South Africa is one of the African countries that was for a long time under colonization by the white man. Besides, being colonized, the situation in South Africa was quite bad as there was rampant discrimination of the blacks by the white people which came to be known as apartheid.
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There are restaurants, schools, hospitals, shopping malls and recreational centers in South Africa that were a preserve of the whites only. This meant that black people could not get admission under any circumstances. However, in the year 1994, South Africa got independence and this meant that the black people had freedom to do as they willed in their land. Slowly, most of the white people had to live the country but there are those who opted to remain.
This is what presented the dilemma in that how were the white people who remained in South Africa after the apartheid supposed to be treated by the black people who had been ill treated previously by the whites? Were black people going to punish the white people who remained in this country for the heinous acts of discrimination that were committed by their colleagues? This pertinent question is the focus of this discussion and it is based on The Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.
Looking at the storyline, it is clear that the new South Africa which is free from apartheid is bound to undergo some changes. The black community which was previously oppressed by the white community seems keen to sort of revenge for the actions of discriminations by the white.
It may not be fair because the white people in the new South Africa are not necessarily the ones who were responsible for the apartheid era but nevertheless one would understand the bitterness of a people who were deprived for many years their rights in their own country.
The story begins when David Lurie who is a professor in a university in Cape Town is engaged in an affair with a student and is later accused of sexual harassment. Instead of taking an opportunity to defend himself against allegations leveled against him, Lurie decides to resign and even move from the city to reside with his daughter in the outskirts of the city.
“It’s always complicated, this harassment business, David, complicated as well as unfortunate, but we believe our procedures are good and fair, so we’ll just take it step by step, play it by the book” ( Coetzee, 2000,p. 45) The area where his daughter resides is one that was considered as belonging to the black community during the apartheid era.
“There is tension from both sides as Lurie begins to stay in black community area. He fears that he may be treated unfairly by the black community who are still angered by the kind of treatment they faced during the apartheid era” (Coetzee 2000). The black community on the other hand is suspicious of this white man who now wants to reside among the blacks a phenomenon that would have been considered impossible during the era of apartheid.
While Lurie is living with his daughter in the province, their neighbor is a black man who has helped Lurie’s daughter on a number of issues. However, Lurie is convinced that the black man has something to do with the rape ordeal which his daughter went through some time back. However, neither Lurie nor his daughter is willing to take any action against the black man.
“As gently as he can, he offers his question again.”Lucy, my dearest, why don’t you want to tell? It was a crime. There is no shame in being the object of a crime. You did not choose to be the object. You are an innocent party.” (Coetzee, 2000, p. 13)
It becomes apparent that there is fear among the whites living in the new South Africa of being persecuted by the black people who obviously want to revenge for the many years of discriminations that they endured during the regime of apartheid. There also seems to be fear in that the whites do not have faith and trust in the institutions that have been set up in the new republic.
Since most of the occupants of the newly formed institutions are blacks, there seems to be a perception by the whites that they are not likely to face justice. This also explains Lurie’s action in the University when accused of sexual harassment.
Instead of taking the earliest opportunity to make a defense against the allegations that have been made against him, Lurie opts to resign. This shows that he may have weighed his options and saw that that since most of the people who will sit in the panel hearing his case are black, he felt that there might be a form of prejudice against him and thus opted out instead.
There also seems to be an ironic twist of events in that the whites seem to be slowly fitting into the shoes of the blacks literary. Due to the intensive level of discrimination that was rife during the era of apartheid in South Africa most people in the black community had sort of resigned to fate and were living in deplorable conditions in the countryside or country districts as they were commonly referred to.
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“Now that the era of apartheid is gone and the new South Africa is here, most of the white people had to live the country and for those who opted to remain, they now have to go and live in places that were previously considered for the blacks whose conditions are deplorable to say the least” (Coetzee 2000).
What is coming out very clearly from this discussion is that the white people feel threatened in the new South Africa. The black people might not discriminate the whites as was the case in the apartheid era, but it is without a doubt that the blacks are bound to revenge or at least reclaim what was originally theirs which was taken away from them unjustly. And when that happens, the whites are going to be displaced from their comfort zones which they were used to.
J.M. Coetzee has tried his level best to put the scenario in perspective and has tried to show just how much the white dilemma is still so alive in the new South Africa. A serious look at the issues in South Africa actually reveals a situation much worse that what Coetzee has captured in his book.
Another hard reality that the white people in the new South Africa have had to contend with is that most of the concepts which they had brought with them from the west may become irrelevant as the black people increasingly keep looking for local solutions. (Coetzee 2000).
After very many years under the white man rule where not much development took place for the black people, there is an urge to want to catch up and account for the lost time (Sacks, 1997, p. 56). Government and newly set up institutions seem to be going for local concepts as opposed to the concepts of the white man.
A keen scrutiny of the situation in this country so many years after she got her independence reveals that the wounds of the past appear so fresh and the apparent gap between the whites and black is one that can easily be seen. White dilemma in this African country seems to be deeply rooted among the citizens of this country.
Coetzee, J. (2000). Disgrace. London: Penguin Books.
Sacks, B. (1997). South Africa: an imperial dilemma: non-Europeans and the British Nation. Mexico: University of New Mexico Press