So on my way to Cape Town, I sat next to this lovely couple. The woman in the middle was closely holding her partner because it was her first time flying. We laugh about it, and she asks where I’m from.
“America! Wow! You seem really nice. Why you here?”
I tell them that I’m in South Africa to learn, support, and build with #FeesMustFall comrades and to study protest infrastructure in social movements. #FeesMustFall is a movement in South Africa where students are demanding free education for all students and the end of outsourcing for university staff workers. Just the day before my flight, peaceful student-protesters were sleeping in a building on campus when the University of Witwatersrand’s Vice Chancellor hired private bouncers to forcefully remove them. The bouncers brutally attacked the students, dragging one woman out of the building by her locs. Other women had their tops pulled off and breasts fondled. Many other students were punched and kicked, leaving blood on the floor of the building. It was a horrible sight.
Students are beaten up by @AdHabb bouncers, undressing women and fondling their breasts. We are being told their targeting specific people.
— Vuyani Pambo (@vuyanipambo) January 12, 2016
Students were assaulted by private security at #solomonmahlangu house around 6am this morning. #handsoffourstudents pic.twitter.com/MNeZ3nvbw4
— WitsFeesMustFall (@WitsFMF) January 12, 2016
“We don’t want 0%, we want #FreeEducationNow”- @vuyanipambo on SABC https://t.co/DvABYruGFV. #Asinamali #FeesMustFall
— Simamkele Dlakavu (@simamkeleD) January 13, 2016
@WitsFMF @WitsSRC @UJFMF @AdvDali_Mpofu… Blood of a black child at Solomon house 30 minutes ago. pic.twitter.com/FdR2Lb7f3x
— Xolani Ndlovu (@gasa_xmm) January 12, 2016
@WitsFMF POLICE ON CAMPUS IN THEIR RIOT GEAR #FeesMustFall #FreeEducationNow #EndPoliceBrutality pic.twitter.com/rgKqGcU3Pq
— Ray_mundo (@Searatoa) January 12, 2016
After explaining what I witnessed in the aftermath of the attack, she said she had to let me know the truth about Black South Africans because they’re not like “me.”
She says she’s a proud South African who did not see my color; only me as a person. Which is surprising because since I have been bathing in this African sun for the last two weeks, my melanin is on 10. On 100. But that’s not the point.
She THEN says the following:
“White people cannot say that we are proud to be white. We can’t say white power, but Indians, Coloreds, and Blacks can. We know that they don’t want to work for anything, they are lazy- but education is a privilege and not a right. They must earn it. They shouldn’t get anything for free. White people are now under apartheid in South Africa.”
I then responded, somewhat lightheartedly:
“Who took land from you? Where did they force you to move? Are people forcing you to speak Xhosa only? Do you have to carry a white person permit to walk in Black areas? Are a small number of Blacks ruling a white majority? When did this happen?”
Then she’s like,
“No, not like that. They just want *this land back and I’ve built my house and business on it. Now, white people don’t care about the land. We care about what we have built. We will set fires to our houses and business so that they can get the land back. Then we’ll leave and go back to Europe.”
“Sis! That might be a good idea. I think that’s a much easier compromise. Everything that Blacks built- their homes, businesses, livelihoods- were destroyed when white people stole the land. Have you told the Black people here that white people are so willing to return the stolen land? I’m sure they can do a lot with their land, and the gold, and the diamonds, and the minerals that are still being extracted by white companies, you know. That stuff.”
Then, she says,
“Well. That’s good to hear. But- if you ask a Black person in their 50s or 60s, they will tell you that life was much easier for them under apartheid. They had jobs. Its not racist to say that, its true! Could build a home for their children. Ask them. Ask them!”
Nah. Just. Nah. Okay.
I tell her that people, especially older Black people who experienced the worst of apartheid, do not generally think that. “I don’t think that the people you named believe that it was better for white people to rule oppressively over Blacks, steal their land, create fake countries, kill their children, and make them carry papers to enter newly created white neighborhoods.”
The conversation continued. I asked for her email address, and she gave it. I even plan to email her. The tone of the conversation was pretty chill, which made other people listen in and even thank us after the flight.
More than people like Donald Trump, “good hearted,” seemingly oblivious racists make me the most nervous. The one who lists her Black friends in a conversation. The one who thinks white paternalism is the way for Black people to progress. The one who believes that she has not personally done anything to oppress Black people, but wants to continue to enjoy the benefits of the former oppression, and deny any forms of her privilege.
Even in South Africa, white people, and perhaps even some Blacks, just don’t understand that the fruits of white supremacy and domination in Black countries do not simply rot over time. Rather, the cores must be identified and thrown out. New seeds of a better fruit must be planted. The #FeesMustFall movement professes that free education could pave the way for new returns.
So much work to do.
*”This” is an adjective used to identify a specific person or thing close at hand or being indicated or experienced. However, “stolen” is a better adjective to describe the nature of South African land.