I have received a few emails and comments about South Africa from South Africans ever since I wrote my blog on Zuma. It was also published in the Mail & Guardian Thought Leader section – a respected South African newspaper. In my eyes still the best paper around no matter where you go in the world. And it caused a bit of a stir over there. No problem with the comments. People were just being their typical South African self. Either calling me too white or too black – depending on where they stood politically. And either defending South Africa or moaning and bitching about South Africa. But what I didn’t like was people assuming that I somehow have something in common with them because I don’t like Zuma and I don’t trust Zuma. That I somehow don’t like the South Africa of today.
Most of these people were white South Africans. Most of them thought I didn’t like the current government or the “new” South Africa. And most of them decided that I am one of them. One of those who think of the good old days before 1994 when the ANC won the election. The good old days of Apartheid. Sorry boet, you got the wrong guy here. I am not one of you.
Yes. These countrymen of mine complain about crime. They moan about affirmative action. They bitch about corruption. And they cry about how their beautiful country is going down the drain. Sorry guys. You are… hum… barking up the wrong tree. You won’t get any sympathy here.
You are living in a dream if you think it was better under Apartheid. Maybe it would have been for you. The same way it was better for the “Aryan race” in Germany while Hitler and his “people” were killing their “enemies” – Jews and Gypsies to start off with. And after that – everyone. Maybe it would have been better for you then. If you had blue eyes, blond hair and a nice white skin to go with that. Yes. That was what South Africa under Apartheid was like. An no thank you. We don’t want to go back there. It was never better for South Africans under Apartheid – only for some.
You think that crime is a problem in South Africa? You are damn right it is a problem. And it is a problem in the USA. And in the UK. And in China. And in Japan. You name it and there is a problem. But let’s remind ourselves how bad it was during those “good old days of Apartheid”.
Imagine you are sleeping in your bed. Just lying there in your shack. Lying with your loved one while the rain comes down in buckets. Your leaky roof can’t stand the rain forever. And then it starts leaking. Somewhere there is always a hole to plug. Tonight you are lucky. It isn’t leaking over the bed. Just on the floor. And the floor has no covering. It is a mud-pool by now. And the carpets you picked up at the dump is starting to smell because of the water running all over it. But it is okay. You are safe. You have your loved one with you. And tomorrow the sun will shine and dry your home. Tomorrow will be a better day. But it is time to rest those weary eyes and the weary body for a little bit tonight. Tomorrow is another long day looking for a job at the factory or the mines. Another day looking for something to feed your family and survive another day.
But then you get ripped out of your sleep with the sound of doors breaking and people shouting. It’s your door tonight. There are flashlights everywhere in your house. Just everywhere. People shouting. You can see them coming for you. Those lights are coming for you. You know who they are. They do this almost every night. And tonight it is your turn. It is the cops. The special police. The police who take people away. And they almost never return.
You try to fight but there is no hope. Your shack doesn’t have a window big enough for you to jump out of. And there is no time in any case. You go for your panga under the bed. But it is too late. They are on top of you and they start hitting you with their guns and kicking with their boots. And you can feel the skin break away from your face. You scream for help. But you know there will be no help tonight. You beg them to stop. To just leave your wife alone. But you know they never stop. And then, thankfully, you lose consciousness. The darkness sets in and you can’t feel the pain anymore.
You wake up and you are in the back of the van. Just you tied up and a tire to keep you company. That tire. You have heard of it before. And the cops go for a spin. A joy-ride through the veld. And the tire starts bouncing all over in the back of the bakkie. You know they do this on purpose. Because nothing can stop that tire. Nothing can stop it from going wild in the back where you two are alone – just you and the tire. Nothing stopping it from hitting you with all its might while you are tied up. And you wonder where is your wife. Is she alive? Did they rape her like so many other of the woman? But tonight you are lucky. The tire hits you on the head and knocks you out. No more pain from the body shots you take from the tire. And no more thinking of your wife. Just you and the darkness.
You wake up and you are still tied up. But this time you are hanging from the roof of a cell. Hanging from your arms tied up. Hanging with your feet off the ground. The pain doesn’t mean anything anymore. You know where you are. You know where you are. And there is no way out. You are in their place. The place where people die.
You open your eyes and slowly look around. You see their faces. Those white faces smoking and telling jokes to each other in Afrikaans. You try and be still so they can’t see you are awake, but it is too late. You hear them say something and pointing at you. But you don’t understand their language. You have heard it on the streets in town. But you don’t speak it. You are fresh from Transkei. And speak only Xhosa.
But you hear that word when they poke you with their batons. Kaffir… You know what that means. Oh, you know what that means. Kaffir…
They shout at you. You don’t know how to answer. You don’t know what they are saying. You just don’t understand. You ask them in Xhosa about your wife. But they hit you on the soles of your feet. Oh God it hurts. But you still don’t know what to say. Or how to ask. They show you the pictures you had in your house. The pictures of Biko. And they hit you and hit you. And you scream and you cry. For you. For your wife. For Biko. And for your people. But you still don’t know what to say. And all you understand is kaffir. And then the darkness comes again.
Tonight you were lucky. They didn’t kill you. Not tonight. They drop you off in the township. Far away from your home. Just kicked you out the back of the bakkie. And let you lie in the street while you try to get up and get out the way. You just want to find your wife. Just a last few kicks from them and then they are off. People help you up and take you away. Strangers. But not. These are the people who suffer like you.
No job. No house. No vote. No restaurants for all to use. No toilets to use as an equal. No bus to ride with the people around you. No hospital to look after all the people. No police to protect you. Just to hunt you. No man or woman to stand up for you in parliament. Just the head tax you have to pay and the pass you have to carry. You do not exist in the eyes of the white man. Only as an animal to work their mines and their factories. No ownership and no say. You have no right in this country of your ancestors. Nothing. You are nothing. But you are everything.
Tonight you were lucky. You were lucky to make it back. You were lucky to make it out alive. Biko wasn’t that lucky when they took him. He was chained to that window grill for a whole day. And brutally beaten for 26 days – day in and day out. And he fought and he fought. Until he could no more. And then, on that day on 12 September 1977 he died. In prison. From those injuries. From those beatings. And the judge said the head injuries were self inflicted. That he committed suicide. And the police were innocent. Because there were no witnesses. Yes. Tonight you were lucky.
So don’t think that I am one of you. Don’t think that it was ever better under Apartheid. It was never better under Apartheid. NEVER. People were killed. People were murdered. People were treated worse than the dogs of the white man. People had no rights. They couldn’t own anything. They couldn’t take any job – only those lowly jobs. People couldn’t go to the best schools. People could even buy their food where you bought yours. They couldn’t vote and they couldn’t own anything. No political rights. And no economic rights. People were treated as nothing. No. Worse than nothing.
So don’t think that I should feel sorry for you. Is it tough today? Yes it is. But life is tough. Life isn’t fair. Life can never be fair after Apartheid. You can decide if you want to give up and moan and bitch about how bad you have it. How “they” discriminate against you. How corrupt the government is. How bad Zuma is. And that could all be right. But never ever think that it was better under Apartheid. Think of Biko. A man of peace. A man who was tortured for 26 days. And then he was murdered. And we still don’t know. Still don’t know who did it.
Go read Antjie Krog’s Country of my skull. Go read the volumes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And then go to your mothers and your fathers. And ask them, “How could you allow this to happen? How could not have known? What have you done? What have you done to me – your own child?”
We have forgiven. We cried together as a country. We got it off our chest. The pain. The pain to us and the pain of those who lost their lives under Apartheid. But don’t ever think we will forget. We are not allowed to forget. We owe it to Biko. And we owe it to the namesless faces who just never made it back. We owe it to them to make it better. we are not a perfect country and we all need to work to make it better. Our government can be better. Our economy can be better. Our police can be better. Our bloody electricity can be better.
But there never was any “good old days of Apartheid”. And don’t forget it. I am not your friend. I am your brother. I am your blood and I am your fellow South African. But I am not you. And never will be. Because there never was ANY “good old days of Apartheid”.