Less than 10 percent of the South African population is white, but my tennis club in Johannesburg has only white members. Not on purpose: Tennis is just a very white sport in South Africa. But still I hesitated when I became a member more than a year ago. Will there not be such a situation of white people among themselves who leave a lot of room for needless racist remarks and conversation? Racism is never far away in South Africa.
My fear became unfounded. It appeared in the club that people rarely talk about politics, racism or apartheid past. However such a conversation, if it accidentally presented itself, immediately became uncomfortable. For example, on the roof of the clubhouse I am interacting with someone the book I am writing is about Dutch colonial influence on South Africa and its effects on apartheid ideology. “Interesting”, my fellow club member said with genuine enthusiasm. But he immediately looked around a little blushing. “You should know, my brother and I went to one of the first racially mixed schools in the country.” The volume of his voice decreased. “We didn’t like apartheid.” He whispered now, as if his spread for racism was a secret he kept.
It didn’t take me long to understand: The absence of black South Africans did not trick members of my white tennis club into outright racism, instead giving them the chance to pretend that racism had never existed in South Africa. In this way, more progressive members do not need to be held to argue with their more racist club members. By keeping collectively silent about racism, my particularly white tennis club kept the peace.
An incorrect meme in the application group
An exception to that rule was the club’s WhatsApp group. Occasionally, some posted a politically lost message – albeit in a joke. For example, one day, a meme came up with the text: “South Africa is the only country in the world where 90 percent of taxpayers do not vote for the ruling party – let that sink in.” The memes tried to undermine the legitimacy of the ruling party ANC (mainly black). Because yes, it is true that a remarkably small proportion of the South African population pays almost all of their income tax: often white South Africans, who rarely vote for the ANC. In fact, the ruling party must rely on black voters who do not pay taxes. But the meme did not add that it was a direct result of apartheid’s past. Generations of exploitation and deprivation of black South Africans by 1994, still more than half of all black voters live on less than 3 euros a day. It is therefore logical that they do not pay tax: tax on whom?
So the meme was sort of out. Especially in a white WhatsApp group with historical privileges only in South Africa. So I wrote under it: ‘I don’t want to be fooled, but South Africa is also a country where those taxpayers deprived almost 90 percent of the people the right to vote until 1994 – otherwise let it sink in the end’ . A silent deaf followed.
Two days later, all members of the club received an email from the President. It was immediately banned in the WhatsApp group for having ‘political discussion’. I got the message: For peace, more whispers had to be done on and around the tennis court.
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