Yesterday was a long, amazing, interesting and eye opening day for me in South Africa. The details were simple. On Thursday I flew up to Jozi, and then drove to Potch, where I spent the night, so that I could run an early morning improv session with participants in an advanced leadership programme for one of the mining companies. I love this work, and am deeply happy to have it. I am in my element working to teach the basic principles of improv to groups who have no experience of this way of thinking. Three hours of laughing, playing and creating later and they are a transformed team.
And yet, I sit with so much anxiety and reservation about the true voices in our country; the unspoken disbelief I see flash across black faces when white participants innocently and unconsciously make reference to ‘those people’ or ‘these people’ and say something so deeply racist my brain wants to explode. Or the vile and despicable white voice of complaint to the black serving woman in the airport business lounge, as if she has the power to improve the ridiculousness of a triple full lounge, plane delays and the lack of seating for her and her miserable partner. I sit with the frustration of the conversation I have with a man who was flying to Limpopo for voter registration weekend and when he hears that I live in Cape Town he tells me “ag, just ask your Zille,” “ask your DA,” assuming that script for me without even asking. I don’t blame him. He sees examples of that mentality all around him. I listen to the slightly louder voice of the white man when he talks to the brown air hostess. We have no idea what we sound like and it is deeply rude and embarrassing.
My big fear is that it is already too late to prove that we can be different. Why should anyone ever believe us? It is hard going. I am not going to stop making a noise, trying to make a difference. I will try in small and big ways.
On my way up to Jozi I sat next to a gorgeous woman. We didn’t speak until she saw me staring out the window in amazement at the beautiful cloud formations below us; we were flying above the clouds. And she turned to me, this stranger, and in a thickly isiXhosa accented English said, “Nature is so powerful and beautiful.” And in that tiny moment I felt hope.