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Becoming South African

July 1st, 2009 16 comments

I knew I was a South African almost as soon as I could talk but I never had any real love for South Africa. It was the country I lived in, but not my country. I had no love for the flag and ‘Die Stem’ did not make me feel like dying for my country.
europeans
I do not think I ever realized what it meant to be a South African, though, not until the post apartheid years. Not until the channels of communication with the outside world were opened and I started hearing more and more from other countries. Not until I heard what the outside world really thought about ‘us’.

Eventually I did realize that my country was ostracized by the rest of the world and eventually I understood why. But there was no defining moment, no sudden epiphany, no dawn of realization. It was a slow process that started after I moved to Port Elizabeth (PE).

PE was not as conservative as Upington; we were not forced to use different doors, toilets or park benches to the extent that people were up north. I remember going back to Upington for a funeral in my early teenage years. This was when apartheid was on its way out but before Madiba became president.

Things were changing slowly. I accompanied my uncle, also from PE, to the butchery and waited in the car while he went into the shop. There were two doors. A minute later he stormed out of the butchery, looking as if he was ready to commit murder. My uncle had apparently used the door for ‘Europeans Only’. The shop keeper had told him to go back out and enter through the non-European door! Separate doors to buy the same meat from the same shop. The stupidity of some of those apartheid rules still makes the mind boggle.

I remember that my family bought into the ‘Swart Gevaar’ (Black Danger) propaganda before the 1994 elections. Leading up to those historic elections my mother stocked up on canned food and we were told to stay close to home. I could not see how Nelson Mandela, a man who had been in prison for longer than I had been alive, could possibly come out of prison and rule South Africa, as he was sure to do. I was petrified of what would become of SA once ‘the blacks took over’. It was part of who we had become under apartheid. Part of what we had been taught: To fear black people. I realize that now. We clung to the past because we were made to fear what we did not know. MadibaPienaar

The first time I felt patriotic was during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. I was in my first year at Technikon. It was the first time in my life that I interacted with people of all races. During the start of the World Cup I remember walking to take a taxi home one afternoon and a car drove past, hooting loudly, the new SA flag flying out of the window – South Africa had just won their first match. I never had any interest in Rugby before that, although I knew who Naas Botha was, but I started watching the games.

I sang along to the theme of the world cup, ‘The world in union’ and had arguments with other coloured people who supported the All Blacks. I wonder how many readers realize that the All Blacks have quite a following in the Port Elizabeth coloured community, even today.

By the end of the World Cup I was sold – Nelson Mandela was the best thing to ever happen to our country and there was hope for the future.

Things were changing for the better.

They had to – right?

Afrigator