Denis Beckett writes a bi-weekly column for The Star called Stoep Talk.
Johannesburg - Now that we are - um, is the word “blessed”? - by another temporary New Most Famous Seffrican, we get a new round of Look What Whites Do.

In one sense that’s an ironic comment on the state of the nation.

An element of white South Africa, an element comprising 0.00002% of the whole, says something outrageously offensive. So 50 voices - 0.0001% of the overall population - annex comment-lines and Twitter-feeds to denounce white South Africans.

So the local newspapers report on those 50 voices, so the New York Times and Le Monde and “People’s Daily”, and Kampala’s Daily Monitor and the Fiji Times and a gajillion periodicals leap upon nice salacious readable bad news and proclaim South Africa a place of race hatred.

And at the shops, while we greet Godfrey the friendly flower salesman, an expert arrives to tell us what the world is saying and we must worry. “Oops, is something wrong with me and Godfrey that we don’t know we’re prisoners of race hatred”? That’s not to complain; it’s how things go.

Our Adam gets the world record for shooting yourself in the foot. (He’s lucky that only his “Cat” will stick as the other three syllables blur). And he raises a question: how widespread or not it is for pale persons to apply that term in what they think is private?

As is widely said: to proudly dispatch his punchline to friends and family, he must see this as their language too, and their attitude.

The best I can say to that is: it’s surprising.

His business-running private-school circle is not a million miles from how I grew up. I wouldn’t say that that circle is dominated by dedicated liberals, but I’d certainly say it treats this language as out of court.

The last time I heard his K-laden keyword was, indeed, in that circle.

But that was in February 2001 and was such a shock that it remains vivid in my mind 17 K-less years later.

I also remember the first time I heard it as a child, and the garden in which it was said, and the adult who said it, and it shocking the other adults.

Especially I remember using the word when I asked my mother why the shock, and her washing my mouth with soap to emphasise that it’s not a word to emit.

In the half-century between those two shocks, it wasn’t always a shock. As an assistant driver of railway trucks, I had a boss who used it all the time.

A walking tragedy, this guy’s self-esteem lay in the entitlement that his skin conferred. His script was keeping dark people down.

Maybe 20, 30, 40 other times it came up in Afrikaans or English.

Sometimes I was bold enough, confident enough, at least once drunk enough to intervene. Others, I chickened out. Once an Afrikaans Navy lieutenant, later to be an admiral, squelched a group of seamen who were taking liberties. I still admire his pithy lecture on respecting humans, and especially older ones.

My main point here is that I identify most of the times that word was used in my hearing. That puts it in a rare category of words.

Note too that the word diminished. It didn’t come to a sharp halt when power changed, it dwindled away like other coarse words for different breeds of person, including Gays, Jews, and Afrikaners, and doubtless their words for our lot.

We were stuck-up little Wasplets a lifetime ago. We improve, generally, imperfectly, like everyone. And we might doubt that any category of humanity is impeccable.


* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.