As a student, I was fascinated by stories of the African continent. Reading tales of how this vast continent was discovered and mapped by explorers like Stanley Livingstone and built by people like Cecil Rhodes also excited me.
Africa was up for grabs and the Europeans, believing in the "white mans burden" of uplifting the Africans, came and governed. They stayed on until the winds of liberation brought in freedom for the people in East, West and North Africa.
However, the country that now is South Africa was free and not really free at the same time. It was free because it was a sovereign state and not free because a white minority ruled over a black majority population. It was not just a rule. The whites deprived the majority blacks of the basic human rights. Blacks were herded like cattle in a pen. No development whatsoever was ever made in their area. They were treated as pariahs and the system of apartheid, practiced as the guiding policy of government, was built on the principle that the black's lot must be suppression and repression.
The blacks fought back using both the political platform and later on arms to press for freedom. The African National Congress, banned for years, struggled until the White majority wilted and gave in. Thus, in a free and fair election, blacks once again became masters of their own fate.
There was a lot of apprehension. I must admit that I was also one of those doubting Thomases. South Africa was a first class nation. The sanctions enforced for years had helped create a spirit of true grit that propelled it abreast of developed countries. Thus the country was an economic power house when the majority took over after elections.
President Mandela, a towering personality and one of the greatest figures of this century, took over this mosaic - South Africa.
He appealed for national reconciliation and healing of past wounds. And to date his personality has managed to ensure cohesion.
There were those who were afraid that South Africa will go the way of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. But that fear has subsided for the time being at least. However, things don't look that well in a land which was once ruled by the Afrikaner with an iron hand.
South Africa has today become the world's most murderous country. Economic hardship has led to an explosion of violent crime. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the country has a murder rate of 53.5 people for every 100,000. That figure is five times that of the United States. An armed robbery occurs every five minutes, a burglary every three minutes and a murder every 29 minutes. Even President Mandela was robbed last year.
The rise in crime can be attributed largely to South Africa's high unemployment rate. Latest figures put it at 34 percent. Mandela has promised to get more tougher on crime. But it seems that another stronger force is leading South Africa in another direction. The old laws viewed as draconian were thrown out and the death penalty was abolished. In the rush to usher in humane laws, a liberal legal environment has enveloped the whole nation.
Gambling joints banned by the Whites are springing up. Pornography denounced as evil by the Afrikaner now is within easy reach of young and old alike.
It must go to the credit of the previous government that they, while maintaining their European heritage, blocked all forms of vice and corruption. At least the facade of a puritan society was maintained. Today, in shanty townships, Africans go to the numerous shebenas or liquor houses that have sprung up. Whatever little money they have is used on livening up their spirits!! Bodily, that it is. The discipline that was so much a part of South Africa is slowly cracking.
To those who argue that the previous laws were a part of a racist administration, well-wishers of South Africa, have an advice - do not repeal them just because that.
Review all laws and implement those that will enforce security.
South Africa has a lot of potential. It already has a first class infrastructure which is the envy of even developed countries also.
Mandela knows this and wants to capitalize on this. His aim of redistributing wealth among the country's 30 million blacks will be realized by foreign investment.
And in order to do so, he has to offer them various incentives - prominent among these will be security.