Do you realise it’s been fewer than twenty years since Apartheid was officially abolished in South Africa?
For a social studies project in elementary school in the 80s, I did a report about Apartheid. No one in my class had heard of it. I talked about what it was, its historical roots in colonialism, its connexions to Canada, and I talked about the imprisonment of people like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
One girl in my class did her report on Duran Duran. The boy who sat in front of me (on whom I had an ENORMOUS crush) did his report on Van Halen. Someone else did Ukrainian immigration (this was the kid who puked in his desk one Friday and didn’t tell anyone about it)…needless to say, some kids were more socially aware than others. I mean, it’s pretty easy to pass judgement NOW and say “while I was doing a report on Apartheid, most of the girls in my class did reports on pop bands and lipstick” (actually, it was eyeshadow) “and that made me a better/smarter/more evolved person than they were”.
We were TWELVE.
Needless to say, I remember working extremely hard on my report, and getting a little worked up during the oral presentation. I may have even got a bit shouty when someone asked, “so what does this have to do with us? We don’t live in South Africa”. I remember talking about Canada’s colonial policies in the 1800s and the rumour that the South African government had called up the Canadian administration to ask how “[we] controlled our Natives”. I remember going a little off-topic and talking about the internment camps Canada shipped people off to during the war (Japanese internment camps, German internment camps, Ukrainian internment camps). I remember saying, “this is important stuff to know, because some day, we will be able to help change the world.”
So what does all this have to do with “now”?
Well, the other day, I heard The Captain singing a popular television commercial jingle. For yoghurt. The tune is a ripoff of an anti-apartheid song from the 80s by Eddy Grant (the song is called “Gimme Hope Jo’anna”, and it’s about Johannesburg and the race riots that happened there. It mentions the Suweto riots as well). It was my favourite song for about five years. Oh hell, I’ll just post it here:
Anyway, I heard The Captain singing this jingle, and I said, “you know, it kind of pisses me off that that song is being used to market yoghurt to children.” He asked why. We started talking about Apartheid. I gave him a copy of a graphic novel I have about Nelson Mandela. As I was telling him some of the history that I have forgotten more of, shamefully, than I remember, he said,
“You know what I hear as you talk about the black people and the white people and the Indian people and the coloured people?”
“What’s that, dude?”
“I hear you talking about people, Mum. Just people.”
I wish I’d have used that line in my presentation in 1982.