I had set out to write about the extremely sensitive topic of racism, well my experiences of racism….you know…as any White South African privileged female experiences …uuuuum…..okay, let me rather say my perception of racism…… but landed up getting sidetracked (as I do), about my experiences as a criminal law Attorney in South Africa, a few lifetimes ago.
The tone of this Blog is going to be more cordial and less snarky than my average tone. Believe me, this is not something I am thrilled about, as somehow snarkiness is my forte!! However, I totally feel the need to get this off my chest, which essentially is the purpose of blogging, is it not? So bear with me and my lack of snarkiness in this here blog!!
So I was born and bred in the beautiful country of South Africa. I am a 50 something White South African female, who grew up in the heart of the Apartheid era.
As a child, I never questioned what was going on around me – at all – about anything, even unrelated to race relations. I was indifferent, unobservant and oblivious….. I was the person who I have very little tolerance for nowadays!! I do not remember my parents trying to indoctrinate me in any way. Race was never mentioned or discussed in my presence. To the best of my recollection, I was never raised to believe that I was different from, or better than anyone else. Perhaps, being the fourth child, my parents just didn’t spend too much time trying to ”enlighten” me about the way of the world, as by that stage they had realised that I was going to learn everything as I forged ahead on my journey anyway. So, my parents could have been racist, but it was never apparent to me.
Yes, I did grow up white and privileged…..but did not realise this at the time. In retrospect, the fact that the oppression, inequality, and discrimination which had to be going on all around me, was not something which I had noticed or questioned, made me guilty of White ignorance. Something my generation manages to use as justification for not being part of the problem. We plead ignorance. I WAS ignorant, but does that make it forgivable?
However, I did grow up in a world of absolute inequality. I went to a school where there were only Whites – never even for a moment wondered why. Lived in a neighborhood where only Whites resided – never even questioned why. Lived in a time when there were “jobs for Blacks” and “jobs for Whites” – never questioned that either. Yes, oblivious to it all I was. I was happy living in my little peaceful bubble.
After matriculating from my exclusively White school, I entered University to study Law. I was not one who had always dreamed of becoming a lawyer, but because I was ”that person” (you know….indifferent, unobservant and oblivious), I had not yet contemplated my future….my dreams….my passions or my purpose. So, long and boring story short, I decided to study law until I had an idea of what I wanted for my life.
The student population was for the most part White. Yet, I still had no conversations with either myself or others as to why this was so…..again, White ignorance. However, when I did eventually step out of my state of oblivion, that little peaceful and ignorant bubble of mine did not merely burst, it exploded!
I always favoured the underdog…..always wanted the world to be just. This of course makes it all the more surprising that I had never noticed all the injustice around me. Once I started observing so many injustices and so much inappropriate behaviour, and heard so many unacceptable conversations, I was determined to fight the good fight!!
Thomas Jefferson said “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty.” I spent most of my years in my professional practise opposing the legal system, challenging the system……”resisting” the system…a la Thomas Jefferson! For the most part I had success, but I realised in the big scheme of things, the disparity of the legal system was not going to change. Only if someone was fortunate enough to have a person fighting for their rights, they might escape the results of the extremely biased legal system, and even then it was not a guarantee.
In those days, the majority of the legal Institutions were inhabited by a very racist culture. Even the non-white people within the legal institutions were racist towards other non-white people. From the police all the way up to the Courts there was just a culture of racism, and no-one seemed to be bothered by it. They were in that peaceful bubble that I once lived in…..not a place to be for change to take place!!
There were days when I got home from work, that I cried ….out of frustration……out of anger, or just out of sheer sadness. I realised that even though I was there gallantly resisting the system, like Tommy told me to, I was not going to CHANGE the system….this prejudiced, bigoted and discriminatory system. I am not even referring to the laws…it was the PROCEDURE that was so unfair.
If the unfair system was not enough, there was the abundance of blatant corruption. This was there just to make sure that if you, a White or affluent person, found yourself facing the justice system, and by some default possibly slipped through the cracks of everything else in the legal system that protected your White and/or affluent ass, you could always pay some or other official to ensure you escaped the long arm of the law! And yes…..shock horror to all those racists who are still walking amongst us, corruption was widespread, even in the ”old white South Africa”!!! So to sum up…..the racism and inequality that existed in the legal system and institutions, resulted in the wrong people facing time in custody (at the very least), and probably being incarcerated.
It was the people who could either not afford adequate legal representation, or to pay someone to make their criminal docket ”disappear”, the petty thieves for the most part, that were dealt the rotten hand. It was during these years that I realised exactly how much inequality there was.
There were a few significant events which led me to eventually leaving the legal profession. One such event was when I decided that, if the corruption did not come to an end, the crime in our country would escalate to unimaginable heights. So youth and innocence led me to going public with what I had experienced. Everyone in the legal system knew it existed. There were those who participated in the corruption, and there were those who knew the corruption existed, but chose to ignore it. Well I was neither, I thought to myself. I was going to single handedly end corruption in the country!! That was my purpose, my reason for which I was created!! Wowzer…..there it was MY DREAMS, PASSION AND PURPOSE! Well, apparently not!! For a couple of weeks after the story went public, there was a lot of hoo hah in all the media, and then the next newsworthy event took over. All I achieved from my valiant effort, was finding my car tyres slashed outside the Courthouse! Well that was that then…..clearly I had another purpose??
Another event was when one of my clients, who was out on bail for an offence, was shot dead by the police for trying to rob a bank…..to get money……to pay the Detective working on his first arrest…….to ”make everything disappear”. What made this even more shocking, was when the Detective gleefully told me why my client had attempted to rob the bank!
But the final straw was when a prosecutor approached me to discuss a ”deal” with my client. Not your regular plea deal you understand? When I reported this prosecutor, and realised that no action was going to be taken against him, it was my time to realise that nobody, least of all me, was going to change the system. So I had to make a decision to either “suck it up”‘ and continue to try and do what I could to help whomever I could, or to pack my briefcase and exit the profession. Not my proudest moment I’ll admit, but the fact that I could not quietly stand by and watch what was going on, and had in the interim had one baby and was pregnant with the next, kind of had me packing that briefcase and exiting the profession.
So many years have passed, and the corruption still exists. It has reached an all time high, in that it is now even more prevalent, more blatant, and costs people a lot less to make things “disappear”. Corrupt traffic cops are a dime a dozen, everyone knows it, the majority of the population are complicit in the corruption. Who can blame them really, when they know that trying to eradicate it by reporting it will get them nowhere!! In fact, when both my children started driving, my conversation to them was not, ”be vigilant of criminals”, but rather ”be vigilant of the cops.”
I am not in the system any longer, but just from my observations, it appears that there is still way too much inequality, and the previously disadvantaged still get the raw end of the deal.
It is no longer a few rotten apples in the barrel. Unfortunately, the large majority of the barrel is now rotten. What chance do the other apples have? What chance does our amazing Country have of eradicating the biggest problem we have? I truly believe (naively perhaps), that sometime in the future there is going to be SOMEONE who believes when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty, and not only fights the good fight, but triumphs!!