K is for…by Samora Chapman, image by Jason Bronkhorst / 18.05.2010
Kaffir. The most powerful and emotionally charged word in this country. I can hardly write it down or say it without a shiver. But it still comes out of peoples mouths, like a little spider, a small devilish vampire-bat crawling out of a dark cave and dragging behind it a thousand fiery images.
Last weekend I came face to face with a thief in the night. My girlfriend and I were house-sitting. I was dead to this world. But she lay awake with a bad feeling. At about 1am she heard footsteps outside the window. A stranger in our midst. Instant terror, fear, prickly skin. I jumped out of bed and crept through the house like a ghost, dead quiet and breathless. And then I froze as my eyes fell on the intruder. He crouched in the dark outside the window. I wanted to scream out, but I couldn’t break the silence. I was captured by the moment. I just stared at the small fellow. He could be a killer. Or just a petty thief, I’ll never know. Suddenly he turned his head and our eyes locked. We stared at one another for what seemed an eternity, like strangers become lovers. I tore myself away in panic and ran through the house like a madman. Back to my girl. Barricade the room! I grabbed a candlestick holder like a mighty Excalibur and posed in the fight position, ready for battle. Bring it on my nemesis! I shall fight you to the death!
We sounded the alarm and waited in the dark, hearts pumping like fearful, quivering Whites held captive in the prisons of our mind. The small thief was probably running like hell, scarred for life by visions of a naked six foot two ghost with eyes like the devil.
Eventually, a semi retarded security guard arrived at the scene and stumbled through the garden like a blind dog in search of the vicious intruder.
“Sometimes they hide in the trees,” he told me.
He pointed his pistol up at the imaginary enemy in a nearby tree.
“I’m dying for a reason to use this.”
His pistol shone like a righteous instrument of justice. The judges hammer in the hands of a complete imbecile.
“Ooh ya, I’ll shoot those kaffirs out the tree.”
Kaffir. I have a white skinned body attached to my soul. Do I have the right to confront the most feared, hated and powerful word in our country? It is not my intention to go into all the historical connotations of the word. But I am a part of this society, this nation of ours and it is haunted by the lingering stains of Apartheid. I was born in the year 1984. Apartheid was gradually meeting its demise. One of my earliest memories of politics was the image of Mandela and De Klerk shaking hands on the front of a newspaper. It was the 11th of February 1990, the day Madiba was released from prison, the beginning of a new era. Finally, the shackles of white supremacy were being loosened and the NEW South Africa was soon born. A place where you would no longer be defined by the colour of your skin, where justice, tolerance and freedom of speech would at last be returned to the people. The first free and fair election was held in 1994 and here we are, 16 years later. But the K word lives on. And every time it is spoken it drags us back to reality. Racism is still rife.
By definition, the word Kaffir means “non-believer”. But it has gained the weight of generations of violence, hatred and oppression and its power to strip an individual of their humanity lives on as does our remembrance of that era. I am quite often called “umlumgu” by African people, which basically means Whitey. And there are a host of other racial slurs alive within society, but none seem to have the power of hatred associated with the word Kaffir.
One argument is that the power of the word is stemmed from the fact that we are unable to confront it. The more it is feared and hated, the bigger people’s reaction to it, the more powerful it becomes. An Indian friend of mine uses the racial slur “Churro” with absolute disregard of its historical connotations.
“Hey Joegs, do you know why churro’s dance like this?”
He dances around the room, jerking and twitching like a crump star on ecstasy.
No bru, why? I ask
“Because they got so many knives hidden in their pockets, when they dance they get poked by their own goneys!”
What my friend is doing is stripping the word of its power. But that is his right, his way of dealing with it.
Today we are surrounded by distinctive forms of racism, some blatant and some more subtle. There are the hardcore, old-school straight up racists who genuinely hate and fear blacks, coloureds, mlungus, jews or whoever it may be. These types of people normally hate anything different to themselves and anything they do not understand. Women (or men), homosexuals and animals are often at the receiving end of this kind of blind ignorance.
The second generation racist is the one who was brought up in a racist environment and has appropriated the way of thinking and speaking from their parents. It is through a lack of personal integrity that they have failed to make up their own minds about the value of human beings. I often find this type of person will use a racial slur in a nonchalant way, without true conviction or really realising what they are saying. For instance I know white kids who have black friends, listen to black music and even have black heroes but are too stupid to rethink their own ideologies.
And then, perhaps the worst type of racists are the ones who claim not to be racist and are obviously in complete denial about who they are and have no sense of their own identity. These types of people often start their sentences off with “I’m not a racist but…”
I was waiting for a shower at the beach the other day whilst a family on vacation from Cato Manor made use of the excellent open air ablution facilities; brushing their teeth, lathering themselves with fragrant sunilght green soap and giving their genitals a healthy scrub. The old mama held her naked child upside down under the tap while it wailed in protest. Her boobs sagged out of her stained vest and her enormous incredible bum shook and twinkled in the afternoon sun. The ndoda washed his gigantic family jewels with a proud toothy grin. A bather in a banana hammock turns to me and says:
“You know, I’m not a racists or anything, but don’t you reckon the blacks should get their own showers at the beach?’ I mean not to be racist or anything but they’re just different to us.”
The beach-front epitomises the wonders of our multi-cultural city. While the poor bathe semi naked under the tap, the yuppies cheer from their bar stools at Joe Cools as Bakkies Botha donners a kiwi. While the surfers walk on water like Jesus and the beauties gleam on the golden sand, the Muslim women sit at My Diner and diligently lift their burqa’s to insert a mouthful of delicious traditional curry. If people can’t appreciate the diversity of cultures in our country they should either leave or keep their racial slurs to themselves. So this goes out to all those who look over their shoulders and whisper “the blacks” or “the whites”. Or bitch in the surf when the beachfront mosque calls for evening prayer. Fuck off to Australia where they carved ash trays out of Aboriginals craniums and the indigenous people are a tiny minority because they were all burned. And there’s no crime there either so good riddance.
Image © and courtesy Jason Bronkhorst. Check out more of his work here.