Some years ago, I had the opportunity of visiting South Africa. Thanks to the organization I worked for then. My colleagues and I were to spend a few weeks in Midrand mastering the art of running a Quick Service Restaurant, as my organization was involved in a franchising business. It was a great privilege to visit that great nation that I have heard and read so much about. Apart from hearing and reading about South Africa, some of the things I’ve either seen on movies or watched on the television made me have a passion for the nation and the people therein.
It took about five and half hours from Lagos, Nigeria aboard the South Africa Airline to get to Johannesburg. One of the things that amazed me at first sight was the beauty of the Airport. As a rational being, I quickly made a comparison between were I came from and my present location; my mathematical variation was a complete inverse proportionality. At the Airport, we were picked up by a white cab driver who is of Eastern European origin. As we drove past Holiday Inn, I was carried away by the level of maintenance of the roads. Unlike my home town where potholes and ‘basin holes’ wrestle with vehicles, I felt no galloping so, there was no walloping.
The journey to Midrand; in the suburb of Johannesburg was with mixed feelings for me. I thought about my native home and where our government got it wrong, I also thought about what went wrong when the evil apartheid regime was in power. I remembered the sacrifices made by people like Dr. Nelson Mandela and all those who died to ensure the freedom of this great nation. In less than one hour after missing our route a few times, we arrived at Bambanani Guest House. Bambanani, according to the Guest House Manager Peter, is a Zulu word for togetherness. “Hmm,” I said to myself, “freedom can only be won when the people are together.” The lesson of togetherness is what every human race should learn. The only way to crush evil opposition is when UNITY prevails in a community and among a people. Our division only strengthens our oppressors. The battle for freedom is only won in the spirit of love.
A few years before my arrival to South Africa, one of my friends in a bid to escape the frustrations in my native home ventured into the tales of migration. With no passport, visa, or money in the pocket, he was on his way to South Africa; then the new Europe of Africa. To cut a long story short, he finally arrived after about twelve months on the road, but that was not without spending about three months in a Cameroon jail for breaking immigration rules. My friend ‘U’, as I would prefer to call him, got married to a South African lady ‘E’. As a well cultured African man, I was determined to say, ‘Thank you’ to the family that gave their daughter to a complete stranger with no trace of his family background. One cold Saturday morning, while off work, we decided to pay a visit to Soweto, where my ‘in-laws’ live. The journey from Brakpan to Soweto was a bit long but exciting because I was very enthusiastic about Soweto; Soweto was a symbol of the fight and the struggle against the apartheid regime. In Soweto, I was given a typical Zululand hospitality by my in-laws; to tell the truth, I was touched by their hospitality.
During my visit, I met Beki, another in-law who offered to take me around Soweto. I was delighted. We started by visiting Morris Isaacson High School, where the 1976 riot started. From there, we proceeded to the Beer Hall which had been left as a monument for historical and tourism purposes. Opposite the Beer Hall is an old train station and beside it is the only Fire Service Station as at then. Somewhere around the High School was a Police Station which was then operated by white racists. Beki also took me to Regina Mundi Catholic Church were I saw the bullet holes on the walls and roof of the building. These were holes inflicted by the bullets of the racist Police Officers when they chased the Secondary School student rioters into the church premises.
As an inquisitive person, I asked Beki, “What was the reason for the riot?” The question was not as a result of ignorance of what happened in South Africa, but a quest to understand the philosophy behind the action. I believe that as individuals or a community, we must not just embark on actions, but do things with the guidance of a positive philosophy. The culture of our souls must be cultures of right philosophies. We can’t afford to live like mobs when we should be guided by principles.
The motivation behind the riot of 1976 was that of common sense and principles. In those days, the black elders from Soweto would go to work in the morning, and on their way back, would head straight to the Beer Hall. At the Beer Hall, they would consume alcohol until the early hours of the morning, and got home drunk. When its late morning, with hangovers, they would go back to work. This cycle of irresponsibility continued, until one day, their children in Morris Isaacson High School got fed up. They said to themselves, “No one under the continuous influence of alcohol can fight for his freedom. Until we do something to get our parents back to consciousness, we’ll continue to be slaves to our white oppressors” So they hatched a plan. In the plan, they said to themselves, “If we burn down the Beer Hall, they will have no place to go drinking. And if they have no place to drink, they will sit down to think. It is only when they think, that we can be free.” They burned down the beer hall, and the Police came after them, shooting and killing. Sacrifices were made, but that made the drunks wake up from slumbering. The blood of the martyrs became the strength to rise up and think. They came to a realization that thinking is freedom.
As I listened to the story from my host, I reinforced my belief that your freedom is in your thinking. It takes those who think to plan. If your life is full of activities, you cannot think. In life, we must create time for sober reflections. Never get carried away by fun; embrace the life that meditates. If young teenage students understood the relevance of thinking, how about adults? The lesson from my Soweto Diary is Think! Think!! Think!!! It is when you think that the ink of life will imprint life changing ideas on the board of your mind.