The elevator doors opened and I walked into the lobby of my hotel. Oddly enough everyone stared at me. It seemed like everything stopped when I made my way through the space. I became self-conscious and ran (walked) back to my room until my friend came. I realized I wasn’t on some kind of “ego”trip when the same thing happened to her. Could they tell we were American? I thought we blended in quite well. Later that day at the Rosebank Mall it happened again. Locals broke their necks just to get a glimpse of us. Some smiled warmly, while others stared without flinching. I was curious as to why we were attracting so much attention. Was it the way we dressed? We were dressed in shorts and a t-shirt; you can’t get simpler than that. That night we confided in our cab driver.
Why does everyone stare at us everywhere we go? we said.
Jessica and I sounded like two annoying children wining about the kids at school. Our taxi driver laughed at our ignorance.
“They’re trying to classify you” he said.
“Yes, they’re trying to figure out if you’re one of them”
“Well duh, of course we’re one of them; we’re all black”
“Well yes, but in South Africa, there’s certain classifications. They’re probably trying to figure out your status. Are you wealthy or poor? Coloured or Black?”
That night, on our long cab ride to dinner, we received the lesson of our lives on classification in South Africa. Our driver talked to us about the racial hierarchy in South Africa and how people try to distinguish themselves in many ways. This ultimately perpetuated the system of segregation and separation which was the goal of Apartheid. It was so important for me to make my way to the Apartheid museum because I wanted to learn more.
Apartheid is a system of segregation enforced through legislation by the National Party who governed South Africa from 1948-1994. It was a blatant act of racism forcing non-blacks, who made up the majority of the country to be separated from whites.
At the Apartheid Museum, I learned about the history of Apartheid and its detrimental effects on South Africa. Upon walking into the museum, there are two entrances. One that says White’s Only and another that says Coloreds Only. This was standard protocol for South Africans during Apartheid. As you walk through the doors according to your classification, you enter a gloomy room filled with identification cards of inhabitants of South Africa. The Population Regristration Act of 1950 required South Africans to carry these cards with them at all times. These National ID cards, classified people according to their race which included:
- Coulored (Mixed Race)
In some instances, parents could be separated from their children, because of the differing and rigid classifications of race.
Apartheid was a blatant act of racism forcing non-blacks, who made up the majority of the country to be separated from whites. They were also treated as second class citizens, forced to endure oppression, unemployment, and poor living conditions. By 1950, the government had banned marriages between whites and people of other races, and prohibited sexual relations between black and white South Africans.
I think what bothers me the most about this system, is the plunder and paternalism of foreign European nations coming to Africa. This type of entitlement can still be sensed when visiting today. It’s very unfortunate to see African people oppressed by some of the Europeans who live there. Our cab driver told us a story about a white teenager no older than 17, who slapped him in the face and there was nothing he could do about it. To know that our cab driver felt so helpless when it came to protection from the government and legal system was disheartening.
So what kind of progress has been made? Well South Africa is known as the Rainbow nation. People from all over the world flock to South Africa to live, study, vacation. It’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world and a melting pot of people. In 1994, the first black president of Africa was nominated into office. His name was Nelson Mandela and he changed the face of the political landscape and his presidency promoted inclusion and change towards a bright future. Today, South Africans co-exist, despite the discrepancies in class and race, however a lot of progress and change still needs to be made.