Thanks to Ms. V., this afternoon we had a chance to chat with Katharine. She is a young woman who spent a year in Canada on an exchange program, and made time to share with us what it is like to be a young white woman living in post-Apartheid South Africa in the days following the death of Nelson Mandela. Here is our chat:
Tracy is just introducing you to the kids right now. Take a bow!(That’s Katharine in the middle)
Lol! Bow taken
So here comes a question from the class… How has Nelson Mandela’s death affected where you live or what you do?
The same person wants to know, has anything new happened there since Mandela’s death?
I think for many people, Madiba’s (most of us call him Madiba – his clan name) death didn’t come as a huge shock as he had been sick for some time. In a way we were prepared. I think what it did do was remind us of the ideals of forgiveness and reconciliation. One could say that it reminded us how important national unit is.
Will answer the second question now..
I think national unity is something we take for granted here in Canada. We’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a country not at war, most people are not hungry or homeless, and we get a bit complacent at times.
I think it’s still too early to say that anything new has happened. Madiba is well respected around the country, and we have many statues and places commemorating him. My hometown, for example, belongs to the Nelson Mandela Municipality, and our local university is named after him. I think now, those places have all the more meaning
Next student question… How did Mandela and his actions change your life?
In a huge way! I think it’s important to remember that there were many people who fought against apartheid, yet Madiba came to symbolise the ideals of all these combined. He sacrificed his own life and family for the betterment of our nation (as did many others). It is through his sacrifices that I am able to have friends of all different races – something that wasn’t openly afforded to my parent’s generation. Madiba has also taught me about forgiveness. It would have been so easy for him to have taken revenge, but he didn’t
Just to add…
I cannot imagine a South Africa without all our diverse people. It has enriched me and opened my mind to so many different beliefs and cultures Mandela made that possible.
That is powerful that you are able to be friends with people of different colours and races. How does you being white affect your life in SA? Is there true equality, or are there still differences?
They’ve also asked, have you ever been bullied or harassed because of your skin colour?
Unfortunately there are definitely still differences! Because apartheid was such a pervasive system, race is very tied to class in our country. The white minority occupy the higher income brackets with those of other races occupy the lower, and are generally poorer (there are definitely exceptions to this – I’m just speaking generally!). There is a lot of tension surrounding corrective policies which favour black employment. I am, however, very lucky to have grown up in an extremely open-minded family who couldn’t care less about what colour my friends are. Other people, however, are very judgmental. But I guess that happens anywhere!
Will get onto the second part now…
I have never been overtly discriminated against, but unfortunately because of the centuries of oppression in the country, people tend to automatically assume that if you’re white, you’re racist. Generally younger people are very accepting, but the older generation has trouble letting go of the past. Luckily the people I surround myself with are very open minded and of all colours and creeds!
Were any of your friends or loved ones physically hurt or jailed during the struggles?
I was a toddler when the struggle ended, so none of my friends were involved! But one of my best friend’s father’s was an activist who was at one point jailed. He has never gone into detail about his experiences though. My father also had his house ransacked because he was showing a recording of the stage play Woza Albert, which was overtly anti-apartheid. One of his “friends” must have informed the police. They didn’t even find the copy and it was sitting right in his sock drawer!
That would be so strange to us, because many of us watch shows on television where political satire (making fun of politicians and their actions) is common. We take for granted that we have the right to question or even challenge the policies of the sitting government.
South Africa has made a huge turn around as far as political satire is concerned. I think it’s even more extreme because it had been denied for so long!
One student wants to know, have you ever attended a live speech by Madiba?
Unfortunately I haven’t! His term in office ended when I was very young and he lived in Johannesburg – far from my hometown
After that he made very few public appearances as he got older
This might be similar to other questions, but someone wants to know… what inspired you most about Madiba?
His ability to be so open-minded and promote equality after all he had been through. I think if put in his shoes, I would feel anger and hatred toward my oppressors. But he was filled with love and compassion. That’s truly remarkable and inspiring. It can teach all of us that although we may feel that way at the time, revenge is not the best option. You have to be better than that.
One of my favourite quotes of his:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
That’s an amazing quote, and a life goal we can all aspire to.
Now we have a few personal questions, if that’s okay.
Can you tell us about a holiday that is celebrated in SA that we might not celebrate here in Canada?
There are so many of them! And they mostly mark triumphs that we have overcome. Quite aptly, today is actually a public holiday called “Reconciliation Day” to mark the transition from apartheid to democracy. We also have things like youth day to mark the role that youth played in the struggle, and heritage day to celebrate our diverse cultures and backgrounds
That’s awesome, and very meaningful! Next question… how old are you?
I am 22, almost 23!
Do you celebrate Christmas, Kwaanza, or any particular religious holiday at this time of year. (Which I guess really means, what are the predominant religions of SA?)
Christmas is widely celebrated in the country as most of the country is Christian. The first time I heard about Kwaanza was when I came to Canada – I think it’s only a North American thing! What’s unique about South Africa is we have many hybrid beliefs. People will go to church, but also observe traditional beliefs and practices of ancestor worship. Almost half of the country follow traditional beliefs. We’ll also celebrate Eid with our Muslim friends, Diwali with our Indian friends and Chinese New Year with our Chinese friends! I guess we like to celebrate
Sounds like our school! They want to know what you want for Christmas, and if you have any siblings.
I do have siblings. I have an older sister and younger brother. We’re all 5 years apart, very well planned! Next year I’m moving into my own place in the town I study in, so all I want for Christmas are boring things like pots and pans so I don’t have to buy the myself. Lol!
My daughter is training to be a chef, so your Christmas wish list sounds a lot like hers! Next question… what is your favourite band or musical style?
I’m very into our uniquely South African/ African music because I love to dance! Not that I do it very well. But mostly house music and Nigerian dancehall. If anyone is keen to check some things out, two of my favourite bands are Liquideep and Micasa – their stuff is on YouTube
A link to one of my favourites!
Quite a popular song and dance in SA right now that you might want to show the class another day if you have time! I’ve seen this band perform live – they’re awesome
Last question of the day… how did visiting Canada affect your life?
In so many ways. It made me quite patriotic for one. I think you realise what you love most about your country once it’s not within our immediate reach. It also taught me a lot about what else is out there and how other people live (for example – we never take our shoes off when we go into somebody’s house!). It also taught me a lot of independence as it was the longest time I had been away from my family
Thanks for taking time out of your evening to chat with us Katharine! We really enjoyed it! Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, and all the best of the holiday season from Indian Creek Road Public School!
Thank you so much for letting me “speak” to you. Such a pity the video chat didn’t work! But I hope you have learned something nonetheless. Geseende Kersfess (Merry Christmas in Afrikaans) to all of you too