What is it with some white South Africans’ penchant for living in an a-historical bubble? Gumtree, the South African Craigslist, is running an ad for an apartment in Randburg, a former white suburb of Johannesburg (with about 30% black residents) to which only “young white professionals” are invited to apply; then people who should know better (journalists, researchers) think Apartheid wasn’t so bad after all. Now there’s a Cape Town company that–in the name of subversive “art”–designs products using a slave ship drawing from a 1788 abolitionist broadside (chances are you’ve seen it). Yes: a graphic of a slave ship packed with slaves, intended to depict the inhumanity of chattel slavery, is now printed on dresses, aprons and ironing boards (which they actually refer to as “slaving boards”).
On Sunday, walking past the Exclusive Books store, it was interesting to see Kees van der Waal’s new edited text, Winelands, Work and Wealth: Transformations in the Dwars Valley prominently displayed in the window. I found it striking because it brought to the fore something that is so obvious but so well hidden in Stellenbosch town. Walking through the oak lined streets steeped in Cape Dutch vintage, it’s hard to tell that all of it was built up by the sweat of black slaves and workers over roughly 3 centuries. I could not find a slave or workers monument in the town, despite noticing how rich the public art culture was.
Time and again, somehow narratives of slavery miraculously seem to always absolve the northern states of the United States. Having recently watched “12 years a slave” (which I did not find violent at all), I was a bit irritated at how people imagine, even fantasize, what life in the north was like for Negroes. “Wasn’t it just so crazy in the South?” That and how often my friend from Yazoo City, Mississippi grinds her teeth every time she reveals where she is from and is greeted with a “How bad is it there?” from a benign northerner. Wall Street has roots in slavery, prestigious universities have roots in slavery, heck America was built on the backs of African slaves. Here is a #icouldntmakeitup article involving one of the leading medical schools at the time, and the “birthplace of America” my northern city of Philadelphia: