A letter to my sons: reflections on SA’s past and hopes for the future GNU (if politicians can get over themselves)

A letter to my sons: reflections on SA’s past and hopes for the future GNU (if politicians can get over themselves)
DM168 Editor Heather Robertson, her partner Helen McDonald, and their sons Neo and Kabelo. (Photo: Supplied)

Jacob Zuma, who has done more harm to our country than anyone else in the past 30 years, wants to scapegoat us and vilify us for our mere being. We won't allow him to do so.

Dear Neo and Kabelo,

In 1994, when our country became a democracy and was last run by a Government of National Unity, you were not yet born. Nor were cellphones, smartphones, Google, TikTok, X, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, Nintendo Switch or the Sony PlayStation.

When I was your ages, 18 and 13, even though we walk over the same spot of earth marked South Africa, the country I grew up in was very different from the one you live in. For one-we were forced to live in separate areas split into  white, coloured, Indian, African with  scattered Bantustans for Tswana, Zulu, Ndebele, Xhosa and  Shangaan.

Our family, a mixture of black, white, queer and mixed masala me would  have broken the Immorality Act. Anyone  who was not white or straight heterosexual was deemed  less human and inferior. Mixing across the colour line an abomination. Weird but true.

Now it is having a job and scraping enough money that determines where you live. Being queer and a mixed race family might get us some stares, but it is not a crime. There are still deep inequalities between rich and poor. Black and white. It is still not fair, but there has been an improvement. If we get our government and private sector working for the 21st century, we can improve more.

I grew up in fear during the height of apartheid, in a country where police shot and murdered black youth like you, brown youth like me. They jailed and belittled young white people, like your other mom, who were gay or refused to be conscripted into an army that killed black people.

We were a generation of youth who were beaten, arrested, interrogated and jailed for protesting against a deeply conservative and unjust racist government. Who saw and treated us as  sub-humans for the colour of our skins or  aberrations of nature,  disgusting filthy moffies for whom we chose to love.

Many of us  were deeply traumatised, robbed of our humanity. We had to seek many different paths of healing.  Our healers  appeared in different guises-as  poets, playwrights, artists, writers, dancers,  musicians, priests, psychologists, counsellors, psychiatrists,  sangomas and nyangas. Our guides to feeling whole again. To laugh and cry and love.

I, too, went on a journey of healing after 1994. As an anti-apartheid activist and journalist, I was exposed to horrors I hope you never see. Not just from the brutish politicians, police and soldiers in the apartheid state but from thugs posing as activists who threatened to necklace suspected spies and opponents with differing views. Sexist men who thought women were theirs for the taking and discarding. And greedy opportunists who joined the struggle for money and power. This was the ugly side of the struggle against apartheid.

That ugly side unfortunately morphed into what you have experienced in your short lives as State Capture by crooked, incompetent politicians, government officials and leaders. 

The potholes that damaged our car. The load shedding that left you in the dark when trying to study. The water shortages and burst pipes. The sewage that seeps onto our streets and makes us sick. The traffic lights and trains that don’t work. 

These are the consequences of corruption and incompetence – by men and women, political appointees, who do not care about you or the millions of citizens who are hungry for the better life they keep promising every election. This is not the country I dreamt of as an anti-apartheid activist. It’s not a country deserving of you and your generation. 

There are many others of my generation  and the generations before mine who have not sought healing. They are the walking wounded who live with hatred and seek to have more and more to fill the  deep holes in their souls.  They want to destroy the peace worked so hard for by Mandela, de Klerk and all the South African parties who negotiated our democracy. Their eyes are red with rage-they want to hide their failures to govern and serve by blaming it on our constitution and the institutions of  democracy like the IEC and our judges.  They do this to try and  stop the law from getting in the way of them grabbing and controlling more.

I feel the wrecking ball of  rage in the rhetoric of those who despise ideas of non-racism, non-sexism and non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Those like Jacob Zuma and his sleeper supporters in the ANC, who only want to talk to “black” parties in a GNU, who convinced 45% of voters in KZN and more than two million voters nationally to vote to tear up our Constitution and, with it, the rule of law.

One of the laws Jacob Zuma would like to roll back is a law that made it possible for us, your two moms, and you, our two adopted sons, to become a family.

At a pre-election rally of 3,000 supporters of his MK party in Pietermaritzburg, Zuma supported traditional leaders’ condemnation of  homosexuality, and on another occasion he decried same-sex marriage as a “disgrace to the nation and to God”.

This octogenarian chiskop who has done more harm to our country than anyone else in the past 30 years, wants to scapegoat us and vilify us for our mere being. You see people like him and his supporters on  X, TikTok, Insta and YouTube trash-talking toxic hatred. Spreading the hate on social media like viruses. Trying to make us feel less human. And inferior. Like the sick rulers and apparatchiks of apartheid did.

My sons, don’t let him or them or anyone ever make you feel less than the wonderful beings who you know you are, just because we chose to be your parents.

When we your moms first met you, cradled  you in our arms as babies, and looked into your beautiful innocent brown eyes, you changed our lives forever.

In your eyes and in your fiercely just, honest, humorous, kind, non-racial, non-sexist, non-xenophobic, non-homophobic African hearts, we see the future. Let’s hope the politicians talking about a government of national unity over the next week see it too.

I love you always,


(Dear DM168 readers,

Our lead story today, by our KwaZulu-Natal correspondents Chris Makhaye and Greg Ardé, tells of a province on tenterhooks as fears loom about Jacob Zuma and his MK party threatening to destabilise the province and the country, as his supporters did in 2021 when the Constitutional Court called for his arrest.

Please write to me at [email protected] about your thoughts on the suggested government of national unity or the elections and I will consider publishing your views in next week’s newspaper.

Yours in defence of truth and our Constitution, Heather)

This story first appeared in our weekly DM168 newspaper, available countrywide for R35.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mike SA says:

    Rest assured the country will never go back to apartheid or live under any tribal authority notwithstanding that Malema refers to DA supporters as the enemy.

  • Lilla Amos says:

    Thank you Heather!!

  • Steven Lang says:

    Beautiful piece of writing Heather. You are absolutely correct

  • Karin Swart says:

    Beautiful letter that could almost be from any loving mother to her son(s). Thank you.

  • Lindy Gaye says:

    Thank you Heather – thankfully we won’t go backwards in spite of what Zuma may dream about – there are enough decent people in the governing classes to take us forward – we just need to support their efforts.

  • Fidelma of Cashel says:

    A beautiful letter! I wish I could share the other commentators’ optimism that we will not revert to quasi apartheid. The Weimar Republic came after the German Emperor fell… and before the Nazis. Just a few enlightened years in between horrors.

  • Brian Hutton says:

    Your writing has moved me to tears. We must keep moving forward in our endeavours for an all inclusive country.

  • Steve Daniel says:

    Thank you Heather…

  • Johan Buys says:

    Heather, my two kids are a bit older than your two. One is here, the other is not. I expect that in 2034 none of my kids and grand children will be here, simply because they must choose the best future.

    It made me sad, then mad but now I am at the glad state, but with regular sad & mad.

  • District Six says:


  • Ulrike Hill says:

    Wow! This is powerful. Keep writing and healing. Long may your sons live in a democratic country that can move past hatred and start healing.

  • Robert Dion says:

    So very well put.
    SA should have escaped our past yet has been hijacked by another gang whose ideology hs nothing to do with the hackneyed “better life for all phrase”.
    Those who have put SA in the mire are not being made to be accountable

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