From The Apartheid Bus to New South Africa

by Athol E. Williams

Black History Month-a curious concept. During this month do we focus
on that part of history which was filled with shame and disgrace (like
the political scandals and business frauds) or on the violence and
death (like the wars, assassinations and murders)-black history; or do
we focus on the history of the Black people-Black history? Whatever we
define this month's focus to be, I'd venture to say that shame and
violence are unquestionably intertwined with the history of the Black
people, and therefore will adopt the latter of my options as my focus.
	I am no political or social commentator, so I have no globally
researched theories or journal-standard hypotheses; all I offer
readers are the written expressions of one who lived in confusion and
pain under the dark veil of apartheid in South Africa. This dark veil
of doom 'guarded' millions from the rays of dignity and prosperity,
'protected' millions from the light of freedom, and was used to choke
the life from a nation. No-one gives more testimony to the reality and
harshness of apartheid than those who have strived to rise above the
ankle-high ceiling, those who tried to act contrary to the script
written by society and those who dared to dream.


I leave my shack which I live in because they won't let me buy a house
and even if I could I probably couldn't afford it but a house will be
nice but a shack is also okay so I leave four hours early for work
because I have to catch a train, a bus and two taxis for this first
day of this new job the seventh one this year because I've got no
training so I just find piece work everywhere because they say I'm
stupid and I can't learn to do anything important but maybe this job
will last long and as I walk the mud is coming through my shoes by the
holes but I'm grateful because my neighbour hasn't even got legs
because they shot him outside his shack because of the meeting which
we were told not to go to or even talk about so we're in the third
class of the train with no seats or doors or windows and the urine on
the floor washes the mud from my toes coming out of my shoes but
oneday I will have rainboots or shoes with no holes but the wind is
good because it wakes me up because its 3am and we're singing freedom
songs and clapping our hands and stamping our feet and the old man
bangs his tambourine like he does everyday because its good to sing
and toyi toyi when you've got an empty stomach and a dying child
because you forget about the pain when you're dreaming of freedom and
wiping the grit out of my eyes as I walk out of the train station
through the separate tunnel which is dark which is nice because the
lights are bright and the water in the tunnel washes my feet again and
I also wash my face quickly because the bus will come soon so I stand
at the bus stop in this strange new place and I'm happy and I'm
smiling because it was good singing and dreaming of freedom when the
man in the train was shouting `Amandla' and we all shouted `Awetu' and
so I must earn money so I can feed my children and wife and my parents
and my wife's parents and I got a bicycle and two plants but I'm
worried if they get too much sun they will die so I better remember to
move them not like my neighbour who couldn't move fast enough when the
soldiers were firing their shotguns at him but I must get this bus I'm
so excited I wonder what my new baas is like so I'm happy because
maybe oneday I can buy my wife a dress she will like that and we can
pay for the injections for the baby and food will also be good to buy
and wheels for my bicycle yes everyone will be jealous and then the
bus came and the man told me I couldn't get on so I said I got all the
money and I even called him `baas' like they told me to but they
wouldn't let me in and they shouted at me and insulted me and screamed
and got angry and I didn't know what I did wrong because my shoes were
clean but they still called me `vuil kaffir' and said I couldn't take
the bus because I was black because I was black because I was black
then the bus drove on.  And I fell to the ground with my face in the
sand because again I would go home like all the other times with no
job and the baas would not believe my story because they say kaffirs
always lie but a man must have a job to be a man and the sand sticks
to my thick ugly lips and I lie there and cry just cry because I don't
know what else I can do and I feel angry and stupid and useless but I
know the man was right I'm black and blacks must not use whites' buses
but now I can't go to work and my wife and the baby and my bicycle now
I won't be able to ride it but I can go move my plants or maybe find a
shack nearer to the job but I'm crying and I can't think too much and
my heart is beating hard and fast and the people begin walking by
kicking me saying I'm probably drunk and start insulting me and curse
me because they say kaffirs are always begging but its early in the
morning and I'm already drunk on the ground and not working and I try
to say the bus drove on but I can't say the words like the madam and
she says some words which I don't understand and I know that a man
must work for his wife and children and so I must tell her what
happened and like the preacher says I must not lie because lies are
the religion of the white man who has lots of money and fast bicycles
with two wheels and maybe oneday I can ride my bicycle but now I must
try to go home and tell my wife what happened that the bus of
apartheid drove on again.

Yes, those who dared to dream had many hopes shattered and saw many
buses drive by. But of those who went out in search of freedom, in
search of hope; some never came back.

Where is my brother, mummy?
Tell me!
Daddy, is he coming back home?
His clothes are still here;
And his soccer boots.
He wouldn't leave without his soccer boots;
Would he?
Oh, where is he?
When is he coming back?
I've looked everywhere.
Daddy, do you know?
Do you know where he is?
I know he went out with some friends,
But they are all back,
But not him!
Please tell me.

"Good evening, this is the 8'o clock news.Another 49 people were
killed in township violence today,Police say ..."

There's an African philosophy called Ubuntu, which says that 'people
are people through other people'-a strong focus on community and
family. This is a profound South African belief which the architects
of apartheid failed to understand and therefore failed to respect. So
when bulldozers were sent to flatten villages dispersing families, or
husbands and sons were forced to labour in the mines, the very hearts
of the South African people were crushed. For how could they be people
when their people were being taken away.

They dance in the afternoon sun
Stamping their hardened feet in the dust
Broad smiles on their little faces
The African dance
A dance of joy
Celebrating another day
Celebrating another meal
Their mothers and fathers danced this dance
And so did their mothers and fathers
Side to side they sway their hips
Swinging their arms
And stamping their feet
Round and round in a circle
In this circle of simple African celebration
This dance is part of their heritage
A feeling of pride 
Our culture
Our blood
Our lives
We are the African people
We are Africa's future
Here our dreams are dreamed
Here our battles are fought
Here in our African circle
In our African home
Their young hearts beat faster
As the drum tempo rises
Their innocent faces grow serious
Concentration of every step
Now their legs swing above their heads
And return to the ground with a thud
They start singing
With a moving melody
"God bless Africa"
"God bless the African people"
Tears roll down the cheeks of those watching
Remembering when they did that dance
Remembering the hungry days when they danced
Remembering that dance when their sons were taken
Dancing to forget the pain
Dancing to dry the tears
To heal the wounds
In that African circle
Where our home was
When our shacks were bulldozed
Where our families were
When our fathers and sons were taken to the mines
Where our food was
When the table was empty
Now the drums are slowing down
But there's a loud deep beat
"God bless Africa"
"God bless our African people"
But the little children don't know all this
They're just enjoying the dance
Loving every minute of it
There's joy in this simple African life
In our circle
Our home.

This black veil in South Africa's black history. Apartheid-meaning
separateness. The law declared that whites and blacks had different
needs and therefore needed to be kept apart to 'preserve' their
cultures and identities. They also declared that whites and blacks
would have different social and political status and that whites new
what was best for blacks so they would rule. I hope I've done justice
to the fundamentals of apartheid with my two sentence description. And
so the laws were written that split the people of South Africa in
schools, public, at work, in church, at beaches and even declared
inter-racial relationships illegal:

We're breaking the law?
We're breaking the law!
Loving you is against the law, my dear
So I can't see you anymore 
Don't call`cos where can we go
Where can we walk hand in hand like lovers do
Where can we go wet our feet in the ocean
Without a nation staring us down
Without the trees trying to strangle us
Without the mountains trying to crush us
Without the air trying to suffocate us
For the closer we get the faster we have to run
We can't love each other my dear
So I'll hold your little white hand one more time
And say goodbye
Till another time
A skinless time
A colourless time
Maybe another place
Where criminals
Not lovers
Are guilty of breaking the law.

So not only Black South Africans suffered. White lovers suffered,
white friends suffered-more than that, white South Africans suffered
with fear, guilt, hatred and confusion.

This crown I wear
A crown?
No, a shackle
That holds me down
A cell 
That keeps me captive

These are not the fruits of my hands
I did not plough the land
- instilling racial hatred
I did not dig the furrows where the seeds were laid
- writing the laws of apartheid
I did not water the tree
- by destroying families and homes 
I did not prune the branches
- with prisons and shotguns
I did not pick the fruit
- with exploitation 

But I eat this fruit
This bitter, bitter fruit
Which my fathers nurtured
Can I shed this crown,
Break the chains?
I hate no-one
I've hurt no-one
Why should I suffer?

This crown weighs heavy on my head
Heavy on my soul
This crown overshadows the love in my heart
It overpowers the light from my face
My royal heritage
My royal feast

In 1948 South African author, Alan Paton penned 'Cry, the beloved
country.' And indeed there was lots of reason to cry. In April 1994
the headlines of one of the country's leading newspapers read 'Vote,
the beloved country,' and vote we did. Millions of South Africans
headed for the voting booths for the first time in their lives,
thousands trekking miles to make their crosses. A monumental day, a
revolutionary day, which resulted in victory for the once banned ANC
and a new president in Nelson Mandela. A quiet peace swept over the
country, the same country which just days before had been shaken by
bombs and gunfire. People laughed freely, people danced in the
streets, celebrations vibrated everywhere-a new South Africa had been

Shine brightly, our new South Africa;
While the world lies in political slumber.
Arise and inhale the freshness of a new era,
Swallow the energy the sun shines on you,
Drink the cleansing, the heavens pour on you
And polish the gold the earth offers you.
Break loose from the shackles of this power-hungry humanity
And fly off to a society of peace and love;
Where a climate of tranquillity and harmony prevails.
Plant your newly freed seed in fertile soil
And let your prosperity be a light to this darkened world.
And then, at the beginning of this new day
Put on your white, silk cloak;
Purify your hands, mouth and mind
And sing sweetly to your loyal people:
"A new day has dawned
A new South Africa is born."

Yes, a new South Africa was born and we were all proud parents. And we
knew that this new birth would be accompanied by difficulties and
trials, but we embraced the challenge of building our new country with
enthusiasm. We had a new country, a new home, a new nation:

"Rise oh sun, over our beloved country, South Africa;
And bless our land and people wit your light."
A new sun rises
with new light
new brightness
new colour
new life
With it rises a nation
a new people
with new dreams
new hope
new peace
new love
and new lives
A Zebra Nation

A nation of black and white
side by side
in harmony
in unity
Like the black and white of a zebra
Giving the zebra its uniqueness
giving its identity
giving its wholeness
South Africa, the zebra nation has been born
with a new sunrise on the horizon
a new flag in our hands
a new anthem on our lips
and a new country in our hearts

"Rise oh Son, over our beloved country, South Africa; And bless our
land and people with Your Light."

We cannot forget the past-our black history-but we have chosen to draw
that dark veil aside and let freedom shine through. I salute all those
South Africans who committed their lives to freeing SouthAfrica. Along
with my fellow South Africans, I salute all the Americans who gave of
their time and resources to support the anti-apartheid movement. And I
support all those men and women around the world who continue to
strive for freedom, who continue to believe in equality, and human

Athol E Williams is a South African graduate student at the Sloan
School of Management.  

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