In South Africa there’s a saying that to be black is to be at the end of the line when anything of significance is to be had. So these people were considered and treated as the dregs of society, aliens in the land of their birth. Such labelling and treatment made them an angry and embittered lot.
For the first time in my life I felt hate and anger rage with furious intensity inside me. What I felt was no ordinary hate or anger; it was something much deeper, much darker, frightening, something even I couldn’t understand. As I stood there watching, I could feel that hate and anger being branded into my five-year-old brain, branded to remain until I die.
My father existed under the illusion, formed as much by a strange innate pride as by a blindness to everything but his own will, that someday all white people would disappear from South Africa, and black people would revert tot their old ways of living.
My father was now a completely changed man; so changed that he now began drinking and gambling excessively, and from time to time quarreling with my mother over money matters and over what he called my mother’s streak of insubordination not befitting “the woman he bought.” But he still tried, in his own way, to be a father and a husband.
From my experiences with white policemen, I had come to develop a deep-seated fear of white people; and seeing the bloody murders and savage beatings and indiscriminate shootings in the movies, that fear was fueled to phobic proportions. I vowed that never would I enter such a world, and I thanked the law for making sure I could not do so without a permit.
“You and Papa should not have had me. I’m not happy in this world.”
Throughout the years that I lived in South Africa, people were to call me a fool for refusing to live life the way they did and by doing the things they did. Little did they realize that in our world, the black world, one could only survive if one played the fool, and bided his time.
As we had no nursery rhymes nor storybooks, and, besides, as no one in the house knew how to read, my mother’s stories served as a kind of library, a golden fountain of knowledge where we children learned about right and wrong, about good and evil.
My conception of the world, of life, was wholly in racial terms; and that conception was not mine alone. It was echoed by all black people I had come across. There were two worlds as far as we were concerned, separated in absolutely every sense. But somehow […] they had everything to do with each other; […] one could not be without the other, and their dependency was that of master and slave.
But all of this I passively accepted as a way of life, for I knew no other. The house, the yard, the neighborhood and Alexandra were at the hub of my existence. They constituted the only world I knew, the only reality.
[Uncle Piet] had been released—without being charged—and given a warning that he better get himself a pass soon, for he was getting too tall and was beginning to wear long pants, factors which alone made him adult enough to carry a pass.
They, like myself, had grown up in an environment where the value of an education was never emphasized, where the first thing a child learned was not how to read and write and spell, but how to fight and steal and rebel; where the money to send children to school was grossly lacking, for survival was first priority.
“Education will open doors where none seem to exist. It’ll make people talk to you, listen to you and help you; people who otherwise wouldn’t bother. It will make you soar, like a bird lifting up into the endless blue sky, and leave poverty, hunger, and suffering behind. […] Above all, it’ll make you a somebody in this world.”
And oh, how I yearned for the day when armies of black peasants would invade the white world and butcher, guillotine, hang, machine-gun, bury alive and drown in hot lead every bad white man alive.
“Yes, I do believe in the Bible. That’s why I cannot accept the laws of this country. We white people are hypocrites. We call ourselves Christians, yet our deeds make the Devil look like a saint. I sometimes wish I hadn’t left England.”
It struck me that [Granny] could not read, like millions of other blacks who worked for whites? How did they function normally in a world totally ruled by signs?
Thus my consciousness was awakened to the pervasiveness of “petty partied,” and everywhere I went in the white world, I was met by invisible guards of racial segregation.
To me, and many blacks, whites were a race peculiarly obsessed with creating contradictions that they, and they alone, could understand—if indeed they really could understand them in the strict sense of the word.
The thick veil of tribalism which so covered [my father’s] eyes and mind and heart was of absolutely no use to me, for I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that black life would never revert to the past, that the clock would never turn back to a time centuries ago when black people had lived in peace and contentment before the white man.
The government generally treated Coloureds slightly better by giving them better jobs, better housing and better education than blacks. As a result most of the Coloureds were ashamed of their black blood, and often their prejudice against blacks was fiercer than the white man’s. But a new generation of young Coloureds, which saw itself as more black than white, was emerging, and it embraced the entire range of black aspirations.
Worst of all, I found among members of some churches a readiness to accept their lot as God’s will, a willingness to disparage their own blackness and heritage as inferior to the white man’s Christianity, a readiness to give up fighting to make things just in this world, in the hope that God’s justice would prevail in the hereafter.
While student leaders argued about what to do to diffuse the situation, the police suddenly opened fire. Momentarily the crowd stood dazed, thinking that the bullets were plastic and had been fired into the air. But when several small children began dropping down like swatted flies, their white uniforms soaked in red blood, pandemonium broke out.
For an instant I became aware of the senselessness of what we were doing. But those misgivings gave way to euphoria as I saw black peasants making off with plundered goods. I joined in.
Out of touch with sane whites, I began to hate all whites. Why weren’t liberal whites doing something to stop the slaughter of innocent black children? Why weren’t they demanding investigations into the brutal and indiscriminate use of force by police? […] The loud silence of the white electorate turned many black moderates into radicals and radicals into revolutionaries.
“You know […] this whole thing reminds me of what Hitler did to my country. His madness left us Germans with a feeling of guilt and shame that can never go away. The very same forces of racial superiority of that idiot and madman I see at work right here. There could yet be another Holocaust in the world.”
If four years of attending college in America had awakened Andre to the brutal reality of how wrong his race was in subjugating blacks […] then I had hope that some day the rest of his race could similarly awaken—if they wanted to.
Many blacks believed that such arbitrary racial classification was blatant proof that the government had created apartheid not because God so ordained, or that the races were so radically different they could not coexist as one nation, as white supporters of racial segregation claimed. Apartheid was purely and simply a scheme to perpetuate white dominance, greed, and privilege.
How would he deal with the fear, the frustration, the hate, the anger that were the lot of every black child? Would he stay out of trouble long enough to become a man, to realize his dreams, whatever they might be?