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Gatekeepers to blackness should contemplate the Camembert

Jill of all trades but really, mistress of none, Carien has of late been a political tourist chasing elections and summits in various parts of the world, especially in Africa. After spending her student days at political rallies in South Africa right through the country's first democratic elections in 1994, and after an extended working holiday in London, Carien started working for newspapers full-time in 2003. She's pretty much had her share of reporting on South African politics, attending gatherings and attracting trolls, but still finds herself attracted to it like a moth to a veld fire. Her ultimate ambition in life is to become a travelling chocolate writer of international fame.

What’s up with some black people? They’ve been going around, judging folk on not being black (enough) when they do this, eat that, or say such. Census tick boxes aside, why do people still have to pass some prejudiced gatekeeper in order to be permitted to wear the skin they’ve been born with?

These questions first came to me last week over a deepfried Camembert with berry preserve. The lunch in a laid-back Joburg grill involved myself, a lawyer, a politician and an ex-unionist. My companions were black.

When the ex-unionist, probably the oldest and quietest one in our party (politicians and lawyers like to talk), ordered the Camembert for starters, the lawyer felt obliged to comment about this cosmopolitan dish. Since when do black guys eat food like that, was the gist of his remarks.

The ex-unionist looked up from his dish like an unphased cat at a yapping, impotent poodle. He didn’t stop eating, which left the response to me (I was also starterless).

I told the lawyer my pizza story. Way back when I was younger, my grandparents, like most rural South African folk of their generation, thought pizza was a bit foreign (heck, they didn’t even pronounce “pizza” properly), but they never derided us kids as being less Afrikaner for loving it.

How limited and boring my diet would have been if those around me still expected me to stick to rice, meat and potatoes as staples, like a “good” Afrikaner.

The food talk brings us to Lindiwe Mazibuko. Her appearance in the headlines, quite frequently nowadays, is almost always accompanied by a debate about whether she’s black enough or not.

The same questions aren’t being asked about someone like, say, ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who also hogged the headlines on Thursday (for his march on Pretoria). He apparently does things that are alien to African culture, such as disrespecting his elders. Is he considered black enough because he speaks with a razzmatazz accent and comes from a poor house?

True, Mazibuko’s blackness will always be more loaded than Malema’s, because she is in a party which has up to now been dominated by white people. The DA aims to transform itself into a governing party and therefore it wants more black votes, so Mazibuko has become a kind of focus point.

MP Masizole Mnqasela has become one of her fiercest critics, showing some bitterness in his campaign against Mazibuko. He correctly said a party wasn’t transformed just because it has a black leader. He also said Mazibuko isn’t the right person to draw black votes – clearly he believes he is.

But in a recent radio interview, Mnqasela also said the following: if you closed your eyes and heard Mazibuko speak, you wouldn’t say she’s black. Her very English accent bothers him (he isn’t the first to make such a remark).

People adapt the way they speak to fit in, to stand out, to remember, or to forget. Why judge a person’s entire legitimacy on an accent? Can’t blackness also mean speaking the Queen’s English? Make that circle bigger, man.

Comments on social media following Mazibuko’s election on Thursday were telling. By electing Mazibuko, the DA has lost an opportunity to have a black leader, one fellow hack said on Facebook.

This sentiment has cropped up often in talk about Mazibuko, that she’s not a black leader. Admittedly thoughts about coconuts roll through my head when I think of her sometimes, too.

But it’s wrong. It’s similar to what some white people did to other whites who opposed the system of apartheid. They were called k*****-boeties and (white) neighbours looked at them funny.

Since the system of apartheid was voted out, many Afrikaans-speaking whites have been struggling to redefine their identity, but with this redefinition has come efforts to overcome past madness by being more inclusive, by embracing people who think differently to the tribe.

Sure, the dynamic is slightly different amongst black people because there is a history of oppression. Black consciousness plays a big role, and being proud of who you are without trying to be white, is a good thing.

But judging others for going where other black people wouldn’t go, or for having preferences and ways that don’t fit in with your view of blackness, is limiting.

We praise people for being pioneers in their fields, like being a black female pilot or a black president. Surely it wasn’t the black thing to be in these professions before black people actually got into them, but they did because they refused to be pulled down.
A similar thing happens with men and women, when you do something that supposedly doesn’t become your gender. How would we ever have had women becoming doctors, engineers and leaders if there weren’t some “improper” women who broke the mould?
Do we really need to denounce what we are in order to be what we want to be? I think not.

On the positive side, the administrator of the MyANC Facebook page had an encouraging message for Mazibuko: “This must be a boost for young women that they can get to the top no matter if it is in the DA,” the administrator posted, without a nasty word about Mazibuko’s tea habits.

Perhaps it’s time for those black people dragging others down with gatekeeping, to stop, and rather help their fellow human beings to rise. I’d say only then can you really become proud of who you are, too. DM






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