom, shot a ‘spitball’, a piece of paper covered in spit, against the head of a boy seated in front of him, joint laughter broke the prolonged silence, my daydream and Mnr De Vries’ attention. He glanced up from his pile of papers, banging his fist against his wooden tabletop, shouting in Afrikaans, “Ay word wakker!” (wake up), as heads lifted one by one. My attention, now discretely focused on my fellow classmates, I observed their tattered uniforms, as my eyes darted from hole to dirt stain, to loose threads, to untucked shirts and unlaced shoes. I looked down at my brand-new white-collar and well-ironed shirt, tucked into my equally clean skirt and snow-white socks, folded perfectly into shined laced shoes. It wasn’t only the colour of my skin that separated me, it was my privilege and my loving parents, who without fail packed my school lunch every morning, of which I shared with one of the many children who weren’t as fortunate as I.   


The air felt thick, a drop of sweat ran down the forehead of a coloured boy, who sat to the left of me. It moved in slow motion, curving as it reached his brow, travelling along his cheek like a tear, until it rested in suspense upon his clenched jaw, growing longer until the tension became too much to bear, still fixated I watched it fall and land against the wooden school desk, upon which his elbows rested. His clasped fingers made a fist which supported his chin, he sat as still and silent as a mouse with facial features drenched in contemplation. I had never seen this boy before as detention grouped misfits from all classes within the same year, suggesting our opposing subject interests, but I remember appreciating his fine looks and mischievous but sincere eyes and the science of chemistry in that opposites attract. He moved his hand suddenly, catching another drop of sweat midway across his forehead. Having had enough of this heat, he unbuttoned the right cuff of his school shirt and begun to roll up his sleeves, his graze still serious and in deep thought. My heavy heart sunk to the pit of my stomach, as he exposed his beautiful brown skin, covered in self-inflicted scars and fresh pink cuts. I instantly turned my head to the opposite direction, resting it upon my unharmed folded arms, disobeying orders, as I closed my tired and teary eyes. I thought to myself, maybe in our divided worlds, it takes children cutting to see we bleed the same red blood of shared ancestry, for below the superficial surface we are all the same. If only our sorrows were equally shared, then he too would see my same scars of shame and fresh cuts of guilt worn within my false superior white skin. Maybe then we would feel less dissimilar, maybe then we would feel more alike?