A Journalist's Perspective on South Africa

Journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault (shown above with Nelson Mandela in 1990) first traveled to South Africa in 1985 for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, and since then has become a resident of the country. In this Masterpiece exclusive essay, Hunter-Gault reacts to her viewing of Endgame, which depicts the secret talks between the South African government and the opposition African National Congress (ANC) that were facilitated by British businessman Michael Young between 1985-1990 and helped end apartheid.

The Scene in South Africa

The chaotic opening scenes from Endgame — showing the massive street protests by black South Africans to end apartheid, and the apartheid regime's violent attacks in return — are all too familiar to me. I had seen it all, and yet to see it again on screen brought back the knot in my stomach that did not unravel until I'd left South Africa.

I had traveled to South Africa in 1985 for a month to do a series for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. We went to understand and convey what made the oppressors believe that they had a divine right to rule as well as what gave black South Africans the courage to defy them.

I could not have imagined the lengths to which the apartheid state had gone to and was going to go to prevent blacks from taking their rightful place in the society. The apartheid regime's violence was some of the worst known to man, including having a laboratory that created undetectable poisons designed to kill anti-apartheid activists. Vicious beatings that often resulted in death were a regular occurrence. And thousands of people simply disappeared, never to be heard from again.

I remember being taken by a nun to see a woman in a township outside Johannesburg who had been severely beaten by apartheid police. She ran a shebeen — a bar unlicensed by the regime — and one of the few places where blacks could go for an evening of relaxation. The policemen who stormed into her tiny house had accused her of "collaborating" with the anti-apartheid activists — a charge that she denied. But after they beat her, they hauled her off to jail and kept her there without medical attention. After hearing her story and examining her scars, I went into her kitchen and collapsed in tears. I had never seen anything like that before or since.

Other horrors of the state perpetrated on anti-apartheid activists are too numerous to detail here. And while there were also actions by some anti-apartheid activists that caused harm and death, they paled in comparison to the excesses of the apartheid state.

Next > Black & White — U.S. Civil Rights and the Telling of the Story of South Africa

Charlayne Hunter-Gault is familiar to news audiences from her work with CNN, PBS, and NPR. Hunter-Gault was the first African American reporter for The New Yorker and the second for The New York Times. Hunter-Gault served as the national correspondent for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour from 1978-1997, during which time she created the award-winning series Apartheid's People. The winner of two Peabody Awards and two Emmy Awards, Hunter-Gault is now freelancing from her home base in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is a special correspondent for NPR, Essence, theroot.com, and numerous other publications.

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