I would like to share what I have learned during my recent two weeks in South Africa.
During the apartheid regime (1948-1994), there was so much hate between white and black people. Black people were oppressed and white privileged. There were many restricted areas where black people were not allowed to enter. Thanks to many freedom fighters such as Mandela apartheid ended in 1994. Sometimes you will still see reminders of the apartheid era on streets or in musea. It is when you enter the Townships, you will definitely get an idea of how underprivileged black communities were at that time, and are actually still struggling to date.
When I was living in South Africa between 2004 and 2006, already it was not the same South Africa as during the apartheid regime. It was the Rainbow Nation, where you could see many Africans, also many from other African countries, living alongside South Africans. History taught us that South Africa has gained its freedom with the help of many other African Nations.
Even then, the Rainbow Nation was not yet perfect and xenophobia was on the rise. I experienced this myself once when I was on my way home in one of the minibuses in Pretoria; I spoke English and the driver asked me to speak my mother tongue. He was hoping I would speak Zulu, but instead I spoke Kirundi (from Burundi), a Bantu languages just like Zulu. He was furious as he could not understand what I said, so asked in English what I just said. I told him that not all Africans have to understand each other mothers tongues but English can help us both. He was angry and he said ”No woman speaks to me like that. Get out of my bus”. None from the passengers stood up for me, they all kept quiet. He brutally stopped the bus, kicked me out in the middle of nowhere and drove off. From that time I did not feel safe anymore and, although I loved travelling with public transport, I stopped using these minibuses.
Fast forward 2019, the South Africa as I knew it has changed even more and is now openly facing many challenges that have become more apparent, especially in the Townships. During my recent trip I heard about a lot of social problems such as child abuse, gender-based violence and poor access to health care. As a result many people reported incidences of rape, trauma and HIV/ AIDS, to name a few.
The impact of these social issues become more visible to all. When I was walking on the streets in Stellenbosch I saw a message in front of a church reading “Women and Men are equal in God’s eyes. So, in whose name do men rape?” This made me realize that there is a big change. The fight to break stigma and taboos, and making sure that social problems are felt as a responsibility to solve by all, has to be done by all. So this church is taking the lead role in supporting people that are victims, and opening up the conversation on issues that were still hidden until now.
So, whilst South Africa has now moved on since 1994, the end of apartheid, there are still many problems that remain untouched. They are now felt by many young people that are born after apartheid ended, born into a South Africa of hope. It is their voices, the children of people that fought to end apartheid, that must now be heard as well. We must support them in their struggle against new challenges whilst also making sure that apartheid can never take root again in South Africa.
I want to give a voice to these young people of South Africa, so they understand I stand by them when fighting challenges around gender-based violence and access to quality healthcare, in the same way and with the same energy as we supported them in defeating apartheid. Whilst I was given some space to share my story on HIV and I felt this was well appreciated, I still felt discomfort at some people within my own choir to let me share my story on HIV stigma in selected communities in South Africa.
Dealing with stigma, whether related to HIV/ AIDS, gender, age or disability, is a major social challenge in South Africa that must be addressed. Any attempt to break the taboo should be embraced instead of discouraged. I recognise I am not part of an anti-HIV stigma choir, yet I have also learned that by staying too much focused on apartheid we will miss out. To connect to this generation of people in the townships, we must also talk about key problems that reflect their daily reality! The world is rapidly changing and we must update our message to the world, telling the real life story of South African communities, especially in townships. Our message can be brought in many ways; Through this blog, by standing up in a community, or through the art of singing!
And for US, Africans, we need to put our energy together and fight like our forefathers and parents did to fight for freedom and ensure all people shall be treated equally in equal circumstances.
United as Africans stop violence amongst us, respect each other and share love!