Monday, October 17, 2011

Looking for racism in South Africa

When speaking negatively of South Africa most international people complain about the racism. Ever since I was small I’ve walked in and out of South Africa mainly for holidays and shopping over weekends. But I never really lived in South Africa until enrolling at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University this January. I knew that eventually I would encounter racism but had no idea in what shape or form.
Semester 2 was drawing nearer, I was all set to go back to Port Elizabeth, except for one setback. My left eye lid started twitching incessantly two weeks prior semester 2, it was annoying. After the first week I tried acupuncture. It hurt, I was pricked in sensitive areas like my forearm. Arms and feet feel the most pain because that’s where the nerve ending are, so I endured some intense pain…in vein. Recess ended, and I went back to P.E. twitching in a sinister manner. Whenever I spoke to people I felt like a villain with a hidden agenda. In lectures it really distracted me. A daily hot water sack over my eye did not help. Finally, I decided to try out reflexology, another holistic approach. I have faith in parallel medicine, even if it doesn’t cure you, it has no side effects. I got the contact of reflexologist and massage therapist from an Indian lady at an herbal shop. The reflexologist’s name was Star, and she was quite a character. She was the real life version of Dee-Dee from Dexter’s laboratory if there ever was one, blond, long legs, huge blue eyes and very energetic. Her place was at 1 Fort Street, just up Govan Mbeki Av.

The first session was relaxing, it didn’t stop the twitch. The following week I went back for my second session. Amidst small talk she asked me if I spoke Xhosa, I replied that I did not and she exclaimed, “Then how do u talk to people?”
-“Err in English, just like you”, I said.
What kind of a stupid question was that, assuming I could only relate to local black people? Anyways I shook it off, soon after I fell asleep as she rubbed my feet. When she was done, the twitch was still there but I felt relaxed. I paid her the R180 due, she thanked me and offered a ride down the hill to the taxi rank, I accepted. She asked me to wait outside while she changed her daughter’s diapers. I walked out of the house, it was a nice spring afternoon. By the gate were two white men were fixing the hinges, I greeted them politely and waited next to Star’s car outside. One of them stopped what he was doing and came towards me, “what are you doing?” he barked.
-“I’m waiting for Star, can I help you?”
-“You were just in my house”
-“Err I was doing reflexology”
Then Star calls out for me from her house, “Edgar, Edgar!”, then she pops out with that animated smile, “There you are, is Jo giving you trouble?”
-“I think he is”
Then he laughed, “I was ready to jump you, see last time we got robbed by a guy came in the house with a bag just like yours and walked out casually”
-“Right”, I said.
Then Star walked out, “Edgar was doing reflexology, I told you earlier”
Jo cracked a chuckle and waved goodbye, he was her husband. We got in the car and drove off all the way she was apologising with words like, “Shame man, what did he say?” and “I told him”
I wonder what she meant by “I told him”, I told him a black guy would come for reflexology maybe? When she dropped me off she said, “Text me when you can come for another session”
To which I said, “OK”. I never spoke to her again.

In hindsight I could think of many diplomatic ways I could have settled that episode with Jo.
I could have told him straight, “This is a classic example of profiling. Never mind if I have an NMMU student bag, a foreign accent and a presentable look. This would have never happened in my country, only in South Africa”. Had I said that I would have put him on the spot and most likely gotten an interesting reaction.
The annoying twitch persisted for a month, eventually it went away but the offense I took form that episode didn’t. What adds insult to injury is that Jo had a black belt in Tae-Kwando, in martial arts you are taught to be integrated, to have self-control and honour. Jo displayed none of it, he didn’t even apologise. This was the one episode in my 10 months in South Africa so far that racism found me.

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