PUBLISHED IN ALL THE LOCAL WESTCHESTER EDITIONS OF THE SUNDAY GANNETT NEWSPAPERS

OPINION   Sunday May 15, 1994

 

WITNESS TO THE BIRTH AND DEATH OF MY COUNTRY

BY GILLIAN LYNN KATZ

 

The historical lowering of the orange, white and blue South African flag and the 

raising of the multicolored flag of the new South Africa was witnessed by millions 

across the world.

 

I saw ex-President F.W. DeKlerk and his tearful wife standing there so proud. I felt 

close, for a moment, to this man who has never been a part of my life.        

 

An ex-South African, I have been living in the United States for 25 years, and have been a 

citizen of this country for 12 years.

 

There was a choir made up of beautiful faces of South African youth and old people, 

black and white. As they lowered the old flag, they sang “Die Stem,” the national 

anthem with which I grew up. They then raised the new flag and without skipping a 

beat, broke out into chorus of “Nkosi Sikelel’ i-Afrika,” “God Bless Africa.”

 

I remember when I was 8 years old, and the National Party took over Parliament, under 

Prime Minister Hendrik F. Verwoerd. The Union Jack would no longer fly over South 

Africa. The teachers and students were called into assembly, and we were handed 

pieces of paper with the words of “Die Stem” and had to sing our new national 

anthem. The teachers were crying because we would no longer be ruled under 

Queen Elizabeth.

 

I remember being given a gold-plated coin with the emblem of South Africa on

it – a springbok and the words, “Eendrag maak mag,” Unity is strength.”

 

In the course of my lifetime, I have witnessed the birth and death of the country in 

which I grew up. I loved the people there, both black and white. My family was there, 

aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. That can never be replaced, and I feel the loss 

even to this day.

 

 I loved the countryside, too; the breathtaking landscapes, foliage, sea resorts and 

animals. Africa has its own special ambience, and it will always be a part of me. I miss 

the sunbaked earth, the clear blue unpolluted sky, the mountains of the Cape, the 

resorts at Durban, with their colorful riksha boys. The sounds of the many African 

tribes as they raise their voices in song, in a multitude of harmonies, are unmatched 

anywhere else on earth. The animals of the Kruger Park lope effortlessly past the 

crown trees and scrub, resting by the stillness of the water holes, innocent and 

unaware of the political turmoil surrounding them.

 

Because of apartheid and the indignity of the system, there has always been this 

sense of shame that I carry with me. And it is a rightful shame. It is not the same as if 

you had come from France or England or Israel. People view you differently and, in a 

sense, I have viewed myself differently as well.

My whole past has just been wiped away, as if it never existed. Apartheid is dead. 

That is wonderful, and I praise Nelson Mandela. I don’t think South Africa could have 

had peaceful elections without him. He is a man who has the stature of a Churchill or 

a Lincoln. I give him full credit for what has happened there.

But South Africa will never be the same. It will be a time of tremendous transition for 

everyone, both black and white. I pray that the festering wounds of the past can be 

healed, and that everyone will live in peace in a country where many nations of the 

earth are represented.

 

Copyright 1994 by Gillian Lynn Katz

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.