Forty years ago today, 13th January 1974, I landed in Johannesburg at the then Jan Smuts International Airport (now OR Tambo International Airport). My father had been living there for about a year, and as I had finished school in England and had no other plans, it was deemed OK for me to go to South Africa and see what I could do.
At the time it was going to be a short temporary stop, but as of today it has been a long one. In England at that time university was not considered necessary, but thanks to my Dad’s contacts who said I should go, I ended up going to university in Johannesburg, and that basically established my future path.
One of the original reasons for thinking my stay would be temporary was of course that South Africa at the time was becoming a pariah state due to its apartheid policies. But even though I was aware of it, the way life was lived by white people in those days, you didn’t see the bad side of the racial divide – because now I realise that the government made sure we didn’t see it. It was only through being conscientised at university that I began to realise apartheid’s impact. But it took events twenty years later like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for white people to really understand what apartheid was like.
When I arrived in South Africa, the population of the country was about 25 million (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_South_Africa). The latest census figures show population in 2011 was 51 million. In 1974 South Africa was a police state with fairly strong censorship, today we are a constitutional democracry with a good deal of personal freedom (although I now think that some censorship would be a good thing). In 1974 South Africa claimed to be a Christian state, however as Beyers Naude pointed out, apartheid was not scriptural and its effects were unacceptable. Today it is a secular state with what is considered one of the best constitutions in the world.
In 1974 South Africa didn’t even a national television service – the Nationalist government considered it bad. Now we have more television stations available inside the country and internationally than could have been imagined forty years ago. In those days, the only way to communicate with people other than face-to-face was via the telephone, now we mobile telecommunications and the power of the Internet.
In 1974 the only family I had in South Africa was my father. Now I have a wife, three children, a future son-in-law, some wonderful friends, a great church family, and good colleagues at work and around the world.
In 1974 my father could fill up the 40 litre petrol tank of his car for R10; now the same amount costs over R500. In 1974, the SA Rand:UK Pound exchange rate was about 1.5:1, now its 17:1.
In 1974 my father and I lived in a 2 bedroom flat on the outskirts of the Hillbrow flat land (then it was a cool place for a young guy to live). Now I live in a four bedroomed house in the suburbs of Randburg, and have a holiday cottage on the Garden Route.
In 1974 the area where I now work was rural, and people who lived here would have been considered as living far out. Now this is part of the built-up area of northern Johannesburg. Ten years ago, it was a dream of mine to working at this company, but I could not see how it would happen. I have now been here for nearly five years.
In 1974 computers were huge machines that were housed in cooled rooms and managed by people in white coats; the early experience I had in second year university made them anathema to me. These days I have a small cell phone with more computing power than those 1974 behemoths, and I have been working with computers for thirty years.
I wonder what is going to happen in the coming years?