JONATHAN JANSEN: 'We all have dirty hands, troubled by our divided past'
'In the hierarchy of races, classes and ethnicities that colonialism and apartheid created and reinforced, you were taught to look down on someone else'
Who are we fooling? English whites looked down on Afrikaners, who return the favour to this day; they used to be called two different races over a century ago, and they hated each other.
There are Coloured people who still look down on Africans, and Indians who think they are a notch above both Coloureds and Africans. There were and still are Africans who, dominant in numbers, regard themselves as superior to lesser ethnic groups; I hear those stories all the time.
And we are now in a time of reverse resentments. Those once placed at the bottom of those racial (but also class and ethnic) hierarchies are resenting the relative power and privileges of those above them. Now all you need is a racial populist as a politician to stoke those resentments and lead us down a sure path of mutual self-destruction as a nation.
“I have clean hands!” exclaimed the human rights commissioner, loud enough so that everyone around the table could hear she was untainted by our racist past. I remember feeling a mix of amusement and astonishment. How can anyone who lived on both sides of 1994 ever claim to have been unaffected by our oppressive history? The occasion was the final stages of the reconciliation and reparation sessions between four white male students who had humiliated five black workers on the University of the Free State campus in 2008.When I joined the university more than a year later it was very clear to me that the problem of racism was not, as my white colleagues insisted, “four bad apples”. Rather, it was an institution that, through its history and value system, had made such racist behaviour normative — the most natural thing in the world. Now, as the four boys asked the workers for forgiveness, the black colleagues responded with immediate love and generosity. “But of course, we forgive you...