So, what would you do if a random white guy walked up to you and asked to apologise for Apartheid? Huh? You heard right.

Now you can imagine my shock and surprise when this happened in my office a few weeks back. The humble, Afrikaans stranger shared his intention to apologise for the injustices of our country’s past, having learnt of the role and influence that this pious institution had in the prejudice and discernment. He is a staunch Christian, raised in the church and a disturbed citizen of South Africa.

In my view, discrimination in all its forms is a violation of peoples’ basic human rights. Whether it is discrimination based on your race, sexual preference, faith, gender, ethnicity, tribe and so on and so forth – discrimination is discrimination, and it is wrong.

As in the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed in 1948, it recognises “the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This remains just as relevant today as it was back then.

Conversations with Youth in Corporates

While at a Young Professionals’ Forum plenary session titled “The Rainbow Nation: The Real Dream Deferred for all South Africans to enjoy all freedoms of a modern democracy” I experienced a stark difference in how I see and engage with the entire racism discussion. I must admit, I’ve been pretty silent on. Perhaps I live in my own world to protect myself from the anger and hatred that exists out there; to my own detriment at times. Over the course of the evening, the eloquent and accomplished panel members, representing different races, addressed the provocative statement:

“The Rainbow Nation = Protection of White Privilege + Suppression of Black Anger + Promotion of Indian Enterprise + Silencing of Coloured Identity”

After what seemed like a rocky hostile start, with many young black professionals and entrepreneurs expressing their abject hatred for the white race. The audience then began to shift the conversation towards actively exploring what could be done immediately in our own environments to change the status quo as it was clear that no one was delighted or content with their current experience.

Many disgruntled young professionals shared heart-wrenching stories of their frightening experiences when they were children that shaped and informed their view of the opposite race, shedding much light towards the negatively charged emotion. More than once during the session, I had to suppress my tears as I too began to recollect my very own negative racial encounters in my formative years – not disregarding my parents’ banter at home as this element was also explored. Not to say that our parents are bad people, but quite simply they were brought up in a different time.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Gratefully, the session ended in somewhat lighter spirits as everyone began to honestly reconcile with their own feelings and standpoint on the very uncomfortable topic. We all addressed this on a personal level, and out loud with others, without feeling ashamed of where we honestly stood or justified where the emotion stemmed from. I can summarise the broad interpretation from my observation as follows:

  • Importance of Dialogue in Reconciliation – through listening to the disturbing incidents shared, many were able to connect with the harsh human experience and find empathy in them. It is only then that most of the white Jewish members of the conversation began to understand the root of the hatred towards them.
  • Fuels from Fossils – we cannot continue to fuel our hatred from past doctrines and dead leaders who did a massive disservice to many non-white South Africans. It is unacceptable that the roles have now reversed and black people have become the perpetrators. What we ought to do is use the opportunity presented in our days of significance declared as public holidays to commemorate the atrocities of the past by partaking in activities that bring more meaning for the day in question. As in the Jewish community where they come together on a day of mourning, have a moment of silence in remembrance of all the lives that have been lost and negatively affected – but most importantly saying ‘Never Again’. If we don’t do this, we will simply be perpetuating what happened in the past.
  • Power of Compassion and Love – in finding each other through ‘seeking first to understand and then to be understood’ we can begin to experience these phenomena. The ground rules laid down by the facilitator at the beginning of the discussion requested that respect be upheld at all times in addressing the emotionally charged topic. This set the tone for an environment that, at the end of the session, was left in a deep sense of hope for our progress as a country, in working together to rebuild all that was ravished through the antiquated Apartheid system.

This session, to my astonishment, influenced a change in how I see and engage with the topic of race from a different lens. Enabling me to express myself from a different place when connecting with the heavy-hearted stranger. Take a look at how this random kasi girl responded to the very emotionally charged apology by Bouwer Bosch – Versoening met Phindile Dhlamini.

Hurt people, hurt people

More than anything, over the past couple of weeks, I have heard that our nation is in need of serious healing to lift itself out of the shame and guilt of the atrocious Apartheid era that was not only contained in our country’s policies but also violently implemented in all corners of our land. It’s concerning to hear that some of these cruel activities still take place in remote towns and hidden nooks, years after democracy has supposedly been won. Regretfully, no one else can lift us out of our guilt; only we can do it should we wish to experience a different existence and way of being. I was reminded that, now more than ever, the transformation and economic progress of the many people suffering at the bottom of the pyramid is as urgent as ever.

Martin Luther King Jr. once eloquently stated that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. I would like to shine a light on these words at these troubled times and challenge us – as young people – to question our beliefs and what they are informed by, as they may at times be the root of our own suffering. There is a Zulu idiom that says “Indlela ibuzwa kwabaphambili” meaning “We ask the way from those that have travelled the path before us”. What happens in the instance where these travellers are in themselves wounded and flawed? Or, better yet, our path is now significantly different in 2017 than they could’ve ever even imagined. What then?

Let’s progress

What I have learnt in my short life is that the two features that seem to be consistent in our history and journey as humankind are those of struggle and progress – regardless of which part of the world we look at. I challenge us now to focus on the latter to begin to progress our society out of this struggle mindset to elevate ourselves to a more open-minded and tolerant way of life.

In the words of the late great Madiba “Sometimes, it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom”. I call on that generation that experienced the tip of this oppressive system, to step up and be that great generation that intentionally transcends beyond our harsh history, rewriting our nation’s story in a more victorious manner. Let’s be that generation where our greatness can begin to blossom. Let us be great, Julle. Let’s!