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South Africa 1981 and Technology

What was life like in South Africa 1981? Man, I can still remember that year. Yeah, shocking… I know. I was a young kid in South Africa 1981, but I was into all sorts of gadgets. I loved to take stuff apart and figure out how they worked. I remember taking apart my mom’s broken washing machine. That thing amazed me no end. Thinking back to 1981, I can’t really imagine the world back then as compared to today, 33 years later.

South Africa was in the throes of Apartheid, and I remember that quite vividly because the signs of it were all around. Signs like “Slegs Blankes” (Whites Only) littered parks, camping sights, cinemas, restaurants, restrooms and every other bit of everyday life as I knew it. My dad who was a doctor worked at a practice that has two entrances. One for whites and one for non-whites. My dad later later moved away from that practice and opened his own practice for non-whites only.

South Africa 1981

The reason I mentioned apartheid was to bring the point across that the government at that time was so focussed on maintaining the evil of apartheid, that technology and the advancement thereof wasn’t even a remote consideration to them. Some of you might think I’m wrong, I mean it was a South African that pioneered the heart transplant. Then I remember Paul John Thesen. When he received his first heart transplant, it happened to be a heart of a 13 year old black boy.

At the time, that was a big deal. He lay on the operating table for four hours while the apartheid government debated the question of race. They ultimately decided that when the heart left the body, it became neutral and thus Thesen’s classification remained white. The operation could continue. By today’s standards this seems absolutely unbelievable, but unfortunately this is how life was for South Africans in the apartheid era.

South Africa 1981 Bill Gates

So while South Africa was progressing (albeit slower than other countries), the building blocks of the technology of today were being laid by trailblazers abroad. Apple was 5 years old and Microsoft was a year older than Apple. Google didn’t even exist back then. The big names of today have their origins in the pioneers of technology. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check the news on my phone. Back in 1981, that wasn’t even on the horizon yet.

South Africa 1981

The video clip below is an excellent illustration of technology in everyday life as it was in 1981.

What we take for granted today has been won by the blood sweat and tears of many, many people. Those people are specific to each country. In South Africa those pioneers are people like Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela that stood up against tyrany and fought for freedom so that we (and technology) could flourish in a free society we all can enjoy today. We as free people need to take cognisance of this fact.

South Africa 1981

That Android or iOS device you hold in your hands was made possible in some part by the technology pioneers, the freedom fighters, the activists and those that believed in the impossible. The next 30 years is going to be awesome for tech. Let’s make sure that the generation of the future can look back at us with the same affection and admiration.

TalkTalkTechnoComps, BBC, xinmsn

Dirk Strauss
Dirk is a Software Developer and Microsoft MVP from South Africa. He loves all things Technology and is slightly addicted to Twitter and Jimi Hendrix. Apart from writing code, he also enjoys writing human readable articles. "I love sharing knowledge and connecting with people from around the world. It's the diversity that makes life so beautiful." Dirk feels very strongly that pizza is simply not complete without Tabasco, that you can never have too much garlic, and that cooking the perfect steak is an art he has yet to master.

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