On my second week in South Africa when I went for my Master’s at the university of Pretoria, I, and three classmates, accidentally landed in a whites-only bar. The three classmates were one Finish girl, one Somali and one from Botswana.
The boys in that bar immediately wanted to start a fight. And by boys I don’t mean farmers, I mean colleagues, wearing t-shits of the University of Pretoria.
One kid with a UP jersey came in my face and said, I hate your face, I hate your race. The only reason we will allow you to leave unharmed is because you are not these blacks from here.
At that moment, this is what happened: the Somali boy grabbed a bottle and was ready to throw down; The Botswana kid vanished and went back to hide at our apartment;
The Finish girl was ambivalent about the whole thing. When we got home, she honestly couldn’t understand what the fuss i was making was all about. She even tried to rationalize it: ‘we were thrown out of a bar; Big deal!’
I was horrified, ready to pack up my things and leave that horrible country; where I had gone to seek education in human rights, like all of us Africans, who had believed in Mandela and the end of apartheid in South Africa.
These people have nothing to teach me; I thought to myself; I come from Rwanda, I can’t take racism, I will go back to my country where they respect and value me!
So I went to the faculty and told them I had no intention of pursuing my master’s. The director candidly said the incident was regrettable, but I was overreacting.
In the end I only stayed, thanks to my friend Remember Miamingi. Being from South Sudan, he had lived in exile most of his life through Nigeria, Uganda, Roumania and eventually winded up at Pretoria. When we met he was doing a PhD. He advised me to stay, zip through my master’s in no time and get outta there; which I finally did.
In this post I have spoken of five characters and I being the sixth.
Tsepiso, my classmate represents the devastating effects of protracted and systemic assimilation. Having lived through that system in Botswana, and having had leaders who were either white settlers, half white, or wannabe white (The father of the nation: ‘Sir’ Seretse Khama, is a proud knight of the British empire); All he held high is South African. He revered and feared Afrikaners; he aspired to be them. Is it his fault? He had experienced that the best way to survive in that part of the world was to avoid problems with white people because in the end, they were always right.
Ali Basha Farrah represents defiance and war. The day he was born is the day he accepted to die! He didn’t care that there were 100 white kids in the bar that night, and that we would have all been killed; He was not going to take disrespect and debase; he would rather die!
Then there was a lovely girl from Finland, Charlotte. This wasn’t her fight. She liked us and all, but wasn’t going to try hard and jump into a fight that she found there and – according to her – will leave there. Charlotte represents the oxymoron; those whom, while we, the oppressed call accomplices to the oppressor because they benefit from his system, are just lazy; laziness, which is a luxury they can allow themselves from where they stand in the battle.
Now there is my lecturer Frans Viljoen: He represents the system of deception put in place in South Africa and around the world to camouflage oppression. He is the gatekeeper. A man who will look in my eyes and say he is truly sorry – and he probably believe that too; that he is on my side – and he can prove it too – by offering me a half scholarship and excellent education. But he can never stand in my shoes!
The fact that he is deceiving me is not his fault; in fact he too is deceived. Therefore he involuntary contributes to the oppressor’s work; he is used.
Last week I wrote on facebook that the arrest of Karenzi Karake, Rwanda’s chief intelligence in the United Kingdom, was an act of racism. Two charming ladies who truly like me, said they couldn’t see how that is racist; in fact they said it wasn’t. Plain and simple!
These two ladies like Rwandans in general – they can prove it too – they are ambassadors to Rwanda. But they can’t see that systems in which they were brought up are inherently racist. When I speak to my father who studied there, that is all he can see; but the ladies, for some reason, are able to find plausible explanations to those subtle racist actions. They are not the ones doing it, or rationalizing it, but it sits well with them
Which brings me to Obama’s upcoming visit to Kenya. A man whose services torture and drone people daily, in principle, should feel ashamed of even admitting it. But I swear, Obama will hold a straight face to you and say: now, let me tell you about human rights!
Kenyatta will be wondering internally what this man smokes and hope that he understands that; but guess what, he is oblivious to Kenyatta’s state of mind. He innocently feels he is doing God’s work by saying those words to Kenyans.
Back to my characters, then there is Remember Miamingi who represents pragmatism and triumph. Having wondered around the world, he has seen it all. He understands that acting out of emotions will lead you nowhere. He did not go to the University of Pretoria out of affirmative action; Just like his country wasn’t handed to him; he liberated it. So for him, strategy is of essence!
Now there is me the Rwandan. My country was denied to me for a very long time. I came here no thanks to UN or ‘international community’, but because I earned it; I deserved it; I am proud, not because my country is the best, but because it is a place where they truly value me. There are no citizens of first and second zone here. No Rwandan was made slave then, no Rwandan is a slave now. The economy, the power and the land, all belong to Rwandans. There is no person in this country who is above me and I am above no one. I am no profiteer, nor parasite; I am as equal as anyone else.
Also, I don’t know much, but I know at least where knowledge is. I can go and find it if I want, and teach myself. So, unsolicited advise, free lunch; I don’t like. I have been there, done that, got burned; I have scars. And now I have grown the wisdom teeth; sharp ones – and a pair of testicles.
I am the descendant of a cattle keeper, who slept out and gazed at the stars; so my perspective is just that: Galactic!
NB: Named have NOT been modified!