KEITH BROWN BLOG: Racism and its problems are not so black and white

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IT was not until I went to South Africa that I actually understood just what racism and prejudice really was.

During the now infamous apartheid years, racism took on a whole different perspective and none more so than in the Gold Mining industry. In a mining environment the need for discipline is obvious, but the kind of discipline that was often meted out, was nothing more than extreme racial violence.

The Afrikaners who were so inclined, got results from their subordinates through fear and intimidation, men were severely beaten and even murdered when things got extreme.

I never witnessed a man being tied up and left on the face to be blasted to bits at the end of the shift, but I did hear many times that it had been practiced in the 70’s, along with the names of some of the perpetrators whom I knew.

Okay, mining is a hard game and the men who do it are hard, but those black workers were men with families and feelings.

Yes they were native and in some ways primitive, and their hygiene and eating habits left much to be desired in comparison, but as a witness to some of the terrible violence and indifference meted out to them, only made me as a white man, ashamed of my so called European civility.

As an immigrant worker myself, I was also subject to intimidation and abuse, not always physical mostly mental and emotional. As one of very few, in fact the only one at this mine who was a British immigrant.

The blacks who worked with me struggled to understand why I was treated in such an offhand manner by many of the Afrikaner managers, after all I was a white man.

This is a clear indication that real racism is not about colour of skin, but attitude. I began to understand the emotional pain, rejection and isolation that racism causes, and I can tell you there is no emotional pain like it. I was more accepted and befriended by the blacks than I was the whites and this was the apartheid years.

Many whites on the mine called me a ‘friend’. My workers responded in kind and we were the most productive development team on the mine, we blasted more metres and had cost efficiencies that no one could touch.

Those men broke bones for me and I loved them for it, not one of my team was killed underground, and that this is nothing short of a miracle, because we had to work all the dangerous places that no one else would.

I will never see any of them again, as that was over 20 years ago now, but I hope one of the greatest successes of my life, was to leave a mark on the hearts of men that, I was one

who said no to racism and the established and social order, and dared to act in the way my convictions demanded by letting the true spirit of humanity rule.

If we have never been the victims of racial oppression or prejudice, we can never understand what it truly feels like. 
The true human spirit can only rule in those who refuse to allow the current social order, class, financial standing, race or colour detract from the fact that all men are equal and their live have equal value.

What mark will you personally leave on the hearts of those you have met and worked with?

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