Article – by Steven Benjamin
(I toyed with naming this article “The land of milk, honey and stings”)
Excerpt from Pale Native (book):
“By 1983, I had witnessed the collapse of Portuguese colonialism in our region, the uprisings in Soweto and other townships, the killing of Steve Biko and the SADF’s wars in Namibia, Angola and other frontline states. I knew by then apartheid and minority rule were evil, dangerous and unsustainable.
But I was part of the white, privileged, authoritarian, chauvinist, racist Afrikaner establishment. I felt threatened by black people. So how does one break out of that and find a new political home? Well, I looked around and the only democrats I could find who seemed to want someone like me and had a vision for the future I could believe in were the UDF – people like Allan Boesak, Azhar Cachalia, Christmas Tinto, Murphy Morobe, Terror Lekota, Johnny Issel, Andrew Boraine, Trevor Manuel, Sydney Mufamadi, Cheryl Carolus, Valli Moosa, Frank Chikane and Desmond Tutu.
The UDF consisted of Christians, Muslims, Jews, communists, trade unionists, entrepreneurs, socialists, social democrats, intellectuals and workers, men and women from the cities and the deep rural areas, from every region of our country. What kept them together was their dream of freedom, dignity, democracy and justice. If you believed that apartheid should end and be replaced by a fair system where the race, ethnicity or gender of citizens did not determine their standing in society, you were welcome.” – Max Du Preez
This post is not a retrospective, but rather a sparse stock-take, a light commentary of the times. Since it is the youth we are commemorating, it is thus the youth we shall focus on, and since I’m a writer –we shall take it from a literary perspective. In general one can say that the literary scene in South Africa is good and growing, but it’s definitely not without its substantial cracks. During last year’s Literary Festival, Max Du Preez – who has just released a book on Mandela – commented during a talk on Nelson Mandela’s memoir, Conversations with Myself, that there’s a notable lack of the black perspective on the latter years of Madiba’s life. Most, if not all the commentary, translation and interpretation of the iconic leader has been done by white writers, reporters and liturgists (as an indication; all of the writers used in compiling Conversations with Myself, were white South Africans). Du Preez intoned his desire to hear ‘the voice’ of educated young black writers , giving their take on, not only the life and evolving times of the “Father of the nation”, but also the struggles the nation currently faces.
As a young “colored” man living in South Africa (colored not having the same meaning as black, as it does in the USA – and NO, it is not a derogatory term in this country), it’s difficult to see where my voice fits in. Colored people (a minority) in apartheid were always in the middle, between blacks and whites, since we have a very diverse lineage – the term biracial has never been in our vocabulary.
What I do know though, is that as a country we have a long way to go in terms of elevating a.) the state and voice of the majority (impoverished black people), b.) the overall literacy in the country, and with that, c.) the ‘thinking’ of the poor. Too easily are the majority swayed by empty political promises, failing to see far beyond their means. It is for this reason that there’s a notable difference in the mentality of impoverished black people in South Africa compared to black Africans from other countries
In conclusion, the true legacy of apartheid lives on – apart from the poverty and crime – the really definitive damage apartheid did to South Africa was to cauterize the minds of the impoverished black majority. Apartheid successfully stole their education, and then subsequently, their ambition, and thus crippling forward progress within a liberated people.
36 years on from June 16 1976, and the picture in this country has changed immensely. I am a proud South African, living in a healthy democracy, but I am under no illusions as to the struggles we face. The challenge of raising the level of thought and cognizance in society… but then again the world is not a stranger to this problem.
For the last year and a half my country has seen the most protests in the shortest space time – from demonstrations over freedom of speech and expression, to the lack of basic governmental service delivery – as people grow disillusioned with a government (surprise surprise) who are not delivering on all their promises… evidence of a restless nation, and hope.
JUNE 16 - SOLIDARITY