Mandela Week Reflections

Mandela Week Reflections

Every year on Mandela Day (18 July), I tend to reflect on the state of the nation. It has become a habit of mine to think about where South Africa was before 1994 and where it is now just to remind myself of how far we’ve come and generally I feel optimistic and positive about where we are headed as a country, even with all of the issues that we face.

This year, however, was different. I don’t know whether it was the fact that I was going through a difficult time personally or whether it was the fact that the ANC is doing everything in its power to lose its voters to the DA and EFF, but I was feeling particularly pessimistic about the future of South Africa. With Nkandla, the SABC’s censorship debacle, Nene-gate and the Rand’s performance during 2016, things were looking dire. Is it surprising, then, that I was not feeling particularly optimistic about the future?

Until Saturday 23 July, that is:

A friend of mine has started a non-profit organization recently, Ubuhle Development Foundation. The foundation aims to pair high school learners in grade 11 and grade 12 up with young professionals who are already in the workforce, but who are still young enough to be relateable, in order to provide mentoring and guidance to these learners about careers and jobs which may be of interest to them. I think that this is a fantastic initiative because I know how valuable the advice of a young professional was when I was making decisions about my future 5 years ago and therefore when my friend asked me whether I was keen on joining the initiative, I jumped at the opportunity to give back to those who are making those same decisions now.

So, after the chairperson (Mpumie) and his team worked for months to get the program up and running, a bunch of us drove down to Vredenburg on 23 July to attend the official opening function of the foundation.

Initially I joined the initiative because I wanted to help fill a need in our society. I knew that a good mentor when one is in need of guidance is an invaluable tool to have because often a mentor can tell one more than an internet search ever could. I, however, never even considered the effect that this would have on me personally.

This past week was rough for me. I had three different doctor’s appointments and I was just feeling particularly tired and demotivated, so I almost fabricated an excuse to miss the event, but I forced myself to attend and I do not regret it. In fact, I am extremely grateful that I did.

Seeing how much the initiative meant to the mentees just reinvigorated my spirits. It was a much needed reminder that I am still, in some small way, valuable to society and that I have the power to help shape society for the better. Often people complain about millennials and about the technology generation, but initiatives like these prove that we have the power and the capacity to put technology to good use, that we are able to influence those who come after us and that we can believe in ourselves and in others enough to take risks in order to help improve our collective futures. Seeing someone who went to school with me doing such amazing work is inspiring, to say the least. I am feeling positive and optimistic about the future of South Africa again.

It was also wonderful to interact with other people who are in the workforce and to listen to their advice. As the baby mentor (I am the only one who is not yet entirely in the workforce), I used the event as an opportunity to learn as much as I could from those who are more experienced than I am. The advice of the mentors was as valuable to me as it was to the mentees, if not more so, considering my mood going into the event and my anxiety at finally entering the workforce.

It is selfish, but the Ubuhle Development Foundation’s opening function was in many ways more important to me than it was to the mentees and I am so grateful that I got out of bed and attended the event instead of coming up with a reason not to go.

If you are interested in learning more about Ubuhle Development Foundation, you can check out their website and Facebook page.

Website: http://www.ubuhledf.org.za/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Ubuhle-Development-Foundation-225507601140094/

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Race from the perspective of a young coloured woman

A friend of mine recently asked a group of our white friends what they thought about race. His question was “Do you feel like we have to tolerate one another? Or is it just harmonious and effortless being around the diverse group?” This question was asked in the aftermath of two more black people (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile) being killed by the police in America, which again brought attention to the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, even here in South Africa.

I am neither black nor white and therefore have never experienced the oppression and fear which I can only imagine black people experience every day, nor the inherent privilege which comes with being white. I am pretty much somewhere in the middle: formerly disadvantaged, but still allowed to speak my mind because my relatively light skin tone and ‘white’ accent means that people listen to me before they shoot down my ideas and opinions, or dismiss me as being bitter about Apartheid.

I have often heard my dad say that we were too black to be white during Apartheid and that we are now too white to be black. It was funny to me when I was younger, but I realised eventually that it wasn’t a joke, but that instead, the words masked a deep-rooted anger and bitterness towards the system which led to an identity crisis for many coloured people like myself who still do not quite know where we fit in.

Nevertheless, as a coloured person, I can do my best to answer my friend’s question from my perspective:

As an extremely outspoken person (often with little to no regard for the consequences), I never felt any different to any other race until an incident in grade 8. A white boy in my class said that he would never marry a person of colour because of cultural differences. Coming from a Christian household like him, I honestly did not see how my culture was any different to his, but he insisted that he could never engage in any sort of romantic relationship, let alone marry, a person of colour for that reason. It was only then that I realised how different I actually was.

A few years later, when I was at university, I wanted to take my mom out for some cake. As we entered this little coffee shop, one of the ladies who worked there told us that they were closed. It seemed peculiar because the sign said “OPEN” and everything seemed to be in order in the shop, but because there were no customers in the little establishment, I brushed it aside and we left. My mom, however, angrily said that we were turned away because of our skin tone. That was a major moment in my life because it really dawned on me then that even my mother, who is the kindest, most long-suffering and sweetest human being on earth, had been so badly affected by racial discrimination in the past that even the slightest hint thereof now angered her (she never gets visibly angry).

These two experiences stand out because they truly opened my eyes to the more entrenched forms of racism which are considered to be acceptable (in the case of my classmate) and the more long-lasting effects of Apartheid on the people who experienced it (in the case of my mother).

To answer my friend’s question: There have been moments at the University of Cape Town when I felt uncomfortable and ‘less than’ my peers, especially my white peers, not because they treated me differently, but because I always felt that my white peers had this confidence which I just did not have. It is not that I am an unconfident person in general, I just always felt a bit dumber compared to the people around me who knew what a corporate bond was without having to Google it, or who had a favourite Woolies salad when I would not dare to enter a Woolworths for fear of spending my entire bank account in one go (student life was tough). However, I have never felt the need to tolerate anyone. Being around a diverse group of people has never been a problem for me because although I cannot claim to be colourblind (I definitely am not), I have never thought that anyone was any less or more deserving of anything than me simply because of the colour of their skin.

Of course, it is different for me. I am part of a newer generation where those of us who were privileged enough were able to attend schools where we were exposed to a number of different cultures from a very young age. Although I bear the secondhand scars of Apartheid, I have personally not experienced the horrors and pain of Apartheid firsthand like my parents did.

However, even for my generation, race is an issue. Institutional racism and inherent biases shape the world at large, especially the opinions and ideas of the generations before mine that lived through Apartheid, which are then transferred from generation to generation. This can be seen in debates about affirmative action, selection of sports teams and often on social media (the Penny Sparrows of the world).

These forms of racism are extremely hurtful and can easily cause disillusionment and bitterness in young people like myself. As a member of the first born-free generation, I have dreams of an equal and fair society where respect and success is earned on merit, where affirmative action is no longer necessary, where all young men and women are able to trust the police to protect them and where racial stereotypes are no longer perpetuated. Unfortunately, this is not yet my or anyone else’s reality.

To answer my friend’s question: for me, it is effortless to be part of a diverse group, but I am not blind to the fact that it is more difficult for others. As a coloured person, the most difficult issue is identity: where I actually fit in in this rainbow nation of ours, but that is a topic for another day.

Until next time

The Coherent Rambler

Welcome!

My love for reading means that I have an opinion on just about anything and everything. Usually I just rant on Facebook, but some things are just too important to confine to the limited space afforded by the social media platform (no one wants to read an essay on Facebook, after all), and as a result, Coherent Rambler was born.

The name pretty much sums it up: this is where I ramble (and rant and rave) about a number of different issues, but in a coherent manner.

I am no writer and my opinions are not necessarily correct, but I value constructive criticism. After all, if one does not open oneself up to debate and criticism, one will never grow and learn.

May we have a long and fruitful journey together.

Until next time,

The Coherent Rambler