South Africa is a strange country and always has been. All true South Africans love their country, but many have chosen to leave. During Apartheid years some people left because they were suffering intense discrimination and wanted to get away from it. Today, people are leaving largely because they have doubts about the country’s future. The corruption of the last quarter of a century is as unavoidable to most ordinary people as the discrimination of the past was to the majority. So South Africans leave and are replaced by waves of desperate people, seeking a living, from countries as far north as the Congo, Senegal and even Somalia.
Some South Africans survived very well in the past, and some survive very well now. And some, a minority, survived very well then and still do. Strangest among these are those who were functionaries in the Apartheid government and remain a valued part of the present government. None are stranger than those who played a part in keeping order for the old government and do the same now.
No part of the old system was more widely hated than the security police. For good reason they were blamed for the killing of activists like Steve Biko, Ahmed Timol, Rick Turner and many others, too many for the peace of mind of any South African. When it was clear that the old system was coming to an end security policemen, who had documented proof of their crimes, spent weeks shredding the evidence. How strange that, faced with a radical change of government, a few security policemen from the old days survived into the new dispensation.
In all changing societies there are some who possess the singular talent of making themselves acceptable to those in power – whoever they are, and carry with them strange echoes from the past. The South African case that is most surprising of all is that of a security policeman from the old days who rose to a senior position in Crime Intelligence in the modern South Africa. The echoes of past brutalities have clung to him though. Shaking himself free of them has proven almost impossible.
For most people such radical adjustments have not been necessary. The metal worker who welded steel items in past days, welds them still. The wheeler/dealer business person still exercises those singular skills. The writer still writes, but about somewhat different subject matter now. Politicians still desperately seek personal power at the expense of their followers. And preachers still welcome sinners to salvation.
As the saying goes: The more things change, the more they stay the same.