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Petty Apartheid – Oxymoron?

September 9th, 2009 85 comments

whites-onlyThe first time I heard the term ‘petty apartheid’ in my 42 years of life was when Alex gave us the topic for September. My first thought, on hearing it, was that it sounds like an oxymoron; my second thought was to wonder what the hell it was.

I have since been informed that petty apartheid covered the more ‘minor’ aspects of apartheid, such as the Immorality Act and those laws that restricted access by black people to ‘whites only’ beaches, parks etc.

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Poetic Afrikaans

August 4th, 2009 240 comments

Because we were brought up having a slight disdain for Afrikaans and Afrikaners, it was quite some time before I fully accepted that Afrikaners were my countrymen and that Afrikaans was a rather beautiful language.

In Standard 9, in 1983, Mrs van der Walt was our Afrikaans teacher at Jeppe High School for Girls – that draughty institution of Kensington about which I have had much that was scathing to say in the past. But Mrs van der Walt clearly loved her language and her face would light up as she described the meaning of the poems or stories she read, and when moved she would come close to tears, always taking the time to explain, or to draw from us, her audience, the same kind of appreciation for the words and meaning as she herself felt.

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I Am A Patriot

July 14th, 2009 19 comments

theveldI was discussing the first topic for www.oldtakkiesindaba.com, being “When was the first time you knew you were South African” with my family, and my mother, on pondering for a while, said: “I don’t think I ever realised it”.

That was something of a revelation for me, in terms of now analysing my own feelings about South Africa when I was growing up. As I cogitated on these words I realised we had never grown up in a “South African” family. No emphasis was ever placed on the fact that we were South African; no one in the family was sports mad, no one was glued to televisions shouting support for our team; no on waved flags; in fact we never even owned a flag. I was never taught the anthem until I got to primary school; speaking Afrikaans was quietly not done, we never had and were never encouraged to have Afrikaans friends.

Both my maternal and paternal extended families were throwbacks from England and the culture and ideals we were taught or which came to us through osmosis, were very English. We were exposed to a much more Eurocentric culture too, in terms of the films we were taken to watch, the music and theatre we were exposed to, and the pursuits we followed.

Without any specific instructions or directions being passed down, the idea of South Africa and of being South African was understood, somewhat sub-consciously, to be infra-dig.

Thus it was that I spent the first twenty six or twenty seven years of my life being slightly embarrassed to belong to such a backward country (I was not thinking here or really aware of its politics, was thinking chiefly of its culture) and I knew that should I ever head overseas the last place I would claim to come from would be South Africa.

To my mind – which had (I now see) been smoothed and pointed and guided down the emerald green paths of the English countryside rather than into the khaki grey ochre bosveld of my homeland – I’d far rather be taken for English or even Australian than being connected with boorish backwater people from a land no one knew existed.

English fieldsSlowly as I grew older and started to read and be exposed to South African poetry, ideas, film and stories, I came to understand that my land did have its own story to tell, but I was still resistant to the idea of identifying myself as South African. All of these feelings existed on a subtle plane within my mind – not often acknowledged, certainly never inspected or analysed – and were never an active part or conscious part of my growing up or day to day experiences.

In 1994 in the midst of the greatest changes we as a country had ever seen, I was a young mother, alone in South Africa while my closest family lived in England. I was pretty caught up in my own day to day experiences but I do remember the day I read that we were to have a new flag.

I was suddenly outraged, maybe there was something of the dog-in-a-manger about my reaction; certainly I had never realised or thought I was attached to the previous flag in any way, but now that I knew they (uncertain who they was, in my mind) were taking it away I wanted very much to be a South African, and I wanted to understand my country, and I wanted to learn about all that I had missed. I felt a new flag would mean I had lost this country I had suddenly come to love.

In all this emotional upheaval and confusion, I realised one thing clearly: I am now a South African, if I never was one before.

It’s too simplistic to end here but I have reached my word limit; I shall explore this reaction at greater length in articles to come.

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