Home Opinion and Features Do you remember 10 369 days ago?

Do you remember 10 369 days ago?


What had once been crisp, sharp, neat text was now faded smudges and blotches on the paper

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Everyone remembers where they were on THAT day. As for me, I was a young teacher, fresh out of college and I had prepared a class test for my English pupils, but the pupils were not there.

I remember looking at the test sheets in my hand. Photocopying machines was a new technology back then, and we’d not yet learned that to make a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of another photocopy was a bad mistake.

What had once been crisp, sharp, neat text was now faded smudges and blotches on the paper

I had planned, as a contingency, to read the paper to the pupils before the test, but the pupils were not in the class on THAT day.

In fact the school was empty. In the streets of our city wild celebrations were going on. Schoolchildren from all over the neighbourhood joined with the adults as they marched in the streets screaming with joy, some were dancing, some wept.

It was February 12, 1990. The Struggle was over, they were free.

On THAT day the celebrating crowds had sharp, clear, well-defined dreams – surely things would be better from now on.

Curiously, the one thing I remember about THAT day is the inexplicable sense of foreboding that came over me: “What if this doesn’t work out? What if things get worse? What if life under oppression was better than what it will be like when we are free?”

Look, I could not help what I was thinking you have to remember that the apartheid apparatus was not only useful to oppress people; it had a very efficient propaganda engine running, and terms like “Die Swart Gevaar” had been embedded in people’s minds.

Today marks 10 369 days since THAT day, and I have to admit that many of my fears were unfounded. Although in April 1993, following the murder of Chris Hani, we came very close to experiencing what I had feared most. Not many people realise how close we came to the tipping point that time.

A little while ago I drove through the neighbourhood where the celebrations had taken place 10 369 days ago. It didn’t look all that good. These days there are big problems – drug problems, alcohol abuse, pregnant teenagers, litter, clogged sewers and a host of other issues.

But there were also smiling faces; there were happy children playing in the streets, while adults were having a good “skinner” with their neighbours over the garden fence, and there were beautiful homes with immaculate gardens everywhere not only in the “better part” of the neighbourhood.

Then on Thursday last week I attended a graduation ceremony at the University of the Free State and the chancellor, Dr K Khotso Mokhele, told the graduates that now that they have achieved something it’s up to them to make a difference in their sphere of influence.

It made me think that it’s not only the graduates’ responsibility, it is everyone’s duty and responsibility.

We are 10 369 days on from THAT day when our country’s dreams were well-defined; but so many people in positions of influence and authority have been copying the bad behaviour of those who went before them, whilst disregarding the many good things that those people did.

And then the next group picked up and copied more bad habits than good and so on, and so on and now what’s happened to our original dream? It’s a bleak, smudged copy.

Have you ever wondered what kind of country South Africa will be in another 10 369 days?

Do we even realise that the bad practices, short cuts, dishonest deals, abuse of power, and those bad things we do that make our lives convenient (at the expense of others) are the very things that are causing the dreams that were so clear just 10 369 days ago to fade into a bad copy of a copy of a copy?

David Brower suggests: “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

So, what South Africa will we give back to our children in 10 369 days’ time?

It’s in our hands today.