By GENE MUSTAIN and MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writers | Tuesday, May 3, 1994
JOHANNESBURG—After thinking about it for three decades, 74-year-old Arthur Holland decided to become a South African citizen yesterday.
“My conscience won’t bother me anymore,” said the semi-retired white businessman, who came here with the British army and never left.
“This has been my home and life, but I could never bring myself to becoming a citizen until now,” he added, a few hours before 76-year-old Nelson Mandela accepted the responsibility of leading the new South Africa.
The results of the nation’s first all-race election show that the overwhelming majority of whites support the transition to a nonracial democracy and have undergone the same remarkable transformation of spirit as F. W. de Klerk, the leader of the former masters of apartheid, the National Party.
Most whites rejected the separatist appeals of conservative white parties and voted for de Klerk and the “Nats,” who campaigned on a platform of equal opportunity and pledged to cooperate with Mandela and the majority African National Congress in a government of national unity.
As a permanent resident, Holland was entitled to vote in the election, and like many whites, he says he feels liberated by the election too.
“You opposed apartheid at your peril,” he said. “If you said too much, they put you in jail. We had it better, but it wasn’t really a free country for us either. You had to watch what you said, and where.”
While many whites remain apprehensive about the changes to take place as Mandela and the ANC begin to level the playing field in South Africa, most seem comforted by Mandela’s message of forgiveness and conciliation.
Countless times in recent weeks, Mandela has sought to reassure whites that they will be welcome in the new South Africa.
“If there is anything I am conscious about, it is not to frighten the minorities, especially the white minority,” he said, while denying a report that he intended to an immediate and significant tax increase.
“Whites in this country have had opportunities which we have not had—opportunities of education, of acquiring knowledge, skills and expertise—but in the building of a new South Africa, we are going to rely on them.”
In interviews yesterday, many whites described the jubilation of voting in the same terms as blacks and expressed relief that the massive campaign of bombings that extremists vowed for the week of the election did not occur.
“Where I voted, there were blacks and whites and coloreds and the mood of everyone was, ‘Let’s get rid of the crap in this country and just live together as equal people,’ ” said Raymond Gaddin, the 54-year-old owner of a camping-supply store.
“People were standing on line and laughing and going to get snacks for each other,” he added. “When I got home, I went to the synagogue and prayed for the miracle we have received—an election that was like a revolution, but without any violence.”
While such optimism and euphoria were common, many whites also said the country is not likely to turn color-blind overnight.
“Many liberal whites tend to give lip service to race issues,” said Lucy Dube, a 32-year-old education consultant whose husband is black. “They sympathize on an intellectual level, but not many socialize with blacks in the townships.”
Dube said she comes from a “typical” white suburban family and that for her parents her marriage was a “Guess-Who’s-Coming-to-Dinner?-story without the happy ending.”
“The first time I interacted with a black person was when I was 18 and in college. And most whites still have this lack of exposure. For them, living in Africa is still an abstraction.”
Joan Cameron, an office manager, said the good will of whites will be tested when Mandela and the ANC begin affirmative-action programs.
“It used to be, with unskilled jobs, that whites got picked; now it will be the blacks, and what will those unhappy whites do?” she said.
But Cameron remains optimistic. “The thing people have to realize is that we have a large country with vast resources. We have enough to go around and give everyone dignity and respect.”