On our way back from Botswana in June, I witnessed a scene that reminded me of how difficult true transformation in South Africa really is.
We had stopped at a Steers (fast food) which was connected to a petrol station to eat lunch. There was a young black man at the table beside us. He had no food but was writing to someone on his cellphone. He got up and went out of the restaurant and over to the petrol station to buy airtime for his cellphone.
While he was gone, a middle-aged white man came and sat at the table that the other man had just vacated. Soon the black man came back and sat in the chair that he had been in and began to activate his airtime. The white man told the black man that he was sitting there first. The black man told the white man that he had been there and just gotten up to buy airtime. The white man protested and the black man got up and left.
It was a heart-breaking scene. Each thought that the other was rude. The white man, valuing personal space, thought that the black man had invaded his. The black man, valuing connection, didn't understand why he would have been asked to leave. Each went away feeling wronged.
While the structures of apartheid have been dismantled and most claim to desire unity, there remain cultural differences that divide. Racism is no longer saying "I don't like him because of the colour of his skin." Racism is an unwillingness to move out of your own culture; an inability to see how someone else might think differently. South Africans will need a lot of grace toward one another to move forward in the building of a nation.