issue 260 - October 1994
More than Jimmy's taxi
Apartheid is officially dead. Now South Africans have the awesome task of dismantling racism.
Ferial Haffajee finds people doing it in daring and imaginative ways.
A taxi to Soweto. All aboard for Jimmy’s ‘Face to Face’ Tours into the heartland of black South Africa, into the country’s largest township.
First stop Baragwanath hospital – Africa’s biggest. Then on to Winnie Mandela’s grand mansion. Next, a squatter camp. Then to the traditional slaughter of an ox as thanksgiving to the ancestors. Finally to an authentic shebeen for a pint of home-brewed beer swigged from a calabash.
Then it’s back to Johannesburg’s Carlton Hotel. All this for only R75 (about $22). Jimmy’s onto a good thing. The tourists are queuing.
But just a sec... those accents sound very South African. They are. South African tourists – strangers to large parts of their own country, as much in awe of this ‘Face to Face’ tour as the tourists who arrived on an aeroplane.
Apartheid’s aim was literally to ‘keep people apart’. It created societies and communities that remain divided by colour, by class, by pride and by prejudice. That’s why South Africans are taking tours to find out about each other.
Grand apartheid may have been wiped from the statute books. We all voted in April; our new multicoloured flag flies high and proud everywhere. Our new parliament is sitting and it’s a much more colourful parliament. But to pretend that this is the end of South Africa’s racial problems is naive.
Now the real work starts. Racism must be dismantled and a nation built from the ashes of apartheid. It’s a lovely ideal, a noble thought. But how do you do it? It’s certainly going to take more than Jimmy and his touring taxi.
South Africa’s non-governmental organizations know this. High on many of their agendas for the next three years are items like ‘citizenship training’, ‘community dialogue’, and ‘managing diversity’. These are all euphemisms for projects which tackle racism in its many forms: in communities, in the army and police force and in the workplace.
At a training centre outside Johannesburg, Bongani Ndaba and Vhonani Mufamadi show a mixed group of workers a photograph of a pot-bellied, ruddy faced white man.
‘What is his name?’ they ask the group. ‘Johannes’ – a typical Afrikaans name – guesses one of the group. ‘What does he do?’ the two young trainers continue. ‘He’s a member of the AWB [the racist far-Right political organization]?’ guesses a black clerk. ‘What sort of family do you think he comes from?’ ‘He’s probably got six children,’ ventures a young woman, half joking, half not, ‘and his wife’s probably an alcoholic.’
The man in the picture is in fact an African National Congress member and the trusted bodyguard of one of the organization’s senior leaders. ‘We are getting people to question their assumptions,’ say Ndaba and Mufamadi who are part of a team of human resource consultants called Absolute.
The ANC man in the picture always helps to break the ice in their workshops. The exercise lets people laugh at themselves and their assumptions, enabling them to confront their prejudices in a non-threatening way. They also use a picture of an Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier – a member of the ANC’s now disbanded army – with an AK-47 slung over his arm and ask the group to classify him as ‘freedom fighter’ or ‘terrorist’.
The Absolute team’s catchline is straightforward: ‘a part not apart’. ‘We are sensitizing people to diversity and differences. All aspects of diversity like race, gender and sexual orientation,’ says Ndaba. ‘We help organizations and companies to value and manage diversity.’
The trainers also get participants to tell their life-stories, to tell their colleagues who their grandparents and their parents are, how they live and what their families are like.
‘By creating life-stories of ordinary people we help people realize that the past is what shapes the future and determines the role we play in society,’ says Mufamadi. ‘This tends to carry the message of differences. It unearths the subtle, because you’re not just talking about black and white.’
Stories help to start a discussion on families. Ndaba and Mufamadi try to bring home to the group that there are many types of families in South Africa. Many white South Africans tend to measure acceptable standards of behaviour by the nuclear family. This is so evident at dinner table conversations that it’s become a bit of a caricature. ‘I don’t mind having black neighbours – as long as they don’t bring their aunties, uncles and grannies to live with them,’ is a typical statement.
‘We try to show that the migrant worker’s family, the single parent family and the extended family are as South African as the nuclear family,’ says Ndaba.
He adds: ‘Even if people have been working together for 10 or 15 years they don’t know each other. We found that it’s more powerful to get them to talk about themselves than to lecture them.’
Ndaba says that although the project is young its popularity is growing. Its added value is that it is a home-grown product. Most workplace diversity programmes available in South Africa are imported from the United States.
Another programme which uses life stories in anti-racism workshops is the Institute for Democratic Alternatives for South Africa’s (Idasa) Youth Project which brings together for a weekend young leaders of all of the country’s political formations from far left to far right.
The Idasa trainers get a black person and a white person to draw up each other’s ‘timelines’ or short histories. ‘This creates discussion and debate about people’s different backgrounds,’ says Geoff Brown, one of the co-ordinators of the project.
Things can get quite hairy at these meetings. Jackie Seroke, a young and militant leader of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), opened the last meeting with: ‘A good settler is a dead settler.’ ‘Settler’ is the PAC word for white South Africans and this got many of the whites at the workshop very upset, especially a young white soldier, Mark Malan, from the South African Defence Force (SADF). But instead of nipping the uncomfortable discussion in the bud the trainers let the episode run its course, encouraging a no-holds-barred exchange. Brown thinks that this sort of catharsis through open – and often angry – discussion is necessary. It clears the air and helps to establish trust among participants who usually come to the meetings and at first huddle in their own racially segregated groupings.
The second stage of the meeting was a role-playing exercise involving a political discussion with a difference. The group leader got each participant to wear the hat of another political party. Rather sneakily Mark Malan got to wear the hat of the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army (Apla), the armed wing of the PAC.
‘We in Apla believe that white men must be driven into the sea,’ he said to the great mirth of the group. The irony was not lost on Seroke who doubled up laughing. Seroke and Malan were inseparable for the rest of the weekend.
‘The SADF and Apla guys have struck a good relationship,’ says Brown. The relationships live on. Brown says that: ‘After last year’s youth indaba [a Zulu word for ‘meeting’] people are still getting together for drinks. They circulated addresses and set up meetings.’
The value of these sessions goes much deeper. The armies of the ANC, PAC and the formerly almost all-white SADF are being merged. Most of South Africa’s major political parties now must work together in the Government of national unity. For those who were lucky enough to be part of the indaba the unity process is less painful than for those who are meeting for the first time. ‘Because we were able to break through their political differences, we were able to break through racial differences,’ says Brown.
The new South African Government realizes that racism is going to rear its head in the fledgling administration. It’s an almost inevitable hangover from years of apartheid, both physical and mental. The South African civil service is more than 90 per cent white and the new Government is planning an accelerated affirmative action programme to make it more representative. Affirmative action will breed more fear and tension and already Idasa has been contracted to the army, the police service and the local government ministry to hold workshops to deal with racism.
But these must go further, says Brown. Trust must also be established between the organs of government and the communities they serve. ‘For example, we need to break down the perception that the police are an alien force.’
One of the ways to achieve this has been to establish community police forums around the country. Another has been to send senior police officers on university-run citizenship education programmes which address questions of race, attitudes and prejudice.
Another project, the Civic Dialogue Programme in Cape Town, is getting ordinary people talking to each other. ‘We saw the need to facilitate interaction on the ground because people were alienated from national political negotiations,’ says co-ordinator Michelle Booth. But national negotiations have a ripple effect on local government structures. Racially segregated town councils will have to integrate. There is great resistance to integration from white ratepayers’ organizations. They fear that they will have to bear the brunt of sorely needed development projects in black areas.
A few months ago the programme brought together neighbouring communities from Cape Town’s plush white enclaves, squatter camps and working-class suburbs. For many whites it was the first time that they had set foot in a black area. People found that, in the absence of political point scoring, they had more in common than they first thought. There was an almost uniform distrust of local government structures and the common thread through all the discussions was ‘How are they spending our money?’
Booth says the workshops are ‘more beneficial for whites. People from (mostly black) civic associations know what it’s like in the white world.’ But the Dialogue Programmes are necessary exercises in race relations. ‘It’s a real challenge for whites not to be patronizing,’ comments Booth, adding ‘by building relationships between people, you build common understanding.’
One participant wrote on her evaluation form: ‘Attitudes and views must change in order to make the New South Africa work. It can’t only come from one side – it’s got to come from both sides. Otherwise it’s not going to work.’
Led by South Africa’s strong non-governmental organizations, the battle against racism in South Africa is in its infant stages. It’s heartening that the first volleys are being fired. What is even more heartening is that the fight has the support of ordinary people, who are all trying to do their bit to make one world of so many... Even if it means taking a tour in Jimmy’s taxi.
We still have such a long way to go. And perhaps I am an idealist to think that the battle will only have been won when – to paraphrase Bob Marley – the colour of a person’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of their eyes.
Ferial Haffajee is a South African radio broadcaster and freelance writer based in Johannesburg.