How The History Of A New Residential Country Affects Social And Business Dynamics
What It’s Like Living In South Africa As A Born Zimbabwean:
When immigrating, often the history of your new country does not seem like a major priority to learn. However, as I have found; sometimes the history of that country is fundamental to understanding the way you interact with the citizens; and how it affects business transactions as well as general social interactions.
Being born and raised in Zimbabwe and now residing in South Africa has presented me with many learning curves that often do not even seem important topics to take into account. I knew from school history lessons that South Africa was only a newly democratic country; having had the first democratic elections in 1994. I never realised though, how much the rule of Apartheid still impacted the way people in the country interacted with one another. I was born into a period in Zimbabwe’s history where democracy had been established much earlier than that in South Africa; the first democratic elections having being held in 1980. During the time period I had lived in Zimbabwe (1995-2003); it was a country where not only business dynamics but also any general interactions between citizens were not influenced in any way by race. It was a time where the hierarchy, so to speak, of respect was based on the generation gap between the two people. The younger person in the dealing was always the subordinate. This was a simple fact. The older person had the social acceptance of requiring more respect, and the younger person gave them this due respect. Age, not race, was the determining factor in showing respect. This was instilled into me from early childhood and I still hold fast to it today.
Learning About The Contrasting Situation:
Moving to South Africa; I found that this trend was not true in respect to dealing with others. South Africa, unfortunately, had been ruled by the racist policy of Apartheid. This had begun in 1948 and only ceased to exist as national rule in 1994, a 46-year-long history period. Naturally, with this rule having gone on for such a long length of time, the citizens in the country were still greatly influenced by it, even into the few years of democracy. To this date (2016), South Africa has only been under democratic rule for 22 years; barely equivalent to half the time of apartheid rule. Due to that lengthy period, these attitudes and mind-set has been instilled into a large generation group of citizens; especially those of the older generation who were born into and lived a large portion of their years under this rule. The most obvious way this is still evident is in interactions between people of different races, especially so in business dynamics.
Effect Of History:
During this rule, the people of local African race were treated as lesser beings. They were not recognized as fellow human beings; and as such were severely mistreated and persecuted. Living in this environment; the people of native African race were forced to assume an act of subordinacy. People of White race were treated with a much higher level of respect compared to native Africans; and, regardless of the age differences, were expected to address them as “master”, “sir”, “madam” or “ma’am”; as well as speaking with a downcast gaze, with little or no eye contact. When apartheid was abolished this practice was frowned upon as the norm. Old habits die hard though, especially so in regard to the middle-aged to elderly generation Africans who were still expected to address the majority of White race of similar age as such, as they still demanded it. Even to this day, it is still expected, in some cases, for this practice to be performed. However, sadly, this had now seeped into practice between Africans and those of a non-White race group. This is true in business dealings and dynamics.
When beginning my receptionist position at a young age, this became a common occurrence in everyday dealings with people. Being Coloured of Zimbabwean decent, with White blood present in close generation; I have a tone of skin slightly lighter to the general population race of South African Coloureds. Combined with a slight accent from Zimbabwe; many African people I have come across mistake me for close to white race and I am then addressed in the ‘expected’ manner: “Ma’am”, “Miss” and “Madam” and a downcast gaze in which eye contact lasts no more than 15 seconds at a time. At that time I was still a ‘teenager’ and being addressed like this by people old enough to be my parents, and even grand-parents; was awkward and embarrassing for me; as well as saddening in dealing with people in this manner. Having being raised with the mentality that age, not race, was the determining factor for level of respect due; I sometimes was at a loss as to how to rectify it in the short amount of time the transaction lasted. In the beginning period when I came across this problem, I was fortunately still in school. After discussing this with my African friends, I only then realised just how influential the history of this country was still a factor and ingrained into people’s minds and actions. For years, I had ignorantly discarded any learning of the history of the country I resided in. I was highly embarrassed and disappointed in myself for that error.
How I Learned To Improve It:
I decided to brush up my knowledge of the history of the country; not only the simple hard facts, but the understanding of how it has affected the citizens in it. I knew I would never fully understand it, due to being raised in such a contrasting manner. Over the years, I have found this practice is easing even slightly and I have now developed ways to ‘equalise’ the respect between people who may still have that mentality and I. By addressing them personally, from the start of the interaction, as “Ma’am” or “Sir” it put them at ease and when requesting any assistance from a colleague in respects to them, referring to them as “This Lady” or “This Gentleman”; helps equalizing the playing field, so to speak, even more. Doing this also makes me feel more comfortable in dealing with these clients as I am able to carry out dealings with people in the manner to which I am accustomed.
There are still some inequalities in this newly democratic country; however, year by year it slowly seems to be rebuilding itself. My only hope for this country is that it can reach a point where the history of apartheid remains just that, history; not having much influence on the citizens as it still does today. It will take a long time and may never fully equalize; but there’s hope I believe. I have discovered just how necessary it is to learn and understand the history of a country you come into; as it often will clear up confusions and misunderstandings in interacting with its citizens. Also it will help you deal with whatever sensitivities there may still be in that country with more understanding.
Common notice boards around cities in South Africa under Apartheid rule
Segregation of races extended to everyday aspects; even public resting areas
The entrance to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. Entrance tickets were sold dependent of race
Democracy in South Africa now allows for a multi-racial police force.