Around the middle of February 1990 I was working in a shop that sold material. It was a busy place and on this particular morning I served an African lady whose smile beamed across the shop at me. She asked me for 3 metres of material. There was nothing unusual in that – it’s what we sold.
As I chatted to her about her needs, I noticed she was clutching a cloth bundle in her hand, holding it hard as if its contents were precious to her. She described what she needed and I took her to material I thought would be suitable. She agreed, and asked for a single metre each of three colours.
Yellow. Black. Green.
I asked what she was going to make, as I often did with my customers. But I was moved when she smiled proudly at me and said “I am going to make an ANC flag.”
A few days before, Mr Mandela had been released from prison, and here she was, this lady, with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face, buying material for a flag that held all of her dreams and hopes for her future and that of her family.
But soon it was my turn for tears.
For when she moved to the till with me, she carefully laid the bundle she had been clutching on the counter. Opening it up she counted out the money – money, she told me proudly, that had been collected and contributed by the people of her village, saved for just such a day as this to proclaim their common hope for a brave new world.
It took her a while.
For the payment was made up entirely of coins. The largest legal tender of the day was the R2 coin which had been introduced the year before. But there were none of those. A couple of R1 coins, some 50c coins, but mainly 20c, 10c, 2c and 1c made up the bulk of the money.
Now it was my turn to cry. This purchase made me see with new eyes how amazing Madiba’s release was to the people of South Africa. We had celebrated as a family ourselves at the changes that were happening – but not like this.
The two of us gave each other a hug, celebrating the changes to come, hoping and dreaming of the rainbow nation ahead. I remember saying a prayer of thanks to God who had given us the opportunity – the first of many – to look one another in the eyes as sisters.
I never saw that lady again, but I have often thought of her over the years. How many of her dreams have been fulfilled, I wonder?