Last night I spent my evening with the Sen’s a South African Chinese family that lives in Emmarentia.
The Sens have become the family that my feature will be based on, Lately I have spent a lot of time chatting to Joy, Nicole and Teddy about what what tradition means to them. Teddy, is staunch traditionalist, while Joy has pulled away from tradition. 16 year old Nicole is closer to her mother, and has thus adopted the same convictions about Tradition. For her, Tradition is outdated and she would rather follow the more liberal path, but this a story for my feature, so sit tight until comes out.
When I was interviewing Joy about growing up in South Africa she told me how she remembers the meeting that PW Botha called, for all the Chinese communities in South Africa. The National Party was offering Chinese people, white status. They had been previously unclassified and settled where they could which was often in black and coloured areas.
The Chinese community was not keen on accepting the governments offer, the elders argued that they did not want to be white, as that would mean that they would have to send their only sons into the army, and they were concerned about what would happen if they died.
“The argument that really stuck out for me, was from the Witsies, they said to us: One day the national party will not be in power and you won’t want to be white then” says Joy.
This conversation with Joy, made me realize that apartheid was not just a struggle for the black people (Black as in African, coloured and white). While one may think, but how did the Chinese struggle? They weren’t even classified. I think that very notion of being unclassified was the struggle.
While everybody else was designated to certain areas, the Chinese weren’t. They lived nomadic lives, settling where they could for however long they could, before it was time to move again.
Can you imagine not having a place to stay? One person can hustle it out maybe, but whole families? How do you keep your kids in school? How do you earn a living? How do you start families?
I’ll admit, when it was decided that the Chinese would be eligible for our BEE program, I thought to myself, how is that even possible? (These are the boxes of prejudice I was told to unpack, before I started my Chinese Johannesburg research project)
After hearing stories from various Chinese people and the Sens, I realise that I was wrong to carry around this false sense of entitlement as though the struggle was only for black people I mean, I’m not even South African, but I had the audacity to question why Chinese people could be part of BEE.
Perhaps that is the problem with our attitude as South Africans. While we cannot deny the injustices of apartheid, it worries me that our people will always fall back on the struggle as being theirs and theirs alone.
Today Julius Malema, is calling for the land to be returned back to its rightful owners, and this all good and well. This country needs redress, we need to try and give everybody the opportunities of economic, social and political freedom. But here’s my thing, what of the all the other people who fought in the struggle, and were not black?
Do we just take everything away from them, regardless of what they did or did not do in apartheid?
I honestly believe that apartheid would never have ended when it did, if we didn’t have the support of all the stake holders in South Africa. There were whites thrown in jail, for having relationships with non-whites, Newspapers that tried to bypass the censorship laws to provide people with the right information were harassed endlessly, what do we say about that? Or do we just ignore that because well, they aren’t black?
There is no quick fix to what apartheid did to us, and maybe if we all just stopped walking around with this sense of entitlement thinking “This belongs to me, I deserve this” we could find a way, to come together and figure out how to make our country work.
At the end of the day, whether you are black or white, coloured, Indian or Chinese you are South African. You have a role to play as a citizen of this country, and pointing fingers and crying foul about everything will not do anything for our country.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should downplay or simply forget what apartheid did to us, what I’m saying is, at some point in our lives, we need to stop being victims. We need to stop treating the struggle as though it was an exclusive club reserved for black people only. There is no degree of suffering; everybody in apartheid had to deal with the struggle as well their own personal battles.
Who are we to decide, who has lost more? Who we are we to decide who belongs and who doesn’t? At the end of the day, apartheid happened to all of us, we will never be the same again. But what good is it, to dwell in these differences if it’s not going to change anything?
For God sake, why can’t we all just get along??