Where were you today, 30 years ago?
I was sitting in a military camp in Pretoria, clutching a R1 rifle and 20 rounds of live ammunition.
It was a cold Wednesday evening and we were confined to camp. “Something” was happening in Soweto. And we were on standby, in case “something” happened in Atteridgeville, the black township outside Pretoria. And so we sat, speculating the night away. We heard snippets through the military grapevine – but nothing on the news. We heard that the ‘blacks has gone mal”; we heard that the “blacks were getting fucked up by the police”; and we heard that “if even one of them tried anything in Pretoria we were to shoot on sight”.
I sat in puzzled silence. Partly because I was an Englishman in an Afrikaans environment. Our world views did not mesh. I came from Cape Town and saw the world differently. I did not really know any black people, because they had generally been legislated out of the Cape. And I believed that I did not support Apartheid. But I had not believed enough to refuse conscription, or to refuse to bear arms. All I wanted to do was get the military thing over and get on with my life. A life where white people ruled the land. And there I was, holding a rifle. Would I shoot? I did not know.
I sat in puzzled silence. Partly because I had just met some students from Atteridgeville. The previous Friday evening I had attended a church youth evening in the Brooklyn Methodist Church (in Pretoria). And we had sung songs and listened to a speaker (now long forgotten), and exchanged names. I hoped that they were not anywhere near where the military wanted to send me. What would I do if I met them that night? Would I shoot? I did not know.
30 years later my whole world has changed.
Those students now rule the country. And I do not.