Posts Tagged ‘mandela’

A Painless Past, A Confusing Present

September 10th, 2009 26 comments

n7275My earliest memories of political happenings are filled with abject terror. “The Communists are coming!” the adults screamed. Who these Communists were, and why exactly we needed to fear them was a mystery to me. But I was terrified nonetheless. I remember a couple of friends and I built a shack in a nearby forest and hoarding bread crusts, biltong and peanuts for weeks. We eventually grew bored of waiting for the Communists, and scoffed our provisions.

Sixteen years and a bit of education later, those years seem so preposterous. The feared Communists, for whom we waited in vain, were the African National Congress. They were making door-to-door visits in our area, which was an IFP bastion, and so in an effort to secure our votes, the IFP ran a very successful propaganda campaign against the ANC. So successful was their propaganda, that they have never lost the majority vote in that part of KZN.

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Citizen Of A Bygone Era

July 30th, 2009 29 comments

gardenrouteAlmost everything in this country is defined according to what happened prior to 1994. The big news at the moment is transformation in the judiciary. Candidates to the highest bench in the country are being screened according to what they did prior to 1994. Affirmative action, Black Economic Empowerment, poverty, education and many other issues that are a staple for South African conversation are about pre-1994 events.

I was born in 1988. I was not even two years of when Mandela walked out of prison. I have no recollection of the CODESA negotiations, nor the riots of 1993, nor even of the 1994 elections. For me, that pivotal year was only so in the sense that it was my first year at school. The earliest recollection of a major event that I have is that of the death of Princess Diana. I have no familiarity with the events that continue to define us as a country. And yes – I too have been guilty of apathy when it comes to our history and heritage, like so many of my generation.

At the same time, the sense of belonging to South Africa is very strong. I sing as loudly as anyone when the national anthem is sung, and my chest swells with as much pride as anybody’s when the Springbokke, Proteas and Bafana Bafana are victorious in sport. I engage in raucous debates with foreigners about the virtues of South Africa. I look down upon at Chinese products, and beam happily when biltong is served. But is that what being South African is all about?

bafanaThe truth is, I have yet to fully appreciate what being a citizen of this amazing country means. I have only recently been introduced to the writings of South Africans, having grown up on a stiff diet of British literature. South African film is another aspect that I have only recently encountered. I have never been to places like Limpopo Province and the Garden Route. There is still so much to see, hear and talk about! I am young and in love with this land! To those who have gone before me, teach me what it is to be a South African. Give me that sense of familiarity and belonging. Tell me what happened in Soweto, Sharpeville and all the other townships where blood was spilled in the name of freedom. Cry as you recount the horrors of political imprisonment. Let us laugh together as you describe your first pair of school shoes. Break open that six-pack and remind me of how we won the 1995 rugby world cup. Describe for me the back breaking labours that your fathers faced as they crossed the mighty Drakensberg in ox wagons. Paint for me a picture of old Johannesburg – I want to feel the excitement of that place, when it was still a true mining town. Teach me how to make pap en vleis. What goes into a potjiekos, I want to know?! How does one sing the praises of mighty Zulu kings of yore? I want to know all these things. It is no longer enough for me to be a citizen of a bygone era.

I want to know and fully belong to this country.

Bokke, Boerewors and Beer

July 27th, 2009 19 comments

worsThe 24th of June, 1995 started out like that of any other. The crowd sardined themselves into a packed stadium at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The rest of us less fortunate souls tuned in on our televisions. South Africans of all ages and sizes were firmly focused on the match that was about to unfold between the Springboks and the All Blacks. Today was the 1995 World Cup final!

I remember it like it was yesterday. Up until that point in my life, I had never been a fan of rugby, as I much preferred the drama of WWF. Even the Springboks did not capture much of my attention for that matter but today was different. Today was more than just a game of rugby. I felt compelled by curiosity to switch on the TV, as I had heard the media hype and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I must be blatantly honest and admit that I was on the edge of my seat from the moment the whistle blew. Each time the Bokke scored, I erupted from my seat like Mount Etna during a volcanic splurge. This was so unlike me I thought.

South Africa was leading 9-6 by half time. The stadium was buzzing with excitement as everyone clung to the hope that today would be the turning point in rugby history. The buzz was soon drowned out by the mighty All Blacks who levelled the score with a penalty goal in the second half. The crowd fell silent, fixated on the celebration unfolding in front of them as the team in ominous black celebrated their comeback. They had levelled the playing field. What would the Bokke do now? I rose from my seat only to be brought crashing down as Andrew Mehrtens failed to kick a late drop goal. The score remained unchanged forcing the game into extra time.

How much more could I take? How much more could any of us take? We were all united by one dream, one passion, and one lingering glimmer of hope that; today South Africa would show the world we could be victorious in the face of darkness, or in this case the towering shadow of Jonah Lomu.

bokkeAs time whittled away, both teams gave it their all, scoring penalty goals in the first half of extra time. Would this never end? Were the rugby gods toying with us? Finally…breakthrough! Victory presented itself in the form of Joel Stransky who sealed the deal and landed a drop goal to win the final.

The crowd roared and cheered as the siren went. I danced around my living room energetically. We had won the Rugby World Cup! South Africa had done it! I sat on my couch and watched the festivities unfold and felt overcome with emotion and a sense of pride. The same pride and emotion you feel when your child or niece/nephew walks for the first time. Yesterday our team had crawled and today they were walking before my very eyes. It was extraordinary.

Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok Rugby shirt and cap presented the trophy to South African captain Francois Pienaar to the delight of the capacity crowd. We all shared in the glory of what it meant to be victorious. We shared in what it meant to be South African on a new dawn of democracy for all. In that defining moment years of bitterness, racial divide and strife suddenly seemed petty and insignificant. People of all colour celebrated the monumentous occasion and for the first time in my life I cried as our new National Anthem “Nkosi Sikelela” ran out around the grounds and echoed through the speakers of my television.

That day marked the first day that I realised I was a South African and would always be South African. Our country had become united and I had forged a bond that will never be broken.

The Old Man And The Stransky

July 20th, 2009 4 comments

It turns out that being an eight year old isn’t something you do when you’re eight. It’s what you do when you’re twenty-seven and trying like hell to think of your childhood.

mandelaI don’t have a good memory. By my reckoning, I remember roughly half of my life. That’s not to say I don’t have a timeline fixed in my head – it’s just that the memories are more of a thin veneer and kind of like those infomercial products that look so good but really don’t stand up to close scrutiny.

There are two vivid memories that fit this category and coincidentally are the two events that proved to me, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was a South African.

The first took place in front of a small TV set in 1990 in a small Eastern Cape town.

I remember seeing an old but vital man walking at the head of a crowd of people. Dressed in a quite plain gray suit, he carried himself with a strange dignity. Even so, there are many dignified people in the world and surely it takes more than that to get on TV? I’m a naturally curious person so of course I asked and I distinctly remember having the whole thing explained to me. I knew to some degree about Apartheid and the tragedies that had beset the country but it had always seemed so distant to me, almost unreal. The last thing I remember about that day was the small, quiet feeling of pride I had, an inclusion in something so much bigger than myself, and the fading lyrics of a song.

And the seagull’s name was Nelson,Nelson who came from the sea.

Time passed and South Africans went to the polls to give democracy a chance. I grew up a little and learned more about the country and how we got to where we were. By the time my second memory was being made wherever it is that memories are created, Nelson had moved quite far from his plain gray suit. As President of a country that seemed to have no limit, he had risen into the world spotlight and broken open a stillness that had encased South Africa for far too long.

stranskyThe world had finally recognized us as a sports playing nation and boy, we were glad. I’ve never been a sports fan but this impressed even me. Five years after Nelson had been freed, I sat with millions of South Africans as the world took our measure. We waited, eyes fixed on the television, barely breathing, to see if we’d be found worthy.

I think it’s quite possible that the collective concentration of South Africa has never been as galvanised, so centred as it was on that day. I often wonder what would have happened if the ball had gone the other way. If New Zealand had scored one more time or if Joel Stransky’s foot had slipped on his approach. Would South Africa be as collected as it is now? Would we be in the same position, would so much have been expected of us? Would I and countless others feel like we were part of something bigger – even just for a day?

Because man, when Joel Stransky’s magic foot landed that final drop goal, I all but exploded with pride. I’m sure millions of South Africans agree that on that day, in that hour we were untouchable. South Africa’s future spread out bright and golden into the horizon and for the first time ever, I really felt like I belonged here.

I may not have a good memory and I may be missing half my life but I’ll be damned if I ever forget that.

Discovering Identity Through History

July 16th, 2009 8 comments

sa_schoolI was attending a private school from the age of 3. My brother and sister, both younger than me, soon joined the same school. This meant that my parents, both of whom were schoolteachers, had to work very hard to ensure that they could make ends meet. This also mean that there was no time for them to sit us down and explain the countries political climate, especially since it would mean that they would destroy our otherwise wonderful lives. I was very happy living in my little bubble, completely oblivious to the reality, which was South Africa.

Historically it has always been the upper class that has the luxury to sit and discuss political issues, laws and whatever else may tickle their fancy. On the whole the working class is far too busy dealing with the reality and trying to survive from day to day. So my parents lived the reality so that we may relish the fantasy. I enjoyed a childhood the way any child should. I had friends of all different races and I would attend their parties and even go to the odd sleep over. I grew older and I discovered women. Looking back I notice that I actually only had white girlfriends and they ranged from Italian and Jewish girls to Afrikaans girls.

Of course there were incidents that could have tipped me off, such as stay aways, the constant police harassment, marches and the occasional ‘toy toy’. Even when Nelson Mandela was released, I didn’t truly understand the magnitude of it all. This would all change because we would soon be studying South Africa in History…

thsUp until now my life read like a happy E True Hollywood Story. I had come from nothing, but because of opportunities made available by my parents (through immense sacrifice) I was now a quasi-TV Star. With appearances on KTV, Kids Cooking and Kids Can, I was earning good money, loving all the attention and I was re-defining the term ‘living it up!’ Every circle I socialized in was within its own bubble and this kept me ‘protected’ from ‘the truth’. These were the days when I was just another teen having a great time. Things were less complicated because we were all just ‘Redhillians’, playing together, learning together and sticking together. Unfortunately for us, things were about to fall apart!

I recall the day when I was sitting in History and we began tackling the subject of South African History. With each lesson, layer after protective layer was being peeled off and the truth was beginning to rear its ugly head- and it was hideous! I remember how we (the fortunate black students) began talking amongst ourselves about how messed up the country was. Some of our peers began feeling superior to us. We had no right to be treated like this because we were South African dammit! Thus began the rude awakening, which also marked the departure of a new journey of self-discovery…