“What was it like,” I asked him, “apartheid?”
Joseph. Our driver. He was a large, jolly man in his fifties. He had dark chocolate skin with curly, salt and pepper hair. He looked at me and the smile lines around his eyes wrinkled.
Not just a chuckle. Joseph burst into a full belly laugh. He had lived through it. He was 33 when Apartheid ended.
“You would not believe me if I told you,” Joseph said. “My children do not believe me when I tell them.”
At first, I didn’t understand why he was laughing. I didn’t understand how he could laugh. It wasn’t funny.
I pressed him.
“It was horrible. No freedom. No jobs. We had no hope.”
He drove us to a township just outside of Johannesburg.
“Three-thousand people live here,” he said. “They have no running water. They have no electricity. They share three water taps. They share 20 portable toilets.”
He introduced me to the people. They were quick to smile, but their eyes were guarded, skeptical. I couldn’t understand their words. Joseph translated.
Who is this white face with a camera?
Why does he take our picture?
Joseph told them I was there to tell their story. I was. They were glad. They were friendly. They wanted me to understand. They wanted others to know of their struggle. For them, Apartheid was not over.
I was stunned. They had so little.
“Get in the car.” Joseph said it was time to go. It was no longer safe.
I got in the car.
Joseph did not laugh.
“Apartheid ended in 1994. Those were difficult times. I lost my best friend to a gunshot. I cannot describe…I will not describe those days. We did not know if we would live or die. We had no hope.”
“But, Apartheid has been over for 27 years.”
“These people believe the government will take care of them. They think the government will educate them.”
Joseph laughed. “They say apartheid is over. It is not. But at least now we have hope.”