Apartheid and its race classifications were still around when I was born in 1987. On the day Nelson Mandela was released, I was a two-year-old black girl with a so-called colored accent. By the time he was inaugurated as president, I was six years old and people said I spoke like “umlungu” or a white person.
Fast-forward nearly 20 years and much has changed in my country, while some things seem like they never will.
We, the youth, were not part of the struggle we have benefitted from. For many Struggle heroes such as Oliver Tambo, Elias Motsoaledi, Moses Kotane and Helen Joseph are names given to Johannesburg’s international airport, a road running through part of Soweto, a school in Braamfischer—a township named after one of the Rivonia Trial defence lawyer Bram Fischer—and a Johannesburg public hospital, respectively.
Ask many young people on the street who these people are and all you’ll get a blank stare. The country ha;s struggled to pass on her history. These days, more people don’t know than do.
Every year, we commemorate the wounds of the struggle on the days made holidays in honor of the people who died in the Sharpeville massacre and the Soweto uprising. These painful days in our history have, through the years, turned into party and picnic days for this generation; excuses to get drunk, but not on the freedom we have been lucky to enjoy, nor on the gratitude to those who paid the price of freedom.
One wonders if the martyrs of the struggle turn in their graves when they see the youth of today drinking, dancing and put it all up on Facebook—calling each other ‘comrade’, all the while thinking the world owes them something.
Is it the country or the parents who have failed this celebrity and reality TV obsessed generation? Nelson Mandela may have been the remaining link to the past. The young celebrated him as they celebrated the big US movie starts and musicians.
Some would argue that that is what the struggle was all about—removing a restrictive system, like apartheid, to allow people to shape their own lives. Another way of looking at is allowing the youth to be free to mess up their lives in their own way.
Was my life different from those of my white friends? Yes, but such is life. We are all born to different environments with different infrastructure and opportunities in place. The trick is for you not to get stuck on what you don’t have, or should have, but rather on what you need to do in order to get where you want to be in life.
How long are you going to keep blaming the past? How much longer are you going to sit on the sidelines asking for handouts and complaining it’s not enough?
I will never believe that is what the struggle was all about; that Mandela was ever looking proudly at some of the wasted youth of his nation.
Mandela hoped his passion, drive and need to work hard for what he wanted in life, would rub off on us all. This was a great man, human, but great.
Growing up, I barely paid attention to the old people’s stories of the old days. Who could blame me with all the fun waiting for me outside? Eventually I had to read the books lying around the house and so I learnt. I learnt how lucky I was, how different things could have been. I hope that moving on will never mean forgetting.
The world is ours for the taking. It won’t be easy, and why should it be, but I can guarantee it will be worth it.
So on behalf of us all I’d like to say thank you Nelson Mandela. We will never forget you and we will carry your legacy in our hearts forever.