As a young boy, a White young boy growing up in South Africa, I saw many strange things happening around me. These strange things were happening to the Blacks and not the Whites as far as I could see.
Distinctly, I remembered the days when around my house, in the White suburbs where the quietness of the day would be broken by loud whistles and shrieks of run! Then came the ugly Bedford trucks carrying police. They would brake with a screech and out would pour police with batons and whips in hands, running after terrified Blacks, mostly old women. They would be caught and violently shoved in the back of the waiting Bedfords. Then it would be quiet again until the police came around again to search for Blacks without permit - passes - to be in White areas.
I remember the day I wanted to play jazz in my garage with the gardener who was a jazz musician. When I got around asking him to come play, he said he couldn’t because he was Black and that according to the laws of Apartheid, it was forbidden to socialize with Blacks in White areas. The laws of racial segregation. I remember being extremely angry and confused. As a White living in South Africa, it became difficult to look into the eyes of the Blacks, the African majority ruled by White minority.
The turning point in my life, came when I was still a young boy. After teasing and teasing and teasing my Black nanny one night when she was babysitting us, I called her a ‘Kaffir.’ As long as I live, I shall always be ashamed of what I said to her. I knew at the time the word was bad, but I used it to hurt, to cause pain. And when I saw that pain in her eyes, I felt as though someone had ripped my heart out. It hurt, and when I think about it today, it still brings back that hurt. Through this, I learnt about the horrors of Apartheid, the system of race segregation and its sickness, its leaders, the corruption of the legal system, the health system, the transport system - the whole South African system. The church system probably was the worst of all the false ideology that spurned Apartheid as right and righteous. In the name of G-D these men of the cloth called Apartheid right for the people, using the Bible to promote the system of Apartheid as a G-D instruction. And that G-D had created Blacks unequal.
Only when Apartheid began breaking down and eventually ending did the religious leaders come out to pronounce Apartheid as an evil and anti-Christian practice. They probably came out with this to save their own skins in case of a violent Black uprising against the Whites, which of course never happened. I must point out of course that many religious leaders did not support Apartheid, and were vehemently against it. Many risked their lives.
And so goes with the Truth Commission. Everybody trying to save their own by coming out to be ‘healed.’ Mostly to avoid some kind of prosecution.
As a White growing up in South Africa, we lived a privileged life, mostly at the expense of Blacks. They dug the gold, we ate the results. We lived in a lifestyle almost untouchable by many countries around the world. Our standard of living was high, the food the best, houses enormous, swimming pools, tennis courts, garages and the servant quarters. Jobs for the best. Schools for the best. Whereas the Blacks were dealt the worst of everything, excepting the exceptionally lucky.
June 1976. The Soweto riots. They were great. I was at Damelin College, when the riots broke out. When the teachers told us to stay indoors, I went outside to cheer them on. Probably, I too did not want to study Afrikaans.
I remember the Market Theater. It was one of my havens. There I would meet Black and White political activists of all kinds who fought against Apartheid. The theater was excellent. But going there in itself was a play. At night, I’d get into my car, drive through the loneliness and desolate streets of Johannesburg’s CBD district, under the M1 bridge until I would arrive at the Market. The feeling at the theater was rather than watching theater, you were being watched. All eyes on you. It was scary and challenging. And when you did sit down to watch a play, you had the feeling that of the 100 people in the audience, 99 of them were security police.
Then I left the country to study in the United States, getting a degree in journalism. I returned to South Africa. My haven in the midst of the racism around me was the Bensusan Photographic Museum, in Parktown, in an old wonderful double story house. The bottom floor with its wooden floors, had the museum, housing old cameras of all formats and photographs. On the top floor was my synagogue, the library housing thousands of books (it seemed like thousands of books). And as it goes, the house was demolished and the museum moved to a new home. I have never been back
I had a job at the Jewish Herald, edited by Morice Dorfman, one of the best editors in the country. There my photography became more important to me. Whilst working there, I was told more or less to keep my mouth shut about speaking out against Apartheid. It could be dangerous. This in conjunction with many feelings I was having, I left South Africa and emigrated to Israel. A year later, in 1985, a state of emergency was declared. How many people were rounded up and arrested, murdered, tortured, disappeared for life. I wonder what would have happened to me had I stayed.
Nelson Mandela is free and Apartheid gone. And there is even now a new President of South Africa, after the Mandela era. (An era the world cannot forget. South Africa is a free country with equality for all. A new and wonderful flag flies in the blue sky. But there is a new fight on the horizon that must be taken care of very quickly, like starting yesterday. Crime that is so out of control that is appears unstoppable. The tragic result of Apartheid must be dealt with to ensure the future of South Africa. South Africa is a wonderful country with lots to look forward to.
My work in the next pages deals with an ugly past. Some of the images can still be seen today in various parts of the country.
My only hope is that for the country and its children, and people, that they may live in harmony without suffering. And that they may all live a wonderful life.