“Being called ‘Black’ these days is like that Chinese curse that wishes you an interesting life. Interpreting the word ‘interesting’ could be …interesting.” Gertruida sits back with a wicked smile. “In some respects it’s a statement of fact. Then again, some are offended by the term, like that hullabaloo in Cape Town when that poor waiter wrote the word on the bill.”
“I don’t understand it,” Servaas puffs his pipe back to life. “Our prez can’t say two sentences without slurring “white capital” or ‘white monopoly’ – or praising the great black heroes like Dingaan. Man, have you read up about those early kings and rulers? Shees, they were a rather short-tempered bunch. You crossed them at your peril..
“I’m not saying history doesn’t count – of course it does. Racial and cultural realities have directed much of many events in the past – from Biblical times right up to today. Listen to Trump, take note of issues in Europe or be apalled by Aleppo – and you can see what I mean.
“But here? Here we have the race card being played as a convenient excuse to marginalise some sectors of society. If you are white, you are at a major disadvantage.”
“Ja, Servaas, that may be true. But that’s because you grew up as an advantaged child in a privileged home. It’s a historical imbalance which needs to be addressed.” Gertruida just loves a good argument; it sure beats the talk about the drought. “That’s why land reform and BEE is important.”
“Say who? Have you spoken to any Khoisan recently? They were here first – they should own the land, not the tenderpreneurs of more recent origin. But…I don’t think the prez knows that. And…what about the old Greeks and Romans and Vikings? Should the current citizens now own the countries their forefathers once conquered or discovered – or be forced to pay compensation? It’s such a stupid argument.”
“You may be right, Servaas. Our prez isn’t big on history. Or geography, for that matter.”
They look up as Vetfaan comes in, a big smile plastered all over his face.
“I got the contract, you guys! You are now looking at the new supplier of gravel to the roads department in Upington. Can you believe it? The ANC-run municipality is paying me to remove rocks and stones from my farm. This, my friends, is going to make me a rich guy.” He swirls a finger in the air. “Boggel, the drinks for the entire weekend are on me! Serve us, will you?”
For the first time in 2016, Gertruida is speechless. “They gave the contract to you? And who’s your BEE partner?”
“Me! Isn’t it great?” Vetfaans smile is even wider now.
“How can you be the contractor and the partner. Or….did you pay a bribe?”
“Not necessary, guys. I simply followed the rules. Gertruida, you spoke about laws and rules the other day, remember? Tell Servaas what you said.”
A slightly puzzled Gertruida frowns, then brightens. “”You mean…the chat we had about apartheid?”
“That’s right. You told me how difficult it was to classify this person as ‘white’ or that person as ‘black’. They used all kinds of laws and rules to make it sound official, and they never got it right. You said the grey areas were too confounding and the system basically collapsed into a bureaucratic nightmare.”
“A nightmare it was, Vetfaan, that’s true. The draconian laws overstepped every human right that ever existed. The National Party, the church and the media tried to shore up the policies, but in the end they had to admit to attempting the impossible.” Gertruida shrugs. “But what does this have to do with your BEE status?”
“I had my genes tested, that’s what. And let me tell you…” and here Vetfaan pauses for a dramatic moment, “…I am 16% San, 2% Malaysian, 1% black and the rest is European. I, my friend, am not white at all. I can officially claim to be of mixed origin, which entitles me to be my own BEE partner.”
The statement makes Gertruida gasp. “Oh. My. Word.” She gets up to pace the room. “You, Vetfaan, are a true pioneer. A great thinker. An outwitter of the system. If it were to become known what you did, you’d turn the tide of racism that rocks our country. Just imagine…”
“What if…? Yes, it could work! Let every person in the country do his DNA. Let me tell you, it’d be the ultimate revolution! Officially, it is acknowledged that white people have on average 7% African genes. That’s the official average, not the real thing. But, supposing that figure is more or less correct, it implies some whites are 30% black and some less. The same would be true for blacks bearing white genes. In fact, it’d be even more complicated for blacks, because you have Indians, Chinese, Colourds and goodness knows what else.”
Servaas can’t believe his ears. “I’m not white?”
“Probably not, Servaas. Very few people are purebreds – we all carry genes from a distant past, when people of different hues weren’t restricted by stupid laws. Of course, not all contact between races was consensual; there were wars, slaves, rapes etc, but I’d like to believe that love was the reason why people reached over racial divides in the past. Today, it is no longer strange to see mixed-race couples. Love, and not laws, should always have the final say.”
“Then we all are…Africans?”
“Always have been, Servaas; always will be.”
“Then,” Servaas makes up his mind, “I shall no longer think about race this Christmas. I’ll dream – not of a white christmas, not af a black one – but a Christmas of love and peace. And hope Santa brings a nice present for our prez. Maybe a book. How to read numbers or The true history of Man in Africa.” He pauses. “No, that wouldn’t be right. The best book under his Christmas tree would be How to make Friends and Influence People – honestly. Without it, it’d be a black Christmas.
“I’m in,” Vetfaan quips – still smiling.
They all have a good laugh at that. Only Gertruida – who knows everything – finds it hard. The question of racial tension will be a major factor in the year ahead. If racial issues are not managed with great sensitivity, it’d be a black year indeed.