The black man still an extension of garden implements
The story I am going to tell from Cape Town has a link to that tragic country of Haiti, where an earth quake killed thousands of people and made many more homeless, last Tuesday, 12 January 2010.
During my morning jog I pass through the leafy suburb of Rondebosch, a part of the world that I love, and where we have lived a big part of our active, professional life. It is a privileged part of the world in many ways, academically (all the excellent schools and University of Cape Town) as well as materially. To my satisfaction I can also register that this Rondebosch, traditionally a white, English speaking area, is gradually becoming a mixed area, i.e. an area for all.
This particular morning, a few days ago, I saw the following, outside a walled-in property on the corner of Riverton and Oakvale Roads. A black man, in his late twenties, tall, well built, and with dread locks, was down on all four, trying to cut the grass on a small patch of perhaps four square metres with some sort of implement (a pair of garden scissors). There is nothing much particular about this. In virtually every garden along this stretch you will find black garden workers doing just these sorts of things. But the way he was down on the ground became an image to me that reminded me of Steve Biko saying in the 1970s: the black man is but an extension of a broom, or of a particular machine that he has to run. He is doing what he is told to do and he does it without quarreling.
I know that this is not the whole picture of South Africa at the beginning of 2010. But it remains one of the pictures. The vast majority of the blacks have not yet seen any meaningful change. And a fair number of people on the privileged side carry on living as if this is OK; nothing much has happened to us, and if something has happened, like democratic elections in 1994 etc, it was not for the better.
The matriculation results of 2009 that were announced at the beginning of January were lower than the year before and invariably (with some conspicuous exceptions) the bad results come out of the black schools.
There is a backlog of science teachers in South Africa. H F Verwoerd, the main architect of apartheid in the 1950s and 1960s, thought that blacks were created for menial tasks, like being hewers of wood, not for science. It will take more than ten years, perhaps a whole generation, to catch up with that backlog now.
What very few people will have time to talk about the next few weeks in Haiti is the fact that history seems to have predestined Haitians to being dirt poor, black, of slave background, of suffering bad leadership, yes, of always being at the losing end; the whole Africa Diaspora is in a way converging on this place as there is an unsolved problem here for all Africans away from the African soil. That problem is directly linked to my morning jog experience seeing the young black man in dread locks on all four, fast at work for the white man and woman. There is a racist attitude here, predominantly in the West (the USA and Europe) that does not go away. Blacks are looked down upon; they are at best hewers of wood, or entertainers.
There is a responsibility and there is guilt that has to be articulated. Blacks themselves, in South Africa, in Haiti, even in Nigeria, yes everywhere, are challenged to pull up their socks as it were and prove to the world how utterly wrong such a racist attitude is.
There is still much to do during 2010; may God be with us and gracious to us.