I didn’t realize how much the Apartheid experience had kept me in its clutches until I lived in Mozambique for a number of years. I was 10 years old when they released Mandela. I am now in my mid-thirties. And still to this day, I battle on with the deeply instilled and powerful influence of the apartheid regime.
Apartheid was not just about black vs. white. The apartheid fundamentalists had a deep understanding that a united nation is a powerful one, but a divided one is weak in the way of bringing change and of challenging a system. For apartheid to be successful, the people needed to be segregated.
I needed to fear, distrust or dislike anyone different to me. I needed to feel superior or inferior. I needed to stick to my own.
But it wasn’t like that to start with. It never is. We all start off with a clean slate. The apartheid was learned; something that chipped away at the subconscious, bit by bit, but never really baring it’s full set of teeth all at once.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Every South African has a story to tell. And every story will either contribute to the healing of a divided nation or continue to promote hate, inequality and intolerance. Most stories, like mine, are still in progress. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, the apartheid has deeply penetrated our psyche. Our recovery is like kicking a bad habit – slow and often with repeated setbacks. We all need to be acutely aware of when and how the apartheid voice is still whispering in our ears.
“Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness.”
My story starts off like this…
I grew up on a farm and had a best friend called Mafigi. We were the same age, had not started school and had something in common – irritating younger brothers! There was full on war on our farm; brothers vs. sisters. Of course we always won because we were older, stronger and could throw a mean mud ball at the speed of lightning and without fail, deliver an almighty blow to the nuts! We were a fierce team! We would play all day, outside. At the end of the day – we’d go back to our homes and live our different lives. Mafigi never came into my house and I never went into hers. I don’t ever remember questioning this – it was something that just ‘was.’ We had learned and accepted the invisible boundary line.
The time had come. At the age of 6, Mafigi and I would go our separate ways. I would go to a white only school and Mafigi would go to a black only school. My memories of Mafigi ends there. I can’t remember why – whether it was because she had to go and live with relatives who resided closer to her school (she had to walk to school) or whether it was simply a case of making new friends – friends of our own race.
1992 was a big year for me. I was 12 going on 13 and would be starting at an all-girls private boarding school. Up until then I had attended a white only co-ed government school and had never studied alongside a non-white person before. It would also be the first year that I’d have the opportunity to make friends with girls from mixed races in a school environment.
1992 was also the year that the white-only government officially approved the reform process. The apartheid was over. But while the mixed race, black and Indian people celebrated, many white people immigrated! I remember being a little scared. There was even talk of a civil war and of South Africa turning into a communist state. And of course there was Mandela, an ex-terrorist who was rumoured to be our next president.
But little did I know, 1992 was the year my invisible wall began to crumble. And it felt damn right!!!
Fast forward a couple decades and I’m sitting here in Mozambique, reflecting on the apartheid years and how it has influenced me. Mozambique has been a wonderful experience for me and my family. It’s helped break down many barriers that I didn’t even realize were there.
We live in quite a unique part of the world where the poor and the wealthy live side by side. Within 50 metres of my house is a squatter camp. Never before had I lived in such close proximity to poverty. And because of that, there is no escaping it. I got to learn about a life completely and utterly different to my own. I saw them every day and we began to talk.
A couple years ago, the most amazing thing happened to me. I started my photographic blog. This was after experiencing what felt to me, a fairly meaningless life of tea parties and gossip. It was also when I met Rudi – a gaunt old woman with one eye hobbling down a dusty Mozambican road, carrying a baby on her back. A month later I went in search of her and had the opportunity to hear about her life – a powerful story, one that knocks you out and one that needed to be heard and told.
The incredible story of Rudi: https://africafarandwide.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/a-token-plastic-elephant-my-silent-promise/
I guess my meeting with Rudi is what inspires me now. Knowing that every person has a story to tell – and the people and the stories I really want to learn about are different to mine. It goes against every grain of the apartheids goal; to keep people segregated and to only know and respect people of our own kind.
This makes me think. What are the core elements of apartheid? And is ‘apartheid’ restricted to South Africa?
For me, the core elements are segregation, intolerance, superiority and refusal to respect and befriend people from different backgrounds, religions, races and cultures to that of our own. And I suspect we are all guilty of this to some degree if not a lot. When it comes to defeating the apartheid, these are the things I must work on.
Mandela was an extraordinary man who started the long walk to freedom for South Africans. But his life story and service to the human race is a gift to all of us.
Thank you Madiba.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances freedom of others.”