The moon the Sun and those who stand below, by Lindani Mchunu.
The work we are doing is very difficult work. It takes me back to my delivery days. When I used to deliver boats to Tortola. I would always be the only person of colour on the boat. The first question I would be asked by my crew would be, “how did you get into sailing”? The next one would be “how come you speak so well”? Where are you from? Are you South African?
These questions were quite telling of the assumptions made before I even opened my mouth. Its Heritage Day on Friday, it has been called National Braai day before. Indeed it is a national past time for all South Africans to braai, yet it is not the only thing that defines who we are. Consequently South Africa has 11 official languages, in essence 11 official cultures. I wonder how many South Africans actually know about each other’s cultures.
I would like to share some of my experiences here at the Club with you. Here at the Club all the waiters are black, as a result of being a black man, I often have to tell members that I am not a waiter. The staff at the marina are black and on a few occasions I have had to tell members no, I don’t work as marina staff, but I will get someone to assist you. All of these encounters are informed by the experience of seeing only people of colour in those roles. It draws the conclusion that what you see and experience, is what you believe. We have an issue of a single narrative. Seeing a particular group of people in only one facet. It tends to self-perpetuate and reinforce itself the longer that reality remains true.
At some point human beings believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and everything revolved around us. The Moon and the Sun are above us, so are the Stars. Or are they? I imagine those astronauts in the space station have quite a different view with regards to the positioning of the moon and the stars then we do. The Academy is an opportunity to view and experience other cultures and races from a totally different angle. The world in my view has never been black and white, only on paper maybe, but never in reality. Life has so much grey and it is this grey that brings discomfort.
Currently we are working on implementing a transformation strategy in the Club, one that seeks to bring more women, youth, disabled and people of colour into our community. It has been a very interesting journey tackling this rather contentious issue. The ultimate question for me has been why we need diversity and inclusion in our club? If TNPA woke up tomorrow and gave us a 40 year lease and said you don’t even need to be a level 4 BEE and gave us the lowest rental price one could imagine, would we see the need to transform and invite groups that are missing from our membership?
I think it is imperative we think about “Value beyond compliance”. Is there any value in being a diverse Club beyond compliance? What are our beliefs about other cultures? When we formed those beliefs, how much meaningful engagement did we have with the particular demographic? Are we aware that we might carry a single narrative about a particular sub-group? In South Africa the majority of domestic work is performed by black African women? Is this reality because black African women are particularly apt at doing domestic chores? Are black African women endowed with a special set of talents and skills that somehow makes them the perfect fit for such roles?
When you walk into a board room in a company and it is all-white males, does this mean that white males are endowed with a special set of talents and skills to perform this particular task? Do we sit in our private homes and say to ourselves, certain cultures and people are just made to fit certain roles? Or do we take the time to ask why is it that certain cultures and people dominate a particular industry or certain roles in an organization?
Everything that the human race has achieved thus far has been precipitated by a question that needs answering. Every problem the human race has faced has been precipitated by a conclusion that does not need further investigation. Where are we? Have we concluded and sealed our fate, have we adopted that old adage, “this is just the way things are”. Our country is far from perfect, this I am certain of, yet I have travelled enough to know that no country in the world is perfect either.
Idealists like myself tend to believe in the human spirit and its ability to adapt to change when necessity dictates. The caveat is that necessity has to dictate first. Is it possible for human beings to dictate necessity and make its arrival imminent, perhaps it is, but first human beings have to believe that something is necessary?
I ask you, our members, is it necessary for us to be diverse or should we just remain as we are. I don’t have the answer to be honest, all I know is that this Club was built by men from different backgrounds. Yes they may have all been white and male, but I am certain they brought diverse ideas to the table, and it’s those diverse ideas that propelled the institution forward. What could women bring to the table given the opportunity to lead us, what could youth do? What could people of colour do?
The less we know about each other, the more we make assumptions’ and conclusions based on a single narrative. The Sun and the Moon are up above us, is this a fact or a perspective. The answer lies outside of planet earth, the answer is waiting for you to get on a rocket ship and go see for yourself. The answer will require effort and movement from your current position.