Tag Archives: South Africa

What does that word even mean?

8 Jun

Like many of you, I’ve been following the lead-up to the 2010 World Cup with excitement. I’m an avid soccer fan, but I’m also old enough to remember when South Africa was one of the last places on earth that you would imagine hosting a major world sporting event.  I said as much to a friend this week, and mentioned the long way that the country has come since the end of apartheid.  Her next words were literally jaw-dropping, at least to me:

“What’s apartheid?” she said.

OMG! Deep breath, don’t freak out.  After I managed to close my “hanging-open-speechless” mouth, I took stock a bit. She’s about 10 years younger than I am, grew up in Western Canada in a relatively small community, didn’t have any requirement to take world history in high school, and is by her own admission “not really interested in world events.” She was very interested to listen to my thumb-nail description of some of the major events in the history of apartheid in South Africa, and was amazed to learn that this had been happening “in living memory.” To her credit, she had heard of Nelson Mandela, but didn’t know he’d been imprisoned for 27 years.

For me, apartheid was a much debated topic in our household all through my childhood.  Our West Indies cricket team boycotted tournaments where South Africa was expected to take part. My Dad instituted the first “social purchasing campaign” I’d ever experienced, banned the purchase of our favourite English-made marmalade, because key UK banks had refused to pull out of South Africa. You couldn’t help but know about what was happening.

 However, her innocence really got me thinking.  Is the word “apartheid” still relevant? What does it signify when people don’t even know what it means, or have no concept of the struggle that many generations faced until the systematic discrimination regime was abolished? How many people following World Cup coverage over the next month will see or hear the supporting story-based coverage about life in South Africa today and not see the bigger picture? And what should that coverage portray?

An interesting side note, though not at all scientific. A quick Google search of apartheid awareness brings up hits regarding “Israeli apartheid”. Huh!

Speak your mind, people.