When one enters a country such as South Africa, a country whose recent history has been so unceremoniously marred with racial prejudice, it is difficult to ensure one doesn’t impose their own expectations of racial discrimination onto individuals. Growing up in London I have always been aware of my race, and there have been times when I, along with my short hair, have been mistakenly ‘racially profiled’ by the police as a young black boy who may ‘potentially be carrying a knife.’ The officers who asked to search me and walk me through a metal detector at my local train station were evidently surprised and embarrassed when they realized I was a young girl, who had passed through the station earlier that day from school, was on my way to a music lesson and also happened to be carrying a Christian book. Awkward silence ensued.
Yet within London, the city of my birth, I have always felt a part of it, a member of the ‘multi-racial melting pot’ which made it such an attractive Olympic venue, and foreign refuge.
Any progressive country that has undergone some form of colonization will today, more than likely, still embody the remnants of its colonial history in a racially stratified class system. London has one and so does Durban. Although countries such as America, the UK and South Africa are all, to varying degrees, implementing programs of positive affirmation towards ‘ethnic minorities’ (although in some cases, such as South Africa, the dispossessed minorities are in fact the majority), one cannot escape financially racialised areas.
Spending my opening weekend in the beauty of Durban’s Marina Beach where the sea doesn’t roar, but growls, its howling voice overlapping and clawing at the sand, just as the roiling mass of Indian Ocean waves clamber over one another to the weather beaten rocks that dot its low tide shore, it was evident that I was a fish drowning in an eroded rock pool. The only other black people I saw were workers at the beach restaurant, and though to some I may appear to look like a Zulu, I knew I wasn’t even from this geographical area, and so did they.
It’s not to say that those who inhabited the area were racist, but rather, it was a snap shot moment for me, from the initially unguarded mildly hostile stares of strangers, that I was out of place. It felt, and I use that term emphatically, because it was a wholly subjective appraisal; it was my emotional radar that, combined with my little understanding of the country’s turbulent recent history, led me to quickly assume that race was still a challenging issue, it felt as though the question on everyone’s lips was – why and how is she here, mixing with them (an incredible family of white South African’s whom I’m friends with.)
It was the second time this year when the question of identity and assimilation crawled through my mind. Meeting other ‘real’ Nigerians at University made me realize how ‘un’ Nigerian, by virtue of my birth place and mother tongue, I was. How, as someone almost put it, un ‘African’, I was. Yet, surrounded by friends who are British, I was conscious of how those nationalistic prejudices were also prevalent. How ‘un’ British I was.
In a country that is striving to become one nation of rainbow people, whilst simultaneously desiring to preserve individual ethnic identities, the tensions between race, nationality, ethnicity and social harmony could barely contain themselves under the surface of the cresting heads of a foaming sea.
It will be interesting to see how the Zulu people of Mpumuza view me, when it becomes evident I am not ‘one of them’, hailing, even, from another part of Africa. Will there also be the mild hint of hostile reproach, will I also be classed as a ‘non’ Africa and rather a western European, or in fact, are these personal fears and questions that I am projecting onto perfectly carefree non discriminatory individuals who just happen to live in a rainbow nation?