There’s nothing worse than crowing foreigners coming to South Africa and moaning about the place. Particularly white Europeans and North Americans, shocked at ‘how White it is’. If you’re one of them, you need to remind yourself that South Africa is (yes, present tense, because it is still, very much) a magnifying glass on the state of the rest of the world: a tiny minority of people who are disproportionately white, living a far higher standard of living than (almost) everyone else. If you’re sitting in London cussing the white South Africans, remember that you are probably every bit as bad as they are. As one Afrikaner lady put it, succinctly: ‘The difference between you and me is I have to look at it every day.’ That ‘it’, so very loaded. So, perhaps, the wealthy here – and they aren’t just white, remember I used the word disproportionately – can’t put their head in the sand as the wealthy living in the Northern hemisphere manage to do so well. We (from the North) can pretend we don’t belong to the poverty and grime largely associated with the South. But we’re only pretending. The wealthy down here, can’t even pretend – although if I’m really honest, quite a lot of them do a remarkably good impersonation of someone pretending they live in a place without inequality.
Talking of honesty. It’s hard to be very honest here. I feel that the problem that is going to present itself in this re-emerging blog is self-censorship. It is hard to say what you think here: I’ve heard a lot of wealthy Anglo South Africans (by Anglo, I mean those of British origin) boast, ‘As a Brit, you’ll have to get used to the fact that we’re awfully un-politically correct here!’ , and then proceed to laugh about the fact their dogs are racist.
Guffaw. Guffaw. By un-politically correct, I think what they mean is they talk about the colour of people’s skin more easily than their fellow middle-classes in England. Black. White. Coloured. Coloured. Black. Black. Indian. Coloured. White. Black. They also make jokes about the colourful tribes of the Rainbow Nation
– cute little generalisations, for example, about the fact that Cape Coloureds have rotten front teeth – without a hint of a blush. Fine. But the boast of non-existent P.C. is complex, and reveals something about the psyche of this nation that I’m not sure I want to know all about.
Because I don’t think it’s true that you can be frank here. Really, candid. I feel that people are very nervous about saying what they think – on all sides and both ends of the Rainbow. People speak very softly, very quietly, as if there is a shame that they are hiding, guarding and controlling. Perhaps years of shame and guilt have left many attempting to speak themselves out of existence. I’ve met so many people here who almost whisper, and some who speak so softly I’m sure they’d prefer not to speak at all. If I just keep very quiet, maybe no one will notice me at all…
But I’m not sure anyone here says what they really think, ever. It’s all coded. For example, the ANC government is described politely as ‘the New government’. This allows you to speak far more freely, as a white, than if you pined for the apartheid system. ‘Since the New government has come in…’ blah blah blah. ‘They’ and ‘they’re’ is another one. That’s how many Whites talk about Blacks. For example, a waiter at a wedding I attended in whiter-than-Persil-white Cape Town, said: ‘They don’t like vegetables…’ This was in response to my comment to another of the guests, a black South African lady, as we stood in the food queue: ‘Why don’t you take a larger plate so you can fit more food on!’ Before she had time to reply, the young white waiter butted in with her delightful comment. Astounded, I turned back to my fellow guest: ‘Would you prefer a larger plate?’ But she was a wise old bird, ‘Oh leave them,’ she said, employing the same abstracting and pluralising technique, ‘I can always come back if I want more.’ Later, the same woman asked me if I would get her and her sister some champagne from the drinks table because the drinks waiter (a fat white man) was refusing to serve them.
Oh yes, what a lovely way to behave at a wedding. All that lurve just coming on through.