Home / News / Our Africa blog / South Africa: “Mandela – he’s my hero!”

South Africa: “Mandela – he’s my hero!”

South Africa: “Mandela – he’s my hero!”

On location in South Africa, Peter Law finds out what Nelson Mandela means to young South Africans.

South Africa: “Mandela – he’s my hero!”

"For the children we met in South Africa, apartheid was something they’d been told about in history lessons at school. For the adults we met who’d lived through apartheid, the memories and passions it raised were still vivid.

We stayed at a guest house in Pretoria, a Whites-dominated area from which Blacks had been removed during apartheid. Like all houses in this residential area, our guest house was surrounded by walls with barbed wire atop. Talk with the guest house owners, after you’d got to know them better, and it’s clear in their minds that the barbed wire is to keep out the Blacks.

The Blacks, they say, are responsible for increased levels of crime since apartheid ended. The reason they lock the doors on their car when they leave their drive, through tall automatic gates bedecked with security cameras and lights, is to avoid being carjacked by the Blacks.

South Africa Our Africa Apartheid Museum imageIt’s not politically correct, we’re sure, even to convey their views. But, behind the scenes, in the generation of White South Africans represented by our guest house owners, those views still rage. Yet our hosts were church-going, God-fearing people with a social conscience. They’re ‘moderates’.

For the teenagers in the SOS Children’s Village, just a few miles away in Mamelodi, such thinking, based on skin colour, holds no logic. Watch this video of them visting the apartheid museum in Johannesburg  - they were open-mouthed at such prejudice.

Just how much the younger, as well as older, generations of Black South Africans hold Nelson Mandela in such high regard is shown in the films we captured in Mandela Square, Johannesburg. The two teenagers dance through the legs of a giant bronze statue of Mandela, singing his praises. ‘He’s my hero!’ says one of the girls. Their SOS Mother talks fondly about ‘borrowing’ her sister’s identity to vote for Mandela when she was too young to vote herself.

And at the time of our visit Mandela was in hospital, and the world’s media were speculating about his life or death. There’s no question that, among old and young alike, Mandela remains very special to their daily lives. You wonder how they’ll cope when eventually old age catches up with him.

By comparison with some of the countries we’ve visited, South Africa is well-off. Not for everybody, of course. Not for the majority. So the insight we got into the daily life of someone who had moved out of poverty into a sort of middle class was revealing. The same taxi driver took us from the guest house to the SOS Children’s Village each morning, and back again in the evening – and on a longer round trip to Rustenburg to the Tottenham Hotspur-sponsored house in the SOS community there.  He had moved out of what he described as a slum a few years before, and was now the proud owner of a brick-built home on the outskirts of Mamelodi. He invited us to visit his home and meet his family.

The only trouble was that his enterprise wasn’t so much in demand for much of the day. And in the afternoons he enjoyed a quiet smoke (of sorts). On the way in each morning he avoided the potholes with skill. On the way back, the ride was more bumpy."

Our Africa

What do you think of when you think of Africa? Disease, famine and drought? Well, Our Africa is Africa from the point-of-view of the children who live there. And what you see may well take you by surprise... Find out more.