Celebrating 20 years of Democracy: a gift of subcultures

When I started university in 1998, it was quite daunting being a timid Coloured student at die Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit (RAU). Everyone from my race group knew each other and social groups were still based on the superficial quality of race. I was not the popular type, and if anything more of a social survivalist. I had very little in common with this social grouping; my thoughts lingered on philosophy and you’d find Allanis Morisette in my CD player, not some R&B jam.

For some or other reason I stumbled into the transformation conversation on campus (university). Having lived in campus residence, I found myself playing translator for black girls at residence meetings; translating very important information from Afrikaans to English – never mind that statistics at the time showed that 65% of classes were taken in English and not Afrikaans. At the time we had the choir and an African choir. It was well known that the choir had more budget and opportunities than the African choir that sang more traditional vernacular chorals. We explicitly had white parties and black parties institutionally organized on different sides of campus, including White Spring Day and Black Spring Day – at Milo Park. My heart silently yearned for the music of the White Party, but I had no access point and no business being there – I would also forever be ostracized by “my people” if I went.

University life started to shift for me when I went to an information session about Toastmasters, the international public speaking society. Coming from a family that values leadership and public speaking, I longed to be a great orator. I was hooked and soon found myself being part of the founding team along with Fatima, Wilhelm and Shelley – we could not be any more racially and culturally diverse for the South African context. I finally found a home that could nurture my philosophical mind, and great friendships were ensued. Within a year I was part of the SRC Societies Council and invited to an AIESEC conference. AIESEC is the largest student-run organization in the world with presence in 120 countries. The conference changed my life and I was soon President of the local committee. Suddenly I was hosting people from all over the world, an equal in a meta-culture.

Back to the present…

Through my work and friendships, I spend several hours per week in conversation with people from all over the world. I also get to travel to some of these locations a few times a year. Joburg is undoubtedly my city of choice to live in, but I do get tired of our national conversation through the eyes of the race lens that is not always in tune with the ordinary person’s reality. In Joburg, we have a plethora of interest-based sub-cultures. I see it every time I take part in Critical Mass or speak to my friends and neighbours about to take their mountain bike out for a ride. I see it in our vibrant community of entrepreneurs. In hanging out with hipsters at the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamies on a Saturday. In conversation with friends on our unconscious filter to like someone on Tinder and how chats are challenging assumptions. We are at a point in our electoral process where people from all walks of life are questioning the status quo. This is not race-based and has mostly emerged in the last 5 years. I truly celebrated Freedom Day yesterday by going to the Back To The City Festival. It’s the biggest Hip Hop Festival in Africa and there were thousands of people on the streets of the inner-city who were styling, skating, beatboxing etc.

While we still have work to do on building national unity and bridging the socio-economic divide I acknowledge that it unfortunately has a racial undertone. However, after 20 years of democracy in South Africa, as we debate our differences, may they be differences based on interests and exciting opportunities that valuing sub-cultures are introducing, not on the superficial and increasingly irrelevant circumstance of skin tone.

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