I was a journalist in South Africa during the time when Nelson Mandela was freed. As can be expected it was a very exciting time in the country. After he was freed there were rallies held around the country where he addressed the crowds, imploring everyone to work together peacefully to build a better South Africa. There was a lot going on at that time, apartheid had just been abolished, on the one hand there was a feeling of optimism, of new beginnings, but on the other hand a feeling of uncertainness, people were scared and thought the end was in sight.
I think at that time the world was definitely holding its breath to see if violence would erupt and the country would just be washed down the drain…
And in many ways South Africa surprised the world. By peacefully becoming a democracy.
So I was looking through my press cuttings and writings I did for SAPA (South African Press Association) and came across one of the rallies I covered. It was held in Durban, KwaZulu Natal – then the boiling pot of violence between members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (Zulu clan) and the UDF (United Democratic Front)/Cosatu members who were both aligned to the ANC (Xhosa clan). The big fear at that time was that violence would break out during this rally because of this existing rivalry between the Zulu’s and Xhosa’s. Mandela, himself from the Xhosa clan, was also expected to make a call for peace in this province.
I remember it was an extremely hot day and according to my report about 150 000 people were gathered. It was tense and a few times the crowd had to be addressed to remain calm and settle down. The eyes of the world were on us!
We at SAPA didn’t have mobile phones yet, which made our situation more stressful, because we had to get the story out first being with SAPA – the country’s own press association! So after the rally we had to run to the office to file the story and really struggled to get out amongst the masses, we were pushed from all sides!! Our colleagues from Reuters (UK) did have mobile phones so their story was out before the official SAPA one – the editor was not happy, but what could we do!!!?
During that rally Nelson Mandela also called on the women of KwaZulu Natal to work towards peace in the province and I quote from my report:
“’You in your wisdom must begin the work of bringing peace to Natal. Tell your sons, brothers and husbands you want peace and prosperity.’
He said that the women had shown in the past during crucial moments greater wisdom than their men folk.
‘Open the cooking pots and ask them why there is so little food inside. When the rains come into your homes, place the hands of your men in the pools on the floor and ask them, why?
‘When your child ails, and you have no money to take it to a doctor, ask them, why?
‘There is only one answer, and that answer is our common deprivation. Go out and meet the women of the other side. The answer is the same. Then take your men with you.”
Now, how much the women were involved in trying to bring peace in the communities I don’t think anyone will really know, although I can imagine that many took his words to heart. I remember being really touched by his focus on the women to keep the peace. I know that the violence between Inkatha and ANC supporters kept going during the nineties and maybe more sporadic during the 2000’s. And the picture is far more complex than just fighting between these two groups, it involved other issues like social and economic as well as faction fighting, school unrest and loads more. So is this beautiful province in South Africa finally at peace?