As I am sure with most South Africans, today is a day when we all reflect on the past, on how far we’ve come as a country and we can’t help but honour and respect a great man on his birthday, regardless of what your political views are. Please humour me for a moment as I turn all motherly on you. When I became a mother, I became an emotional basket case, I cry for everything, I feel emotional pain for people who are suffering and my heart has genuinely softened – I don’t know that this is a good thing, but since becoming a mother, I really feel like my heart has been physically taken out of my chest and sewn onto my sleeve. This is not a rare phenomenon, most moms I speak to will tell you the same thing; you instinctively become more caring, more loving, more sympathetic and empathetic and I believe that God made us this way so that we wouldn’t kill our offspring in the middle of the night when they are crying for the 4th consecutive hour. ANYWAY, I digress.
I grew up in a Coloured family, in a Coloured community, I attended a Coloured primary school and went to church which was filled with mainly Coloured people. I can’t say that Apartheid directly affected me at all, my memory holds no recollection of having been hard done by, or having suffered because of the colour of my skin. But as I grew up, and listened to stories from the past, and MORE so when I became a mother – the stories told by my father and his father, began to resonate with me, I became painfully aware of how horrendous Apartheid was. That people were tortured, brutalized and killed because of the way they looked, is so inhumane and so unfair. That we were forced to go to certain schools, or swim in certain beaches or shop at certain places, blows my mind away. That a man would go to prison for 27 years and come out smiling and become the first Black democratic president of South Africa, is unfathomable. That we have come so far as a nation who has endured so much, is a miracle.
My dad would attend underground meetings, one of the incidents that still brings on the goosebumps, is when they decided to stand up to the authorities and march to the beaches and throw themselves into the water of what was the so called “White” beach. My dad says that as they approached the water, a massive swarm of policemen with batons came forward to attack and as one body the group continued to run towards the water and in an act of unified defiance and standing up for something they truly believed in, dunked themselves into the water. Can you imagine! Another incident which in hindsight is darkly humourous; my grandfather was admitted to hospital, but being fair in complexion he was admitted to the White ward. When my grandmother had learned of his admission she visited the hospital and could not find her husband anywhere because she was only permitted into the Coloured ward. When the mishap was cleared up, I am sure they burned those sheets which my grandfather had laid on! Ha!
Out of my three siblings, I was the only one to attend what was then referred to as a Model C high school, I didn’t give this much thought until my Dad explained that I was the only child that was politically ALLOWED to, as my brothers and sisters were still “Apartheid” kids – well kind of – and during their years of education, we were forced to attend a “House of Representatives” school (for Coloured people), and Indians attended “House of Delegates” schools. I clearly remember those grey or pale green rulers which were actually printed with the words “House of Representatives” which formed part of a stationery in primary school! I also remember referring to the beaches by race group… coloured beach… I think this is now Sunkist beach – which still is one of the nicest beaches to swim in, in Durban! I have cousins who are considered White, because they looked white and passed the pencil test, and were so classified in their ID books. Same family, same blood line, but they are White because they looked white at the time. They married White people and a whole new shoot of the family was created. Amazing when you think about it!
I was a child protected by my parents and family, prior to 1994, so I can’t say that I formed part of any struggle. As a teenager and young adult, yes I noticed that we were not all equal, but I can’t say that I have been severely affected by a racist crime. Even now, I have good friends across race, religious and cultural lines. But as an adult and a parent, I realize the struggle, I realize the sacrifices that were made by our leaders and by our own parents to get to where we are. I realize that Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom was anything but a “walk” – it was an arduous and onerous journey, one he did not have to take, filled with much pain and grief all because his human heart was so convicted that we all deserved to live a fair and free life.
And for this, I am proud to be a South African. Happy birthday Mr Mandela.