I know the residues of apartheid in my own life: my father’s limited opportunities because of a lack of quality education, my mother’s precarious psyche that was affected by the traumas of living through apartheid and the lack of dignity that poverty can cause in ones life. Somehow because of my education (formal, informal and spiritual guidance) I find that I am a unique position where I have not been limited by my past, South Africa’s past. It wasn’t until I came to Grahamstown to study at Rhodes that the reality of what still needs to be done to address the inequalities in our society became clearer. The question of redress in South Africa is still a sensitive one.
The beauty of a small town like Grahamstown is that everything is in walking distance. Traversing from the lush suburb area in town into Joza and Tantyi is a simple 15 minute walk but the inequalities one sees are enormous and need an entire change of a system to address. 16 years later little has changed: some of the roads are tarred, there are new houses in Joza, new street lamps and pavements as well as new robots at a busy intersecction but one cannot ignore the derelict houses made of wattle and daub that can capsize at any moment.
This is not a sight unique to Grahamstown but across South Africa’s towns and cities. Apartheid is still evident and what is even more evident is the failure of municipalities since 1994 in addressing service delivery. Refuse and waste is not removed from many townships adding to the squalor in communities. The complexities in institutions that have been mandated to address the standard of living in South Africa have failed on so many levels. Beyond the mountain of apartheid that was overcome more than 15 years ago there is another mountain of transforming society and changing an entire culture of people’s thinking towards civic involvement and accountability from government.
But how does this really happen? How are cultures that were deeply entrenched by centuries of oppression and discrimination change into a culture where all people are treated with dignity and it is not simply lip service? How are minds changed from a place of apathy into action? How do we climb the mountains ahead when it seems that the first mountain is still blocking the vision of where we want to go as a nation?
*Haitian proverb, the last line quoted in O R Tambo’s biography by Luli Callinicos