Every now and then, I have an experience that makes me profoundly grateful that apartheid is over and that I am alive to see the effects of South Africa’s transformation. I had such an experience this morning.
What did I do this morning? I went to work, just like every other day of the week/month/year. Nothing unusual about that. I parked my car and walked towards the coffee shop near my office to get a chocolate croissant and an Appletiser (probably not the healthiest breakfast, but it works for me).
As I approached the coffee shop, I saw someone walk out of it. I recognised him – a friend from school who works close by. I called to him, he stopped and waited for me and we had a little chat – mostly about his baby boy who just had his first birthday.
The chat ended and I went on to work.
And then, a bit later, it hit me. That conversation could not have happened in apartheid South Africa. Here’s why:
My friend is a coloured man. He’s married to a white woman. Their son is a black baby boy whom they adopted.
During apartheid, their family would have been illegal. The Mixed Marriages Act would have prevented them from getting legally married. Even if they had lived together in secret, they would not have been able to legally adopt a black baby.
I would probably not have ever met my friend, because I am a white man and we would not have been able to attend the same school under the apartheid regime.
We’re not close friends. Our interaction consists of occasional chance encounters like happened this morning. Otherwise we’re Facebook friends so I see his status updates and photos (which is how I knew about his son’s birthday).
What I see of his life on Facebook shows me that he has a close-knit, loving family. Mom, Dad and baby boy all seem pretty happy with each other’s company. In that regard, I’m very pleased for them.
Thirty years ago, their family could not have been. I can only marvel at the evil of legalised discrimination when I think about that. And while apartheid is over, discrimination is certainly not.
So many discriminatory laws exist in so many countries around the world – laws against people of different genders, skin colours, races, religions, sexual orientations, languages, family backgrounds, political affiliations, and so on. My little list here is probably tiny compared to the reality of worldwide legalised discrimination.
And this is why I’m so pleased to live in post-apartheid South Africa. South Africans got together and decided that enough was enough and that the discrimination of apartheid had to end.
The conversation I had with my friend this morning was made possible by the actions of people I’ve never met that took place over twenty years ago. My personal happiness has been affected today by the end of apartheid in the early 1990s.
I’m so grateful that apartheid is over. And I hope that other forms of discrimination both here in South Africa and around the world can be ended so that more families like my friend’s can be and more people can have experiences like the one I had today.