by Paulina French
Transformation. A word that has become part of the South African daily “lingo”.
Transformation in business. Transformation in sport. Transformation in schools.
What is transformation for me as a white, middle class, 40-something woman?
Transformation for me is not about pretending that the past never happened and moving on. As an individual who benefitted from the previous laws of the country I was born in, I cannot “simply move on” and I cannot expect my fellow countrymen and women to “forget and move on”. Many people’s lives were damaged because of the unjust laws of the country. I accept that as a white child I had many opportunities that my fellow black South Africans did not have. Yes, as the daughter of immigrants I had more privileges and rights than those born in South Africa. I had access to a good education, though we were not wealthy, and I had to struggle to pay for tertiary education, I still had more opportunities than those who were legislated against.
My children continue to benefit because of the opportunities I had as a white person growing up in apartheid. They continue to have access to educational resources because of the fact that I can provide for them to have a good education. The white privilege continues.
As I watch Pope Francis’ transformational manner of leadership, he is showing us what mercy looks like. Mercy is about forgiveness.
Whites, who benefitted the most from apartheid, have not asked for forgiveness and mercy, so how can the process of transformation take place?
How can we expect those who have so much hurt to open the door of mercy to us if we are not willing to acknowledge that we were responsible because we, directly or indirectly, supported, or benefitted from, the government of the day.
Everywhere I go I hear about transformation but I don’t see it happening until those who benefitted the most acknowledge and ask for forgiveness. To transform our country each one of us needs to start with ourselves.
I want my children to grow up in a country of hope not torn apart because I have been too proud to say “I am sorry. Phephisa. Ntshwarele. Ke kopa tshwarelo”. This is where it should start.
But there is more that needs to be done. Saying sorry is not enough because although it is an act of mercy to forgive somebody who has hurt you, there has to be some form of trying to make up for that hurt caused. We as parents of the future generation of this country have to be the drivers of the transformation that is being spoken about and this begins in our homes and in our schools. There will be no transformation if we continue to do what we have done for the last 50 years.
If I was a black, lower income, 40-something woman, my life would have turned out very different and I would have a deep yearning for my previous oppressors to act as if they are truly sorry.