Home > Petty Apartheid > The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

fear_by_xOxChrystalxOxI am sitting in my kitchen; my kitchen 15,811 long, long kilometres from the country of my skull*.
I am safe. Safe. Safe and secure. Safe. I am safe.
And still I shake. The healthy pour of Amarula I’m sipping from does little to stop the constant, low-level tremors.
I repeat it like a mantra: I am safe. I am safe. I am safe. But 25 years of training is a hard thing to unlearn.

Fear will keep you safe.
If you are a South African raised during the last 50 years or so, you know this for a fact: fear will keep you safe. Fear will keep you alive.

My parents taught me.
SABC 1 taught me.
Huis-Genoot taught me.
School taught me.
Experience taught me:

Be suspicious. Don’t trust anyone. Don’t talk to the ousie on the corner. Don’t touch unattended parcels. Go to the big field if the siren blares twice. They hate you because you’re black. They hate you because you’re white.

I am an excellent student. I learned well.
So I sit in my kitchen, 15,811 long, long kilometres from my homeland and I shake. It is barely perceptible, but the ripples reach far, far, daar doer aan die anderkant…**

My fear is a soldier home from the war; a war I went into too young to understand and finished too old to forget. It used to have a purpose, but now… now the war is over – suddenly, unexpectedly – and after a brief period of indulgence for the telling of stories and ooh-ing and aah-ing over scar tissue, it is expected to reintegrate seamlessly into polite society.
But the soldier wakes, screaming in the night. It has brought the enemy home, safe inside my skull, where I can never escape.

Fuck you, South Africa! How much farther do I have to go before I can outrun the acrid stench of fear that envelops me so completely? The Gift of Fear – ha! Some gift. You keep your fear in the box it came in, the packaging still pristine; a collector’s item. Talk talk talk about the gift of fear and you’ve never had to wrestle the shrink wrap off while a woman howls and bleeds in a public bathroom.

This is the legacy of apartheid.
This is what we were trained to do.
Every colour in our new rainbow nation.
Fear your neighbour (but fear his garden boy more).
Fear the culture that is not yours. Fear the skin not like mine.
Fear the dark, fear the day. Fear the crowds and fear the quiet places too.
Fear the man with no teeth and holes in his clothes; the woman screaming for help down the road.
Keep apart.
Fear will keep you safe. Fear will keep you alive.
Fear will keep you apart.

Lies. Isolation.
Fear will eat you alive.

I was born into fear.
Into a country gripped by fear, torn apart by fear, a few short weeks before the Soweto Riots. It is my inheritance. It is my legacy.
And now I sit in a kitchen 15,811 long, long kilometres from my parents’ house. It is my kitchen. It is my house. And I shake.
But I am safe and the shaking will soon stop.

* I shamelessly stole this phrase from the book of the same title – Country of My Skull – by Antjie Krog. It is magnificent and heart-wrenching and the movie adaptation doesn’t completely reek.

** “Waaaaay over there on the other side…”

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  1. October 13th, 2009 at 08:00 | #1

    That was beautiful!
    *insert applause here*

  2. avatar
    October 13th, 2009 at 14:51 | #2

    This story sounds like one that should have been written by somebody who grew up in the Gaza Strip, or during a civil war in Africa or in Afghanistan. This is luckily not the feelings I associate with my country.

    Fear was never encouraged by the people around me while I was growing up, rather caution – Something that comes in handy no matter where you live in the world.

  3. October 13th, 2009 at 15:09 | #3

    unfortunately, a lot of people did grow up with this kind of fear, it is still very evident today

  4. October 13th, 2009 at 21:32 | #4

    The only time I ever felt fear, was when we got home from the library, and found our house had been broken in to, and the police van arrived in our driveway with a squeal and smelling like burnt handbrake complete with psyched up white cops who said you could still smell “them” in the house… they were super scary.

    Weigh that up against actual near-death experiences of the twice I almost got abducted by white weirdo’s offering sweets and money (to be fair, I’m pretty damn cute), the three times I almost drowned myself by being overly enthusiastic in my watery expeditions (to be helped out by my sister and a nice Indian girl), the time I felt nervous upon hearing my sisters school had a white boy who’d had enough and was holding people at gun and hand grenade point, and it’s not a bad ratio of “what you should be scared of SA edition” vs. “what you should be scared of World edition”.

    Actually, that’s not true… when they changed Woofles voice on Pumpkin Patch, I was creeped the hell out.

    Funny that despite being brought up in the same circumstances, I never felt the fear you did.

    Maybe ignorance is indeed bliss.

  5. October 13th, 2009 at 21:43 | #5

    P.S. My poorly made non-existent point was that while I was told the exact same things as you, I never ended up feeling fear, with my result of that input being to question and investigate things for myself, and evaluate everyone against the one and same prat-o-meter.

  6. October 14th, 2009 at 13:56 | #6

    In my experience, violence and the fear associated with crime have gotten worse after South Africa became a democracy.

    People used to leave South Africa because they don’t like Apartheid pre 1990s, now people leave because of their fear for violence and crime.
    .-= theFlipSide´s last blog ..THE PERFECT ENGLISH BRAAI =-.

  7. October 14th, 2009 at 17:00 | #7

    Wow. I actually have goosebumps. Absolutely brilliant!
    .-= Good Charlie´s last blog ..The Art of Political War =-.

  8. avatar
    October 15th, 2009 at 08:47 | #8

    Fear may keep you alive, just don’t give in to it. A life lived in fear is hardly any life at all.
    And as a very very wise little green man once said’ ‘don’t give in to fear… fear leads to anger… anger leads to suffering.’

  9. avatar
    October 17th, 2009 at 20:02 | #9

    Well -written! What we regarded as normal growing up in south africa is regarded as “crazy” elsewhere!

  10. avatar
    October 27th, 2009 at 09:57 | #10

    Good article. Powerful and bitter

  11. June 14th, 2014 at 21:08 | #11

    I enjoyed reading your article!

  1. February 10th, 2014 at 00:52 | #1

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