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Tiah Beautement

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Write Life Part II – They just stood by and let it happen.

This is part 2 of a mini series on getting myself back to the Write Life.

This second post was originally going to be light-hearted. How, after six years of public education, we’ve taken a different direction. How, when life is too busy,  it might be time to stop screaming at the universe and attending pointless meetings and consider, instead, a radical change. That the results of this risk, so far, have been brilliant and play a huge part in finding the Write Life.

That was what I was going to write about.

But this morning, as I took the children to the new educational arrangement, we got to talking. The conversation began over a wildlife program we’d watched last night, which led to a discussion over why I am incredibly reluctant to watch TV. That when I do, it is programs like Myth Busters or Muppet Show reruns. I explained that I read and see a lot of things, especially on social media, and much of it is incredibly sad. That it reaches a point where I’ve had enough. Watching it on TV is too much. So they asked if I’d seen anything on the internet had upset me recently. I said yes. That in addition to a bunch of heart-breaking news stories, there is a photograph I saw while loading up twitter that I cannot un-see. I didn’t tell them what I saw, but I did tell them it had to do with the xenophobic attacks occurring across South Africa.

This led to discussing xenophobia. They asked a lot of questions, good questions, and I tried to be answer as honestly as I could in an age appropriate manner. But some of the questions are the same questions I am seeing across the internet and, while there are a lot of theories, the truth seems to be that nobody knows. I told them that, too. Because I think it is important for adults to tell children that sometimes, even the big people, don’t know the answer. Then one of my children asked if I was going to be safe. Would people come after me since, unlike my children and husband, I am not South African.

They are the first people in my daily life to question if I am safe. For reasons I cannot explain, the anger does not seem to be directed towards white women living in South Africa holding American and British passports. To a child, this makes no sense. If people are upset with foreigners and doing bad things to foreigners what difference would it make that my mom is white and has US and UK passports? Foreign is foreign and we need to go hide mommy, now. I calmed them down. But no, it doesn’t make sense. None of it makes sense. Just like Apartheid, which we’ve spoken a lot about, didn’t make sense. Hate never makes sense.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered the foreigner but not. During the various hoops I jumped in the United Kingdom to get my residency and, eventually, my citizenship (all vastly easier than trying to get any visa or residency in South Africa, by the way) people would routinely go, ‘But that is ridiculous. They shouldn’t make you do that. These rules are for those people…’ and then they’d normally stop talking, splutter, in the realisation of what they almost said.

Those people…Whoever those people are, depends on the country you live in, but every country has them. These mythical people that are causing all the problems, taking all the jobs, using up all the welfare, not participating in daily life. Those people. It becomes so ingrained that during my UK citizenship ceremony I, and the rest of those people, had to suffer through a pedantic lecture about getting involved in our new country, volunteering, taking part in local activities. Which is ridiculous. The UK, like most countries, has rules about granting citizenship. One of them is that you have to live in the UK for many years before you are eligible to apply for citizenship. During those eight years of living in the UK before being granted citizenship, I’d been working, volunteering and doing exactly what the lecture encouraged me to do. But if you’d been in the audience that day, you’d be forgiven if you’d thought we’d all walked off the boat a mere ten minutes ago.

But none of what I experienced in the UK comes close to what I have gone through and witnessed at the whims of the South African Home Affairs. I considered putting it in this post, but it turned into a 2,000 word rant and the fingers were still going. Another day, perhaps.

Instead, I’ll return to my children’s education. Originally the plan was to remove only one child from the local government primary. Then three things happened in as many weeks, two of which were illegal, all of them not good. I only found out about the first illegal action when I discovered the second. I only discovered the second because, unlike the first, the child could no longer hide the pain, hurting so much the child did not want to sit in the car. I demanded an explanation.

I was furious, as any parent would be. But what cut deepest was that the illegal actions had happened, not unseen in some dark storage closest, but on a playing field in front of fellow students, staff and parents. This was not a matter of one adult making a wrong decision. It was that nobody intervened. Not one person took the adult aside and said, ‘We don’t do this.’ People pretended not to see, looked away or decided it wasn’t their problem.

They just stood by and let it happen.

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