Though Apartheid ended 17 years ago, I still find that there is a deep racial divide in South Africa. Though it is not one that is institutionalized, it is one that is embedded in the culture, like in the way that we still see self-segregation a lot in the States. There are many social structures that still keep people in the position of second-class citizens, while calling them “equal” at the same time. One of the things that I find myself struggling with a lot here is this notion of white people as protectors, guiders, or suppliers for black people. Especially in the Transkei, a white person is always assumed to be wealthy and educated, and surely, they will share what they have. And that stereotype exists for a reason. The only white people that I know that live in Mthatha are all, in some capacity, involved with/running social programs. They are here because there is need and they are wealthy and educated enough to organize and do something about it (or think they can). More than that, many of the people living here cling to these social programs because they are often the only stability people (especially children) have. This isn’t a new phenomenon or one that is restricted to South Africa either. This kind of dependency on charity and aid is one that seems to me to be widespread in lots of developing countries. More than just a subsistence dependency, it also carries along with it these undertones of unworthiness and a mindset that people will never be good enough because aren’t as rich or as intelligent. Or feelings of shame because they have to depend on someone else to provide food and clothing for their own children.These are things that have been growing in my mind for a while now, but it all kind of came to a head just before my Christmas break.
There are some of our kids from Itipini that now live in Bethany home because they’ve been taken away from their homes by social workers. One of these is a girl named Sisipho, whose mother is one of the more stable women at Itipini. I’ve seen her several times visiting Sisipho and volunteering in the baby room at Bethany and, just before our break, it was decided that Sisipho could come back to Itipini to live with her mom in a kind of trial period. I saw her when she came back, walking around with her mother and looking very cheery, and went to say hi. Sisipho instantly put out her arms for me to pick her up and I obliged. Only, when I tried to hand her back to her mom, she wouldn’t go. When I tried to put her down, she cried and followed me. When her mom took her away, she threw an absolute fit. Every single time I saw her over the next few days, it was the same story. Why? She sees her mom much more often than she sees me. When her mom goes to Bethany, she loves on her and plays with her. When I go to Bethany, I hold her down while she gets shots. This child does not really know me or like me; but I’m white. I am a young white female, just like the volunteers that work at Bethany home. I am not more kind or more loving than her mother, but I resemble the only thing she has ever known as constant and doting. Because of this, she sees me as the one that will protect and care for her even if her mother is right next to me for no other reason than the color of my skin. And that kills me. Her mother is trying really hard and doing absolutely all she can to succeed where she may have failed to begin with and yet, her child is coming to me who has not done a single thing and has not earned that affection. Every time it happened, the look on her mother’s face broke my heart. Sisipho isn’t old enough to understand or even old enough for anyone to explain it to her, but I am and her mother is. My presence alone in that situation must have made her feel so inadequate and so rejected when she is giving her best to provide for her child. What does this situation say about the mindset that is being ingrained into people here before they even know how to talk? Moreover, is my presence here adding to its power?
To what extent do we help those in need and at what point does our “help” become debilitating to those it is supposed to be helping?
Thoughts and comments are welcome.