While writing this post, I suppose I struggled the most with the privilege that I have been afforded since moving to South Africa (incidentally, next week marks 7 years).
I have been blessed to have an income that afforded me the privilege of living in the multi-racial and international parts of Johannesburg. I have the luxury to forget my foreignness and blend in. For the most part.
Over the years, I have had certain encounters that reminded me that alas! I am one of “them” and these have always stayed with me.
- In 2011, the municipal bus service that I used at the time went on a protracted strike and this forced me to use a bus service whose customers are predominantly black South African. Over those four months, that was my WORST.EXPERIENCE.EVER. As I live in the suburbs, the drivers would make all kinds of assumptions about my socio-economic status and often not stop. When they did stop, the driver would not respond in English when I enquired whether he would go past my office, neither would he reply when I asked about the fare. The other customers were even worse between ignoring me when I asked for assistance and hissing “foreigner” or “English speaker” as I passed by them.
- Same thing about asking for directions/ the fare in a minivan taxi. Folk don’t even look at you as you repeatedly ask. Basically, they are mute and to them you don’t exist. Coupled with this is the added fear that because of my foreignness, the rest of the passengers in the taxi will somehow plot to harm me in some way or another.
- When I first joined my University (an English-medium school), I remember going to the Administration block to receive information for my Tutorial and the Course Administrator looked at me, spoke in what I later discovered to be seSotho and refused to speak English. To make it worse, there was a black student who wouldn’t help me. Only when I came back with the Caucasian Head Tutor did I get assistance.
- Going to the Puma store in Maponya Mall and having the Store Manager grill my sister and I as to why we did not speak seSotho after we enquired in English about a particular product. We left because he needs the money, not us. He wasn’t moved by this.
- Constantly having to justify why after all this length of time I have been here, I still do not speak any local language. The threats that I shall get deported or have my visa rescinded because of this. Repeatedly and in the most random of places.
But even as I write this, I know that it does come off as a huge whine because never has my life been in any kind of danger. Never have I slept in fear that my neighbours will attack me or kill me. Never have I had my property taken away from me. And this, not because of anything but the grace of God and His provision for me. And, that’s why I want to do something for some of these stranded foreigners and help them in this time of their life but what?