Tag Archive: apartheid

an agent of change

I turned 18 at the end of my matric year – 1985. I remember there being some sort of voting opportunity when I was at university. Scores of us went along to the voting station and loudly and disruptively didn’t vote. We, as Wits students, were protesting the fact that not everyone could vote. Personally I was also protesting the fact that there was no party I felt I either wanted to vote for or could, in all morality, put a tick against.

In 1992 I was living in London, and I used my right to vote for the first time. I stood in a queue that stretched around South Africa House, for hours until I was admitted into the Embassy and allowed to make my mark.

Two years later the whole country went to the voting polls for the first time ever.

I know I had the childhood I did in part because of the apartheid regime.

I know I have the education I do because of apartheid.

I know I have benefits I am not even aware of because of apartheid.

I also know that as soon as I had a voice, I said NO

I know that many many people my age did this.

I know my parents raised all three of us well aware of the fact that things in this country were wrong.

I know all three of us voiced this as soon as anyone would listen to us.

I know I am tired of being blamed for the world I was born into with no recognition of the efforts I was involved in to change that.

I cannot unbe white along with all the privileges that brings.

Yes, I benefitted from apartheid, but never through my own doing.

There seems to me to be a lack of realisation of the age of the people who were new voters when the voting changed in this country. We are not the loud, vociferous 20 year olds. We are the stable, slightly broader than we used to be late 30 and early 40 year olds.

We are the men who refused to go to the army.

We are the students who rioted and protested.

We are the masses of people who said ‘enough’.

We are the people who risked our lives for our beliefs.

We are the people who were born with advantage but were eager to share it.

 I am tired of twenty somethings thinking they invented this new land of ours. What they did was inherit it.

rubber bullets and tear gas

I was a student at university in South Africa in the late 80s. Ihave recentlyhad cause to remember some of the political stuff going on at the time

this is one of the stories:

In that time the students at Wits were giving the government a bit of a headache. We were largely a white student body so opening fire on us and actually killing any of us was not really a plan. I like to think a lesson had been learnt by 1976 but I doubt that was why we were tolerated. But tolerated only just. We got shambokked and chased about and threatened with removal of funding. And still we protested and shouted and screamed.


My mom was a lecturer at Wits at the time and one eventful day a large portion of the academic staff come out in support of the students. These ‘grown ups’ all donned their graduation gowns and settled, like crows, on the steps outside Wits great hall. It was very moving actually – these people were risking their jobs and futures to support the voice of the students. We had less to lose so in some ways it was easier for us to protest. (Perhaps that is why students are historically the politically noisy.)

The sight of all of these black clad people standing silently, arms linked on the majestic steps on the Wits campus while around them students ran, chased by dogs and shambok wielding cops in riot gear is one I will always remember.


And then the wheels fell off. The cops started shooting rubber bullets at the staff. And not at the ground to bounce up and hurt, like rubber bullets are supposed to be used, but right at people. My mom got whacked on the hip and had a bruise for weeks. (For the record, rubber bullets are big and really hard – not soft spongy things like you might imagine)


The lecturers and some students, my mom and I included, ran into the great hall foyer area and closed the doors. The cops shot tear gas into through the glass on the doors and we were somewhat trapped. Not really trapped cos there are many exits, but trapped in the reach of the tear gas. My mom and I ran down a corridor, coughing and weeping from the gas.

I had been here before and knew that inhaling smoke helped reduce the burn. So there my mom and I were, she in her graduation gown, me probably in some terrible 80s outfit, scared and angry, pulling the posters off the walls of the university and setting light to them, our faces over the smoke, inhaling deeply between racking coughs. Eventually we had a bunch of people doing it alongside us, relieving their own burning eyes, noses and mouths.


Some mother-child bonding moment huh!

In comparison to what the whole point was, we had it lucky really.