My name is Mark and I am a white South African

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
Putting my thoughts down in writting about growing up in the apartheid era in South Africa.

Submitted: July 10, 2017

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Submitted: July 10, 2017



I am 50 years old and was born in 1966 in South Africa, my parents and grandparents were South African. I grew up with three brothers, a dog and two cats. My Father worked for a bank, my mother was a housewife. We lived in a house that my father purchased; he paid a deposit toward it and eventually paid it off when he sold it after 31 years.

I lived just outside Durban and growing up did not see many black people, occasionally when we were travelling in my parent’s car I would see one working in a garden or walking along the pavement, and once, we visited one of my parent’s friends and there was a black lady cooking in the kitchen. At junior school I saw more black people, there were two gentlemen who worked on the school grounds and did maintenance, they were friendly and we always doffed out school caps to them and called them Sir.

At high school there was more black staff, but no black students and my contact with them was minimal. The closest I came to getting to know a black person was our school bus driver, on most days I would sit in the front and we would discuss all sorts of topics.

When I finished school I reported for National Service and completed my two years in the military. This was the first time I ever really spent time with black people and it has become one of the most memorable periods of my life. I was 18 years old. We worked side by side, shared food, slept in small two man tents next to each other; we dug holes in the hard earth as protection against enemy fire and protected each other.

There was not a single person with whom I served that I would not have put my life on the line for, we were soldiers; we were identified by unit and rank and deployed as per our speciality.

Life is a funny old thing and it is amazing what we choose to remember. I remember being on duty in a Township one day, we were patrolling and were called to a disturbance and soon arrived at a school that was burning. There were hundreds of children dancing and running around. They did not seem aggressive but were agitated. On the front walls of the school, on the road outside and on an old school bus where painted the words, ???????????????? ????????????????????????????. We sat outside the school for an hour or so while the fire department took care of the fire, and some of us played soccer with the children. I asked many of them what the issue was and why they were not in school and the answer was always the same, “???????????????? ????????????????????????????.” I then started asking the children what Mandela’s first name was and without exception every child I asked answered “????????????????.”

One evening a few years after completing National I witnessed a fight on a Durban street, two larger men against a smaller male and he was getting a pounded. I intervened and the situation was settled. The police and an ambulance arrived and I went across the road and ordered a pizza. A Mercedes Benz stopped outside the shop and a man got out of the car, entered the shop and walked straight up to me. What I remember about this is twofold, firstly this gentleman was black and I had never seen a black person drive a car before and secondly he was American. He stuck his hand out to shake mine and said “I never thought I would come to Africa and see a white man defend a black man, thank you.” To me all I had seen was a person being bullied, I did not see colour, and to be honest I did not understand why this gentleman went through the trouble of thanking me, he was not involved and I had done nothing that any of my friends would not have done.

Growing up neither of my parents told me about Apartheid, neither was it ever mentioned at school nor in the military. I was never told what or who to like or what or whom to dislike, I made up my own mind. I loved ice cream but hated Brussels sprouts, I was envious of the children with bicycles because I did not have one and I was jealous of the guys who liked the same girl as me. My best friend was my best friend because of our shared interests. When we were choosing teams for a soccer or rugby match, we would all stand in a group and two “Captains” would take turns in choosing players for their team. As a captain you choose the best players and with whom you had the best chance of winning, we would never dream of leaving a talented player out of the team because, for some reason, he was not liked.

Today, in business I select the people who are best suited for the role, those who will add most value and those with the determination, attitude and integrity to handle pressure and perform. In the gym I choose the most difficult circuits and the best sparing partners to train against as I want to be continually improving, there is nothing to be gained from taking the easy route.

I lived through a time where signs at public bathrooms, on busses and at the beach stated “Whites only, Slegs Blankes.” I saw them but never understood them, just as I saw the ocean but did not understand the tides; it was something that had just always been there. Now that I know and understand, do I condone it, do I believe it was wrong and degrading in every sense? Absolutely yes.

I have difficulty understanding a person or persons who keep speaking about the past as if they own it, as if by reminding those around them of what transpired before is somehow going to change the present. It is not. If you want something you have never had you have to do something you have never done. This applies not only to the situation of which I speak but also of people from broken relationships who continually bring up the past and all the associated negatives and the people who endlessly speak about the position they should have been promoted to at work but weren’t; you cannot dwell in the past, ???????? ???????????? ???????????????????? ???????????????? ???? ???????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????? ???????????? ???????????? ???????????????????? ????????.

I have never stolen any land, I know my parents never did and I am damn sure my grandparents did not either. If I think back over my 50 years, I cannot recall a single person I know who stole any land. I was not instrumental in the establishment of apartheid, as I am sure no one else under the age of about 60 is. There is no one alive in South Africa today under the age of 26 who lived through apartheid, so why are there so many young people so aggressively keeping the legacy alive? We do not live in the past; we live in the present and plan for the future.

What we lack in South Africa is leadership, integrity and ownership of the current situation. You are fooling yourselves if you believe it is about the colour of a man’s skin or even a political party, it is not, it is purely about individuals and personal power.

Yes, there is a stand to be made and wrongs to be righted, but those are with current government and current leaders, with the current state of the country and with the current mindset of the masses. Why do our leaders, activists and foolish blind followers not see that what they are doing is hurting every single person in this country especially the poorest?

© Copyright 2019 Mark Ossendryver. All rights reserved.

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