Today 18 years ago old President Nelson Mandela lifted the Word Cup trophy at Ellispark. It was a triumphant moment, not only in terms of rugby, but also as a symbol of how far we have come as a country in 5 short years.
Today, South Africa and the world wait with bated breath for news on our Madiba. He is spending his 17th night in hospital; his condition critical. It is time to let him go; he has done his job well and needs to rest.
The question on everyone’s lips: what will happen after he dies?
Everywhere you turn it is the topic of discussion. Everyone hopes that we, the rainbow nation, will be able to carry on his legacy. Everyone hopes that we will be able to honor his ideals and mourn his passing in peace. Sadly though, the underlying common thread is fear. There seems to be a general feeling that the country will fall into a state of chaos. It is feared that his supporters might revolt against government and against anyone who is not black.
My mind went back to the day of his release in 1990. Despite my best efforts I cannot remember the momentous day; I was only 13 at the time. So where does that leave me, my generation and our kids?
I had no part in apartheid. I grew up in a home where “the help” Saartjie and Kerneels were as much part of the family as I was. They were treated no different from a white person. They were not mistreated and called names. They were people just like me and you. Saartjie and Kerneels, to me, were just people being paid to do a job. I knew they lived in a different part of town. I knew they had schools in the area where they lived. As a child I was not really allowed to watch TV, so I never saw anything on the news. I suppose, in a way, I was much shielded from the atrocity that was apartheid.
Just before I went to high school, I asked Saartjie’s daughter, Selina, whether she will be going to the same high school as me. She laughed it off and I didn’t understand. It was around this time that my grandparents could no longer take care of us and I moved back to my mother. My mother shares the same sentiment as I grew up with, which is also the one that I am carrying over the Luke:
When we cut ourselves it is the same colour blood that runs through our veins, our hearts beat in the same way and our brains functions exactly the same. No one chooses to be born into a certain race and no one has the right to treat you different because you are white, coloured or black.
Sadly though, it is at this time that I also came to know about apartheid. Her husband at the time was a racist through and through. The hate he displayed towards anyone of a different colour was sickening. I remember Elias, he lived in a small room next to our garage – nothing really, just space for a bed and a cupboard with an outside toilet. Elias never complained and always greeted with the whitest and brightest smile I have ever seen. He had a roof over his head and had work, which meant he could send money to his family. Every Friday night Elias would step out, dressed in his best, freshly ironed shirt and left. I never knew where he went, but in my mind he was going to see his family. On Sundays Elias went to church and returned, bible in hand with a smile bigger and brighter than before he left. To me, Elias was just an honest, hard-working Christian man. My stepfather hated him with every fibre of his being. I could never understand why.
I think back now at the Mandela speeches I have read over time:
“I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”
“I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
“The struggle for democracy has never been a matter pursued by one race, class, religious community or gender among South Africans. In honouring those who fought to see this day arrive, we honour the sons and daughters of all our people. We can count amongst them Africans, Coloureds, Whites, Indians, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews – all of them united by a common vision of a better life for the people of this country.”
“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign.”
“Take your guns, your knives and your pangas and throw them into sea. Let’s unite with peace in democracy”
So where does this leave us? Where does this leave my child?
We had no part in what happened. I don’t suffer from white guilt as it is called.
Yes, I agree that what happened was inhumane and wrong in every sense of the word.
Yes, I can see why the older people might still carry some resentment.
Yes, I know that we have a very long way to go to right all the wrongs and to live in a completely free and democratic country.
The quest for equality is one which leaves a huge responsibility on the shoulders of my generation. Whether you are black or white, you have the responsibility to teach your child that we are all one. Race, gender, religion – none of that matters. The mistakes of the past can never be made again.
Should I, too, then be living in fear to hear the news that Madiba has departed to the heavens? I refuse to do that.
The legacy of this great man needs to be carried forward into every tomorrow of South Africa.
I refuse to let the years Madiba spent on Robben Island be in vain. I refuse to be afraid because of the colour of my skin. I refuse to let Madiba’s vision for this beautiful country die.
Before I am white, I am South African! And that is something that I am prepared to die for.