Ammumaya half filled a bowl with water and sat down near the front door with a bag of potatoes and a knife. This was her afternoon routine on weekdays. She watched as workers in bright blue uniforms filed past her house, their dark skin and cotton wool hair dripping with perspiration against the yellow-orange backdrop of a setting sun. Part of her burned red with hate. They were uncouth and now taking over the country. So many rapes and murders happened because of them. Ever since the Rainbow Nation began, she saw them come out of the shadows. Black Uprising spread like wildfire through once White and Indian suburbs.
She had hoped that her children would one day live in a world free from being the middleman, the brown buffer between white and black. But now they had it worse. At least her generation had experienced the glory of the South African Indian Congress when it actually worked for its people, when it followed in Gandhi’s stride and fought for the rights of the people it promised to. Her children weren’t so lucky; the SAIC had long ago amalgamated with the African National Congress, becoming part of the enemy.
Even worse were their children who were fed lies of ‘we’re all the same’. Later on when they chose to flee with Masters degrees, stories of slavery and sugarcane fields would become redundant, too heavy and embarrassing to carry on jet planes to America or Australia or England.
Ammumaya shuddered to think what would become of their heritage. She saw some of their girls walking around with black men. She wondered how they could stand their smell let alone born babies with frizzy hair and dark purple lips, not quite sure which motherland to own. Sometimes she worried that her own grandchildren would end up like that, bringing home boys and girls who didn’t like their food or understand why Vishnu had so many limbs.
Ammumaya’s hatred wasn’t intrinsic. In fact, when she was little, she had had many black friends. She enjoyed the attention they gave her, asking to touch her hair, to play with it. And sometimes when her parents were away, she allowed them to come into her house and gave them tea and biscuits.
But something had changed between then and now. The rules that once governed their lives had shifted and now she was at the bottom. The only problem was that certain ideas had already found a home inside her and refused to accept their redundancy in this new land.
Her daughter worried her. They often disagreed about who they were and their position in the world. She was so easy to forgive, to move on, that Ammumaya wished she had the strength to hold her down and beat her and say, “Look! Look at what they’re doing to us!” Her daughter was blinded by a fancy education, often saying things like, “The U.S. took over a hundred years to really reform and even now they have problems.”
Her son, on the other hand, agreed with her. “Those Black Bastards are ruining this country,” he would say. Words she could understand.
She had recently heard about two black men who entered a farm in Johannesburg and raped an eighty year old woman. The sadness and anger boiled inside her, further antagonising her image of the black man.
She didn’t understand how they could do something like that, something to someone so vulnerable. Her daughter said that it wasn’t about the age, it was the act itself that gave them a sense of justice. Generations of oppression bundled into a single moment, a stolen apology.
It made Ammumaya even angrier when her daughter suggested that even though what they did was wrong, white men did just the same thing to black women. But it was different in their day so no one said anything about it. Silent crimes that produced cream-yellow babies. When she tried to tell her daughter that it was different then, just different, she accused her of still having a white-superiority complex, that it was okay because her generation was brought up that way.
She regretted voting for the African National Congress now. She felt tricked by their charm. Nelson Mandela clasping a Nobel Peace Prize, his salt and pepper hair and wrinkled smile making all of them dream about the possibilities of this ‘New South Africa’. Next to him, in a stiffly pressed suit, the culprit that would fuel a genocide ten years later and make them realise that apartheid wasn’t gone, its meaning had just changed.
Worst still was the Zulu Prince who ruled the country now and told them that having a shower after unprotected sex was enough precaution against HIV. Oh, but he was capable; after all didn’t the tourists enjoy themselves blowing on Vuvuzelas? Didn’t they all go back to their countries and say how much they had enjoyed climbing Table Mountain and eating Biltong?
Ammumaya loathed all of them. Long gone were the days when free constitution booklets were handed out and they would test each other on what the colours of the flag meant and what the coat of arms looked like. Now, the words that bound the book were long forgotten, buried between recycled pages.
But, weeks later, Ammumaya would get a call and pack a suitcase full of clothes and order a ticket on the Greyhound set for Durban. Her daughter would pick her up from the station and they would silently drive to the Magistrates’ Court. Then she would sit behind her son and watch as the victim, a young black girl, pointed to him and told the room how he had pulled her into the bushes on her way to school and stole her innocence. And then and there, she would come to realize that there was more to black or white or brown.
A single nation of people, all fighting for justice. Just not for each other.