It wasn’t the first time Jessica Leandra dos Santos had expressed such unsavoury sentiments toward a black person. According to those in the know, her previous tweet, which has since been deleted, read: “Highlight of my weekend? Almost punching an Engen petrol assistant. No tolerance for rude African monkeys whatsoever!”
Well, I have been called a monkey many times in my life, both to my face and behind my back. It’s not funny at all. Such personal denigration, based on nothing else but one’s skin colour, can cause irreparable mental and emotional scars.
Dos Santos is only 20 years old. At the time of her birth, Nobel Peace Laureate FW de Klerk – apartheid’s last president, who outlawed the heinous practice – had already set in motion mechanisms for renewed race relations in the country.
The Immorality Act, which barred citizens from entering into inter-racial marriages, and the Group Areas Act, which guaranteed whites-only residential areas and quarantined black people to slums, were on their way out. Those pieces of legislation were some of the cornerstones of institutionalised discrimination in our country. There were many, many more.
I can, to a certain extent, understand a white person of my age expressing the sentiments bellowed on Twitter by Dos Santos, although that would in no way imply acceptance and even the condoning of such balderdash.
It is, in the same vein that I found the response to Dos Santos’ remarks by a black model, Tshidi Thamana, unfortunate, when she tweeted: “Dear Mr Peter Mokaba… I wish all white people were killed when you sang ‘kill the boer’ we wouldn’t be experiencing @Jessica Leandra’s racism right now.”
See, the point I made above is the point I make again here: Thamana, too, like Dos Santos, is what we call a “born-free” – children who were born after the end of apartheid.
What they have lived through, at worst, is the legacy of apartheid, and not the system itself. Had Thamana been of my generation, perhaps I would harbour a quiet appreciation of where she is coming from, but in this case, it is disturbing to see the Nelson Mandela generation of “born-frees” behave in ways which belie the political strides we’ve thus far made as a country.
Therefore, one may ask: where did we go wrong? I believe that our penchant to plaster over the cracks is catching up with the new South Africa. Very little has been done by way of creating the climate and space for inter-racial understanding and appreciation of one another.
We have become by far a class society where money, resources and political positioning, or a lack thereof, are the determinants of one’s attitudes towards our new dispensation.
For the mushrooming black middle-class, the new South Africa means a whole new, exciting world unimaginable 20 years ago.
For the white haves, the new South Africa has erased that old burden of personal responsibility for racism, particularly when on overseas trips. To their have-not counterparts, De Klerk is a traitor who stripped them of their traditional privileges, of their silver spoons and birthright.
The social attitudes of blacks and whites are still worlds apart.
The absence of interracial ventures, where poor and largely under-privileged black children can find the opportunity to inter-mingle with their white counterparts, ensures that in spite of the end of apartheid our children – black and white – continue to lead separate and unequal lives.
For many black children, the closest they come to experiencing interaction with white children is on TV, and in magazine and newspaper photographs.
Racial harmony can only be achieved when a sense of equality emerges.
It is this sense which would also give rise to a sense of a just order, where access to resources and opportunities aren’t intertwined with political connections and money, be it old or new.
As long as Thamana and Dos Santos cannot find common cause to attend public events such as the commemoration of June 16, or Youth Day as it is now called, the foundation on which our transition is built will remain shaky.
And, it isn’t simply the responsibility of the government to encourage social cohesion and a buy-in to the common vision of convivial race relations. That ought to be the national duty of each and every citizen, irrespective of their background, gender, culture or creed.
Almost 20 years into our new democracy, and we are still struggling to fathom a common vision around which we can rally everyone.
Hence, when black children follow the political agenda of the current times, their white counter-parts do something else separately.
These challenges are not only restricted to our young people alone.
DA leader Helen Zille recently had a major spat with prominent activist and artist Simphiwe Dana over race-relations fundamentals.
For parents, their domestic education is reflected in the tweets of their children. The dinner time racial slurs are bound to find a way out into the open as children grow.
We can all pretend to have the so-called best constitution in the world, but it means nothing when, as fellow citizens, our country means different things to different races.
Perhaps it is time to learn from the Americans. Their country – and only their country – comes first regardless of their racial, social and economic challenges.
l Makoe is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Royal News Services