I moved slowly as a child; my grandmother would always say ‘time doesn’t wait for anyone’. Recently, I have been thinking about how we young South Africans are using our precious time. We are wasting it on anger and hate.
I, too, was angry once – with white people and with Nelson Mandela. Arriving at Rhodes in 2009, I was obliged, for the first time, to converse, absorb my lectures, and write my assignments in English. My frustration and humiliation were beyond words – generating pain and anger beyond anything I had known. Every day I cried to myself, “If only I were not black!”
When I saw a white person, I thought, “If your forefathers had not come to my forefathers’ land, none of this would be happening”. When someone mentioned Nelson Mandela or other struggle activists, I thought, “You should have killed the settlers.”
Would you like to know what changed me? Getting to know the ‘other’, the people from every culture in South Africa and the world.
I survived at Rhodes thanks to people like my first year journalism tutor. Every Friday I went to her in tears, pleading for help. Patiently, she explained everything and helped me edit, always generous with her time. Kathryn McConnachie helped me discover that white people are human.
Though painful, my time at Rhodes was a gift. Is it wise to continue crying every day? Is wise to hate white people and Mandela? No!
Rather, I commit myself to applying my privileges to advancing democracy. It is my responsibility to make sure that this pain ends with me. Yes, it is my responsibility!
My transformation did not happen overnight. Nor did it obscure real, persistent injustice. May I put it to you, my dear white South Africans – you must acknowledge that you are still enjoying apartheid privileges. I cannot tell you what you must do to put things right – but I am sure we can figure it out together.
My dear black South Africans, I share your anger at poverty and inequality. Your pain is my pain. But, let’s be honest about who is in power. iANC yethu iyamosha! I know you don’t want to hear it, kodwa ke yona iyamosha bontanga.
Let us, my fellow fortunate university students, stop making noise driven by anger. Before we act, before we speak, let us ask ourselves, “Does this advance our just cause?”
No, Madiba was not able to bring us into the promised land. He brought us thus far, and left us to complete the task. He armed us with a great Constitution, and with the law on our side. We are strong. We are intelligent. We are many. We can do this.
What will we say when our children ask – that we were angry young people? And when they ask what we did to make things better? Liyashona ilanga bantu bakithi!