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. THE APARTHEID BUS 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. IS HE COMING 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. THE AFRICAN CIRCLE 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: BREAKING THE LAW 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. HEIR 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 born. NEW SOUTH AFRICA 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: THE ZEBRA 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 dignity. Athol E Williams is a South African graduate student at the Sloan School of Management.