Thu Dec 08 16:23:21 CAT 2016

THE BIG READ: Aching layers of pain

Phumla Matjila | 2012-06-12 00:14:41.0
UNHAPPY CO-EXISTENCE: Residents of Meadowlands, which has 10 zones, have allowed the tribal divisions of the past to define how they relate to each other, much to the delight of apartheid's founding fathers. Now a cartoonist has been accused of reinforcing the differences
Image by: Picture: GALLO IMAGES

Meadowlands, my birthplace, sounds like a fine place. Sibongile Khumalo does an infectious rendition of Meadowlands in her Live at the Market Theatre CD. So Meadowlands must be an exciting part of Soweto, right?

There are some areas that boast a 180-degree view of a mine dump. The sprinkle of grass is not enough to cover the dust that glistens in the summer heat and goes up in a storm as the wind howls through the area. Note my sarcasm when I speak of how wonderful my birthplace is.

You can spot the children who stay closest to the mine. The whites of their eyes have lost their brightness; the closer they are to the mine dump, the duller the colour.

They also suffer from all kinds of respiratory problems. Note my resentment of the conditions under which people in the place of my birth are forced to live.

Meadowlands is divided into zones, which were divided into ethnic groups. Zone 8 is predominantly a Shangaan area, Zone 7 a Tswana sweet spot and Zone 6 is home to Zulus. Note the way I dislike the divisions we live in.

The situation is not different in other townships across the country. Mamelodi, where I grew up, is not much different to Meadowlands . The Pedis are concentrated in one area and the Ndebeles in another . Note how I dislike the way the townships around the country are divided.

These living arrangements were part of the apartheid government's divide-and-rule policy.

The divisions were obviously very effective because, even today, take away racism and xenophobia, so that black South Africans take a hard look at themselves, and you are left with tribalism and the stereotypes, and even superstitions, that inform it. Note how I'm building up a lot of anger about how we, blacks, treat each other.

When you peel away that layer of tribalism in which stereotypes exist even within tribes, and the superstitions that inform one sub-tribe's prejudices about another, you wonder if it is possible to have peace in our country. Note how angry I am that we black people, who were discriminated against, have our own system of discrimination, which no one questions.

Oh, the many layers under which our frustration and pain hide - and the many things that can upset us. The many layers we peel off to expose another layer that further exposes how divided a society we are - and the many ways in which we can get upset by that.

It is so easy to find motivation to feel frustrated. It is not hard to find something to be hurt by. It is easy to build up a lot of anger.

Another "artwork" is forcing us to take a hard look at ourselves and how we treat others.

Caroline Sithole has asked the Human Rights Commission to investigate whether an animation, Shangaan Jesus, which she finds offensive, is discriminatory.

In the animation, a black man called Jesus gets the shock of his life when he is told that the swollen toe that landed him in hospital is nothing serious. Instead, the doctor tells him that his DNA does not match that of God, therefore he can't be God's son. He is, in fact, a Shangaan.

Jesus is distraught. He says "People won't take me seriously."

After tyring hard to scrub off his Shangaan-ness with an orange sack, he decides to kill himself.

Sithole says the two-minute animation by Mdu Comics has "opened up old wounds of growing up being discriminated against".

She says her son "refuses to be Shangaan".

"I grew up being ridiculed by schoolmates for being Shangaan and I was not sure where this hatred was coming from."

"This has caused a lot of pain for me . I hated going to school 'because I was Shangaan'.

"I will not be ridiculed again in a democratic South Africa because of people like Mdu Ntuli, who think they are a better race than others and perpetuate these stereotypes," said Sithole.

Is it not sad when one person's joke can be so traumatic to others? Are we perpetuating these apartheid divisions in the way we treat and relate to other tribes?

How do we deal with racism and xenophobia when it is the discrimination under apartheid that perpetuates the notion that some people are better than others?

Tribalism, racism, xenophobia are all layers of a country in pain.


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