By Dimo Mariri
My history professor once said that without apartheid, there would not have been a Nelson Mandela. Her statement was littered with a couple of suggestions. One, we need to face hard times in order to emerge as heroes and heroines. Two, apartheid was imperative, otherwise we would not have had heroes such as Nelson Mandela. Therefore, apartheid was a necessary precondition.
In my uninitiated mind, I thought that her statement was profound. I wish I had the sense, even then, to understand that Mandela did not owe apartheid anything. That in fact, apartheid disrupted Mandela’s life. Nelson Mandela’ aspiration and ambition was to become a lawyer. He should have been left alone to practise law, to get married to his beautiful wife and live happily ever after.
But it wasn’t to be. An evil system of white supremacy saw Mandela waste his life in prisons created by white men, away from his wife and children. It saw an old broken man come out of prison many years later just to give power back to the same white men.
I had not the tools to unmask the essentially racist comment that the professor was making at the time. To the contrary I thought her statement was illuminating. Besides, I had heard too many people make a similar suggestion in the media and elsewhere. Our society regards people with “struggle credentials” highly.
We seem to forget that these people were not born to acquire “struggle credentials. “They just wanted to live life. They wanted to be nurses, teachers, engineers and athletes just like their white counterparts. Their ambition was not to spend their lives in prison and exile away from their families.
This week, the media showed us videos and photos of pupils from Pretoria High School for Girls confronting the police on the school’s premises in a fight against the school’s biased and racist policies.
Suddenly, social media was awash with praises for the learners’ bravery. The kids are being sung praises as heroines that are fighting Pretoria Girls High’s racist policies. I shouldn’t be misunderstood here. The girls are indeed brave to fight for their identity despite the possible victimization that may follow. That makes them heroines.
However, as a society we should pause and think about the real issue here. And it is that these girls are not in school to be heroines. They are not in school for political activism. They are in school to learn, to play and to make friends.
It is a travesty that twenty-two years into democracy, kids still have to fight for issues that should have long been addressed by the generation that ushered us in the “new” South Africa.
These kids should be becoming heroines by making new discoveries and innovations that will rid the world of AIDS, cancer, poverty and many other social ills, not by fighting for their right to exist in the same way that Mandela and his generation used to do. The ANC government has left many issues unattended to, which today force children as young as 13 and 14 to become political activists.
That should have ended with the generation of Stompie Seipei and Hector Petersen.
Today’s children should ideally be enjoying the fruit of democracy. We must desist from romanticizing the actions of the girls and admit that the ANC has failed them.
Our struggle to exist as black people must not be inherited by our children. Aluta must end.