Is it accurate to state that generations of post-Apartheid South Africans have little or no interest in South Africa's past?
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Unless one has access to polling data or surveys indicating South African attitudes on reviewing the nation's past, it is impossible to state with any degree of accuracy whether generations born and raised in the post-Apartheid era are interested in their country's history. There are, however, reliable indicators of how young black South Africans view race relations in general.
Part of the difficulty in attaining an assessment of views of the past in a country like South Africa is the fact that most people are simply too preoccupied with trying to survive the present to focus on the past. This is a product of the struggle South Africans have had to make since the transition from White minority rule to majority Black rule, a problem greatly exacerbated by the degree to which the system of apartheid kept Blacks marginalized and dependent upon Whites for their livelihood. This is a period in which South Africa's enduring problems with violent crime and political and economic turbulence in neighboring Zimbabwe preoccupy the minds of most South Africans, White or Black.
Another facet of the issue could be the method in which the African National Congress (ANC), the former guerrilla movement formed to fight against apartheid and now the governing political party, dealt with the immediate aftermath of the collapse of White rule. By the time the White-ruled government finally agreed to step down and allow Black majority rule, there was no shortage of Blacks hungry for retribution. Many demanded that former White politicians, police officers and intelligence officials be subjected to criminal trials with severe punishments expected to follow.
To his enduring credit, ANC leader and new president Nelson Mandela chose a different, far less divisive and emotional approach to "retribution." Mandela understood that putting Whites on trial would preclude the new government from able to reconstitute the institutions of state necessary to run the country. The disruptions such trials would cause would impede the emotional healing and practical considerations required of a new government more interested in governing responsibly than in retribution.
The compromise solution was the establishment of the Truth and Reconcilation Commission in 1995. The commission's hearings allowed Black South Africans to voice their feelings in a public setting while also having former White government officials testify without fear of imprisonment. The commission became a model for reconciliation in other countries emerging from protracted periods of tyranny or hardship. The commission served as an escape valve, whereby South Africans were able to let off steam without the violence the entire world anticipated should apartheid ever be overthrown.
Which brings us to today. Young South African Blacks have clearly formed impressions of race relations that involve by and large rejection of things closely associated with White rule, even extending to sports. A July 2007 article in the British paper The Guardian described situation as follows:
"While rugby and cricket are huge, they're both viewed as "white" sports...Football is perceived here as the truly multicultural sport."
Beyond indicators like this, however, it is difficult to say with great precision how much the younger generations of South Africa reflect on the country's past.
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