Posted by: Steve Coplan | February 20, 2006

Underappreciated

If you’ve ever curious about the degree to which Lethal Weapon 2 penetrated the popular consciousness, try being South African. I’ve managed to avoid being subjected to the movie in its entirety, but I have been told on numerous occasions it includes a scene where Danny Glover is told by a South African consulate officer with a fake accent that “You can’t do that – you’re black”, in reference to his visa application.

This past week I happened to be in the South African consulate in Manhattan, where pretty much almost of all the diplomatic representation is black. Lethal Weapon 2 was released in 1989. Since then, there’s been a peaceful transition to a multiparty democracy after almost 400 years of colonialism and 40 years of a explicitly racist legal system that permeated every human interaction. Although the legacy of historical policies has tragically enormous proportions – Yesterday and Tsosti provide some perspective – and some of the country’s newly empowered political elite have proven to have sticky fingers, there are very few precedents for the transition that has taken place. After growing up with a sense that we were living at the edge of an abyss that kept on growing larger as the rage and hate intensified, South Africans have proven that they are capable of moving ahead even if the past is still the present for millions of people. Most people are aware of the injustices of apartheid – but few are aware of what followed its demise that borders on miraculous.
That said, I was pretty disappointed that my new passport does not carry this coat of arms:

The motto is in Xam – a San language which is no longer spoken – and roughly translates as “diverse people unite“. The two figures are based on Khoisan rock art, and specifically this: the Linton rock panel.

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