Nothing will cure prejudice

ONE of the reasons we should do good, we are told, is so that many moons after we're gone our children and their children should deify us.

ONE of the reasons we should do good, we are told, is so that many moons after we're gone our children and their children should deify us.

If what we do now disgusts them they might go pee on our graves.

If my grandfather had had a hand in apartheid, I'm not sure I could resist the temptation to defile his final resting place.

Apartheid was evil and its after-effects will be with us for years to come.

For that reason I understand why old white people in South Africa often sincerely believe in their "superiority".

They were raised and schooled to believe that and no amount of arguing or political schooling can cure them of their prejudice - which does not mean we should not keep chipping away at it.

Check this scenario two weeks ago: I am sitting in my car, gobbling a quick lunch in the parking lot of a mall west of Johannesburg.

A tatty, scrawny white man sidles up to me, peeks into the car and remarks: "Lekker kos, hey?"

Me (mouth full): "Hmm."

He pats me on the head like rich, generous and kind uncles tap their favourite nieces. Only, he is none of that: he obviously did not benefit much from apartheid, much less from the "new" South Africa.

I look up in disgust and he gets the message that I am not too impressed.

He: "Sorry to disturb you. If you have had enough, don't throw it (food) away. I'll come back now-now."

Now I know I dare not finish my food. I have to leave some for him.

He is back sooner than now-now.

I wrap up the remnants and give them to him.

"Oh, thanks," he says in a mixture of pidgin English and Afrikaans.

"Jong, you must never throw away food. You know, I take it from you now, I have to give it to my black boys at home."

Now boys must mean workers, which is an insult and a lie. Looking at this Joe, he could do with a piece job himself.

I prepare to start the car when he reminds me: "I want to talk to you, man. Look, I want to sell my farm with all the livestock there. I have 400 cows ... are you interested? Find me a buyer ..."

I ask him why he is selling and he goes on about wanting to move to Cape Town and blacks stealing his cattle. For a moment I think he forgets I am black, or he does not care.

Me: "How much do you want?

He: "Fifty thousand ..."

Bullshit.

I ask him for his number. He gives me a five-digit number. I ask him to repeat it so I can write it down, and now it's different, and much longer.

As I drive out of the complex I catch him in my rear view mirror, nibbling the "food for the boys".

I feel angry: why can't a white beggar just ask for food from a black person, goodbye, no stories?

But I understand.

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