Scott: Just over twenty years ago, life in South Africa was quite different than it is today. Racial segregation, fueled by hate and enforced by the country’s government, caused decades of tension. And Shelby Holliday caught up with some people who are remembering those days while remembering the man who fought for change.
Shelby: Terri Matone was born and raised here in the township of Soweto in South Africa. He makes a living selling African goods with his grandma. But he hasn’t always had these kinds of opportunities.
Terri Matone: Everything was so bad. It was very bad.
Shelby: It was not long ago that South Africa was known as an international symbol of hate. In 1948, South Africa’s ruling party – made up of whites – created a system of racial segregation called apartheid, or separateness. Blacks were forced to live in poor areas. They were not allowed to hold certain jobs, not allowed to marry whites, and not allowed to travel freely. They had to carry a pass everywhere they went.
Terri: It had a stamp inside that tells where you should be standing at the right time, where you are working.
Shelby: What if you didn’t have your pass?
Terri: You got beaten.
Shelby: Pass laws were enforced by the white government and designed to limit the movement of the country’s black population. Even though whites made up less than 20% of the population, they owned 90% of the land and made 75% of South Africa’s income. Apartheid was largely seen as an attempt to maintain control.
In Terri’s township, and across the country, many people risked their lives to protest against apartheid, but punishment was severe and even non-violent demonstrations could lead to prison, torture and even death. One of those people was Nelson Mandela who, after police killed 69 blacks during a peaceful protest, decided that violence was the only way to fight apartheid.
Nelson Mandela: There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence against a government whose reply is only savage attacks on an unarmed and defenseless people.
Shelby: Mandela started the military arm of the opposition movement. They bombed power stations and government buildings. Mandela was labeled a terrorist. He was arrested in 1962 and later sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and conspiracy. But Mandela didn’t stop his fight even though he was behind bars.
In 1976, the anti-apartheid movement gained international attention when thousands of students here in the town of Soweto began protesting new rules that required them to speak another language in school.
Terri: Some people didn’t want to learn Afrikaans.
Shelby: Because it was the language of the whites.
Terri: Yeah. Afrikaans was very hard. But at the time, we had to learn it with force.
Shelby: On June 16th, the frustrated students planned to march to a stadium in Soweto, but they never made it. Around 200 teenagers were killed in clashes with police, some as young as thirteen.
After the Soweto uprising, South Africa’s white supremacist government was looked down on by much of the world. The U.S. and other Western nations imposed tough economic punishments on the country. And young people around the world began protesting apartheid and pushing for Mandela’s release.
President Obama: The first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics was protest against apartheid.
Shelby: In 1986, while still in prison, Nelson Mandela initiated peace talks with the government. His persistence paid off. In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released and apartheid was abolished.
Mandela: I cherish the idea of a new South Africa where all South Africans are equal.
Shelby: In 1994, South Africa held its first fair and democratic elections, choosing Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president.
So, how is life now?
Terri: Life is good now. Now we’re enjoying the freedom and making a living with my gran. And that’s how we live.
Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.
Scott: But change takes time. And it is no surprise that South Africa and its people remain scarred. Tomorrow, we will take a look at how the country is still struggling with its racist past.
Now, for more information on South Africa and Nelson Mandela, go to the Passport: South Africa page at Channelone.com.