The paradox lay in the way we were reared, back then in South Africa an excessive emphasis was placed on displaying an almost exaggerated sense of respect for one’s elders and here this quiet gentleman was exposed to the kind of abuse I hadn’t witnessed before, could it be that the other boys knew something I didn’t I ruminated, but quickly killed that thought because I was generally considered to be the sharpest out of the lot and I augmented this with bi-weekly trips to the library. The other boys I knew didn’t even know in which direction the library sat and lacked the basic literacy skills to complete the obligatory forms without adult supervision and a copy of Oxford’s finest splayed open for all to see…
It would be several years again before I would witness or experience overt acts of racism, but here is the genius that lays behind systems of oppression; particularly white supremacy and racism. It remains hidden to the untrained eye, the oppressed, like all human beings, adapt very quickly to the system by either ignoring it exists and “getting on with their lives” or making conscious daily decisions to navigate the systems in silence. Apartheid (literally means separateness) governed every aspect of black life in South Africa, think of an “Inverted Nanny State” and you’ll get the picture. So people like my mother, a rather timid and demure woman that avoided confrontation never spoke about it, and when there was enough money to visit the beach, the decision to go to one that was allocated by the regime for use by black people only, was made long before we packed the meagre picnic basket for the day.
We took the train, and the pathology of acquiescence and submission to the system is evident by us willingly occupying the part of the train set aside for black people only. Being okay with the overcrowding and accepting the fact that we were always going to be squeezed close to each other. Because wide open spaces were reserved for white people only! As if displaying a subconscious aversion to any proximity to anything black, therefore the wide-open spaces, which reinforces the privilege hierarchy on both sides of the colour divide. Lazily meandering past “Whites Only” beaches, it was perfectly normal for us to gasp in excitement and wonder at kids frolicking in the gentle surf amid a gentle pastiche of civilised sounds and the certain knowledge of how the world really works. An extraordinary admission of the power of systemic racist servitude and the power of hidden systems to control people’s lives for their own good or their “slow motion,” destruction. Both warden and prisoner were equally certain of the roles in life but hardly understood it because of the omnipresence of state actors and an educational system that can best be described as unashamed brainwashing straight out of the Himmler handbook.
At its fullest, the hidden rules of the beach were simple, maintain a distance of at least two inches between towels else all hell will break loose. Never let any of your sand accidentally or otherwise land on your neighbour’s blankets, guard your blanket, your picnic basket and any other items jealously, by alternating swimming patterns. Don’t befriend your neighbours, unless you know them prior, else you may have to share your meagre lunch, already toast hard from the unrelenting efforts of the beating sun. Once you understood and practised those mores and didn’t forget to catch the train well before the sun decides to go done, to avoid the criminal elements that, drunk by now from excess cheap wine consumed out of sight of the overly religious, the fussy wives and the beady-eyed Apartheid police who chose to prey on the unsuspecting homeward bound folks, you were okay for the most parts.
Part iii to follow