My Ride of “Terror”...
It was a gloriously sunny day. Blue skies overhead, birds humming their sweet melodies in perfect harmony with the cool silky breeze. Dew drops glistened like diamonds, waiting for the delicious moment that would gently drop them to soak into the juicy softness earth. All was well in my fantasy land. All people were free and equal and lovable. Nothing could shatter my image of my perfect world. Until...The Suggestion!
“Would you like to go for a long drive to a place you have never been to before?” asked my gorgeous husband Brian. I sometimes relive the innocence of the question compared to the silly fear that accompanied it on that fateful day. We immediately set out with much bravado and camaraderie. There was a buzz of excitement in the air as we set out on our adventure.
I decided that such a journey deserved to be given ample respect, so I dressed smartly. After much thought, I decided to wear my favourite expensive leather jacket, brand new army styled cargo pants, with my prized pair of suede boots to complete the outfit. Just to add to the glamour that the occasion warranted, I threw on some intricate gold jewellery for good measure. I was now ready...
As we set off on our journey of exploration, Brian, decided to change direction and head for Cato Ridge. A beautiful piece of heaven hidden in the majestic rural mountains far from the hustle and bustle of city life, yet secretly teaming with activity of a different kind. Enticed by the glorious warmth of the sun, we threw all caution to the wind and continued at a leisurely pace towards the serene Inanda Dam.
Only a little way into the journey, I began to feel the first twinges of discomfort. Normally, I listened to my intuition and took the appropriate action until the feeling disappeared. We had left any sign of civilization as I knew it, and we were now entering forbidden land as I saw it. We left the freeway and the countryside opened its arms and lovingly welcomed us. Cows otherwise known as “zulu-land robots”, periodically caused us to stop whilst they waltzed across the road at their own leisurely pace. The tall brown tinged grass waved excitedly at us as the gentle wind picked up.
The clouds overhead seemed bent on chasing each other mischievously across the clean blue sky, only to crash in tumultuous glee.
However, the beginnings of real fear began to dawn on me. We were in an area I was unfamiliar with. Round thatched huts began to appear everywhere. From my vantage point in the car, I watched as all these “Black” people went about their daily work. They all bubbled with pure energy and inexplicable happiness. Children ran around unattended, noses running, clothes tatty, dirty little faces radiating all the joy of freedom. Whilst their happiness shone like a beacon of adventures to come, my heart trembled with unnecessary fear of impending danger.
Strange fleeting thoughts shot through my imagination. I saw anger and hatred lurking beneath the surfaces of these supposedly happy faces. I imagined that they were going to attack me any second. Hijack us, leave us lying here out in the “wilderness” to bleed to death. Maybe they will see my leather jacket and clothes and strip me and leave me, or worse....
Hastily, I put the clips of the car doors down. I knew that this was a false sense of security. These people were savages. They could easily break our window and harass us. I saw the news on T.V. I read the newspaper. I knew all about them. Violent savage people out to take whatever they wanted with little regard for life....Oh yes...I knew all about them.
Suddenly, the car stopped. I hung desperately onto my precious jewellery in the hope that they would not see it and be tempted. Brian did not notice anything amiss. Why should he? He had worked in the valley for years and everybody loved and knew him as the Peace-maker. He even spoke Zulu better than English. He was one of them.
Not knowing any of the inner turmoil which were shaking the very foundations of all reality for me, Brian casually told me that we had reached our destination. “No, not here!” I heard myself reply. “Aren’t these people dangerous?” I asked. Brian calmly replied that everyone were friends. Shaking with the adrenaline of anticipation I slowly began to get out of the car. Thoughts unbidden blinded me suddenly with anger, as I relived the time my beloved grandmother was viciously attacked.
She was unfortunately a victim of a government which had created much anger amongst the different cultural race groups through its destructive Apartheid policies. During the 1985 Inanda riots, her home was burnt down, her life savings, clothes, ancestral treasures stolen and her precious animals killed. Her attacker also slashed her across her face with a bush knife in the hope that she would be killed too. However, thankfully, she survived.
I was only 7 years old at the time, yet, I never realised until this moment, 19 years later, how much that incident had hurt me and scarred me in a very dangerous way. Unknowingly, I was stereotyping people whom I had never met, with those select few people of the past who had wrought havoc through their own anger. I was stunned with the revelation that I was being racist! Me of all people who had “Black” friends! I thought that I was Not racist.
As I jumped out of the car, I realised, that I had no right to judge the people in front of me and be afraid of them. I should not look at them in anger and hatred and blame them for the wrong that was inflicted on our ancestors and descendants. I felt my anger slowly ebb away like the tide meeting the shore for the first time. I looked at each face with new and renewed wonder. Here were Human beings. Capable of pain and hurt, love and peace just like me.
For the first time, my thoughts cleared. I walked up to the people standing around and shook hands with everyone. Each hand connected to a warm blooded, loving human being. I felt pure delicious relief course through my body as I became aware of my bad thoughts and excited at my ability now to assess where they came from and remove them.
From that day forward, whenever silly racist feelings arrived unbidden in my thoughts, I gently looked at them, and put them into the recycle part of my brain where they rightfully belonged. To date, I have made a concerted effort to learn more about the different cultures and traditions of the people of SA. I am starting from the level of Respect.
After all, “At the level of Respect, All people are Equal.”