An extended visit to South Africa since the bad old days of apartheid, a Sunday morning stroll through the rooftop market in Johannesburgâ€™s upscale Rosebank Mall shows a nation transformed.
A mixed choir of smiling, swaying, black and white schoolgirls, pert in their identical school uniforms, belt out golden oldies to entertain shoppers. In a nearby bookstore blacks and whites sit armchair to armchair, browsing through books and magazines together. In a little cafe, blacks and whites share tables as they sip tea and coffee. The mood is relaxed, jovial.
Welcome to the new South Africa. None of these interracial scenes could have taken place in the old South Africa with its strict policies of segregation. Gone are the segregated beaches, the park seats reserved for whites only, the separate counters for blacks and whites in government buildings, the segregated coaches on trains, the tidy white enclaves from which blacks were barred except as servants.
Today a black government rules a multi-racial country where white privilege is officially a thing of the past. But if the words of Nelson Mandela are to hold sway, the white minority and the black majority will live in harmony and collaboration for the common good. Mandela told the Johannesburg Star in 1994: â€œWe are not looking for victors and vanquished. We require all our people, letâ€™s forget the past now and think of the present and the future.â€
The harmony for which Mandela yearned is not yet universally manifest. Says one Afrikaans-speaking editor: â€œThere is still a lot of anger on both sides.â€ There are tensions and crime. But after an emotionally painful period of public confession and reconciliation, the cruelty and horrors of the apartheid years, which included the torture and murder of blacks targeted by white police executioners, has been succeeded at least by accommodation between the countryâ€™s different groups â€” the black majority, the English-speaking and Afrikaans-speaking white minority, as well as the Indian minority, and the mixed-race people referred to as â€œCape coloreds.â€South Africaâ€™s largest city of Johannesburg is throbbing with economic prosperity as new buildings go up, foreign trade missions seek opportunities, and streets are clogged with Toyotas and BMWs and Mercedes â€” all assembled in South Africaâ€™s auto manufacturing plants for home use and export.
Democracy requires more than free elections, and South Africa has much of the necessary structure. It has a respectable judicial system. It has newspapers that have emerged from harassment and control. They are threading their way through government pressure to praise the new order, versus the need to bring constructive criticism. The government-funded radio and TV South African Broadcasting Corporation, declares its independence and cites its charter to prove it. But some of its journalists still say they feel â€œBig Brotherâ€ looking over their shoulders. With both blacks and whites having put behind them the dark days of apartheid, the future should be bright. â€” The Christian Science Monitor