Excitement mounted as the hour drew near for the arrival of the “Mother of the Nation”, Winnie Mandela. The community hall was overflowing, people pushed against each other, sweating profusely. There was no ventilation in the hall and the wide open side doors did little to provide relief against the near-suffocating conditions.
I was pressed against the stage, gasping for breath, but held my nerve.
In the end she was not late as usual, but in fact never pitched up.
In her place arrived Bantu Holomisa, then still a frenetic ANC supporter and like Winnie in the forefront of inspiring the nation for what would be the country’s first democratic election, only a few weeks away.
The welcoming committee of the Zwelihle ANC branch did its best to put its best foot forward and to make the visiting guests feel at home. A variety of cheap coloured cold drink bottles and glasses was neatly arranged on a table on stage. Interspersed between the bottles were bowls of puffy orange Nik Naks and dried potato chips.
A guard of honour stood in front of the table and had their hands full in preventing over-eager members in the crowd from clambering onto the stage.
Nobody seemed to have taken umbrage that Holomisa was now to speak in place of the goddess. After all, he brought exactly the same message: he raised a clenched fist and shouted: “Amandla!”
The crowd responded and the roof nearly came off.
In the few sentences Holomisa spoke English and not Xhosa I was amazed to hear him preach peace and reconciliation, just like his leader. He held out the proverbial hand of friendship to all whites – just a pity I was the solidary white face in that sea of blackness.
And suddenly I was carried away by the euphoria of the moment. I felt completely at ease being just another nameless one in the masses, a true son of Africa, for once ridden of the burden of the colour of my skin.
That was exactly 25 years ago.
Not so much a happy chappie any more.
What, indeed, has changed for the better in the last quarter of a century, save that all discriminatory legislation has been scrapped?
Is there more goodwill among whites and blacks? Has the unemployment rate gone down? Is there housing for everybody? Is there job security, dare one say for whites too? Better public transport? Less pollution? Enough Eskom power?
What a joke!
The sun keeps rising and you don’t have to search far to find a smiling child.
And yet, the fact remains that throughout the land public schools have been replaced by secluded schools, open properties where citizens could come and go as they wished have become little jails enclosed by barbed wire and electric fences, the police force has been replaced by non-governmental security firms.
And so the sad list goes on.
Instead of finding democracy we have privatised apartheid.
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