the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

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Twenty years

Nelson Mandela was released twenty years ago today. These are things I remember:

  • in the build-up to his release, one of the things people were most curious about was what he looked like. Since he was "banned," or whatever the term was, nobody was allowed to publish pictures of him. He'd been completely censored out of our lives. The rest of the world had the iconic pictures of him as a younger man, but we didn't even have that. Even then, after they announced he was to be released, all they could show were the old pictures, because there had been no new pictures in 27 years.

  • I remember that long walk down that dusty road and Winnie and the TV commentator jabbering away.

  • I remember a school teacher saying that the ANC would be really upset that he was free since he was worth a lot more to them in jail, propaganda-wise. She predicted he'd be assassinated within months, either by whites or by blacks.

  • I annoyed the same schoolteacher some time after that by saying that I'd rather vote for the ANC than a conservative white party because no matter how bad the ANC turned out to be, at least we'd be living in a democratic country. It might make no sense in this day and age, but I recall that this teacher was probably one of the most liberal teachers we had.

  • 1990 was before the 1992 referendum, it was before the Codesa negotiations, and all the things that slowly culminated in elections in 1994. There were a lot of people worried about how far away a night of the long knives would be.

  • the weekend after he was released I caught the train into Joburg with some friends. The train from Carletonville went through Soweto, and when we got to Kliptown (was it called?) cops came onto the train and walked through the carriages, there'd been some unrest in the township. Kliptown was dusty and poor and run-down and I remember thinking that if we got caught up in a riot we were screwed. After a day in the centre of Joburg, we were waiting on a train platform to go home, only a handful of white people around, and a group of blacks two platforms up from us started toyi-toying. It was the first time I'd seen toyi-toying in person, and I was pretty damned nervous.

I don't think anyone could've imagined the tolerance and dignity that Nelson Mandela showed in the years that followed. Now, I think it's hard for the world to imagine how different things could have been.

{2010.02.11 - 17:12}

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