Returning to South Africa
I joined the Anti Apartheid movement when I was 14 or 15. I was already a member of CND and it seemed a logical next step for a teenager growing up in a village outside Leeds who wanted to change the world. I’d been horrified to learn from a teacher about how apartheid worked and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why running a country on the basis of skin colour had ever seemed like a good idea to anyone.
I remember thinking for many years that I couldn’t imagine apartheid ending in my lifetime and then watching Nelson Mandela being released from prison on TV with tears running down my face and thinking – ‘if enough people care and take action, unimaginable things can happen’. So my faith in ‘people power’ was confirmed and South Africa has continued to interested me for over 30 years.
I first visited the country in 1996 – I was living in a remote village in Zambia carrying out research in the impact of HIV and AIDS on children – and I had a friend living in Pretoria as she worked for Irish Aid. So a visit to a beautiful house with running water, electricity, and a swimming pool was a fantastic treat. I travelled around the country, visiting Jo’burg, Soweto, Durban, Cape Town, the Drakenberg mountains, Port Elizabeth, Kruger park, the Kalahari desert – and it was and still is a stunningly beautiful country. And back then it was also a strange place to be – so soon after the end of apartheid there was an odd mix of excitement and exhilaration alongside fear and shock. No one quite knew what was going to happen and everyone looked to Nelson Mandela to hold the country together.
I’ve visited South Africa half a dozen times since that first visit, and now I’m here in Cape Town visiting Womankind’s South African programme for the first time – and it’s great to be back, even though it’s winter here, cold and raining, so not unlike London when I left!