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
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
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