I asked my son if he’d like to go to South Africa. I think I’d like to go, see the most democratic country in Africa in the flesh. So to speak.
My better half Belinda was up for it. She’s Zulu and hasn’t been back since she moved here in 2000. She calls me deluded for thinking it’s democratic but she loves her country all the same.
My son Homer looked at me. He didn’t answer the question but he looked at me. For a 14-year-old boy looking at his parents is promising. I decided to push my luck and ask again.
“Homer, I want to go to South Africa. Obviously your mum wants to go too. How do you feel about it?”
His lips clenched, like he wasn’t sure how to answer.
Belinda tutted. As far as she was concerned teenagers never know what they want so asking them was pointless, but I’ve always believed in including all family members in major decisions.
“Yes or no? It’s alright with me either way.”
He averted his gaze and murmured something.
“Sorry? I can’t hear.”
“I don’t know,” he said softly. In the corner of my eye a vindicated Belinda smirked.
“What do you mean you don’t know? You love travelling, and you’ll get to see your mum’s side of the family. Her brothers, sisters, cousins.” Then came the dreaded word. “Parents.”
“Dad you don’t have to sell it to me. I do kinda want to go.” Sensing a but, I raised an eyebrow. And he continued. “It’s just… it kind of scares me.”
“Don’t worry. We don’t have to see your mother’s cantankerous parents after all,” I blurted, not realising how close Belinda was behind me. She gave me one good slap round the head!
“My parents are not cantankerous! They just have a deep sense of honour and tradition!” she shouted.
Head bowed, I squeaked, “Yes dear. Sorry dear.”
Homer stifled a laugh.
“Ey! Do not take your father’s side!” she snapped.
“Hey hey! I wasn’t, I wasn’t! I’m not sacred of Granny & Gramps. I mean I’m scared of South Africa itself.”
That got both of our attention.
“I heard about that show at Barbican Theatre, the human zoo thing. The guy who made it is South African isn’t he?”
Belinda looked around the room in embarrassment. “He’s Boer, I’m not claiming him. But carry on.”
“That’s really bad,” he said with widened eyes. “I saw the posters for that show, all they show are black people – and no-one else – in chains and cages and stuff. For a post-apartheid country to still be displaying us like helpless animals and victims for the sake of art, that’s evil. I mean, if they can get 150 people to willingly put themselves in that light for the world to see, what does it say about what they think of us – and what they want to do to us?
“Not to mention all their ads only showing whites as happy and problem-free, while we’re always shown as beggars and drunks – when we’re shown at all. That image scares me. Images shape realities and lives, and I don’t want my life shaped in a way that makes me powerless and suffering. If I could change one thing about South Africa, it’d be to give the natives – Zulu, Xhosa, Khoikhoi, San and all the rest – the power to control their lives, and show themselves as they want to be seen so make the world treat them better.”
Wow. I’d never before heard my son admit to being scared. He always said fear was for weaklings, but he couldn’t have looked any stronger in my eyes right then. And to express such a well-argued thought-out opinion…
“Meganie was even crying about it, she was so scared.”
Belinda snapped out of her compassionate trance. “Who’s Meganie?”
“Erm, my friend.”
Louder, she asked. “Friend? Who is a girl?”
“Yeah,” he squeaked.
“So she’s your girlfriend?”
That was it. She stepped toward her son, he stepped back and soon they broke into a run.
“How dare you? You know you’re not allowed to have girlfriends! Ever! Get back here!!!”