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magazine, I was awarded a journalism fellowship from the philanthropic Open Society Foundation to return South Africa and write about what democracy had brought to the rural Xhosa tribal lands where Mandela had grown up.I harboured a hope that it would patch the holes in my head and heart, but as the day for my departure grew nearer, a deep gurning in my belly that wouldn’t go away, no matter how much I tried to reason with it, forced me to confront that there was something else lurking, something darker and more shadowy – something that I had never wanted to admit to myself. And although I had gone to a mixed race university during Mandela’s presidency, lived with black and Indian friends and was sure that I had shrugged off the mantle of social conditioning, the increase in violent crime in the post-apartheid era – more often, though not always, committed by black men – had hardened that fear, and my so-called liberal consciousness had pushed it underground.The black middle class may now outnumber the white, but for the majority of black South Africans – at least in economic terms – little has changed.
The latter were part of the standard dress of the Boers – the Afrikaner farmers – usually twinned with khaki shorts, a khaki shirt and a comb tucked beside the knee. At the table next to us sat a working class family: mum, dad and two kids, dad’s arms thick with tattoos.
“We’re just like them, we are,” he said, tapping his fingers on the table.
In the eyes of the students, the black majority government has not done enough to end the structural racism that favours foreign capital and continues to make second-class citizens of black South Africans. Busi and I had spent the entire journey to Soweto from the leafy suburbs – where Busi and I were both living – arguing about whether dressing up in Bollywood costume for a fancy dress party was, or was not, cultural appropriation.
Busi argued that for a white person to dress in a sari was to unfairly appropriate a culture that does not belong to you.
When Granddad Jack died I inherited two pairs of socks.
A pair of woolly green hiking socks and a pair of long beige socks that he had bought when he had come to visit us in South Africa. When Granddad Smith died five years later, my mother reached into his cupboard and handed me his tweed flat cap – the typical accoutrement of a Yorkshire man – and a blue woolly jumper with the price tag still on. “We’re common we are,” Granddad Jack once told me, as we sat across from each other in a pub in Bridlington, a seaside town in the north of England, eating fish and chips.
For the first 21 years of our democracy we had attempted to do as Tata Mandela instructed: forgive, smile, dance.
We collectively pretended that we had not been scarred by the shadows of apartheid.
It is owned by Mr and Mrs Dlamini, parents of Busi, an articulate feminist and racial justice activist who, having grown up in apartheid South Africa, not only has first-hand experience of racism, but has the enviable ability to lob phrases like “internalised oppression” and “cultural appropriation” at people’s heads and make them understand what they mean and why they are worth thinking about.
I had met Busi through Keke Motseke and Anisha Panchia, two women who had started a pop-up dialogue café called Consciousness Café.