Racial classification hangover still a thorny issue

On April 25 2002, Mark Shuttleworth became the second self-funded space tourist and was rightly hailed as the first African in space.

Nowhere did I read that he was the first white South African in space, let alone the first white African to do so.

But, a week, nay, a day, never passes without being confronted by the expression, "the first black person to..."

This bombardment is irksome, out of date and condescending. In fact, I am inspired by Ismael Lo, the Senegalese superstar musician.

Asked about being the Bob Dylan of Africa, Lo laughed.

"Maybe Bob Dylan is the Ismael Lo of America."

Like me, Lo is tired of stereotypes, that Africans are never good enough until they are compared with their Western and supposedly superior counterparts.

It is a fact that the majority of this country emerged triumphant from the yoke of colonialism and apartheid.

For goodness sake, most black people have made it by their bootstraps. Not because they are black but as hard working South Africans.

Only yesterday Sowetan ran a story about Judge Lucy Mailula who has been appointed chairman of the council of the University of Limpopo.

That she is a woman is indeed a feather in her cap and a victory for gender equality. However, we also fell into the trap of describing her as "the first black female judge...".

Michael Mbanjwa recently won the gruelling Dusi Marathon. His partner was a white man but his contribution to the victory was relegated to secondary status.

The media screamed that Mbanjwa was the first black man to win the Dusi and little was mentioned about his passion for canoeing and that he came second in last year's competition.

All this because of the obsession with putting achievement in racial compartments.

Of course, this country has come a long way from the days of the statutory colour bar.

No wonder, therefore, that after being appointed the Springboks' first black coach Peter de Villiers said: "The first thing that must be understood is that it is a great privilege for me to be in this position. And the fact that I am the first black coach must end now. I am the next Springbok coach."

Obviously De Villiers had expected the noises around his colour to dominate reaction to his feat and not merit.

And it should also be said that the race issue is still thorny and that many South Africans are still reeling from the racial classification hangover.

People still see themselves as black, white, coloured and Indian, just like in the bad old days. This should end.

Though our country has yet to get a name, why can't we, in the meantime, accept that we are South Africans?

A few years ago we had a young kwaito sensation aptly named Lekgoa because he was white and lekgoa is Sesotho for white person.

But never have I read anywhere that this young musician was the first white artist to choose kwaito. Neither were many eyebrows raised when Johnny Clegg and PJ Powers branched out.

Are we wittingly going back to the days when we read about "Two men and three blacks killed in a car accident"?