Growing Up In Apartheid South Africa As A White Kid

Growing Up In Apartheid South Africa As A White Kid

When I was six years old, my father’s job took us from South Africa to the United States. The year was 1976, and South Africa was reeling from the Soweto uprising, a student-led protest against the Apartheid government that ended in the deaths of at least 176 Black school students, with thousands more being injured.

Being a six-year-old child on the privileged side of Apartheid, I didn’t really know what was going on. I was vaguely aware of something big happening in the news, but I didn’t know what any of it meant. At that age, all I really understood about Apartheid was that Black people only ventured into white neighbourhoods if they happened to work there, usually as someone’s maid or gardener.

When we moved to a quiet suburb of Connecticut, things didn’t seem much different. The small town we lived in was decidedly WASP by nature. Formalized Apartheid may not have existed in Connecticut, but the segregation was just as real. If anything, I had even less contact with Black people in the United States than I ever had in South Africa.

The Connecticut house the writer and her family lived in

My first week of school in Connecticut was uneventful – until the bus ride home one afternoon. What my brother and I didn’t know was that some of the other kids on the school bus were hiding rocks. As we got off the bus, these kids stood up and threw the rocks at us, taunting us for being the bad South African kids. I remember walking from the bus stop to our house under the protective arm of my brother, with blood gushing from a wound on my head.

It took many years for me to understand that as traumatic as that experience was for me, it was a curious embodiment of the privilege that I had grown up with. For us, this was an ugly isolated incident. For Black South Africans back home, being on the receiving end of attacks like that was a part of everyday life. They woke up each morning with no real certainty that they would still be alive at the end of the day.

When we returned to South Africa, I was three years older than when we had left. I was beyond the age of accepting things without question: now I was observing the world around me and asking questions about what I saw.

When my mother was driving me to school one morning shortly after our return to South Africa, we were stopped at a traffic light. As we waited, a police van drove up and parked on the shoulder, where several Black people were walking and chatting to each other. Two police officers jumped out of the van and approached the group. A few of the people showed papers to the police officers and were allowed to go on their way. The rest were forced to get into the back of the van.

“What did those people do wrong?” I asked my mother, as the van drove off, leaving a cloud of desperation in its wake.

“They didn’t do anything wrong,” said my mother. She looked immeasurably sad.

“So – why did the police take them away?”

“Because they’re not supposed to be in this area.”

When I got home from school that day, my mother offered me a fuller explanation. I got a lesson about “pass laws”, a draconian set of rules that made it illegal for Black people to be in white neighbourhoods without documented proof that they were employed by someone there. What I had seen was a typical police arrest of people who were, quite literally, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As I adjusted to being back in South Africa, I frequently saw these arrests taking place. It bothered me every time, especially in the context of other hallmarks of Apartheid South Africa. The Group Areas Act, for instance, meant that South Africans were allocated areas that they could live in. The land allocated to white people was proportionately far greater than that set aside for other races. This led to chronic overcrowding in most of the Black neighbourhoods, which in turn resulted in a shortage of resources like water and access to healthcare.

From time to time, the government would reallocate land, usually in favour of white people, and whoever was living on that land would be forcibly removed. In many cases, there would barely be time for families to gather whatever belongings they could before bulldozers moved in and destroyed their homes right in front of them.

I was too young at the time to understand anything about politics, or to question why such grave human rights abuses were being allowed to take place. My parents, like other white people of their generation, couldn’t speak out for fear of losing their jobs, and possibly their freedom. But when the wheels of change finally started turning during the 1980s, the vast majority of white South Africans were in full support of reform.

The abolition of pass laws in 1986 was a major turning point for the country. That era also saw an end to the prohibition on interracial marriage, and the desegregation of public facilities such as parks and public restrooms.

There was still a lot of work to be done, though. The fight for change was not over. My aunt, who in earlier days had lost her position as a teacher because she refused to recognize the national anthem of an oppressive government, spoke to me about complicity.

“Every white person in this country who does not contribute to change is part of the problem,” she said.

I carried these words with me to university, where student protests against Apartheid were the norm. I was not a central figure in the protests by any means. I was never the one standing up front with a megaphone and an angry message, but I was there. I was part of several crowds speaking up for reform, demanding the unbanning of Black-led political organizations, calling for equal voting rights for all.

On a hot summer’s day in 1990, when I was in my final year of university, I joined the throng of students who went to witness the release of Nelson Mandela. I couldn’t see much from where I was standing, but that didn’t matter. The intensity of the emotion of that day swept through the crowd like a wave, going back and forth and back again. Strangers clung to each other, sobbing – partly from joy, partly from the pent-up sadness and despair that had built up over decades.

A newspaper headline on the day of Nelson Mandela’s release

To me, the true end of Apartheid happened on April 27, 1994 – the day of South Africa’s first election where people of eligible voting age from all races were allowed to cast a ballot. My parents and I stood in line for eight hours to be part of this momentous occasion.

Those were eight of the best hours of my life. No one minded being in line for so long. Impromptu barbecues sprung up here and there, and everyone was invited. Every now and then, people or groups would break out into song, or start to dance. There were no strangers that day: just millions of people nationwide who were participating in history. For that day, all that mattered was unity and healing.

But the spectre of Apartheid is still very much there. Millions of Black South Africans are still impacted by the damage done by Apartheid rules. The inequities in education will take generations to rectify. Overcrowding from the days of the pass laws persists to this day, along with the associated problems relating to healthcare and access to resources. The poorest 60% of the population, most of whom are Black, own just 7% of the wealth.

My experience growing up as a white kid in Apartheid-era South Africa impacts my life to this day. It is on my mind every time I hear about a Black person in the United States being murdered during a routine traffic stop. It was part of my visceral reaction of grief when George Floyd was murdered. The tears I shed that day were shed for George Floyd, and for the thousands of lives that were taken by Apartheid.

Most of all, it is present in my conversations with my children about race, racism, and white privilege. My husband and I are raising our kids to be agents for change and not bystanders. We encourage our boys to call out racism when they see it, to acknowledge their privilege, and above all, to keep quiet and listen to the voices that really matter – the voices of the people who have been marginalized because of the colour of their skin.

How has systemic racism shaped your view of the world? How do you talk to your children about racism?

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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CANADA: Top 5 Things I Love About My South Africa

CANADA: Top 5 Things I Love About My South Africa

DSC_0056In 2000, I packed my life into checked baggage and travelled from Johannesburg to Toronto. I left behind my family and friends, my cat, most of my belongings, and everything that I was familiar with. All I had was two suitcases, a job offer, and a street map of a city I knew very little about.

Sixteen years later, Toronto is my home. I am a Canadian citizen with a Canadian husband and Canadian children.

I have made friends, paid taxes and acquired some belongings. I have worked for Canadian employers and started my own business. When I travel, it is with a passport that says “Canada” on the front.

And yet there is a part of me that is still firmly rooted in South Africa. I follow news stories from South Africa and celebrate the victories of its people. I take immense pride in the fact that I was born in the same country as people like Nelson Mandela and Caster Semenya.

You see, even though I made the choice to leave South Africa, and even though I now identify as a Canadian, South 20151129_055824Africa will always be the land of my birth and a part of who I am. Although my children have never left the continent of North America, African blood runs through their veins.

When the world looks at South Africa, it sees a deeply troubled country with corrupt politics and a high crime rate. But South Africa is made up of more than its problems. It is unlikely to ever be an economic or political powerhouse on the world stage, but it is great in its own way.

I try to keep these things alive in my children’s lives through stories, pictures and videos. Thanks to the Internet, I can bring parts of South Africa right into my living room in Canada. It is my hope that someday they will get to experience these things in person, just as I did during a visit last year.

DSC_0040Here is my top five list of things that I feel make South Africa a unique and wonderful country.

  1. The people. When you see news coverage of South Africans trashing city streets and destroying schools, you are seeing the minority. Most South Africans are very nice people. Their friendliness has a spontaneous quality that is not seen in a lot of other places. They don’t hold back on their smiles, and when they say “Have a nice day” they genuinely mean it. South African people are incredibly generous with their good cheer.
  2. The natural beauty. South Africa is one of the most stunningly beautiful places on earth. Pictures do not do justice to the wildness of the oceans, the harsh beauty of the Karoo desert, the brilliance of Cape Town sunsets, and the majesty of the mountains.
  3. The weather. OK, Cape Town weather is a little iffy, but you can’t really expect anything else from a city that has mountains on one side and ocean on the other. The weather in Johannesburg, however, is as close to perfect as you can get. Hot dry temperatures in the summer, and mild temperatures in the winter. The summers also include magnificent thunderstorms. I’m not talking about the odd bolt of lightning or rumble of thunder. I’m talking about nature’s own sound and light shows.
  4. Unity. At times, South Africa is sharply divided along racial lines, with the different ethnic groups all blaming each other for the problems in the country. But during some pivotal moments in South Africa’s history – the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, South Africa’s first democratic election, the rugby World Cup victory and more – the people have come together under the single banner of humanity. It is the kind of unity that is not only seen in pictures, it is felt in the heart. It is during those moments that the country is at its strongest.
  5. Dance and music. I absolutely love traditional African dance and music. It does not merely entertain, it tells a story. It is powerful and creative, and it beats to the rhythm of your heart. I can’t copy the dance moves or sing along to the music, but I can bask in the emotion and humanity of it.

DSC_0116What are the things you love most about your country? If you are an ex-pat, what do you miss most from home?

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Toronto, Canada.

 

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny).

Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels.

When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum.

Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world.

Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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South Africa: A Reflection On Nelson Mandela’s Legacy

South Africa: A Reflection On Nelson Mandela’s Legacy

Nelson Mandela Statue

On December 5th, I woke up to the news that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, had passed away after being “on his deathbed” for several months.
In the short time since his death, (not to mention during his many years of service to his country and world), so much has already been written and said about this great man that the only thing I can add is my personal story.
My parents, sister and I emigrated to South Africa from Italy in 1977.  Back then, television and radio were heavily censored and through the media, we were taught that Nelson Mandela and the ANC (African National Congress) were “terrorists” who planted bombs and killed innocents.
Our lives were good and we didn’t question the segregation in government schools.  My husband (whose family also emigrated from Italy a few years before mine) went to a private school where people of all religions and colors were happily accepted, as long as they could afford the fees.

In my opinion, Apartheid was never as rigorously enforced in Cape Town as it was elsewhere in the country. Be that as it may, most of us grew up blissfully unaware of human rights abuses and the like.

Fast forward to the 1990’s and most “white” people feared the worst. In fact, there were so many people leaving the country that a common saying was; “Will the last person to leave South Africa please switch off the lights?”

In my humble opinion it was Nelson Mandela, more than anyone else, who allowed South Africa to transition as smoothly as it did. The civil war which everyone feared just didn’t happen. Madiba revealed himself to be a man who was the polar opposite of whom many of us thought him to be (a “terrorist”). He earned everyone’s respect and admiration.  He was a really great leader who never forgot where he came from. By that I mean that he never let “power” go to his head.  He remained humble and approachable, and spread a message of peace and reconciliation. Mandela’s compassion and love for his fellow man are traits we’d all do well to emulate.

Sadly, the Presidents who have come after Nelson Mandela have betrayed his legacy. Madiba wanted everyone to have a better life. Sadly,  things in this country have gone from bad to worse since Madiba stepped down.  The most tragic part of all is that it is the very poor, “previously disadvantaged”,  people who Madiba sought to empower who are worse off now than ever.
I feel I need to leave the last word to Dr. John Demartini, who wrote this in tribute to the great Nelson Mandela: ” From passive to activist and from prisoner to President one man became a legend in his lifetime though stationed in simplicity and limited in residence he moved the world. Nearly a century of living, but ultimately millenniums of presence, Nelson was contributive through the very core of his essence. It is time to reflect on his great accomplishments and revere his message. Let us all dig deeper into our own nature and find grace and poise since this one man’s direction was the purpose of freedom and presence not race. “
What one quality did you most admire in Nelson Mandela? How can use that quality in yourself to help make the world a better place?

R.I.P. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918 – 2013)

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Mamma Simona from Cape Town, South Africa. She shares her home with a husband, 2 kids, 2 cats and 2 dogs.

Photo Credit To: Paul Simpson : Flickr Creative Commons
This photo has a creative commons attribution license.

Mamma Simona (South Africa)

Mamma Simona was born in Rome (Italy) but has lived in Cape Town (South Africa) since she was 8 years old. She studied French at school but says she’s forgotten most of it! She speaks Italian, English and Afrikaans. Even though Italian is the first language she learned, she considers English her "home" language as it's the language she's most comfortable in. She is happily married and the proud mother of 2 terrific teenagers! She also shares her home with 2 cats and 2 dogs ... all rescues.

Mamma Simona has worked in such diverse fields as Childcare, Tourism, Library Services, Optometry, Sales and Admin! (With stints of SAHM in-between). She’s really looking forward to the day she can give up her current Admin job and devote herself entirely to blogging and (eventually) being a full-time grandmother!

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FLORIDA, USA: Responsibility, should not be a chore.

FLORIDA, USA: Responsibility, should not be a chore.


Teaching Responsibility.  Responsibility comes in many forms.

I have two girls. They provide constant blog fodder. For the most part, they are okay with that. I even run certain posts by them for approval – after all, it is their story as much as it is mine.

As a parent, we get to help write the stories of our children. The ebb and flow of day-to-day becoming the chapters of their lives through experience and exposure to the world around them.

About a year ago, I wrote a post here called Raising Responsible Citizens. Raising children who are globally aware and are understanding of the need to make a difference in the world is something that is very dear to my heart. It makes me proud to say that my girls have an awareness of the plight of others and the need to be involved. They know the positivity their actions can achieve in bringing change and that their voices can indeed be heard around the world.

This post is a chapter in that book of life on responsibility…because responsibility is a funny thing. We can teach our children about the world and its people, we can teach them laws and rights, and we start when they are just toddlers with the basics of what is right and what is wrong.  But what about basic responsibility…let me clarify. (more…)

Sisters From Another Mister

Sisters From Another Mister ...
A blog born from the love of 'sisters' around the world who come together to lift eachother up no matter where they are on their life journey.

Meet Nicole, a transplanted British born, South African raised, and American made Mom of two girls living on the sunny shores of South Florida, USA. A writer of stories, an avid picture taker and a keeper of shiny memories.

Sharing the travels of a home school journey that takes place around the globe - because 'the world truly is our classroom'. Throw in infertility, adoption, separation, impending divorce (it has its own Doom and Gloom category on the blog) and a much needed added side of European humor is what keeps it all together on the days when it could quite clearly simply fall apart! This segues nicely into Finding a Mister for a Sister for continued amusement.

When not obsessing over the perils of dating as an old person, saving the world thro organisations such as being an ambassador for shot@life, supporting GirlUP, The UN Foundation, ONE.org and being a member of the Global Team of 200 for social good keeps life in the balance.

Be sure to visit, because 'even tho we may not have been sisters at the start, we are sisters from the heart.'

http://www.sistersfromanothermister.com/
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Global Team of 200 #socialgoodmoms
Champion for Shot@Life and The United Nations Foundation

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