Weekends and Political Change

For a few years from September to March, our weekends were taken up with regattas as Edward had joined the school rowing team. There were very few suitably large dams in Johannesburg, so most of the regattas were held at Roodeplaat Dam, just north of Pretoria. As Michael had a good towing vehicle, we usually pulled the trailer of eights. It really worried me, driving at highway speeds with such expensive boats on the back but fortunately we managed to avoid any mishap.

The rowing fraternity became our social life as we cheered on our lads. Picnics were in traditional South African style, with the aroma of boerewors mingling with wood smoke. Beers were passed round to soothe throats that were hoarse from cheering. All the parents made a point of congratulating the parents of the boys who had done well, and smiled indulgently at the Mums proudly wearing their son’s medals. Our moment of glory came during the SA championships when Edward won his under fifteen individual skulls race.


The girls didn’t come to every regatta, but when they did, it scored points for Edward among the other boys. He suddenly had many friends among the older rowers as they came to check out the three hot chicks tanning themselves on our blanket.


On the tenth of May, 1994 everything in South Africa changed. Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress was elected the first black President of South Africa. Since his release from prison four years earlier, his policy of reconciliation had won the hearts of the world. That a man treated so badly could speak of peace not revenge, encouragement rather than recriminations, showed what a truly great man he was.

A huge burden of guilt was lifted from white shoulders. Optimism was rife. We celebrated being a rainbow nation. Black and white greeted each other on the street. Mostly. Our part was painless. It was much easier to lose the guilt than to forgive. Suffering cannot just be wiped away with a casual ‘sorry’ and many people still carry their hatred.

Children were bussed in to our local schools from the townships and there was fear that the standard of education would drop. Things did change, though not necessarily for the worse.

Nikki became friendly with Patience, a girl from the ‘black’ township of Soweto. Patience often came to our house, and I worried that she would invite Nikki back to her house. Wonderful though that may have been as a cultural experience, I was too afraid for my child’s safety. I had been fed a diet of media propaganda, and at that stage whites still believed they would risk their lives if they went into a ‘black’ area. Fortunately Patience never did ask Nikki to go home with her.

My hopes were that this generation of children, growing up together, would be able to have empathy with people of different cultures, and would compete equally for academic and sporting achievements. Reward would be on merit, not colour. But sadly, we do not live in an ideal world.