In June of 1976 I was four years old. Alomst five. We lived in a suburb of a city then known as Port Elizabeth. I wasn’t at school yet, so I had no awareness of the rythms of holidays. I probably knew it was winter from the jerseys my mother insisted I wear & the bean soup she would cook & freeze for future cold nights.
My world was small.
As the world of any five year old.
It was largely determined by who my parents were & what they chose.
Every Sunday we’d go to church. Twice. Every Wednesday there would be a prayer meeting and Bible study. That was what I knew of days & times. If Sunday came I knew another week had passed.
Life was easy. My brothers and I shared a room. I remember the bedroom with its single bed & double bunk with me at the top, litlle wash basin in the corner & a cupboard pushed up against the only wall without a bed or window.
We had a fabulous back yard. Sandpit. Tree-house. I had the most beautiful green bycicle with broad white tyres. I would travel the neigborhood on it. Visit the library. Stop at O’Linskys. A petshop-cum-bycicleshop-cum-hardwareshop. I would browse the birds and mice and cats and dogs. Smell the seeds in the air and feel the rough wooden floor below my feet. Often I would walk the short distance from our house to the dairy. Plonk the two empty milk bottels on the counter and recieve two full ones in return.
I had no awareness of money.
I don’t know how that milk was paid for.
Maybe my parents had an account & at the end of the month they would settle the bill for the 24 bottles of milk I collected throughout the month.
Only 24 for on Sundays businesses were closed.
Sundays were Church days.
A time when the people in my world suited up & herded in droves to the Church in their neighborhood, to enjoy a massive Sunday lunch afterwards, then sleep that infamous Sunday afternoon nap, get up again at 5, be at Chruch again at 7, come home at eight thirty and enjoy tea & fish paste toast.
Hector Pietersons life was different from mine.
Granted he was somewhat older than me in 1976.
He was born in 1964.
He lived in a world I did not know existed.
In 1976 he was 12.
Almost the age my son is now.
Theunsie is 11.
That is young.
On 16 June 1976 he died.
Not of natural causes.
He was killed.
On that day school children protested the implementation of Afrikaans and English as dual medium of instruction in secondary schools in a 50:50 basis. This was implemented throughout South Africa regardless of the locally-spoken language and some exams were also written in Afrikaans.
He was 12.
He wasn’t even at secondary school-level, yet.
He would never be.
But his death became the symbol of the injustice of a social-system applied in the country of my birth.
A system in which a small minority of people decided how life would be & denied a majority of people the freedom to move & live & be.
Even now, often, people call that previsouly opressed people ‘blacks’, as they were called by the oppresive apartheid-government, defining them and themselves by the color of their skin.
They are more than that though.
They are Xhosa.
Tswana & Sotho.
They are Indian.
Venda & Tsonga & Swazi.
They are diverse & beautiful.
Hector died at 12, in the struggle to bring them freedom.
Hector could not go to school & learn in his own language.
He could not freely move in this country of his birth.
There were pass-laws providing special permission to be in certain areas.
He could not live wherever his parents could afford to live.
He could not go to the movies or frequent a restaurant whenever or wherever he wanted to.
If he grew up, he could not marry whomever he wanted to marry.
He could not vote.
Off course, he did not grow up.
He was shot.
Only 12 years old.
I did grow up.
And the society we live in did change.
It was only 18 years later (Hector would have been 30) that a new fair democracy was hailed in.
Without the shedding of blood.
And now my children live in a new world.
A world in which no one is judged on the color of his or her skin, but on the content of his character.
May they & we have content in our character.
May they & we live in such a way that the Ubuntu of which Nelson Mandela spoke is seen.
In the way we are.
In the way we feel.
In the way we do.
May no Hector, or Theunsie, ever again die in this way, because he lived in this way.
May we be different.
For it is not a political or social system which creates freedom.
Political & social systems (any system for that matter) bind & restrict.
People struggled to this freedom.
People live it.
May I be them & they be us.
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