This morning when I was driving through the Pretoria city centre I realised that South Africa’s capital has changed a lot over the years. I came to Pretoria for the first time six years ago and remember a city that was quiet with a lot of white businessmen.
I remember I was with my father then and we got lost as we were looking for the university I would be continuing with my studies in. The white businessmen were friendly and pointed us in the right direction. At the time it seemed as if South Africa’s capital was a place where a white man still dominated over black people despite government offices being based here. This morning though I had a different feeling when I was driving through town. I must have passed at least one white beggar on every second corner on one road. I realised that this is no longer a place of white domination.
During my drive I also saw a few black people on street corners. Many of them were from Zimbabwe, but none were begging. They were handing out pamphlets and one can only imagine how much they are earning for the job that keeps them under the sun for a full day. I then wondered what white Afrikaans speaking South Africans think when they are begging for money on the side of the road and a young black man who didn’t experience apartheid, like me, drives by in an air-conditioned black car of the not so cheap kind.
I wonder whether they curse and say it wasn’t supposed to be that way or whether they blame themselves for missed opportunities during the times when the apartheid government gave them free housing and ensured that all their needs were well taken care of.
When I was in Zimbabwe recently I sympathised with the majority of those who are on the side of the road, working or selling to nonexistent customers. I can’t say I get the same feeling when I see white South Africans begging on a street corner in Pretoria. The thought that often crosses my mind is that they have themselves to blame as they could have received the kindof education that was only reserved for white people in the past. When I see them I think of a story my dad once told me. He said he would work as a gardener for a white lady when he was a kid. One day he told her he wouldn’t be able to clean her garden as he would be at school and she responded by telling him that her garden was more important than his schoolwork. He left and never returned to that place.
I wonder why many white Afrikaans speaking South Africans did not see the need to get that education my dad felt the need of during the times when the system told a black person to be a garder, a maid (politically incorrect in South Africa these days) or a security guard.
Afrikaaners had university such as The Univesity of Pretoria, RAU, Potchefstroom among others. They had all the opportunities to better themselves and there is no need for them to be on street corners today.
I wonder if they ever think of those missed opportunities.