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‘The dream has sunk into a cesspit of lies’

Johannesburg - As a white person working in the heart of the Joburg CBD in the early 1990s, social worker Louise Grenfell often feared for her life.

Grenfell, 48, who worked at Child Welfare, said she was concerned about South Africa. Everybody was.

Social worker Louise Grenfell. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng. Credit: INDEPNDENT NEWSPAPERS

“It was very unpredictable. The country was on a knife-edge. Things were very tense. We didn’t know what could happen.”

Zimbabwean-born Grenfell had moved to South Africa in the early 1980s with her South African mother. She finished school at Greenside High and went on to study at Wits. Today, Grenfell works at Glen Vista High School and lives in a modest house in Melville.

Like many other Gauteng residents she bemoans rising fuel costs and e-tolls.

Grenfell remembered 1994: “People who had never had a voice now had a voice. I felt the threat was close. As a white person, I felt targeted. People would not know that I supported their ideals.

But despite her fears, Grenfell did not flee the country. “It was exciting as well as scary. Especially since I was involved in fights for academic freedom at Wits.”

“We always had hope that things were going to get better. Things couldn’t get worse, but better. The powers-that-be would have to change things to get better.”

And things did change.

But 20 years on, Grenfell is sceptical. “The more things change the more they stay the same. In some ways my life has not changed. I live in the same house. I have as good enough a life as I can.”

But she is very concerned.

Police shooting at citizens is exactly what happened during apartheid, said Grenfell. Only this time round, it can’t be called apartheid but pure violence.

The tax is out of proportion and the cost of living is hugely expensive. Crime is a problem. Week in, week out she hears tales from traumatised students of hijackings and shootings – the nasty side of South Africa, as she calls it.

“The freedom and democracy that people died for and suffered for has seemingly not turned out in a way that was the dream. For all the build-up that it took to get this vote, it has deteriorated into a cesspit of lying, deception and corruption.”

Is there a silver lining? Yes, said Grenfell. The compassion that exists.

“Although we are not near where we need to be, people are willing to help. There are so many good hearted souls who want to do good not only for themselves but for others too.”

Grenfell will go to the polls this year – like she has every other time she was able to.

This time round though, she is voting for change.

However, whether the change will come, she says, remains to be seen.

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