“Lekker! No school for a week!” Patricia exclaimed loudly, so that the whole class could hear.
“That is not what I said,” Mrs McCrae replied drily.
“Ja, but you’re the only teacher who hasn’t given us homework to hand in,” Rachel retorted, somewhat defiantly.
Mrs McCrae stared pointedly at Rachel. Then she looked at each of us in turn. The silence became a little awkward. Finally, the History teacher spoke. “Girls, I don’t think you appreciate this moment. We are all about to witness history being made. Things in our country will never be the same.”
“What I’ve asked you to do next week is to observe and document. Watch the news. Go and look at the voting lines. Take photographs.”
Patricia interrupted: “The news is boring. It’s just old men talking. And what’s the big deal about an election anyway?”
Nandipha stood up and waved a finger at Patricia: “You don’t know anything. You’re so stupid. All of you are. Ma’am is right. The election is going to make Nelson Mandela our new president. Then black people will be free.”
I sat at my desk quietly in the back of the class, watching with concern. Nandipha had a temper. She’d been known to slap girls who disagreed with her. The last time that had happened, the whole class had to stay after school for detention. I really didn’t want to have to stay at school longer on a Friday before a week off.
It was April 1994. It was our first year in high school. We had just come back from Easter holidays. Less than a fortnight later, all the schools were closing for a week. There was going to be a big election. It would be the first time in the history of South Africa that all citizens would be allowed to vote to choose their new president.
Nobody knew how it would all turn out. But everyone knew one thing: Nandipha was right. White rule in South Africa was over. Twenty million people would be voting for a new president. Most of these people had never been allowed to vote before because under the apartheid system, black people in South Africa had no voting rights.
Now that the majority of the country’s population would finally be able to say who they wanted as their president, it was clear that they would not choose a government that had oppressed them for nearly five decades.
Kristen raised her hand: “Ma’am, I’m not sure that it will be safe to go out during the voting.” My dad says there’s going to be lot of violence. We’ve bought a large amount of tinned food so that we don’t need to go outside next week.”
Mrs McCrae’s look softened somewhat. “Girls,” she said, “none of us know what is going to happen next week. Maybe there will be people shooting in the streets. Maybe there won’t. That is why the school is closing for a week. To make sure that you’re all safe. But that doesn’t mean that this election has nothing to do with you. Nandipha is right. Apartheid kept black people from having the same rights as white people. That has to change.”
This was a bold statement to say out loud in South Africa in the early 90s. But it was not bold for our school. Ours was a “mixed school.” This meant that our school had children of all races in it. For example, our Standard Six (eighth grade) class had 25 girls. Ten girls were black, three were Indian, and 12 were white.
Under apartheid, mixed schools were not really allowed. The government schools (public ones) were all segregated. Ours was a Catholic school and their part in the struggle for true freedom was to provide equal education to all children.
Right from my first years of primary school, I knew that it did not support apartheid. We used to sing “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (God bless Africa) instead of the national anthem “Die Stem van Suid Afrika” (the Call of South Africa). At the time, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika was a banned struggle hymn. Today it is our national anthem.
Our teachers constantly reminded us that apartheid was bad because it divided people. In religion class, the nuns taught us that God loved all people and he made them all equal. They encouraged us to treat one another with respect.
Some parents sent their children to a “mixed school” because they wanted them to have a Catholic education, while the interracial aspect was the price they paid. Other parents shared the school’s mission. Black parents often worked very hard to afford the fees, because they knew their children would not receive a good education in the black government schools.
But with the country’s political reality about to change, many of the white parents were concerned that the new dispensation might be worse than the old. They must have spoken about their fears because these played out in the classroom among my peers.
Angie raised her hand and asked fearfully: “Ma’am, will white people still be safe in the new South Africa?”
Palesa replied: “Of course, Mandela wants a South Africa that belongs to everyone.”
Angie wasn’t convinced: “But didn’t Mandela go to prison because he was a terrorist?”
Nandipha, as always, had an opinion, interjecting: “Mandela isn’t a terrorist. He is a freedom fighter. He went to prison because he was fighting for black people.”
Mrs McCrae must have realized that this was a good time to bring the lesson to a close. She stopped the discussion and reminded us once again that we were witnessing history in the making. She urged us to keep a diary, watch the news, go out on voting day if it was safe to do so. She reminded us: “We can’t see the future. But you are the ones who will build this new South Africa. Make it the country you want to live in.”
(…to be continued…)
2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation
January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)
February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)
March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)
April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)
May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)
June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)
July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)
August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)
September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)
October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)
November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)
December: Los Caminantes – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)
Background – Context
In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)
Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)
L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)
From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)
Emblems and stories on the international community
Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world
Cover photo: Augrabies, South Africa – Assumpta Roman Catholic Church – Grobler du Preez (shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed