Graskop – a small town …


December 18, 2012 by petrujviljoen

Graskop is a small rural town in Mpumalanga. The town exists because of the tourist industry. It used to be because of gold. It is situated in some of the most beautiful areas South Africa can provide. That is why I moved here. I do, however, find it a racially and economically divided town.

Recent background.

In 2011, the Democratic Alliance won the ward of Thaba Chweu, to which Graskop belongs. That it did so because some black people voted for it would be obvious as there simply are not enough white people present that could’ve had such a result. The whites preened and pranced while the blacks were and are quietly, determinedly, hopeful.

Some experiences:

I sat in the queue at the Sabie hospital waiting my turn. Naturally amongst black people. A woman offered me her seat in deference to my age. It is their way. I’m quite grey (hair colour). Another white woman arrived. She called out to me across the lawn, assuming I’d be grateful to have somebody white to speak to. As the line progressed, she kept sitting where she was and we landed next to each other. And started bragging about the DA winning. I halted that part of the conversation as I found it abrasive and unnecessarily confrontational. But didn’t snub her completely. I should have. I think she meant to jump the queue by following after me. That got sorted by the (black) person that was due after me, coming to sit between us. Good for him.

A lodge owner encountered a pair of (black) paying guests leaving his premises to go sight seeing. He accused them of leaving without paying. He told them to wait while he inspected their room or cottage to make sure their luggage was still there. I cringed to the core. And somehow was without words, from shock. I just meekly smiled at them. I hope they talked about their experience and will withhold their and their friends’ financial contribution to this town.

I find a lodge owner in a poorly furnished outside building on their premises. She loudly, within hearing of her black paying guests, bemoaned the fact that she has to sleep there while They were in her house! I just walked away, again wordless. I was too ashamed to see the black people’s reaction.

It’s the 16th of June. A person declares she sees the day as a meaningless public holiday. That she doesn’t care what it is about. I let rip then a bit. But somehow didn’t leave altogether. Not then anyway.

Another remark about Mr Mandela. That he moved from being a piccanin to a prisoner to a president.

Another remark about the new South African money with Mr Mandela’s image on it: when it landed in the white person’s purse her own went missing (presumably stolen). The concept of former president Mandela being so big that she couldn’t see her own, caused defensiveness in the form of another remark about black people’s big lips.

I had one encounter of blatant, complacent, arrogant, smug, racist practice too many. It’s time to speak.

I withdrew from the Graskop community. But started raising awareness within various structures about this. I was vilified and hurt during this process.

I understand that people that need to degrade another to this extent must be quite insecure within their own identity. One doesn’t turn on another unless one is unsure of oneself.

I literally lived shoulder to shoulder with black people in the inner city of Johannesburg for 14 years. In all that time, not one racist joke was told in my presence. I was loved and respected for being there. Specially because I am Afrikaans (and not a tourist showing off). I used the streets, the transport (black taxis), the shops and went to the movies at night, always the only white person in the movie house, by myself, walking there and back. I remember going to see the movie ‘Sophiatown’ at the Carlton Centre. People made space for me to sit. I mean, Please! The aisles were packed. Not one word, not one look of derision. None.

I had black people leaving their own agenda for the day to make sure that I got to where I needed to go. I’ve been accompanied by black people on my walks at a time when my fear (caused by trouble by some stupid white people) were obvious. Without my asking. The anecdotes are endless. I’d get out of a (black) taxi, walk into white people’s houses and not note any particular difference. And say so. Much to the white people’s chagrin.

Black people extended a very sincere invitation to white people from at least 1994 to calm down and to get to know them, and therefore themselves. They posed no threat and said so and are living it.

Why am I blogging about this? It is about keeping quiet too often when one should’ve spoken. It is about the fact that racism is wrong. It is because my self respect will not let me be quiet any longer. It is to pray for more tolerance. That people will have patience with another and with oneself. It is about respect, specially for oneself.

It is about not being lost when there are bigger things than oneself happening. There really is space for all of us. Even the sparrow carries on singing, undimished, in the presence of a thunderous waterfall. It is about not being afraid of change. It is about understanding the causes of attitudes.

I’ve had my fill of other people’s power. In my small way, I will use my own [power (of the written word)]. And I’ll stay and put my money where my mouth is.

That said, Graskop may yet become a healing place. Recently a dentist (black), chemist (black) and a medical doctor (black) moved in. I’m sure they were able to secure premises because Graskop has not been doing as well as it used to. A few shops are empty and business has not been as brisk (as in the past). Maybe it is because some of the whites can’t let the past go. It has a way of leaving anyway and take those with that is stuck in it.

This blog is then about my own personal freedom and the courage to live it. It is about hope that others will also find such freedom. It is about possible self-search of those that are culturally programmed. It is about Reconciliation Day.

Information and education is always key to broadening minds. It will be talking to people within South Africa and those outside that is familiar with the country and its issues. To those that care about it.

Although I came to Graskop due to the high incidence of crime in Johannesburg, having fallen victim to such, I shall not throw away a decade and half’s love and respect and harmony by stereotyping all black people in this mould.

And having my vulnerability exploited, that had cost me dearly, on at least three occassions by white people in this town during two years of living here will not move me to believe all white people in Graskop are the same.

Imagined supremacy of race is stupid.

Graskop is a small town that needs its mind broadened.


4 thoughts on “Graskop – a small town …

  1. barleybooks says:

    I admire your courage and honesty.

  2. Cate Bompas says:

    Thanks for this piece on racism persevering amongst whites Petru. There are only so many expressions of fear and stupidity a person can take. I am encouraged by your writing and your speaking out. You write very well. I hope things improve.

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