Archived 2003 Articles


Pieter-Dirk Uys

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HIV and the New South Africa

– Pieter Dirk Uys, Perspective, 7 February 2003

When Nelson Mandela says 'Amandla' we know we have freedom. But what will happen to South Africa when Nelson Mandela is no longer there as our guardian angel?

An oft-asked question, and one most of us dread to answer. The country will forever be poorer without Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, but their imprint is so strong that we can follow the path of their leadership, even when they've moved on.

However if we lose our children to AIDS, we're finished. They are the only future for South Africa. No matter how much gold and diamonds in the earth, how many footballs kicked at the World Cup, how many drumbeats and quieter rhythms within the hit parade, how many white, blond, blue-eyed Africans fly into space, without the living energy of youth, we're a rainbow museum.

Over eight years has passed since that magical 27th April, a day that changed so many lives. Each anniversary is a celebration, not just of a victory, but a rebirth.

Being an optimist in the present South Africa is not fashionable, it's even suspect. The old warriors are no longer strong enough to govern, or even live long enough to lead. They had a lifetime in prison to watch how a country should not be ruled. They could plan how it must happen; they turned the ship of state around and prevented it from being wrecked on the rocks of revenge.

Meanwhile the foot soldiers of the struggle, those brave kids who in 1976 during the Soweto riots, unleashed a wave of change. They are no longer young and angry and lionised, they are middle-aged and uneducated, empowered by the slogan 'Liberation Before Education' fed to them by an impatient regime in exile, the Children's Revolution of the mid-1970s, which eventually saw the inauguration of Nelson Mandela on 10th May, 1994.

Well the millions who cheered their dreams come true couldn't spell it.

Today they have no jobs, they cannot run a country. The old white racist bureaucracy is retired in boere- Baroque splendour, living in huge mansions squeezed onto smallholdings.

The present reins of power are in the hands of those returned exiles who sat out the big rhumba in order to enjoy the last waltz. An elegant, educated, alien elite who has no idea of who we are or how we function. Their obsession with grand designed world politics, for example an African renaissance, a knee-pad, the proposed African Union, with its re-drawing of the borders of a continent, underlines an ambition that focuses on a world stage, not a local canteen.

But that's what South Africa is, we are just a local canteen and all it needs to start a day is a job to go to, a home to come back to, and the occasional cup of hot coffee, a sticky bun, and a nice hug, like the thousands and thousands of hugs I've had from thousands of kids while travelling around schools with an AIDS awareness entertainment.

South Africa today has the highest incidence of HIV-AIDS in the world, so I tell the kids, 'Not only must you stay alive, you must be awake always. You will come out of this school into a graveyard out there; don't expect a country. You must find that dream among the graves; it is up to you to become the new South Africa.'

Within a few more years, that new Amandla generation will be ready to rule. Among the 400,000 faces I've seen, a few will one day grace our stamps and coins. Already at the age of 16, some of our youth are doing more than the entire government is doing to improve the lot of the people, which is good. In a healthy democracy the people must lead and the government can follow.

Yes, the leaders of tomorrow, who are all born and bred in the new South Africa, and yet each one of them can be felled by a virus tonight, assassinated by HIV.

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