Thursday, December 27, 2007

Growing up in South Africa

A family friend visited me today, she was in the area due to work. Her visit triggered off reflections about interracial relationships.

Growing up I was pretty clueless about Apartheid. My parents told of a few experiences eg. my brother being allowed to use the toilet at a petrol station but my father could not go in with him (due to him being dark). My mother told us about how cousins of hers would play white so they could get on the same and have a seat. She told us of how she helped another cousin escape the police and eventually went to Germany so she could be with the person she loved. But I didn't really understand why.
In high school our history teacher began explaining what apartheid was even though it was not part of the syllabus.
My first hurtful experience was at a Youth camp at age 15, when other teens called us names because they wanted the back seat.
The actual realities of Apartheid only started becoming clear to me after I turned 16 and became involved with an orgnisation called DYIC (Durban Youth Interaction Committee), run by a government department. The project was managed by Michael Currin. 2 youth from each school in the Durban area formed the intial group. We received training and were then given the task of organising meaningful events to bring our friends and youth from area involved.
It was then that I began to see how different we were because of being seperated by apartheid and how unfair the education system was. I was part of the last group of learners in the Tri-apartheid educational system.

I remember going into a remote village in Kwa-Zulu Natal near Drakensberg mountain. I met people there that were totally unaware of what was happening in the Country. I remember thinking how horrible it would be when they venture out and get treated badly because of their skin colour. In sense I wished they could remain protected from that horror. At the same time I realised that their living conditions were not ideal either.

My immediate family was religious and felt that meant not being too political. They had a sense of what was right. My parents brought us to respect all race groups - it was so natural that I did not get why it was a big deal until later. I dated across the racial barriers without a second thought. People's reactions surprised me, I could not see what the big deal was even though I was the only one among my friends doing it. My best friends didn't make it an issue and neither did my family. Guess I am lucky that I did not have to leave the Country like others in my extended family.

In sense growing up coloured in South Africa - especially in Durban - is like growing in interracial, multi-cultural and multi-religious society. (hehehehe) I remember being approached at University by some students wanting to know what race I was. I looked them strangely so they proceeded to explain that they could not really place me because accent was polished probably educated in a white school but was impossible because I was not fair enough. I ate with hands like an Indian but hair was slightly curly. And basically I didn't come across as a typical coloured (whatever that meant). I laughed. I told them I would bring them a picture of my family the next day. Each person in my family is unique and could be placed in one of the 4 race groups - I was harder to place. My conclusion to them was just as my cultural mannerism integrated various groups so did my blood. And is what it is to be coloured.

Just like any other young person in the world I have had to discover and uncover who I am and not allow societies labels to define and confine me.

In retrospect I see how Apartheid impacted on my life and how it still impacts and will continue to impact my life. What is in my control is not to allow this impact to be a negative force in my life and decision making. I also realise that I cannot pretend that it is not there because that will continue its injustices.

When I married across the racial line I was told that my child would suffer, I was asked if my own race was not good enough, I was warned that It would not work and that I was ruining my husband to be' s career (because I would never be accepted).

My child would be born into to the culture that I was. My self-esteem was good - no matter who I married I was confident that my child would be loved and therefore he/she would also have a good self-esteem. My husband and I grew up in the same religion which formed a very big part of how we did things, so culturally would had more in common than I had with the boy who lived next door to me. Surprise, surprise people in our Country when faced with their prejudice , they find it has not water and throw it away. Yes, some people have rejected me and made me feel unwelcomed but a whole lot more from all race groups have been open and accepting. My husband career is actually richer for the fact that he is genuinely open to others (marrying me reveals his sincerity).
orginally posted on 12/15/07.
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