‘Teach Your Children Well’

In 1946, my grandfather boarded a train from Escombe to Durban in KwaZulu-Natal when he went into the wrong compartment by accident.

He was 15-years-old.

Relating this story to us over the holidays, now aged 85, he remembers being harshly approached by a conductor.

This compartment was for “slegs blankes” (whites only) – a term that should be buried beneath the sea forever.

“Before you even think about entering this compartment you must paint yourself white,” the conductor of the same hue said, commanding him to leave – which he did, because at age 15, he was taught that “the white man was the law”.

Fast forward to 1978, a group of non-white Pietermaritzburg school pupils had learned the set-book Death of a Salesman – which had coincidently been taught to white children too. A play was being conducted at the Winston Churchill theatre – but the children of colour were not allowed to attend.

Through a petition and protest by these pupils – my uncle among them – these children were eventually allowed to go watch it. When they arrived at the theatre they were seated overhead, barely being able to see anything – and were warned to go to the toilet in groups for their safety. Which they did. And when they got there, they were called “coolies” by white youngsters.

Durban beachfront, 1982: My aunt needed the loo desperately, but was… you guessed… denied. She had to wait for over an hour until the toilet for non-whites was opened.

In 1989 or so, I remember window shopping at night in “uptown” Pietermaritzburg with my parents

For myself, then aged five, this was most exciting as I was allowed to stay up after bedtime.

My family window-shopped at night because this part of town was reserved for whites and it was the only time that they actually got to dip our feet in the fountain erected outside the stores.

It appears that now, in democratic South Africa some still want those draconian laws that enslaved my family and left many others stripped of their human dignity during apartheid.

Penny Sparrow, Justin van Vuuren, Velaphi Khumalo, are just three people who have not embraced the “rainbow nation” term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

In fact, their utterances are not even worth repeating.

What is worth talking about however, is stamping out racism one day at a time. As the saying goes, it is not something that we are born with, but rather taught – and thus causes a ripple effect generation by generation.

To counter this, we need the education system to entrench multiculturalism in the minds of the young.

We must never forget these instances of racial hate – it will only strengthen our minds and hearts in a hard-fought-for democracy.

If you cannot embrace this concept, and have opted to pack your bags – remember, “the grass is always greener where you water it”.

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela

today in print