Thursday, April 18, 2013

a pot of cultures that doesn't melt

The Apartheid in reverse. That is what South Africans are calling the situation in their country now.

As I'm getting my hair washed by a stylist today, I mentioned my stay with a friend's family in the Indian settlement of Phoenix, just outside of Durban.

"You stayed with Indians?" she asked in near disgust. I didn't need to see her face to imagine how scrunched up it was.

I was the odd one out while in Phoenix. The settlements are hard pressed to find anyone from a culture other than their own. As we drove around town I was constantly stared at.

"Is it a bad thing?"

"Well, here in this region we still don't trust other cultures. The Apartheid was long ago, but still close."

'This region' is the Western Cape, inhabited by a large number of Afrikaners (of Dutch origin). Races, or cultures as it is referred to in South Africa, do not intermingle in this area. But they didn't intermingle in Durban either.

Blacks hung around Blacks, Whites around Whites and Indians around Indians. There was no mixing. I vocalized my observations to my friends as we returned to their settlement after a day-trip away. We were the only group I had seen that included more than one race. It struck me as odd: a country with so many cultures, but no unity - nearly 20 years after the Apartheid.

My observation opened an entire conversation on the state of how things are going now.

During the Apartheid the Black and Indian cultures worked together to gain equal standing with the Whites. But, so I was told by both Indian and White cultures, once Mandela left the office the equality shifted. Today the Black culture is "taking over just because they're Africans, not having earned it". I was told stories of how the Africans do the bare minimum at work but get paid more than even the White man. How a brilliant young Indian student with all honors and a full scholarship didn't get into a prestigious university because an African student from a township, with half her qualifications, was chosen instead.

I questioned each bit. I wondered how life was in the United States in the 1960's and 70's. Those pivotal years where we overcame racial segrigation. But, as I was rightly told, that too is different. Blacks in America are still a minority in population compared to Whites, whereas Blacks in South Africa are the majority. And that affects the melding process in this country.

My Indian friends didn't know where it will leave them, once things shift and settle. Only the future will tell if they'll be kicked out of the country, like a few rumors have stated. They thought they'd be on equal grounds now, but it is not so. They are looked down upon by two cultures - although it appears as though the Africans might still be too.

While the stylist was still massaging my head our conversation moved to Johannesburg. I informed her of where I was staying after she asked.

"With your Indian friend's brother? Do you even know him?"

"Not yet, but I will in a week," I replied.

"NO! Don't do it. He's Indian!" She was rather agitated at the thought.

"I'm sure he's a nice guy if he's anything like my friend," I reassured her.

"Yeah, but you know how things are - serial rapists, et cetera."

That's when I changed the subject.

1 comment:

Patti said...

I had no idea. How sad.