Freed from Oppression
Sunday April 18, 2004
Back in 1994 when voters in South Africa ousted the white minority government from power for the very first time, the unimaginable had occurred. It was the first occasion when all races qualified to cast a vote. Apartheid (Correctly pronounced as Apart-hate...and how appropriate!), was abolished, forever. The majority took over their country and without a bloody revolution. I grew up there when my parents emigrated from the United Kingdom at the end of World War Two. The ruling United Party of Gen. Jan Smuts had issued invitations to as many white folk from, particularly, Britain, Holland and even Germany, as would wish to start life afresh. The idea being that it would boost the number of whites to counterbalance the overwhelming majority of indigenous peoples. The opportunity was irresistible. The voyage to the "Fairest Cape in all the World" took over three weeks and the sight of Table Mountain on that Monday morning in February was remarkable and memorable
The sight was spectacular and I think the entire passenger complement spent the night on deck under a full moon and the Southern Cross, awaiting the earliest glimpse of the old city of Cape Town, with great excitement. I was 11 years old and I shall never forget the rude awakening that foretold a lot about what I would be witnessing over the 11 years of my stay in that country, then called the Union of South Africa; the men working to unload the ship were spoken to, or shouted at, in ways in which I had never heard people commanded before. The "baas" (boss) Afrikaner spoke to the workers with no respect at all and treated them as obviously inferiors.
In my years growing up in that country I was convinced that one day... a day always years ahead ...there would be an uprising and a night of long knives, as many predicted. A time of great bloodshed. Until then the government would keep the peoples of that country divided by color, race, tribe, geography and languages.
Besides, South Africa had a strong military, an excellent airforce and a small but well prepared navy - all white.
Gen. Smuts, a genuine military hero and a leader who appeared to be far more liberal in his approach to the various ethnicities of the country than his successors, ran the dominant party, the United Party, until the Nationalists... we called them "The Nats" ...took over and under the leadership of Dr. Malan and subsequently even more conservative Afrikaners, imposed their policy of Apartheid; Separateness. There was never an attempt at or lipservice given to the idea of "separate but equal." Everything was unequal.
Despite the cruelty evident in the black/white relationship, despite the inferior status of Chinese, Indian and Cape Coloreds (those of mixed heritage who lived in the Cape of Good Hope and spoke their own patois of Afrikaans), the majority gradually united and, eventually, during the more enlightened attitude of the last of the white Presidents, DeKlerk, change came about.
The Republic of South Africa has just had another peaceful general election with the ANC (The African National Congress) winning a landslide victory. The party has ruled the country since 1994 and this time increased their margin of victory, garnering a fraction under 70% of the vote. Thabo Mbeki, the successor to Nelson Mandela will continue in office. The opposition and many political analysts might wonder how a party that has ruled for a decade in a country where real unemployment is over 40%, massive numbers of people living in dire poverty, with an AIDS epidemic killing some 600 people daily, could have managed to win its largest victory to date. The answer is simple. The ANC is still of heroic status as the liberation movement; they are the people who freed the Africans from many years of oppression.
By the way according to a survey recently released by Harvard University, two out of every three South Africans believe that the ANC wields too much power. With such awareness it seems very unlikely that democracy will be in danger.
A personal note... on the morning after the first election ten years ago I received a call from Cape Town's Archbishop, Cardinal Desmond Tutu. I was on the air at the time and his opening words were thrilling. He said, simply, "Michael, when you coming home!" Here was a moment when the black man could have relished his victory and shut out whites. Tutu was typical of the general attitude ...they welcomed us all.