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  Issue 48 April 2005

   

South Africa

After the apartheid – reconciliation of the nation

The study visit to South Africa was part of the programme Pages for mutual understanding, which is published every Thursday on the page “Megjutoa” in the daily newspapers “Dnevnik”, “Utrinski Vesnik” and “Facti”, as well as in the weekly magazine “Lobby”. Representatives from MCIC and the Journalists Association of Macedonia had the opportunity to get familiar with the way of reporting in South Africa, the functioning of both, the printed and the electronic media, to find out how the reconciliation process is going on and how the media contribute to it, and of course, get to know part of Africa and its inhabitants.  

I knew South Africa from the stories of those who visited it, from the films about the apartheid and the black heroes, Mandela’s sacrifice…

The visit creates a much different, much warmer, more spectacular and more shocking story.

On the apartheid

The rule of the apartheid in South Africa started in 1948. The white apartheid government treated used the black population only as labour. In fact, the black people in Africa in that period were much less than that.

“The Afrikaners” (the white offspring of the colonizers) were treated as a nation and enjoyed the privileges of the country. As Cliff Emond, independent media trainer says, “the policy of the apartheid is similar to the policy of the nazis”. The government kept repeating that no one was as worthy as the white people. The government taught the young white generations that the Indians can make good waiters and chambermaids, and the black people can make good physical workers.

The government had a different development policy for the different categories of people.

The black people were considered just temporary passers-by who would return to their tribes when they have had no work in the industrial areas.

The black people could only enter the industrial areas with special passes. Only those who were employed in the cities, those who had lived there for more than ten years and those who had properties could enter the cities.

Even in prisons, the white people were separated from the black people. Besides being put in different blocks, it was cooked for them in different dishes, even the food contents was different.

“Nobody knows the nation well unless they have been in the prisons. The nation should not be judged by how it treats the high-ranked citizens, but the lowest ones. South Africa treats the imprisoned Africans as animals”, said Nelson Mandela, the first president in post-apartheid South Africa.

The black people had bigger rooms in the prisons, which meant but being more of them in one room. Although the part where they put the black people could take 979 people, they put 2,207 in it.

The torturing devices can still be found in the prisons, witnessing the past times. The cruelty of the guards, as well as the extremely unhygienic conditions, made the prison the last habitat for a number of prisoners.

The violent death did not only occur behind the prison gate. Every attempt on the part of the black people to seek more rights, provoked mass murders on the streets of the suburbs. Killing children was not excluded.

On 16 June 1976, the black students started the protest against the use of the language “Africans” in the curriculum (the Africans language was imposed by the Dutch colonizers and it is an artificial language based on the old Dutch language, with a few English words). The students felt it as the language of the captor. “The hell with Africans”, was one of the banners carried by the students at the protest. Armed only with their school uniforms which showed who they were, the students moved along Soweto suburb. They say that the police let gas and opened fire to the children without previous warning. Walking through Hector Peterson Memorial Centre you feel as you can still hear the noise and see the mess and the lifeless children bodies lying on the streets. Their terrified eyes wide-open eye stare at you from the walls. The picture of the thirteen-year old, Hector Peterson whose lifeless, bloody body is carried by one man, circled the world via Reuters. Hector was one of the youngest victims of the 16 June. According to the unofficial data, the apartheid police killed 500 children, whereas according to the official data, that number is much smaller and amounts to 100. The whole world saw the apartheid terror in South Africa. However, it took another 24 years until it disappeared completely.

Soweto

Even before the apartheid policy became official, suburbs, or “townships” had been built for the black population in South Africa where they could stay until they worked in the cities.

Soweto or South Western Township is one the best known such suburbs. Its construction started in 1932. It was designed for the black workers who were working in Johannesburg or its surrounding.

Soweto is located far from the part where white people lived, since they did not want to be aware of the poverty their black co-citizens lived in. Also, Soweto was located far from the industrial part of the town (30 km), so the workers had to waste their time traveling to and back from work, leaving them with less time for their families, for looking after their homes, education and so on.

Today, Soweto spreads on the territory of 120 km2 and it is a home of 1,300,00 people according to the official statistics and 4,000,000 according to the unofficial data.

Nelson Mandela used to live there before he was taken to prison and 11 days after he returned from the prison. Soweto is the only place in the world where in one street (Vilakazi) lived two Nobel Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, bishop of Johannesburg and chairman of the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation.

Before we entered Soweto, our host, Tapelo, reminded us that we should not pity the people we meet. “They are proud and happy with what they got”, said he. I din not understand his true message then.

However, at the very entrance of one of the settlements in Soweto, we had our first meeting with its inhabitants. Some young people have made a small, improvised market for souvenirs. Their faces glow as if they have met some old friends they hadn’t met for a long time. They come to us and greet us. We are welcomed there. And the settlement is a story for itself. Most of the place where people live can be hardly called houses. They are made of aluminum and are really tiny, but each house has a perfectly clean yard. The streets of Motsoaledi, which is the name of the settlement, are not asphalted. The citizens have neither water nor electricity. The government has provided them with public toilets and one fountain on every street. Still, they are trying to stay in touch with the world, so they use batteries for  the small number of TV’s they have. As many as 60% of the inhabitants are unemployed, said our guide. Those who work are mainly employed in the construction business where they receive a salary of 1,000 rands (about 8,000 MKD). The unemployed try to provide some income by trading. They buy vegetables and fruit wholesale and then resell it.

On our way out of the settlement we met the local artists (as they call themselves) who were selling souvenirs again. Introducing to us another African art, “bargaining”, they managed to sell to us part of their art, inextricably connected with South Africa.

Reconciliation

The end of the apartheid took place in 1990. The President De Clerk announced that the ban for functioning of the African National Congress, the Pan-African Congress and the South African Communist Party. Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years imprisonment on 11 February 1990. All that was supposed to be a herald of new, better times for the black population in South Africa. .

“We, the people of South Africa, recognizing the injustice from our past, in the honour of those who suffered, respecting those who worked to build and develop our country and believing that South Africa belong to all people who live there, united in our diversity…” – start the preamble of the South African Constitution, which South Africans consider to be a democratic act that guarantees the rights and the freedoms of the citizens of their country.  The passing of the Constitution in 1994 opened the democratic processes in which the main role would be given to the truth about the apartheid. The truth about South Africans is an imperative in the process of reconciliation. This process, for us from the Balkans opened many doubts and amazements which were mainly related to the mentality of our hosts, so different from ours.

Agnes

Agnes was our host in one of the poorest houses, if we can call it a house at all, in the settlement of Motsoaledi in Soweto. When we arrived, she was cooking lunch on the paraffin cooker because in her house there is no electricity. Her three children, aged 9, 11 and 13 learn their school lessons under paraffin lamps. The house, which is about 20-30m2  big, is made of aluminum, and the walls between the kitchen and the bedroom are made of fiberboard. Agnes told us that she only cooks vegetables for lunch since meat is considered a luxury in their home.

Agnes is a widow, she works only one day a week and earns 80 rands (640 MKD). On the other days she trades, buys and sells to earn some money. When we visited her house, we were surprised by the ringing of her mobile phone. Agnes says that she must have one because that is how those who need a worker can find her.

Gonce Jakovleska

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