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Black on White: Christmas family conversations

This Christmas Day, just like most people, I have spent the day with family; and it was during that moment between meals we usually take time to have conversations on various issues. In most cases, these conversations are always termed, ‘just making conversation’.

While that in itself is a good thing; one gets the idea that these conversations are more than just a way to fill in that awkward moment where we have to sort of entertain one another with something, and a conversation is usually the cheapest thing to do.

A case in study is during my family visit, my uncle found it necessary to ask about my brother’s children. The conversation did not last long, as very quickly I realised that my uncle is never known for light conversations. While it was entertained, we quickly found a way to just hear what he had to say about the matter and then move on.

As we were in search of another ‘meaningless conversation’, my father made a remark about land expropriation without compensation. A topic which came to be as an extension of how Cyril Ramaphosa is great as a President.

Listening to my father, I realised this was more than just one man’s view on the matter; even more sad is that an intelligent man as my father missed to understand the contents of Section 25 of the South African Constitution. Instead of delving deeper into the matter of land expropriation, it was easier to divert to race differences and although not spoken about loudly, white privilege.

According to my father and cousin, it is impossible to have white people being equal to black people. In their example, they gave a scenario of two people having to walk from Alberton to Germiston.

In this example they argued that a white man is already at Gosforth Park (around halfway), and is well into the trip. This in their minds referring to ‘white privilege’; which assumes that the expectation is that both parties are expected to reach the destination at the same time. This is until they were met with my argument which will be expanded even further.

Let me from the outset say in that scenario, one would expect the person at Gosforth Park to reach the destination sooner than the person starting the journey in Alberton. There is probably little anyone can do to ensure that both parties reach Germiston at the same time. Now that I think of it, what if time was not an issue as to who gets to the destination first.

As the robust debate continued, it became very clear to me that their argument hinged mostly on the race aspect. This was until I added another dynamic, that of class. Whether we would like to admit it or not; there are black people who are more privileged than white people; the question is, are we going to continue the trajectory of advancing lives based on race or based on need?

If we are to read and analyse life according to race, then my father’s argument would make great sense. But what if we were to say, these inequalities are created in society and is not necessarily a race thing.

Taking a look at my life, I had the privilege of attending a private school and later living in Johannesburg and then given an opportunity to study after matric, something which many South Africans have never had the privilege of.

In relation to others, I have been given a head start in life and yet I am not white, I am a black man; equally, part of my success came through hard work and a lot of setbacks in life. While I have advanced in life, it did not come easy… what do you think my natural reaction would be at the idea that someone who never had to go through the same challenges as I got to go through can have exactly the same as I have? Clearly, I will not be impressed; not even a little!  

This is the trick we are missing in building a united South Africa, we silently expect those who never worked for much to be rewarded the same as those who have invested a lot into their success.

Yes, he may take longer to get to the final destination than I would, however, one forgets that I did not get there just by going to a good school, my life is my own journey and others have to follow theirs as well. Although the route may be the same, we need to let go of the expectation of time and realise that if we all work on our personal goals, success is bound to follow.

This is the trick we are missing in building a united South Africa, we silently expect those who never worked for much to be rewarded the same as those who have invested a lot into their success. That is part of the problem, the solution is simple; if we give everyone an opportunity to work hard and reward them based on their talents, we may not necessarily solve today’s problems, however, we will solve tomorrow’s challenges.