Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Telling the whole truth (the hard-hitting and awkward truth) about my life growing up Indian in South Africa during the #apartheid era, will probably shock a few people.
📷 New West Secondary School, Durban (Facebook)
Apartheid was a system of racial segregation where divide and rule laws were designed to crush the human spirit and exclude the majority from the narrative of being human.
The aim? To maintain #whitedomination while extending racial separation!
The raw and unfiltered #facts will help shake off what you’ve been taught about the fight against apartheid as everything reported was tightly censored by the repressive state. For example, #SouthAfrica is not white vs black as widely documented. #Indians were classed as ‘non-white’ during apartheid, and thus were subjected to the same #racelaws as all black persons. However, the struggle of the Indian people against these unjust laws seems to have fallen into the #awkward space between.
I. How Did Such Madness Seem Normal?
As a young child growing up, I lived in an all-Indian township and attended an all-Indian school. Indian, Black and #Coloured¹ people were restricted to racially #segregated residential areas (far, far away from the elite white neighbourhoods).
We were also allocated separate facilities, for example different parks, beaches, benches (yes – benches!!) and modes of public transport. Movie theatres, restaurants, clubs, bars, sport – were all divided by colour lines. It was completely natural that everything was separated by #race with many out-of-bound places reserved exclusively for white people.
Television was broadcast only in English and #Afrikaans languages. In fact, TV was banned until 1976 as the white minority regime viewed it as a threat to the Afrikaans taal², Afrikaans volk³ and their totalitarian state.
One of the (first and) most controversial apartheid laws was the #prohibition of marriage between whites and non-whites. Mixed-race couples suffered the humiliations (and harsh punishment) heaped on non-whites until interracial marriage was legalised in 1985.
These laws may seem unbelievably wrong on every level but when you’re young and don’t know any differently – it just seems to be the natural order of things.
These hard boundaries cut us off from each other, and it was only through time and being exposed to other realities, we began to question the legitimacy of what we deemed 'normal'.
¹ Coloured, formerly Cape Coloured, a person of mixed European (“white”) and African (“black”) or Asian ancestry, as officially defined by the South African government from 1950 to 1991.
² English translation: Language
³ English translation: Nation
II. We Live in a World of Stupid
I was born in 1975, and grew up as apartheid waned. Although I was still effectively barred from eating, drinking and dancing at some restaurants, bars and clubs (because of my #skincolour), I was sheltered from the most heinous #apartheidcrimes.
It was when I drifted (unintentionally) into the “whites only” swimming area clearly signposted ‘THIS BEACH IS FOR THE USE OF WHITE PERSONS ONLY’ - the harsh reality of being dark-skinned became starkly apparent.
I was instructed to vacate the area as I was #trespassing! And no - it didn’t matter that I was only visiting this elite white neighbourhood as part of a first-of-its-kind exploratory study to promote positive #interracial relationships among #youth.
Put simply - I was a human guinea pig that was officially allowed to mix with other secondary school youth from different racial backgrounds, as part of the #Durban city mayor’s anti-discrimination efforts (to examine cross-race contact behaviours)!
However, it was the sequence of events that unfolded a few hours later that led to my impassioned dedication to the anti-apartheid movement.
Our youth group arrived at our hotel and were refused entry because there were unable to accommodate people of colour. Thereafter, having been turned away from every hotel in the area, we sought refuge in the church hall. Shell-shocked (and smiling while crying inside), we curled up on the cold, hard stone flooring for the night.
In the early hours of the morning, we were abruptly awoken for an emergency evacuation by the army as tensions were running high amongst the locals who were outraged by the presence of non-whites in an all-white neighbourhood.
I will never ever forget that morning – from the utter disbelief as I hurriedly gathered my belongings; shaking with fear as I lined up in the longest queue to freshen up (in seconds) in the one and only church sink; terrified as I was escorted by heavily armed forces onto army trucks to speeding through streets filled with volatile crowds, for #safekeeping at the local army barracks.
Of all my life lessons, this is one of the most powerful that forever changed the course of my life.
I didn’t need to explain or justify my skin colour. And that morning, I promised myself I would fight back and fight harder - for a better life, a fairer & kinder society where my skin colour is not a defining characteristic.
III. A Moment of Awareness
Locked in a broom cupboard on my #university campus with gunshots ringing all around, is when I had an anchoring moment of awareness ...
A group of the opposition party had invaded our campus armed with spears, machetes and guns solely targeting all #ANC¹ supporters. Violent #protests had broken out and the apartheid police were on their way … and, it wasn’t advisable to stick around when they showed up – because, they were brutal!
Stuck in a dark tiny space (for a long, long time) fearing for my safety and a million thoughts running through my head – I realised there and then, I’d keep fighting for #freedom until the end of my days, no matter what the cost!
NB. My experiences are just one person’s account of tens of millions of people who lived under the demeaning (often brutal) #apartheidregime and each would have their own unique perspective, depending on a myriad of factors.
¹ African National Congress (ANC), South African political party and Black nationalist organization. From the 1940s it spearheaded the fight to eliminate apartheid. The ANC was banned from 1960 to 1990 by the white South African government; during these three decades it operated underground and outside South African territory. The ban was lifted in 1990, and Nelson Mandela, the president of the ANC, was elected in 1994 to head South Africa’s first multi-ethnic government.