While South Africa put its best foot forward to embody the “Rainbow Nation” mantra that Nelson Mandela was heavily responsible for brilliantly engineering while it hosted the World Cup in 2010, it is virtually impossible to touch down in this country for the first time and not think about the fact that apartheid, and all its injustices and horrors, was right here less than 20 years ago. The “coloured” (mixed race) gate agent greeting you off the jet bridge lived through it. The white immigration officer who stamped your passport lived through it. The black taxi driver who whisks you off to your hotel lived through it. And not as a distant childhood memory, either. These men and women who you are interacting with ever so casually today actually lived a high percentage of their adult lives under apartheid.
As excited as I was to be landing in South Africa for the first time and as anxious as I was to lay eyes on Cape Town, I had a really difficult time wrapping my head around this. I wanted with every fiber of my being to ask the mixed woman what she felt of her ethnicity today, and if she still had any bitterness to either the blacks or whites, neither of which would have accepted her 20 years ago. I wanted to ask the white man if he himself was racist before, or merely a pawn in a political game he had no clout in. Or, for that matter, if he held any strong prejudices against blacks even today. I wanted to ask the black man his take on the current “equality”, and whether it was truly possible for anyone not named Mandela to endure racial oppression for so long and be willing to wipe the slate against your oppressors clean.
Such a gruesome and fascinating, albeit sensitive, topic, I will use this space in the future to dig into these questions.