I was born at Mamelodi Day Hospital in 1985. At a time when the apartheid government was getting anxious about the longevity of their antics, when the people were realising that perhaps they could really beat this thing, when everyone, white and black alike, could feel that the air was different. There were many of us entering the country that year, but many more leaving as hand grenades were thrown this way and that, bullets were shot into crowds, and deaths in custody occurred.
In 1991, the year black children were first allowed to attend schools formerly exclusive to whites, I learnt to write my name. And as I discovered words, colours, chewing gum, Mayo, di –ice and nigger balls that changed colour in your mouth as you sucked them, bo Tata Mandela, Buthelezi and De Klerk were beginning their peace talks. That February when I had learnt to write not only my name but my street address and phone number too, De Klerk promised to end all apartheid legislation. By the time I started high school in 1998 we were well settled into our new democracy, but the cracks in the rainbow were beginning to let the glare through as we watched the beginnings of xenophobic violence enter our society when policemen set dogs to suspected illegal immigrants and allowed them to be savaged apart.
As I prepared to go to medical school in 2003, the urgency for the fight against HIV scowled at us from the grave sites of the many young people who had died and the focus of the struggle shifted as we came together and pharmaceutical companies were fingered for price fixing ARVS. In 2009 I sat in Jameson Hall waiting for my name to be called. No longer just Kopano, but Doctor Kopano. 2010 was a year of dreams for my country, a year of dreams fulfilled for me too. That SMS that spoke of a first paycheck in the bank, I could not delete for months.
But the days grew shorter and the nights longer as my stethoscope became sticky in my hands, my white coat yellow, my eyes cloudy from frightening things seen and hurriedly forgotten. I suppose one gets used to these things. But one shouldn’t. So here I am, forcing us to remember, to pause, and stop and think about those ugly things like pain and suffering and disease and ill-health that plague so many of our people, those ugly things that don’t make the headlines, those ugly things we do not like to think about, but should.