Wednesday, June 6, 2012


There’s a lot of chatter in South Africa at the moment: offensive paintings, tweeting imbeciles, money-grubbing football coaches, and the usual day-to-day pillaging and looting that is the spirit of modern democracy. The media packages it all and we read and re-tweet it, but the real conversations are the ones that take place between actual people, like the one I observed last night.

Once in a while I stand in with a blues band down on Wilson’s Wharf in Durban. Tuesday nights in the city are nothing to write home about for white people anymore, and those that venture out aren’t exactly your typical Investec suburbanites. Last night, the white guy on the left in the picture, with all the grace and social skills of a failed sprocket salesman, downed goblets of red wine at the  bar and then turned his burgeoning invincibility on the black guy to his right.

The black guy was sitting quietly by himself two stools down sipping a draught and reading, of all things in a city bar on a week-night, a pocket-sized edition of Sun Tzu’s “The Art Of War”. White Guy noticed the title and pounced.

“ ‘The Art Of War’, hey? You fucking ANC guys…”

What followed was a loud stream of invective accompanied by wine-induced slouching and gesticulating (see picture), all  from the white guy and all based on two assumptions: 1. This particular black guy was responsible for the the state of the country at the moment, and 2. ‘The Art of War’ was some kind of ANC/black terrorist text.

The black guy, to his credit, just sat and listened. The white guy got louder and louder, throwing out phrases like “fucking kaffirs” etc. The bar staff in the immediate vicinity started paying very close attention in case it started getting nasty.

Then, inexplicably, the white guy goes, “Well, fuck it, I’m leaving anyway. Soon as I can get out of this bladdy country I’m gone”. After complaining and accusing, he’s leaving anyway? Then, even more inexplicably, the white guy and the black guy, unable to continue the one-sided conversation because of the barrage of white-guy blues rock from the guest band, get up and go outside to share a smoke and carry on their fireside chat. They came back in a few minutes later practically arm-in-arm, all national issues resolved.

As much as people like Julius Malema may make it embarrassing for some black people to be black, white guys like this make it excruciating to be white in a country like South Africa. When previously-advantaged white people show themselves to be more ignorant and uninformed and just plain dumber than their previously-disadvantaged countrymen, it’s teeth-clenchingly awful.

Somewhere down the line, though, this belligerent drunk smirking racist and this graceful, thoughtful quiet African man found some common ground, shared a drink and a smoke, and the staff reported back that they were ‘friends now’.

National Democratic Revolution be damned: this is the real South Africa.