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Make the circle bigger but safe before it is too late

Ideas

Make the circle bigger but safe before it is too late

This holiday season, put the likes of politics and unnecessary squabbles aside to cherish your fellow humans

Columnist

Moving house, I purchased cardboard boxes in a small shop. I was the first customer in line and while waiting for my size 7 boxes to be folded, I struck up an easy conversation with the older white woman behind me. Her flat, southern suburbs, South African English was familiar to the ear. Pleasant convo about everything and nothing, like the spike in the price of petrol or the next round of load-shedding. Nice Sunday morning banter.

Suddenly, a white woman with a distinctively foreign English accent rushed in, spoke over us and loudly demanded the attention of the young man folding my boxes. I sighed, “here we go again”, that problem of black invisibility one encounters so often at service stations. I tell her firmly this is rude; there is a line, in case she did not notice. The interrupter made some flimsy excuse, with a quick sorry.

Then something unexpected happened. The woman I was chatting to leant over slightly and said this to me: “She’s definitely not one of us.” I stopped to take that in. How interesting. In another context I would have called out the possibility of a xenophobic attitude. But this was more interesting and more unusual than that. Here was a local woman drawing the circle around us, white and black compatriots, as one people — the local us, not the foreigner them. At another time she might have drawn that circle differently, the white them locking out the black other. Even today, many South Africans in such a public confrontation would draw the circle by racial loyalty rather than shared birthplace. Yes, of course, I responded to my suburban friend, even as the discomfort of another commitment remained, the pursuit of a common humanity regardless of national origins...

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