Updated: Sep 16, 2020
For a person of colour, growing up in a country blighted with a history of fighting, killing and violence brought on by the apartheid regime, you can imagine it’s a topic that carries huge significance in my life.
I was part of the generation inspired by hope of a united country with the release of Nelson Mandela in the mid 90s, he’s vision was to build a new rainbow nation that would see everyone, no matter their skin colour or background, would all live together in harmony.
Many cannot begin to appreciate the immense impact Mandela had on guiding a broken country into a new era of a united South Africa. He not only had great character, but his sheer determination and resilience he had to succeed for someone who was locked up as a political prisoner, exiled for 27 years in demoralising and inhumane conditions are absolutely extraordinary. The oppressive government tried to break his spirit, but he’s tenacity to triumph in the fight for equality and freedom was much greater.
"Coloured people were forcibly removed from District 6 under the government’s apartheid regime"
It takes a great man to overlook all the pain and suffering he endured all those years to go on to unite a country in a peaceful way. Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher once branded him a terrorist and viewed the ANC as a communist party, today he has a statue erected in Parliament Square in Westminster, London alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill, we have come such a long way. His autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom is a great read, Barack Obama was quoted saying “Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history - and then go out and change it” which pivots to where we are today, with the Black Lives Matter movement. For those who truly acknowledge and want to understand the struggle, would gain so much from studying people like Mandela.
Growing up in post apartheid South Africa, meant I didn’t have to confront racism head on, but my family did, my grandmother told me about the mass eviction of coloured people from District 6, a once thriving cosmopolitan community of people all living alongside each other in an area in one of Cape Town’s most prime locations, with views overlooking the harbour and part of table mountain. To provide some context, coloureds in South Africa refers to people of mixed race descent and is a diverse ethnic group with links to European, native and Southeast Asian origins. We are from a subgroup, called Cape Malays, predominantly settled in the Western Cape with Indonesian heritage, that originates from the fishing villages of the Javanese Islands. They were once governed by the Dutch East India Company, who was responsible for playing a huge role in the slave trade during the 17th century. My grandmother tells me coloured people were forcibly removed from District 6 under the government’s apartheid regime, which stated that interracial interaction bred conflict and that ethnic groups had to be segregated.
Lots have changed since that happened in the late 60s and later with the release of Mandela, he was the one person to bring new hope to the people of South Africa and he was committed to delivering a new regime that unified a broken country. Change wasn’t going to happen overnight but we were heading in the right direction. By the time we left High School and went on to Colleges and Universities in the late 90s / early noughties, there was already a notable difference where blacks and white were much more integrated.
"Once it is recognised, it needs to be called out whenever we see it, it takes great courage and strength, but that’s how we start to change people’s perceptions."
I was lucky enough to meet Mandela at a party once, I was just 17 years old at the time. When he walked into the room, with his entourage in tow, the entire room went completely quiet and he had such a gentle aura about him, his presence was commanding, not in an intimidating way, but in a way you’d acknowledge an old friend you’ve not seen for a long time, all the attention was focused on him. I got to chat for about 5 minutes and shook his hand, and to be honest, looking back I think that moment carries greater significance to me now than it probably did at the time and it's a memory that will stay with me forever.
If we are going to succeed in bringing an end to racism we need to recognise that the fight for racial equality is real, all over the world, not just in the U.S, it exists everywhere. As I’m writing this post, a message from Helen Grant M.P. is broadcasted on TV about the struggle of black people and she says while it may be more subtle compared to what it was back in the day, it’s very much alive and kicking, which I agree with. I’ve seen racism in the workplace and in public spaces and it's presented in the form of banter or just having a laugh. Sometimes, if you’re not on the receiving end of racism or some type of discrimination it may be difficult to recognise, so the more people are educated about it, the easier it will be to identify and bring about change. Just as Helen conveys in her message, once it is recognised, it needs to be called out whenever we see it, it takes great courage and strength, but that’s how we start to change people’s perceptions.
I always see the good in people and believe that no one is born racist, but I do believe that our life experiences, and the environment that we’re in influences the type of the person we eventually become. I’ve had great black mentors as well as strong white mentors that have helped me throughout my life. I remember my Marketing lecturer, Mrs Groenewald, she was a white Afrikaaner and many people made the association that Afrikaaners were racist because of their Dutch heritage, but I absolutely loved taking her class, she would seek me out to ask questions and I always felt that she supported me and wanted me to succeed. It highlights the point of not making any preconceived judgements about people before you get to know them. There have also been many white people that have supported me throughout my career in media, so I strongly believe there is real hope for us all to end racism if we can all stand together, but the road is long.
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