Magazine article New Internationalist

More Than Jimmy's Taxi

Magazine article New Internationalist

More Than Jimmy's Taxi

Article excerpt

A TAXI to Soweto. All aboard for Jimmy's 'Face to Face' Tours into the heartland of black South Africa, into the country's largest township. First stop Baragwanath hospital - Africa's biggest. Then on to Winnie Mandela's grand mansion. Next, a squatter camp. Then to the traditional slaughter of an ox as thanksgiving to the ancestors. Finally to an authentic shebeen for a pint of home - brewed beer swigged from a calabash.

Then it's back to Johannesburg's Carlton Hotel. All this for only R75 (about $22). Jimmy's onto a good thing. The tourists are queuing.

But just a sec... those accents sound very South African. They are. South African tourists - strangers to large parts of their own country, as much in awe of this 'Face to Face' tour as the tourists who arrived on an aeroplane.

Apartheid's aim was literally to 'keep people apart'. It created societies and communities that remain divided by colour, by class, by pride and by prejudice. That's why South Africans are taking tours to find out about each other.

Grand apartheid may have been wiped from the statute books. We all voted in April; our new multicoloured flag flies high and proud everywhere. Our new parliament is sitting and it's a much more colourful parliament. But to pretend that this is the end of South Africa's racial problems is naive.

Now the real work starts. Racism must be dismantled and a nation built from the ashes of apartheid. It's a lovely ideal, a noble thought. But how do you do it? It's certainly going to take more than Jimmy and his touring taxi.

South Africa's non - governmental organizations know this. High on many of their agendas for the next three years are items like 'citizenship training', 'community dialogue', and 'managing diversity'. These are all euphemisms for projects which tackle racism in its many forms: in communities, in the army and police force and in the workplace.

At a training centre outside Johannesburg, Bongani Ndaba and Vhonani Mufamadi show a mixed group of workers a photograph of a pot - bellied, ruddy faced white man.

What is his name?' they ask the group. 'Johannes' - a typical Afrikaans name - guesses one of the group. 'What does he do?' the two young trainers continue. 'He's a member of the AWB [the racist far - Right political organization]?' guesses a black clerk. 'What sort of family do you think he comes from?' 'He's probably got six children,' ventures a young woman, half joking, half not, 'and his wife'sprobably an alcoholic.'

The man in the picture is in fact an African National Congress member and the trusted bodyguard of one of the organization's senior leaders. 'We are getting people to question their assumptions,' say Ndaba and Mufamadi who are part of a team of human resource consultants called Absolute.

The ANC man in the picture always helps to break the ice in their workshops. The exercise lets people laugh at themselves and their assumptions, enabling them to confront their prejudices in a non - threatening way. They also use a picture of an Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier - a member of the ANC's now disbanded army - with an AK - 47 slung over his arm and ask the group to classify him as 'freedom fighter' or 'terrorist'.

The Absolute team's catchline is straightforward: 'a part not apart'. 'We are sensitizing people to diversity and differences. All aspects of diversity like race, gender and sexual orientation,' says Ndaba. 'We help organizations and companies to value and manage diversity.'

The trainers also get participants to tell their life - stories, to tell their colleagues who their grandparents and their parents are, how they live and what their families are like.

By creating life - stories of ordinary people we help people realize that the past is what shapes the future and determines the role we play in society,' says Mufamadi. 'This tends to carry the message of differences. It unearths the subtle, because you're not just talking about black and white. …

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