Two summers ago, my son invited some of his friends around to our house for drinks and a braaivleis upon the occasion of a rugby match between the Springboks and the New Zealand All Blacks.
There were 15 or 20 lads of different races, all in their late teens or early 20's, and, fortunately, all had brought their own meat and drinks. My wife had, by prior arrangement, prepared the salads and buttered bread rolls.
Although, strictly speaking, the chaps were not 'Born Frees', they were, however, too young really to have remembered the dreadful injustices of apartheid.
I was, nevertheless, slightly nervous as to how some of the coloured chaps would accept an old fossil such as me, and had asked my son how I should introduce myself, and whether, thereafter, I should make myself scarce.
"Not at all ... " he replied to the second question " ... I will introduce you to the ones you have not met. The other ous all think you're cool." (I had, of course, met some of them previously.)
As I recall, amongst the bunch there were three of four blacks, three Indians, and a coloured, whose name is Gustav, and who has subsequently become a regular and much loved visitor.
It turned out to have been a really wonderful afternoon; and what a truly splendid bunch of chaps they were.
The weather was kind, the beer flowed freely, and although the Springboks received their customary hiding at the hands of the All Blacks, there was an air of unrestrained festivity.
But what struck me most, was how much better these youngsters handled the matter of their divergent racial backgrounds, than do we older folks.
To the lads who had not previously met me, I was introduced by my nickname, "KK", which, partly due to my Rhodesian origins, stands for 'Kariba Kaffir".
Despite my initial nervousness, not one of them so much as turned an hair.
Not wishing to restrain their natural exuberance, I deliberately stayed pretty much in the background until a few ales had been consumed, and the rugby game started on the TV, but I observed their carefree antics with ever-mounting admiration: particularly how they dealt with the racial issue.
I cannot remember when last I laughed as much in a single afternoon.
I do not recall all the individual incidents, but certain things stand out clearly in my mind.
Upon the wall in our hallway, there is a framed photograph of myself and other members of my stick taken during the Rhodesian bush war. We are in camouflage uniform, armed with an assortment of lethal hardware, and our faces are blacken'd with camo cream. I was embarrassed to find a mixed cluster of the lads scrutinising the photograph. I need not have been. Apparently unaware of the racial implications (although two members of the stick were black Africans) the youngsters were interested only in our weapons, which they pronounced to be "cool" -- a word that I have grown to love.
Later, when the meat was cooking on the braai, Bongani (black) told Cedrick (Indian) to keep his 'coolie shit' away from Bongani's steak, because he did not want 'that curry crap' to spoil decent meat. Another of the blacks raised a great laugh when teasing my son about how the sun was shining pinkly through his ears as he was silhouetted. When Gustav (coloured) disappeared for a moment or two, someone asked where he had gone. "He's probably pinching hubcaps off the cars in the driveway ... " came the reply, " ... you know what these bloody goffels are like !" Cedrick (only about 5ft 2in tall, but a real character) opined that the Springboks were losing because there were no Indians in the team, which drew the reply from Alex (white), that the only thing Indians were any good at, was burning wagons ! One of the black guys was asked to turn the meat, and replied "Turn your own, honkey ! What did your last cookboy die of?"
I highlight these particular incidents not because the conversation was predominately of a racial nature, because it was NOT. I think that once they got used to me, then sex, booze, and rugby were probably the subjects most seriously considered. But race was not studiously swept beneath the carpet as taboo. They were buddies: all completely at ease with each other, and with their own individual identity.
For me, it was an heart-warming -- and humbling -- experience.
Personally, I detest the politically correct 'industry' that sanctimoniously defines what we should say, to whom, and how. It is not WHAT is said that is important, but rather how it is MEANT. These kids instinctively understood that, although they had, probably, given no thought to the concept. It was truly natural to them, and gives me great hope for the future of an Africa that we, of earlier generations, so nearly totally fucked up.