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Ek, Suid-Afrikaner

Satish Roopa

Burgemeester van Potchefstroom

Sol Plaatje-Diskoersreeks, Aardklop, 2002

My history as a South African commenced with the arrival of my grandparents from India as members of a merchant class in 1930. I was born in Johannesburg. Shortly after my birth our family moved to Zeerust. I have been a resident in Potchefstroom for 43 years.

I was born from very humble beginnings — one of 9 children. My father was a tailor till a month ago and is now retired. I commenced my early years of school without shoes and still remember the humiliation of poverty.

Besides being a victim of poverty, I was also born a Hindu in a majority Muslim community, so I suffered a second level of discrimination. At the age of 13 I became aware of the third form of discrimination when friends who were of different origin were forcefully removed to Ikageng and Promosa in terms of the Group Areas Act. That’s when apartheid in all its content became clear. We all lived together in an area called Willem Klopperville, now called Miederpark.

At age 14 my activism began by my refusing to celebrate Republic Day, 31 May. Got 6 of the best from the principal of our school for the act of defiance. We were a small group of activists that tried to influence our community who were predominantly a trading class.

I spent one year at Durban-Westville in 1975, registered as a Law student. Money prevented further studies, so my studies were part-time through Unisa. By then I met a large body of activists who came from all over the country to study. Those days, if you wanted to study at a non-designated university, you needed consent from the Minister of Education.

Between 1975 and 1985 there were major movements in my life. I got married and opened up a practice as a human rights lawyer in Klerksdorp. In 1994 I was requested to serve the country by joining government and became MEC for Safety and Security in the North-West Province. I currently have the position of Executive mayor.

How growing up in South Africa has influenced who I am
Given the discrimination one was exposed to I decided to become a lawyer to fight injustices in society. I was influenced by the examples of Gandhi and Mandela.

Like everyone else who opposed apartheid, I had my fair share of intimidation, tear gas, assault and detention. This only served to harden my resolve to destroy the system.

But none of that pain could compare with the pain of having one’s childhood memories destroyed by the Group Areas Act. The school where I completed my entire schooling was razed to the ground. The sports fields where we spent so many memorable hours. The movie house where I discovered kissing a girl did affect one’s brains. All of this destroyed by the stroke of a pen.

Driving through Willem Klopperville, now Miederpark, is both painful and nostalgic.

The change process
You cannot change the past, it is carved in stone. But we can influence the future. Serving under Mandela in South Africa’s first democratic government, national reconciliation, nation-building and a better life for all became our battle cry.

We are fortunate now to have survived the hatred, bitterness, death and destruction that is a necessary by-product of human conflict. There are many circumstances that have broken me and still can if allowed to. It is these terrible things of the past that we need to face, challenge and turn to good.

And the words of Mother Teresa are often replayed in my mind:

At the end life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry. And you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.” Hungry not only for bread, but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing, but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a home of bricks, but homeless because of rejection.

So having set my path at age 14 to fight for a just society, who am I and how do I redefine my life? If there is such a thing as a reborn South African, the definition would fit me.

I like braaivleis, sunny skies and pap. I enjoy the more precise way in which Afrikaans so aptly defines the world around me. I like khaki clothes. I am also sad that although I understand Tswana, I cannot speak it.

While I could not study at the PUK, I now serve on the University Council. I’m a member of the South African Communist Party and a board member of ABSA. I’m a member of the African National Congress and I also serve on the North-West Rugby Board. I have travelled to 34 countries, and every time I can’t wait to return home to South Africa.

In conclusion, I am a South African with a simple message to my fellow countrymen and women. In the words of Ayn Rand:

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desire can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, and it is yours.

En dit sÍ ek vir julle almal as ‘n ware, trotse Suid-Afrikaner.


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