Everything in this country is still very much segregated. Very seldom do I see white and black people socializing with one another. In fact, when you step into an establishment, you are likely to encounter a room full of either race, but not both. I’m not saying that it never happens, but whenever I do see a group of friends with diverse racial backgrounds, it is a pleasant surprise. Today, for the first time since I arrived, I actually saw an interracial couple, as they shared a kiss in public.
You know, there is actually a large group of white South Africans that are preparing for a race war! This week, I participated in a 3-day workshop at the South African Human Rights Commission. There, I met a number of incredible people that are extremely passionate about making equality in this country a reality. During one of our breaks, I asked a military veteran, who fought against the apartheid regime, whether people still carried the apartheid flag. When I asked, she immediately pulled up a video on her phone. In Pretoria, which is located about 30 minutes outside of Johannesburg, there is a camp of white South Africans who are essentially training for a race war. The leader of this group even admitted to having shot and killed two black men, because he thought they were going to rob him. This video was filmed in 2012!
Not only was I shocked that he admitted to murdering these two men, but that he still had his freedom! What is even more frightening is that I’ve had a number of people think I was going to rob them for no noticeable reason other than the color of my skin. It actually happened quite recently. On the way to the bus stop there are a number of ATMs that I have to pass. And yesterday, there was a group of white men that were about 20 yards in front of me that passed the ATM just ahead. At the time, an older white woman was using that particular ATM. When she heard the group of white men passing her, she briefly glanced over her shoulder and continued withdrawing her money. When she heard me passing, she completely stopped what she was doing, turned around, and watched me as I passed. After I crossed the street, she finished her withdrawal. Could you imagine if she truly thought I was going to rob her? What if she had a weapon like the man in the video?
Stuff like this happens all the time in this country. Sometimes I walk into a diner filled with white South Africans and I’m greeted with hostile stares. I also face discrimination by black citizens as well. The other day, I went to a restaurant near my apartment. All the servers were black, however, I was the only black customer. The servers seated me in the back of the restaurant, in a secluded room, separated from the rest of the customers. The food was amazing, but the service was absolutely terrible. They came to check on me so rarely, that I had to physically get up to find a server so I could pay for my meal. Sometimes, when I say hello to white South Africans, they don’t even respond.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all people here are hostile toward people of a different race. But for me, being a black man in South Africa is suffocating. When I first got here, I didn’t experience any blatant discrimination, but I guess I was right. Time will always tell.