By: Candice Kern-Thomas
The picture that emerged of black woman, Linda Steenkamp, being transported by white farmer Johan Erasmus in a cage on the back of his bakkie struck a deep cord in my being because at that moment I recognised myself as a black person and so many other black people in her. I envision Steenkamp as the cover girl of all that black people are perceived to be, of all that society would like us to believe we are, of all that a white male dominated workplace enforces on us and of all that a benevolent “baas” gives us out of the “goodness” of his heart not to empower us but to keep us subservient, grateful and humiliated. This incident epitomizes the challenge of the masses who are expected to accept their place. The place the baas gives them not in the front but at the back of the bakkie, in the cage.
Steenkamp may be a rural woman accustomed to calling the white man bass and even willing to take her proverbial place in the back of the bakkie in a cage and we may be enlightened and educated black people living in the city refusing to even call a white man Mr, but deep down we’re the same. The symbolism of the moment is poignant because even though we’re worlds apart, rural vs urban, it represents the status of thousands upon thousands of black people and particularly black women in this country.
You see no matter how enlightened we may believe we are, we have no real currency, we carry no economic power. We live in debt, dependant on the baas to keep us employed so that we can continue to keep our children in good schools or keep food on our tables. Even though we’ve earned our stripes, striving to work harder or later or smarter than everybody, we are still relegated to the back of the bakkie, in the cage. Why? Because the baas pulls the strings that keeps the roof over our heads, our wheels on the road and the food in our mouths. One step outside of the cage makes us vulnerable to losing our jobs leaving us destitute and one step away from poverty.
The baas in this incident may be a farmer in a rural area used to treating his farm workers as lesser human beings due to his upbringing and his belief systems but he is no different to the white executive sitting in his air-conditioned office refusing to entertain the topic of transformation due to his upbringing and belief systems. He tolerates black people because it is the politically correct thing to do but deep down his prejudices are deeply ingrained and ever so often he can’t help but reveal his belief that black people can only do so much and not more. We need to stay in our place, in the cage, on the back of the bakkie.
Sometimes, he offers us the front seat, a manager’s position or the use of our names and surnames as directors so he can score a tender or provides a small stationary job to an SMME in a superficial show of transformation but true to form, he always expects us to know our place in the back of the bakkie, in the cage, when real decisions needs to be taken. That is where we always sit and grateful for the ride we are convinced by his reverse psychology and agree that indeed our place is in the back of the bakkie, in the cage. What other choice is there?
The white executive baas believes in his own goodness after all he gave a black person a job, he gave us shares even if he never took the time to explain the value of them , he helped us with this or that, he was magnanimous towards us. However, when it is necessary, he reminds us who holds the power, the real power. The empowered in the front seat, and the powerless at the back of the bakkie in the cage.
With the dawn of democracy black people were given physical freedom but not economic and certainly not mental freedom. We were given a choice to live where we like, walk where we like, work where we like but on the condition that we “earn” it, however earning it most of the time requires more than just hard work, it requires education, support structures, soft skills, experience and lots of money. Most of which is in short supply for a black person.
Democracy has given black people freedom but instead of giving them economic freedom it made us credit worthy setting us up for a lifetime of debt, teasing economic freedom but never quite tasting it. So, the inequality gap widens and unrest simmers like a volcano ready to erupt. Transformation is imperative to prevent this eruption and the destruction that will ensue. Real transformation, not lip service.
Baas, I would like to sit in the front seat. I am worthy. As much as this will be a system shock for you, it will be for me too so let us help each other with this adjustment. White executive baas, use the resources at your disposal to assist in this cause. Contrary to your beliefs we just want a hand up, not a hand out. Alter your mindset, transformation begins in your mind then transcends to your dinner table, family braais and ultimately results in tangible results in the economy of our country.