Twenty years ago I was standing in a mixed race voting line, all of us petrified of what lay ahead and now here we are in a democratic South Africa. As a 50 something year old gay white male that has lived in this country his entire life, I can assure you it has been no bed of roses, and is still not anywhere near one. I always say that my generation has had to endure the biggest changes that have been made, although everyone has had to go through them in some way.
In 1962 when I was born, black South Africans had to carry Passbooks on them in the cities. Their homes were in what were called Homelands or Townships. A black South African could be stopped randomly by the South African Police (SAP) and asked to show their Passbooks. Failure to comply or an inability to produce a "Pass" often resulted in arrest. There were curfews that did not allow black South Africans on the streets past 6pm unless they carried special permission for their work that might entail working night shift. All amenities were separated, from beaches, schools, public toilets, public transport right down to park benches. Most white homes had a black female maid or domestic helper who would clean, cook and take care of the children, and a male black gardener that would keep the beautiful unfenced gardens in top condition. The white suburbs were kept in pristine condition, the verges were trimmed, there was no litter and the roads were all well maintained.
Moving on to the 1970s when I was in high school, slowly things started to change. My older brothers were being called to do National Service in the South African Army as there was an insurgence on the Angolan and South West African (now Namibia) border of terrorists known as SWAPO (South West African Peoples Organisation). This was also the time that uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the then banned ANC - also classified as a terrorist organization, were starting to be a lot more active within South Africa. Although largely intended for Apartheid structures and public infrastructure, bombs were also planted in mainly white-targeted shopping centers, bars and restaurants in city centers. You could not go anywhere without being thoroughly searched and without walking through metal detectors. As a teenager it was hard not to be brainwashed by the then Nationalist Party into believing that this country would not survive if the whites did not stay in control. The rest of the world stepped in at this time and sanctions and sports boycotts were enforced against the apartheid government of South Africa.
The 1980s arrived and I was now eligible for a compulsory 2 years National Military Service. I was called up to one of the many Infantry Battalions in South Africa. I was petrified as I was a closeted gay man now in an extremely masculine environment. I was also starting to realize that perhaps we were misguided in our thinking. After completing my 2 years, which included being sent to the South West African border to fight against these terrorists and also doing 2 compulsory camps in which I witnessed terrible atrocities in the black townships, I was more convinced that things needed to change in this country for it to have a future.
1990 Arrived and the then President of South Africa, F.W. De Klerk, started negotiating with Nelson Mandela whom he released from prison on 11 February 1990 after 27 years. It then took 4 years of intense negotiating between the ANC and the then government before elections were held on the 27 April 1994. It was a necessary evil at the time, I knew the country had to change but was not sure how successful the changeover was going to be. When Mandela was made the country's first democratically elected black President change was evitable. As a white South African male I was pleasantly surprised as to the way President Mandela had taken a broken country and repaired it and given everyone hope - black, white, Indian, mixed race whatever category you fell into you felt included.
The post Mandela era from 2000 onwards has been what can be described as nothing less than catastrophic. From President Mbeki who set the South African HIV program back years and killed so many people through his ill-informed decisions on the illness to the current President Zuma who is so corrupt and has lead this beautiful country down a path laden with pure greed and absolute lack of conscience for the many uneducated people that are following him faithfully. It helps him to have an uneducated society, as no educated person would tolerate his in-your-face theft of public money. What right-minded leader would build himself a R250 million home, whilst the majority of his followers have shacks to live in, then deny he had any knowledge it was being built?
South Africa is a beautiful country with a generation emerging of people that were not born in the apartheid era and are now eligible to vote, known here as the "Born Frees". They deserve leaders that can set examples of how societies should be inclusive and have access to a decent education system that can be looked up to internationally. After all, your education is your future, it does not help if it is not recognized anywhere else in the world except here in South Africa.