When I woke up this morning I had an e-mail from Bizcommunity informing me that the News24 comments section will be closed down this Friday. My first thought was “Thank God!” Then I thought for a second about where all that anger would now be directed. I wondered, and so did one of my friends, what the new outlet for racists would be. I tweeted my concern then read some people’s jubilation and frustration with the decision. Then I went about my day and forgot all about it.
Later, I had a conversation with one of my classmates, Shalabh, about why we came to Columbia University. We both spoke about how we wanted to have cultural exchanges and learning experiences from people we would otherwise not have met in our respective home countries. Shalabh is from India, and has lived in Toronto for the past 8 years. We spoke about race, religion, politics and a few other things pertaining to our studies and our profession. We openly discussed our prejudice and also our limited knowledge on certain matters. We listened, we engaged and learned – something I may not have done with my fellow South African Indian brother at home. This is not a comment on South African interactions as a whole but my own personal interactions.
Many people asked me why I didn’t just do my Masters at a South African University. Considering the R1.1million price tag on the Columbia Journalism degree, the question on everyone’s mind (including my own) was, is it all worth it? My main idea was not even about the degree itself but the opportunity to interact with people of different backgrounds, nationalities, religious views, political views etc. I boxed myself at home and my box was comfortable, the likelihood of me jumping out of it was zero to none and so I had to leave. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, I did the same when I chose to go to Rhodes instead of the University of Pretoria. I am very aware of my comfort zones and I like to challenge myself out of them in order to grow,
South Africans are not speaking to one another. We are talking at one another – I’ve written about this before. White people are on the defensive and black people are on the offensive and coloured and Indian people (those who do not identify as black by the apartheid definition, feel left out of the conversation. We are a country in psychological trauma. Neither side was able to heal. Neither side has been heard in a way that we need to grow us as a people. My mother always tells me about her engagements with some of her colleagues and the honesty with which they discuss their past. How many of us are aware that white students in the 70s were writing letters to the soldiers thanking them for protecting them from “Die Swaart gevaar”? Indoctrination is a real thing. We cannot pretend it does not or did not exist. We know it’s still happening in parts of SA too. How many of us would are thinking about the fact that one minute white people were taught to hate, kill, run from and fear black people then the next day they were told to love, embrace and see us as equal? In the same vain, how many white people are thinking about the fact that one minute our fathers and mothers were being tortured, killed, humiliated and dehumanized by white people then one day just told to forgive and listen to some testimonies of truth (TRC), to heal an move on?
The News24 comments section is a horrible thing. It just shows us how much hatred is still entrenched in our society; but none of us are having a conversation about it. None of us are trying to detangle the mess that was the apartheid system and also 100s of years of colonisation. Both the black man and the white man need a serious decolonisation of the mind. For a journalist I sometimes wonder about my idealistic mentality but I really just pray for a Utopia where in 2015 students in Stellenbosch are not still fighting to be heard. Where the cry is not that of 1976 and where tears are not streaming down my face because it seems the cries are falling on deaf ears. I pray for a Utopia where the good of humanity would surpass the evil because we know very well that that goodness exists. I pray for a Utopia where we fall in love and because of who someone is and not where they come from or what they look like.
We are far from it but it’s a possibility that starts with honesty. Are we willing and brave enough to be honest?