(Photo from: http://commongood.org.za/2014/08/07/the-day-that-rock-beat-paper)
It doesn’t take a lot to make me feel guilty. I’m symbolic of guilt, all the 20th Century evil is combined in me. I’m a white, German speaking South African. My grandfather served in the SS. I grew up in a Nat household. We had. Others had not. But I was blissfully unaware of that.
I think the awakenings from my slumber of the idiotic began when I went to university. Of course my parents could afford university, whose couldn’t? I did my undergrad years at Stellenbosch, first year 1990. A university that seemed blissfully unaware that there were black South Africans. I studied humanities, fortunately, it is there where one finds open minds that see things others don’t even notice, or choose to ignore.
On my first weekend at varsity Nelson Mandela was released. He had been in jail for 27 years, I’d only heard about him maybe a year or two before. I knew nothing of the ANC. What? You mean there’s more to South African history than the Great Trek?
Sociology and literature taught me the ugly truth. The words of the humanities, the thinkers, the writers, the activists, the poets, those who are brave enough to face the truth, they are the wisest among us. I learned about the Apartheid laws – reams and reams of them, 148 in fact, five of which were grand (how often have I used the word grand is if it were something glorious!) and the rest were petty (oh the irony!). I had known nothing of this, or at least was blissfully unaware. I remember, early in my first year I watched Cry Freedom. In disbelief and horror. (My roommate protested saying but the children threw the police wif stones. Ah, that justifies it then.) How could I not know? How could I grow up in a bubble and not know? These are the questions my mother’s generation asked their parents in Germany. How could you not know? How could you tolerate this? We ask these questions of our parents and ourselves. What will our children ask?
I think somehow deep down we humans are utterly selfish and self-centred. I think as long as we are comfortable we don’t really, honestly give a toss about anyone else. I think as long as we benefit we don’t give a thought to those who don’t, or even those whose expense our comfort may come at. I think that is why we keep screwing up.
Twenty-five years later on Women’s Day and I like to think that I have learned so much, but have I? Am I not still blissfully unaware with my middle class cushy job, my house, my car and my Woolies card? My sanitary pads. My alarm system and my pedigree Rottweiler. I wonder whether being uninformed is actually a choice, but the comfort zone seems all too easy to slip into. The markets and the media are really directed at those with cash to burn. Women’s Day is about spoiling yourself, girls… Oh no! I am so stressed! Woolies has run out of cauliflower rice, best I pamper myself with a facial and a manicure then. It’s Women’s Day after all and I deserve it.
What do I know of the pain of others on this Women’s Day? I have never gone hungry a single day of my life. Everyone in my family has had an education. I have medical aid. I have enough money that buying tampons is done on autopilot. The bittersweet truth is that I’ve had a hysterectomy (in a posh private hospital, of course) and no longer require tampons or the mountains of pain medication (I could afford) that endometriosis requires, but fear not guys, I am no less hysterical. But I digress.
What do I know of the struggles of women in South Africa? I have never been raped or beaten. I never missed school because I had a period. We had flushing toilets, doesn’t everyone? What is a sexual assault kit? Who worries about birth control when you can afford a Mirena? I don’t know the pain of putting your child to bed without knowing how you will feed it tomorrow. I don’t know about back street abortions. (As you know, women have abortions for fun, just like they ask to be raped.) I can only speak for myself, but I know I don’t deserve a Women’s Day. And I know that despite all my privileged education, I know nothing….