If it wasn’t for Nelson Mandela, I would not have written a book, I would not be married to my gorgeous husband and I would not have the privilege to call two beautiful girls my daughters. No, this isn’t me being melodramatic. I’ll tell you why.
Here’s what my life was like during Apartheid…
I was born Colored – a term given to those born of a mixed cultural and racial heritage in South Africa. I lived in a poor Colored community where curb appeal was non-existent and safety was something parents gave their kids by being overprotective. Even today, I cannot ride a bicycle because it was not safe to do that in the area I spent my childhood. I felt the impact of Apartheid within my own family unit too. My eldest brother and my mother both have fair skin and look Caucasian. I recall times when my father, my brother and I (who were darker-skinned) were told that we could not accompany my mother and eldest brother into a cinema or a particular beach because ‘we did not look white’. I remember a poor school, poorer friends and riots on my doorstep with armed tanks stationed throughout the suburb. I remember my father and brothers making petrol bombs in our backyard to be ready to protect us against the rioting crowds trying to steal our livelihood, break into our home and harm us. Back then I was frightened. Today I know that those crowds were spurred on by poverty and the distress created by extreme oppression.
Then came change…
I remember watching the television with my family crowding the living room, hope permeating the air as Nelson Mandela took his first steps of freedom. And, I recall the many debates that commenced thereafter, including the infamous one between Mandela and De Klerk. I remember crossing the road to a friend’s house one day and waving excitedly as Mandela passed through the street, the sleek, black car a contrast to the bleak street. I remember the day he took his vows to become president.
After that, my life changed irrevocably. Because of Nelson Mandela and Freedom Fighters like him (including my own uncles), these moments in my life have occurred:
– My parents were able to buy a beautiful home in an area previously dedicated to ‘whites only’. I went from stone-littered curbs and arid playgrounds with broken playground equipment to living in an area with beautiful parks.
– I had the opportunity to finish Senior High at a school that non-whites could not go to during Apartheid. I then began receiving a good education. In South Africa the color of your skin dictated the standard of education you received. If you were white you received the best, Indians and Coloreds received a poor education and black South Africans received a sorry excuse for an education. It was at this school that I now had the challenge and opportunity of ‘catching up’ to my peers and where I had the wonderful opportunity to be introduced to English as it should be read and learnt.
– A new world awaited me. I could explore malls, beaches, cinemas, theaters and many other places because Apartheid was abolished. Admittedly, some of them were disappointing. When I was very young, my friends and I used to fantasize about ‘King’s Beach’ and what it was like for the ‘white people’ who went there. When my bare toes finally buried themselves in the white sands of that beach, I found that there were no butlers on call. Ha ha. 🙂
– Two years after Apartheid was abolished, I had the opportunity to attend a university that was previously meant for ‘whites only’ and went on to enter the Masters in Psychology program. Here I also majored in English and was introduced to more wonderful literary worlds. More importantly, a whole new world of diverse thought opened up to me. This was my true foundation years.
– My hope for romance turned to belief when I met my very own ‘Prince Charming’, the man I was to marry at university. He was white and the reality is that if it wasn’t for people like Nelson Mandela, our relationship and even our marriage would not have been legally possible in South Africa. Bi-racial marriages and relationships were seen as ungodly by the Apartheid regime and punishable by imprisonment. Thank goodness we met and fell in love during the early democratic years of South Africa. Oh, it was tough, though. There were many people – including our friends and family – who turned against us and put up many obstacles in place in order to prevent us from being together. But, in time, and through further efforts to re-conciliate our nation as a result of clever social re-engineering by the SA leadership, people gradually came to see things such as our relationship as less of a novelty or abomination and more as an actuality. Being shunned turned into being embraced.
– If I had not been able to marry my husband, we would not have had the two beautiful daughters we’ve been blessed with. That is what I am most grateful for. I’m sure that I do not need to elaborate on this.
Since then, there have been many other opportunities afforded to me through the efforts of great Freedom Fighters. Many of these are things that you (and now I) take for granted – such as standing in a queue with everyone else, going to any public place you wish to, having the same rights as everyone around you and having those around you be of every color in the rainbow. Gotta love the ‘Rainbow Nation’. All of these moments led up to me sitting in my dining room to write my first novel. Does it still sound like a line? Yes? Well think of it this way… if sanctions against South Africa still existed, I perhaps would not have had internet, I would not have read a Nora Roberts or HP Mallory book and have been inspired, I would not have had the level of education I’ve had, I would not have had the corporate job I had that led me to meeting the woman who convinced me to buy a kindle, I would not have known of indie publishing, I would not…. *you get the picture*
Do you see it now? If not for Madiba, I would not be the woman, wife, mom and writer I am today.
And even in death, he keeps giving and setting an example… Today I was reminded of how forgiving he is when the news channels rehashed the fact that he became friends with his jailers upon his release. I just had an interaction on Facebook where a person commented that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist that killed innocent people and that racism is wrong except when directed at Muslims. She even went as far as to call me a murderer along with Madiba! Now, being a South African who understands the value of freedom (because we fought recently for every bit of it), my heart rate immediately increased and I became incensed. I then deleted the retort I was about to post and gave, what I hope is, a very mature response. I did not think that Nelson Mandela would have commented in an aggressive manner. As he was so forgiving, so could I, on a much, much smaller scale, be forgiving of ignorance too. I’m darned if I don’t vow, as of today, to ensure that I live peaceably, with empathy and dignity. Furthermore, my husband and I discussed how the little things that bug us about our new country of residence are inconsequential and how, with the courage that we learnt as South Africans, we will make the best of this and we will ensure that the journey Madiba mapped for us, is taken boldly and humanely.
Viva Madiba! Rest In Peace Tata!