Pulling apart apartheid

By Jessica Brown

The civil rights problem is not just an American issue.

Corne Prozesky, an associate director of facilities at the Student Recreation Center, knows this all too well.

Prozesky was born in Pietersburg, South Africa in 1976. He lived there for 21 years until he received an athletic scholarship for swimming and came to SIU.

Advertisement

He lived in South Africa during apartheid—the segregation of people with different skin colors.

Getahun Benti, a professor who teaches South African history, said underlying racial discrimination was always prevalent in the country.

However, apartheid became legally enforced when the National Party took governmental control in 1948.

Benti said the time period included separate schools for different groups of people, prohibition of relationships between those of different people, designated living areas for each racial group and a disparity in wages between the groups.

The discrimination did not stop there.

As a white child, Prozesky was conditioned be afraid of those who looked different from him.

“You get indoctrinated when you’re young,” he said. “You’re taught to be tough for your people, to stand strong for your people. … You were brought up to be careful and fearful of black people, that they were out to harm you, and that you always had to be on your guard.”

Advertisement

He said South African society was militaristic and strict.

“Our government controlled the television stations, so you never really saw the riots and people being unhappy,” Prozesky said. “We just lived life thinking nothing was going on.”

Freedom of speech was closely monitored as well.

In the town where Prozesky is from, a man got on a cart and began to speak about why apartheid was detrimental.

“After about five minutes, the police arrested him and took him away,” he said. “As soon as someone started talking about apartheid and why it was bad, they would just arrest you.”

The emphasis on militarism was carried on throughout the school system.

Prozesky said once males reached high school, they were expected to complete unpaid mandatory military service, which was also racially segregated.

Wednesday was military day,” he said. “You began learning about the military and started drilling. You had to learn how to shoot guns and use smoke grenades.”

Around this time, Prozesky began to question apartheid.

“I started to learn how things were on the outside from my brothers who were in the military,” he said. “People were very unhappy. That’s when I realized that this thing is not a fair deal for everyone.”

When the democratic votes were cast, Prozesky voted for Nelson Mandela, whom he met at a swim meet before the election.

Mandela won the nonviolent election and became South Africa’s first black president in 1994.

The peacefulness of this shift in governmental power is notable, Benti said.

“If South Africa could solve their political problems without violence, any society can, too,” he said.

Prozesky said ending apartheid was the best decision for his home country.

“People knew it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Diversity is such a strong element of society and is something to be celebrated.”

Danielle Lampley, a senior from Zeigler studying physiology, said a worldwide perspective is important for change.

“Everybody needs rights,” she said. “To change the world, you have to look at more than yourself. You have to look at the broad picture.”

Prozesky said the way to make advancements in societal injustice is to speak up.

“You have the capability to say this is not right, we need to change this,” Prozesky said. “You have the opportunity to have your voice heard.”

Advertisement