Written February 2016
Six years ago I was awarded an Open Society Foundation media fellowship. My idea was to spend three months in the old Transkei, interviewing the rural South Africans of Pondoland and Thembuland about what democracy had – and had not – brought to their lives.
I set myself up as an objective reporter, on an objective mission. It was 2010, and I was tired of how, back then, the newspapers were dominated by stories of crime, corruption and the voices of Zuma and Malema, the political elite. I wanted to know what my fellow citizens thought, how we the people were really getting on with our democracy.
I set off alone on the road, a lone female journalist roaming the Transkei in a bakkie, and quickly realised that my so-called objective mission was a flawed project. I had grown up in Benoni during the last days of apartheid, and despite my media credentials (I was being backed by an editor at TIME magazine) within days I found myself face to face with my fears, ignorance and prejudice – the apartheid shadows that haunts all of us who grew up in that time.
Over the next five years, with more return visits to the Transkei, that journey became a book, titled Lost Where I Belong. It is a book of two halves. Partly, it documents the stories of rural South Africans and their sense of ‘being lost in transformation’, all the white framing their stories against my own feelings of loss, longing and not belonging.
Since then the book has courted many publishers, and is now represented by a wonderful literary agent in London, and yet – in 2016 – it has yet to find a publisher. Why?
Again and again I have been told that there is simply not a big-enough market for a book that probes and pushes at racism and white prejudice.
While the book has been struggled to find a platform, Keke Motseke, Anisha Panchia and I, have created a platform of another kind: the Consciousness Café. In inspiring spaces around the country, we bring South Africans together to engage in honest, bear-all conversations about the shadows of racism and prejudice that exist in all of our hearts.
This past Saturday Consciousness Café popped up at the Spaza Gallery in Troyeville. What shocked me – and most of the white people present – was to hear how every black South African in the room, including the glamorous girls with MBAs and BMWs who most white South Africans would describe as ‘sorted’ and ‘privileged’, continue to experience racism on a daily basis. Being told there is no place for them to sit in an empty restaurant. Being overlooked for promotions and pay rises. Being given a lower grade than their white classmates, despite the fact that they were working in a group, and everybody else in the group got the same grade.
Really? In 2016? With a black majority government? This is happening? And perhaps what was more shocking was the way they said they reacted when this happened to them. They kept silent. They said nothing. It was better that way. Nobody likes an angry black person.
It just reminded me again how the system wants us to stay silent. It is comfortable that way. It does not want the voices out.