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Nelson Mandela's death and South Africa's next great struggle


In the late 1980s, Jeffrey's Bay's waves were perfect and its politics was simple: white people ruled the roost, and black people were not neighbors—they were gardeners (or, as most people called them, "garden boys"), domestic workers ("maids"), and laborers. Jeffrey's, as it's known to the locals, is a coastal town in South Africa's Eastern Cape province. It's very famous for great surf and attracts wave warriors from around the world seeking the perfect barrel. In 1989, it also attracted my father—a journalist with a young family who was looking for a change of pace and an escape from big city newspapering. So we—my parents and I, with our pet dogs—moved to Jeffrey's and I was enrolled at the local primary school. I was seven. Every morning, my classmates and I sang the national anthem, Die Stem—The Call—beneath our country's white, orange, and blue flag. Our lessons were taught mostly in Afrikaans. I had no non-white classmates, which wasn't a big deal because my life had always been that way. I was white. My friends were white. The woman who cleaned my house was black.

For our physical education classes, we were supposed to wear white. One day, my usual white T-shirt was dirty, or lost, and I raided my father's closet for a replacement—I liked to wear his clothes, even if they were a little baggy, because they helped me pretend I was also an important, smart journalist. This T-shirt was emblazoned with the smiling, gentle face of a black man. I put it on for the weekly class and was immediately pulled aside by the teacher. What was I doing, he demanded? Did I know that I was wearing the face of a terrorist? I had no idea what he meant, nor why the smiling black man and the words "Free Mandela" might make my teacher so very angry. I put the shirt back in my dad's cupboard and never told him the story.

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