20 years of democracy: then and now

2014-02-16 08:00

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Take a tour through our series of Then and Now photographs showing how places, people and the very concept of what we consider ‘normal’ shifted dramatically in 20 years.


December 13 1990:  Legendary ANC leader Oliver Tambo was coming home after three decades in exile?–?and Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg was in chaos. Police did their best, in their usual way, to “regulate” the excited homecoming crowd.

“We arrived at Jan Smuts Airport to the music of crowds of workers who had dropped work to receive us,” Tambo later recalled. “Then came the big crowds, from every corner of the country, black and white, whom it was a great delight to be received by. We shall forever be grateful to all the people who assembled at Jan Smuts to welcome us home.”

In July 1991, at the first legal ANC conference since the movement was banned in 1960, Tambo was elected national chairperson.

The first national secretary of the ANC Youth League, he was a struggle luminary?–?with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Anton Lembede and others?–?who drew up the movement’s programme of action: strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience and later, more violent responses to apartheid. As the ANC’s deputy president, Tambo was banned in 1959. A year later, he went into exile to drum up international support and funds for the movement. At his funeral in 1993, Mandela described Tambo as “a great giant who strode the globe like a colossus”.

Picture: Graeme Williams/SOUTH


October 2006: A plane takes off from the newly named OR Tambo Airport. Jan Smuts?–?as it was previously named after a former South African prime minister?–?was not a huge or busy airport during the apartheid years. International distaste for apartheid kept potential tourists and ­businesspeople away. Airplanes on their way to Europe had to fly around the bulge of Africa after two planes were shot down over Zimbabwe. This lengthened the trip significantly.

Today an expanded, glitzy airport boasts a multilevel parking garage, upgraded shops and a central terminal linking domestic and international terminals. The post-apartheid government first proclaimed that no airports would be named after politicians and Jan Smuts became Johannesburg International. But in 2006, the airport was re-renamed. To many it was a welcome change.

Oliver Tambo’s daughter Thembi said at the time: “There are so many unsung heroes in this country who’ve contributed to where we are today?–?and very few of them have been recognised.”Chris Hlekane, the general manager of Airports Company SA, said at the time: “People have begun to say ‘ORT’ and this marks one of those events which cements what we have come through as a country.”

Picture: Graeme Williams/SOUTH


December 16 1994: South African right wing leader Eugene Terre’Blanche on his horse, Attila, led a procession commemorating The Day of the Vow, honouring the 1838 Boer victory over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River. Terre’Blanche founded the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), a white supremacist movement, in 1973. But the AWB only came to prominence a decade later when the group staged theatrical rallies to which Terre’Blanche rode on horseback.

A powerful orator and a master of the grand gesture, he inspired deadly acts. In the early 1990s, AWB members detonated bombs in urban areas and drove an armoured vehicle through the plate glass doors of the World Trade Centre in Joburg during constitutional negotiations. They also tried to invade the “homeland” of Bophuthatswana. Terre’Blanche participated in a few violent acts of his own.

He was in and out of jail over the years for the illegal possession of weapons and assault. He was murdered by two of his employees in 2010, 16 years after the Day of the Vow had been transmuted by the government to the Day of Reconciliation.

Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters


2013: Sergeant Lita Velapi (left) and Constable Thembile Ntshongwana, riders from the East Rand unit of the SA Police Service (SAPS), patrol a deserted mine dump. Equine units use horses to reach areas where they cannot go by car and the SAPS mounted police were out in force conducting crowd control during the 2010 World Cup. In major cities, metropolitan police horse units also monitor danger spots. Muggings are a constant risk in areas like mine dumps south of Johannesburg, around Durban’s beaches, in Cape Town’s CBD, open fields and parks.

Cape Town’s unit supplies a thrilling presence at the opening of Parliament, but also assists with crowd control at football matches and chases down crime suspects. Then there are volunteer monitors, like the Johannesburg Voluntary Mounted River Rangers, patrolling parklands and trails, looking out for everything from crime to illegal dumping and flood damage. Using horses to keep people safe is a paradigm shift from the images of soldiers going to war and wealthy whites playing polo.

Picture: Mike Hutchings/Eva-Lotta Jansson/Corbis/Greatstock


1953 - 1989:  Beaches were spacious, friendly places during the apartheid era, as long as you were white. Like parks, public toilets, even drinking fountains, beaches were segregated. The system was termed “petty apartheid” and fell under the Separate Amenities Act to distinguish it from “grand apartheid”, under which blacks were termed temporary sojourners in “white areas”.

They were deemed citizens not of South Africa, but of those Bantustans to which their language entitled them – the Setswana speakers in Bophuthatswana, for example, or isiXhosa speakers in the Transkei and Ciskei. And like the Bantustans, the odd beach far out of sight of the white beaches was set aside for black bathers, Indian bathers and “coloured” bathers.

Mostly they were rocky. In 1987 the Reverend Allan Hendrickse, leader of the (coloured) Labour Party and a minister in the national Cabinet, led 150 supporters in a swim on a “white” beach. In August 1989, Archbishop Desmond Tutu led hundreds of protesters on to two “white” beaches outside Cape Town. The authorities reacted with dogs, whips and tear gas. Three months later, then president FW de Klerk ordered the beaches to open to all.

Picture: William F Campbell/Time Life/Getty


June 20 2010: A surfing instructor and his student head towards the Indian Ocean surf on Durban beach. While beaches like these are now open to everyone, it is during the festive season that even South Africans who don’t regularly pack up their towels and braai tongs, follow a generations-old trail down to the sea.

Even before President de Klerk ended petty apartheid, celebrating New Year’s Day at the beach was a deeply entrenched annual custom. More than two decades later, however, beach race demographics may not have changed as much as expected. Cape Town musician Kirk Krotz commented in a Cape Argus column in 2013 that even today “going to the beach is a predominantly white activity”.

He writes that he can’t understand why during the rest of the year the majority of black people he knows don’t go to the beach. Krotz, who grew up in Mitchells Plain – less than 2km from a beach reserved for “blacks and coloureds” – says even back then “most people only went there on Boxing Day or at New Year”.

Picture: Paul Hanna/Reuters

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