I am White and I want to stay…….but

2015-07-06 13:09

After writing my previous blog, 'The South Africa I feared when I voted in 1994', I was asked many times what my fears were back in 1994 as well as what my future fears are.

Raised during apartheid South Africa as a white male in the 1970’s and 1980’s as a child and teenager I felt very safe. In those days very few houses had fences, certainly there were no security companies around like there are today. I was unaware that black people had all these laws attached to them that us privileged whites did not, such as the “dompas”. The resistance to the Pass Law led to many thousands of arrests and was the spark that ignited the Sharpeville Massacre on March 21, 1960, and led to the arrest of Robert Sobukwe that day. Colloquially, passes were often called the dompas, literally meaning the "dumb pass."

The segregation laws and separate amenities were something as a child I just accepted as normal. I never had the privilege of travelling internationally, back in those times we did not have television so we were very limited as to what was ‘normal’ in other countries. As wrong as it was, I knew no better, black people were seen as 2nd class citizens. At the very same time we were clearly brainwashed by the apartheid government and the schools education system was designed around white English and Afrikaans students.

As young white men we had no choice but to either do 2 years compulsory National Service or 3 years South African Police service. If you chose to do neither you were sentenced to 3 years in a detention camp in Pretoria. So most of us conformed to avoid this ghastly penalty. In detention you were totally isolated and could not even leave to see your family during your 3 year imprisonment.

Crime was low; the death penalty was a punishment for murder and rape. As schools were segregated, I grew up with no black friends. Most white households had servants who were black. This was all normal back in those years. One felt this safety net around you. I know this was very different for black people of my age, and am not trying to justify, but merely trying to convey an understanding of how fears erupted from within, being a white person in South Africa in that time period.

It was in the late 1970’s when I was in the final years of schooling that the armed wing of the ANC, ‘umkhonto we sizwe’, started mobilising and terror stacks started to occur. As a young person this was exceptionally scary. Suddenly my ‘safety net’ was being torn apart and I blamed black people, thus entrenching racism in myself. Crime started increasing and more and more terror attacks were being carried out on our doorstep. Everywhere you went you had to pass through metal detectors as bombs were being planted in shopping malls, bars and other places. So my anger, hatred and bitterness grew.

I then had to do 2 years of compulsory National Service. I did my military training in 5 SAI (South African Infantry) Battalion in Ladysmith. I started my training in July 1981. I was 19 years old and petrified. I was never an ultra fit sporty person, but now I had to endure 3 months of ‘basic training’, which was really tough, gruelling training mainly carried out by Afrikaans conservative officers in the military. More brainwashing and hatred was formed internally, as now a huge part of my life was in my eyes due to the enemy, being ‘black people’. On top of the 2 years compulsory service we also had to complete another 2 years of army camps as civilians. These camps would be 2 or 3 months long.

During my initial 2 years I had never left Ladysmith army base, except for weekend passes. This changed when I had to do army camps. I was sent to do army camps in the Johannesburg townships. My first one was in Alexandra, in Johannesburg. This is where I started to develop my own view on how unjust the apartheid system had been on black people. I was exposed to seeing black peoples living conditions on a daily basis as we patrolled through the township. I will never forget that smell of coal and the cloud of pollution that covered the township every morning we drove in at 6am in the army ‘buffels’, which was a mine-protected infantry mobility vehicle. I will never forget seeing a black man being torched alive by the common ‘Neck-lacing’ method used on informants or any person that was sentenced by the controversial street courts that often meted out punishment unfairly on residents.

All of the above started influencing my own thinking and made me realise that it was not black people’s fault as to why our country was now on the brink of civil war. I would be at loggerheads in my own mind continually, fighting the brainwashing that I had been subjected to and what I was starting to figure out for myself, and what I was witnessing on a daily basis. I refused to do any further civilian army camps after my last one in 1985. I was still a racist in my own mind. I was filled with hatred, as by now as a white person South Africa was no longer safe. Crime was on the increase; the last execution was carried out in November 1989 in South Africa.

Negotiations had started for the release of Nelson Mandela, suddenly apartheid was being dismantled before me very eyes, and crime was on the increase as a white person. It was probably no worse in the black townships than before, but it was now creeping into the privileged white neighbourhoods. This is what I had feared; yet I was fully aware that the fault lay with the then undemocratic apartheid government of South Africa. They were to blame for the poor education of black people; they were to blame for many of them being unemployable. They were ultimately to blame for the increase in the crime levels.

I was determined to cast my first ever vote in 1994 in the hope that it would have some effect on my future in this country. As we all know, Nelson Mandela was the first democratically elected President of South Africa and he was black. It didn’t take long for him to instil this sense of forgiveness and hope amongst everyone in the country. Many of the black citizens carried his hope long before I started to carry it. Many white South Africans suddenly realised that although we all came from very different pasts, there was hope as a nation. We became known worldwide as the Rainbow Nation. We were all proud South Africans, with plenty still to work on. Racial divides do not just disappear overnight; many victims from all sectors of the population had lost loved ones to bomb explosions and activists being murdered. The Truth & Reconciliation Committee (TRC) was headed up by Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu to try and reconcile parties as well as the wrongs from the past.

What really made me and many others feel very safe and comfortable about the future was our Constitution. It is recognised world wide as bringing us from the brink of civil war. South Africa’s safety net against any self-righteous dictator that could be voted into power. I embraced the new South Africa and was a proud South African, all along working on my own internal issues from my past. Consciously working on my own racial issues I had embedded in me growing up, now seeing all people as the same. It was not easy, but I can confidently say I managed to conquer racism. Many people of my generation of all colour have battled to accept that we have all been victims of the past, and some more than others. We all come from very different histories. The stories you were told by your parents if they grew up in Soweto in the 1970’s and 1980’s varies vastly from the story your parents would tell you if they grew up in the suburb of Sandton in Johannesburg over the same period.

It is going to take generations for that hurt and pain to disappear, if it ever will.

My future fears are that my safety net, The Constitution and the disregard of it is slowly being dismantled in front of all our very eyes. Our democracy is turning into a dictatorship. I was always very protective of my country. If anyone ever said to me we would end up like our neighbour Zimbabwe I would veraciously shout them down, however it looks more and more possible as each day passes. The government is starting to question and control the judicial court findings, it is starting to question the freedom of the press, these are all signs. Our government has aligned itself more with fellow dictatorship regimes around the world than democratic ones. Our very own President is not respected amongst the western world; we are seen to be a corrupt nation on the brink of civil war again. International law is blatantly disregarded. Suddenly I am scared, people are scared both black & white, as what or who is going to save us this time?

#MarchAgainstCorruption

#DontGiveUp2015

Twitter: @secretsmakeusic

Facebook Page: Get up, Stand up, Don't give up the Fight

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