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Perspectives – Conversations in South Africa

"It would have been impossible for me to own my own business ... or even just be a tour guide twenty years ago.  Before, only whites could be tour guides and interact with whites.  I can't tell you what a difference there is between now and before apartheid ended".  This from a woman of color - Cathy - who is not black - and who grew up in a coloured township with parents who had enough of an income to send her to school with lunch everyday and firm admonishments "not to take the free soup and bread and take it away from those who need it more."  Coloured was differentiated from Black under apartheid - they were the descendants primarily of slaves brought in from Asia and the near East - and they were treated better and held more privileges than black Africans under Apartheid - though were still marginalized."As a woman, I was forced out of my teaching job after five years with mandatory work limit rules before apartheid.  They hired a bachelor to replace me.  You see, apartheid went well beyond race.  It impacted everything - male, female, race, religion. Where you could sit.  Who you could marry.  Everything - much more than race."This from our white city tour guide, Andrea, who has lived in the country for over forty years, but still maintains her German citizenship and pays German taxes.  "Before the end of apartheid and during the unrest I kept my citizenship so I could leave if I had to.  Now it's just paper, but at least I can get a good pension in Germany if I needed to go back for it.  Here, there is no safety net." Both women acknowledge the problems still here.  Cathy sees promise, and acknowledges the problems still faced here

Freedom Day – 21 Years after Apartheid

South Africa celebrated its first Democratic Election today ... held a mere 21 years ago April 27, 1994.  That's nothing ... 21 years is no time at all.  It had never really occurred to me that this country is so young.  And so new to learning to live together after years under apartheid - the very antithesis of democracy - that systematically and brutally segregated this society by race.  We knew very little about Freedom Day when we boarded the ferry to Robben Island to tour the former prison that housed Mandela and most other political opponents of apartheid.  It was coincidence that I had chosen this day to buy tickets for the tour.  But as we piled on the ferry, and then trooped over to the prison and listened as a former political prisoner described life as a prisoner, I realized how far South Africa had come in such a short time.Our guide at the Robben Island prison was sentenced for "terrorism" in 1983 and spent seven years in prison until his release in 1990 - when the prison was closed and all political prisoners released.  His crime was recruiting members to the ANC - the black nationalist political party outlawed by the apartheid government.  He described how the prisoners work the limestone quarry where they were forced to move rocks from point A to point B ... and then back to point A.  For years.  Meaningless work meant to demoralize.   And how the educated prisoners - 70% of the political prisoners were educated and professionals - taught the uneducated to read and write by drawing letters in the sand.  They schooled their own followers and trained their ANC leadership on Robben Island.  The striation of apartheid reached into the prison, where prisoners were treated differently according to

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