Benoni. Apart from the fact that Charlize Theron was born there, Benoni is not generally considered a place South Africa is proud of. It has such a reputation for prejudice, backwardness and general close-mindedness that most Joburgers don't even believe that Benoni is a part of Joburg. My own experiences there had done nothing to contradict this reputation. The sole time Zwe and I have been there together previously was to go ice-skating in Festival Mall. We got hostile glares, rude comments and disapproving people closing in around us. And that was just from the black people.
Therefore I was not feeling hopeful about our next venture into Benoni on Saturday: we were on our way to my cousin's fortieth in Farrarmere (for the unenlightened: a suburb in Benoni). We took a wrong turn off the freeway and turned off to the very North of Benoni. The barren fields exposed the endless miles of flat, red soil, and the slow-moving traffic down one badly-maintained road past dingy shops made us think we were about to become unwitting stars in a red-neck horror movie. Needless to say we turned around very quickly.
We found our way to the right place and ended up in another mall for a quick drink after the drive. I felt that old (paranoid) feeling return when the large, red-faced man with protruding stomach stared me down the entire time: emitting his disapproval for the race traitor in his midst. I found myself laughing nervously until we had moved out of the range of his bull-about-to-charge vision. Oddly enough however, a few minutes later, we spotted another multi-racial couple. In Lakeside Mall, Benoni.
Zwe dropped me off at the party: we had decided that the fortieth birthday is not the best time to introduce the black boyfriend. My family does not have a problem, but I could not speak for the gathered friends and extended family there, and someone's fortieth is a special occasion. It's about making the day the best it could possibly be for them, and introducing a factor that could cause acrimony is not the way to do that.
Again, oddly enough, I discovered that my cousin's wife's younger sister - a Benoni local - is still dating the black man she was dating when I met her almost two years ago. Her mother (a Benoni local of the older generation) says he's good for her.
It was a good party. The children were noisy and boisterous in the best possible way, and the people were friendly and talkative. The family - of course - were just wonderful.
It was on our way to the Joy of Jazz festival (more on that in another blog) from the party that I experienced yet another piece of evidence that Benoni is changing (or perhaps was never as unremittingly prejudicial as people say). We had driven over a nail and had to stop and change the tire. Zwe has only had to change a tire once, and not in the car he was driving, and I have never had to. Our process was going a little slowly as a result.
Th next thing we knew, a large, white Afrikaner was making his way towards us. He asked us if we needed any help, and we explained the situation. He told us he worked for BMW, and was always called out for things like this. He proceeded to take all the tools from us and calmly changed the tire for us, saying we didn't need to do anything. I crouched next to him, talking and watching his nimble hands do something that my spoiled self has never got the hang of. After he had finished, he smiled, shook hands with us and went off on his way again. He helped us like helping people was just something one did like brushing your teeth twice a day.
My previous blog about the racist made me sad to my very core because it was so disappointing to see that racist, Afrikaans stereotype that I didn't want to believe in played out before my eyes. Many racists - like her - are still people who help other people, as long as they are white. This man explodes that stereotype, and shows - I hope - that for every real live racist, there is a real live person who is an anti-racist, an anti-sexist an anti-supremist. He just helps out where it is needed, no matter who you are.
There are still stories of hope here, even in the most unlikely places. Things are changing, and for the better.