Mandela: From devil to hero for SA whites

2013-12-07 14:28


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Cape Town - The pavement blackboard outside the pizza parlour in Cape Town's quaint seaside village of Kalk Bay, inhabited mainly by whites, changed for the first time in months on Friday.

"RIP Tata Madiba", it read the day after Nelson Mandela's death.

The other side carried a quote from Mandela encouraging people of different racial groups to love one another.

The thoughtful homily was a variation on the usual trite inspirational offering: "A day without wine is a day without sunshine."


This portrays the respect "new" South Africa's whites harbour for the revered statesman.

But it also glosses over historical distrust of the "terrorist" imprisoned for 27 years, then suddenly lauded for a lifetime of peaceful struggle. It didn't fit with the image white authorities had sketched of Mandela during apartheid.

Outside the nearby Holy Trinity Anglican Church, which dates back to early colonial days, the beautiful lychgate was adorned with posters with images of Mandela and some of his famous sayings.

On the main street women in short shorts jogged past antique shops and fashion boutiques, while in the background could be heard the whump of cannon fire from the nearby Simon's Town naval base.

It was a practice, but a reminder that South Africa has not always been as peaceful as it is today.

And residents' words betray a divergence in views between older generations who once voted in favour of white-minority rule, and young people who have known only all-race democracy in their lifetimes.

"I'm really sad," said fashion design student Philip Heijnan, 22, outside the church.

"Mandela was the country's best president. I don't think there is any one person in this country who doesn't like him."

Born in 1992, two years before the country's first democratic elections that ended apartheid, Heijnan plans to live out his life here, even though he could join relatives in New Zealand.

"I'll stay in South Africa, if it still stays as great as it is."

'Whites thought he was the devil'

But down the road a dour shopkeeper had a different take on Mandela.

"While he was in jail for 27 years whites thought he was the devil. Now they think he was God," she said, asking not to be named because her remarks were so out of tune with public sentiment.

A 76-year-old man painting a sign outside a pub came close to confirming her prognosis of the white psyche.

"He was a statesman, not an ordinary politician," he told AFP.

"But you have to obey the law of the land and if he had grown old without his punishment I don't think he would have been talking to anybody. Jail made him, and the country."

Though South Africa today is doing is "better generally" since the end of apartheid, corruption in government made him doubt that "the blacks are better off".

He cited recent security upgrades worth over R200m on President Jacob Zuma's private home which raised a national outcry - an meanwhile around two million black South Africans live in shacks.


Well-to-do Kalk Bay is not necessarily representative of South Africa, which has one of the world's highest inequality rates.

It is a stunningly beautiful place, with mountains dropping sharply down to the sea, a small working harbour full of colourful boats, and trendy restaurants and shops.

But it shows a South Africa that would not be recognised by those who grew up in the apartheid years.

One restaurant owner drew decor inspiration from Cuba, the socialist island whose soldiers he battled during the apartheid regime's Cold War campaigns against regional neighbour Angola.

A barefoot barman, Michiel Peters, 19, is part of the group of people born after democracy and comfortable with staying. The descendant of initial Dutch settlers has no plans to leave South Africa.

"I am an Afrikaner, quite traditional. I want to buy a farm."

But Mandela went to great lengths to include whites in his dream of a new world.

That vision was based on the "Freedom Charter" of his party the ANC, which opens with the words "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black or white".

This won over many distrustful whites.

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Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  cape town

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