Hypocrisy a favourite pastime for many
Johannesburg - Hypocrisy is becoming a favourite South African pastime. Find someone who did something nasty. Lash them publicly. Scapegoat them on Twitter, Facebook, radio and television platforms. Perhaps even hastily organise an earnest one-day conference with a theme inspired by the now evil person.
Remember, for example, one Jessica dos Santos. She of racist Twitter infamy managed to make us feel pretty good about ourselves. The tactic is simple: lash out against her racist tweets and so buy yourself the right never to have to examine your own life. After all, things must be virtuous with you if you expressed moral outrage at her, right? Well, not so. And this hypocrisy game played out again last week. This time Kleinfontein became this season’s Dos Santos.
Someone discovered a seemingly racist enclave near Pretoria reminiscent of slegs blankes (‘whites only’) days. And then everyone started throwing verbal stones in the apparent racists’ antiquated direction.
One colourful political grouping, time-travelling from a racially integrated future, even went there to put these bigots in their place, role-modelling to the bigots what diversity looks like. Every progressive Tom, Siphokhazi and Kobus had a go at these people refusing to get with the new South Africa programme.
And, at the end of the day, we could all high-five each other, smile for the cameras, and send a few self-congratulatory Tweets about just how different “we” are to “them”.
But all of this uncritical engagement with Kleinfontein left me uneasy for days.
The reason, I realised, is this: South Africa still suffers the consequences of apartheid geography throughout the length and breadth of the country, and so the scapegoating of Kleinfontein is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, I am thrilled that South Africans, regardless of colour, class or political orientation, can publicly shame people who want to derail a broader project of non-racism, and, I don’t know, a lofty ideal like cosmopolitanism even. On the other, we are again, as with Dos Santos, lying to ourselves about how different we really are, and so underestimating the work we too must do in our lives and neighbourhoods that are also woefully unintegrated. Kleinfontein is a crude example of what happens everywhere.
It is not, however, an exception. And if we render “them” racists on the outskirts of the Milky Way, then I wonder if we’re seriously interested in rooting out all traces of racism in our society or whether we simply, perhaps unconsciously even, want to deflect attention from ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong. A settlement that deliberately excludes people on the basis of race – even if they do so with a proxy criterion like “only Voortrekker mense shall live here” – has no place in a non-racist society.
And so making Kleinfontein a target of disapproval is not just acceptable, it is obligatory if we’re serious about non-racism.
But we dare not stop there. My hometown of Grahamstown, for example, is a textbook study in apartheid geography.
There is a bridge at the bottom of High Street in town that literally divides the coloured community from the predominantly white neighbourhoods. And the coloured neighbourhood is separated from the black African township by a buffer created by the architects of apartheid city planning. Unlike in Kleinfontein, no one is using bureaucratic criteria here to strictly keep anyone out of any suburb. So you have a handful of streets that are integrated. But anyone who has been to Grahamstown knows that the racial legacy of apartheid geography is alive and thriving.
The same for big cities. In Cape Town, how much “social cohesion” is there? Do people in Eersterivier know people in Langa? Do these neighbourhoods mix with residents of Newlands? And Cape Town, too, should not be scapegoated. Joburg is no different. Many Joburgers who live in the northern suburbs think that reading Jacob Dlamini’s Native Nostalgia or Anton Harber’s Diepsloot count as their visit to parts of the city that are different to their own.
The latest craze, of course, is to pretend that three hours in Braamfontein on a Saturday counts as a cosmopolitan city experience.
We need to stop gloating about the anger we feel towards people like those who live in Kleinfontein. They are honest and crude about their revulsion of people who are different to themselves. We are not fundamentally different to Kleinfontein’s people. We are just less honest, more subtle.
If we attend a diversity workshop and have a laugh with a colleague who looks different, then we think we’ve done our bit for integration.
Truth be told, however, all South Africans live around each other. We don’t live in each other’s spaces. And even the few who do so in apartment buildings, for example, often make only a feeble effort to really get to know each other beyond pleasantries. Kleinfontein is not that alien, is it?
* Eusebius McKaiser is author of the bestselling book A Bantu In My Bathroom, a collection of essays on race, sexuality and other uncomfortable South African topics.