Monday, Jan. 27, 1992: (On the Blue Train, heading south from Johannesburg)
My first impressions are mixed. This is a country complicated beyond belief, and nervous.
I’ve just finished Alan Paton’s novel, Too Late, the Phalarope, an Afrikaner tragedy. Dear me, the aboriginal Boer really was a tight-sphinctered specimen; the hero was busted for having an affair with a black woman, on grounds his crime was as bad as cannibalism, or worse. Paton limns a family nurtured on the Old Testament, headed by a patriarch, racist, sexist, dogmatic to a degree known in America only in the seventeenth century. A tribe, convinced they had a special relationship with the Almighty. How ill-equipped for the crisis that looms. I must get to know these Afrikaners better, not depend on one novel only, no matter how eloquent.
The division of labor between the races in Johannesburg is not what I expected. We have used two taxis so far; one driver was white, the other black. The restaurant at the Rand International, where we spent last night, was staffed by respectful blacks, but half the customers too were black. There were a couple of “escort services” across the street, the dear old Randy being situated in what appears to be a flourishing red-light district, and we were able to observe a certain kind of trafficking through the restaurant’s window, while we were having supper–cabaret style, as it were. The whore doing the most visible soliciting was white; black damsels flitted back and forth, but were only transiently visible. The clientele was mixed. This morning after we taxied to the railway station, a white porter dragged our bags to the Blue Train loading platform. Just about everybody connected with that august conveyance was white, both when we got on the train, and now, the staff that accompanies us. Earlier this morning, when I walked around the block from our hotel, I gained the strong impression that in downtown Johannesburg at least, progress towards a genuine multiracial society is a bit farther advanced than we Americans have realized.
The economy is depressed. Part of it is international sanctions; part is the recent drought; and part is the generally depressed state of the world economy. The Rand is down to 2.6 to the dollar, maybe a bit more if you shop around the banks. The drought is for real, judging from the withered cornfields I am looking at right now, out the train window. But “things work”– plumbing, trains, taxis–north European efficiency triumphant over African sloth–factories everywhere support the notion that South Africa really is the continent’s #1 economic powerhouse.
Security concerns hang over Johannesburg in a gray cloud. Last night the white hotel manager was quite firm in telling us not to promenade around the town on a Sunday evening. And then during my excursion, to a bank this morning to convert some $ into Rands, I was directed to a huge building, almost all of it sealed off, controlled access, armed guards checking ID cards before letting people through turnstiles into the main interior. The basement mall was outside the secure area, and there I found my bank–entrenched behind its own little defense perimeter. Our Embassy in Beirut would envy that little organization’s protective shell. After much shuffling around inside, I found a bright South Asian lady who actually changed my money, after completing umpteen forms. She told me she’d been with banks seven years and had been in robberies four times, three of them fairly recently. Yes, all this physical security was a hassle, but better than being robbed. Were the robberies political? No, they arose partly from bad economic conditions, and partly from the way things were going generally: “It’s a lot of things coming together.”… And now, since the train ride began, my principal impression has been of barbed concertina wire sitting on and reinforcing older barbed wire fences. The railway stations themselves are almost grotesquely fortified by these layers of barbs, as are most of the other buildings visible from the window. I muse about this sense of malaise; what for instance does it mean in terms of capital flight?
Wednesday, 1/29 – 6 am: (Cape Town, Chris Westdal’s residence)
We were two or three hours late getting in to Cape Town yesterday, as a goods train had derailed ahead of us, for unexplained reasons, forcing a detour. Everyone was upset, as the Blue Train was famous for its punctuality. (Not to mention the fact that its kitchen had to whip up an unscheduled lunch for us). Chris met us at the station, a bit late and flustered. He had had four heavy representational evenings in a row; his only competent house servant’s wife had just died and the servant had departed, leaving Chris’ house in a mess; and Chris’ father Swain, here on a visit, was about to undergo surgery. He and his driver took us to his residence and dropped us. Then he scooted back to his office.
Chris’s humble abode is a gorgeous mansion on the wooded south slope of Table Mt., with the city on the other side. The ocean is visible off to the southeast, and to the north, across the road, is a parkland, covered with foot trails. We unpacked and tried to snooze. Jane succeeded. I talked to Swain, a delightful old Winnipegian with a hernia. Jane woke up, and we had a swim and a walk. Chris had returned but was napping. Chris’ athletic son John showed up with a friend, another athletic young man named Simon. Chris arose, took charge, and shepherded the six of us to a fish house on Hout Bay, where a gale-force wind was blowing the sand off the beach. At dinner we had our first thorough discussion of the ins and outs of the South African conundrum that was to bedevil and fascinate us for the next few weeks. Here are highlights:
- Chris said anyone who had been around six months, as he had, had learned too much to be able to generalize. The scene was incredibly complex. The region around Cape Town was the most secure, for the whites, but yes, there was capital flight, and yes, everybody was nervous. The outcome was uncertain, but it need not be a bad one. Mandela and other ANC leaders are an impressive lot, the country is lucky to have them. The ANC is genuinely opposed to racism, wants a multiracial society in which the blacks get a fair share. They definitely do not just want to kick the whites out. They saw what happened in Zambia, and they understand they need the whites if the country is to continue to prosper economically. Now they are looking at the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and drawing the right conclusions. Ergo, a happy outcome is at least possible.
- Simon is a South African of the Anglo variety, and a thoughtful young man who understandably shows much more than an academic interest in what is going on. He is avoiding the draft, but can’t be called a draft dodger as the constitutionality of the current whites-only draft law is under question. He agrees with Chris that Mandela and his top cohorts are all right, but is more concerned about the ANC rank and file. The latter are mired in 3rd world attitudes, don’t understand what it takes to make a modern society function, see the fruits of that society on TV and want them, now, without comprehending the price. Education is the only way to bring enough of the non-white majority up to speed, and even if all goes well with the school system, it will take a couple of generations. On balance he was moderately pessimistic.
Thursday, 1/30 – 9 am
The plot thickens. After a restful but relatively uneventful day of shopping and sightseeing, Chris laid on a small dinner party for us. The outsiders he invited in were Bill Swing, the US Ambassador, and Gary and Mandy Ackerman. Gary was the son and heir to the Pick n Pay empire, which does for South Africans what Safeway and Giant combined do for us. The conversation was most informative:
- Bill was upbeat about future prospects. He felt that sanctions had been quite effective in helping bring about the present loosening, especially in drying up foreign loan capital by shutting off the IMF.
- Gary identified himself as a member of South Africa’s Jewish community and readily talked about it. He is no admirer of Israel, but most of the members of his community are, and strongly support it financially and morally. The community numbers a couple of hundred thousand. More interesting were his observations about what the Afrikaners have been up to, ever since they lost their independence to the British early in the century. When the Brits took over, the Boers were a bunch of pariahs, semi-literate farmers. The Brits took over everything, the whole government, and the businesses and the banks and so forth, and rapidly developed the modern sector of the economy. The Boers licked their wounds, and developed an abiding ambition to get their country back by replacing the Anglos in as many of these strong points as possible. Their approach was first to capture the bureaucracy, then work on the business sector. During the ’30’s they took over the railways, still an Afrikaner stronghold (cf. my observations about all-white staffing on the Blue Train), and then a lot of the rest of the government offices. Apartheid, introduced shortly after the Second World War, both reflected their increasing control of the government bureaucracy, and facilitated their efforts to achieve dominance. More recently they have been using their control of the bureaucracy to infiltrate and gradually dominate the business sector. A recent merger signaled that they have come a long way. Throughout this long trek to power their attention has been focused on the Anglos, not the blacks, who they never took seriously. Now they have to take the blacks seriously, and have remarked that the blacks, who watched the Boer ascent to power with great interest, are trying to follow along in their footsteps, seeking control of the bureaucracy in order eventually to capture a major piece of the action in business, where the money is. This is why the Boers have suddenly swung around from a generally statist view of how to manage a national economy to an abiding faith in privatization and support for unfettered free enterprise; having used the bureaucracy as a springboard themselves, they are trying to close that route off for others.
Friday, 1/31 – 8 am
Yesterday we achieved a higher level of mobility. With the Embassy’s help we located Bobby, a taxi driver who agreed to be our driver for a few days for a fairly hefty sum. Bobby turned out to be an extremely bright and likable member of the so-called colored community who looked exactly like the Bushman hero in The Gods Must Be Crazy. With Bobby at the wheel, we acquired a red Corolla from the Avis people and shopped and sight saw. The museum in Cape Town was excellent, dedicated not surprisingly to detailing all the cultural differences between the various “native” people of the land, Zulus, Xhosa, Hottentots, Bushmen, all with very lifelike dioramas. (Perhaps a future government will see fit to add a couple of exhibits for the white tribe of the Afrikaners). Bobby took us to one of the best-run stores I’ve seen in a long time, where we bought shoes and hats and other impedimenta at reasonable prices. Not surprisingly, it was entirely staffed and as far as we could tell, managed by “coloreds”. The store personnel, like Bobby, all seemed bright, energetic, and upwardly mobile. We drove north up the coast and lunched excessively at a posh and expensive restaurant run by Anglos. Crayfish thermidor and all that, delicious. Then on to Bobby’s own township, Atlantis. It is way the hell and gone out of Cape Town but the houses are decent and fairly roomy and well-spaced, no litter, neat kids, presentable schools. Bobby took us to his home where we sat in a living room that a middle-class Nepali Brahman would have been proud of. We met his wife and three attractive kids. We talked about a lot of things including politics and religion. Bobby denied any Bushman ancestry, said cutely (and Jane thinks allegorically) that he was the product of a black father and a white mother. His wife, also light coffee-colored, was well-spoken and seemed intelligent. Bobby got through the 6th grade and his driving ambition is to get his kids to and through the university. He is a Pentecostal. Allan Boesak is the principal spokesman for the colored communities in the nation’s high councils and Bobby recognizes his leadership, though Boesak is Dutch Reformed Church. Every day Bobby works at his taxi trade in Cape Town, he spends 10 Rand on bus fare commuting in and out. But he thinks it is worth it, as Atlantis is better for his family than other colored townships that are somewhat closer to the city.
We drove back to town via a couple of other townships, the last being a relatively poor, crowded, tawdry and be-littered black one. Question, is it tawdry and be-littered because it is black (an Afrikaner view)? or because of apartheid (a more liberal view)? Either view, of course, finds plenty of justification for itself, given the prism through which it observes the evidence. Is there a genuinely objective way of assessing this?
Then we visited a memorial to Cecil Rhodes, whose huge bust up on a hill brooded over his lands. And dropped Bobby off and repaired back to Chris’ little pad for rest and reading and a walk that didn’t happen, Jane being asleep. Finally, we went off to a dockside restaurant with Chris and ate fish.
Sunday, Feb 2-8:30 am
Friday morning, i.e. after penning the above, we picked Bobby up and he drove us south, as far as he could, to the end of the Cape of Good Hope. Interesting shorescapes, and then a reserved parkland to the end. We walked about a mile from one road head at a lighthouse to another where baboons frolicked. Bobby drove around and picked us up, then back up the Atlantic coast to Kommetjie where we lunched. After lunch we abandoned Bobby again and had a long walk north along the beach to the next road head. On the way we passed the rusted hulk of the good ship Kakapo. Its captain, who is nameless, took it out of Cape Town on its maiden voyage, got confused in the fog, thought he’d passed the Cape when he hadn’t, and took a hard left turn when he shouldn’t have. Wind and tide were behind him, and he beached his ship so high it is still there. Ponder that, o ye sinners, and take comfort in the thought that however much ye goof, that captain screwed up even worse.
At the end of our walk, Bobby took us to a neighboring vineyard and wine producer, the Klein Constantia, and we bought a few bottles of their well-famed product for the Westdal house. Back to the house, emptier than usual, as Swain by then was off in the hospital having his hernia repaired. We had an early supper and off to bed, rather tired.
Yesterday we had no Bobby, having decided to hack it on our own. We got young John to drop us off a couple of miles down the road from our house, at the famed Kirstenbosch botanical gardens. We walked up the slope, towards the top of Table Mountain, ascending perhaps 1000′ before we intersected the Jan Smuts contour path, Cape Town’s Appalachian Trail, which ran east-west across our bows following a contour a few hundred feet under the lip of Table Mountain. We turned left on the Smutspad and followed it a hell of a long way to Constantynek, which as I remembered was just above our house. Breathtaking views along the way. The trouble was, I should have turned off at Cecilia Forest. By continuing on I overshot by a good two miles. What should have been a stiff 4-mile walk turned into a grueling 8-mile one. We trudged back west along the paved road, with BMW’s whizzing past us at breakneck speeds, and Jane was actually beginning to run out of harsh things to say about my navigational abilities by the time we dragged our way into the Westdal haven, about lunch time. Chris drove in with Swain, who had been sprung from the hospital earlier than foreseen, and his operation was so much more exciting than our plight that no one felt sorry for us at all. We had a late lunch, bedded Swain down, and took off for Seal Island, on an excursion boat from which we saw lots of, you guessed it, seals. On the way home, we visited a big aviary where we saw lots of, you guessed it again, birds. Plus meerkats, those incredibly cute proto-mongeese that stand up very tall on their hinder parts and look at you in a most quizzical but friendly manner.
That night the local Community Chest was staging a big fundraiser dinner/dance at a big hall down at dockside. Chris had been conned into buying seats at the table of the Mayor of Cape Town, an eminent Afrikaner with a relatively liberal background, so we had a chance to meet some of the cream of the haute monde of Cape Town, including the Mayor and his wife, and the Ambassadors of Spain and Finland. Nevertheless, it proved to be an extraordinary evening. A couple of hundred whites and a few blacks constituted the paying guests. Up front, next to a dance floor, was a large stage, with synthesizers and mixers and other sound paraphernalia. A black MC who must have been a TV star or something, anyway a personality kid, conducted the proceedings. There were four groups of performers: six big Zulus in war paint who stomped around in an energetic tribal dance; a large chorus of rather dumpy black females in Mother Hubbards; six nice-looking pre-adolescent girls in their school uniforms; and a group of musicians who synthesized and drummed and sang and et cetera. They each put on their act, and on the whole, they weren’t as bad as it must sound here, and then we were all treated to a large buffet of African food, which on the whole I found to be Godawful. Fortunately, we were all getting tanked up on beer and wine to the point we didn’t have much room for food anyway. Then each of the four groups put on another act. By the time that was over the whites in the audience were feeling little if any pain, some of them were even acting well lubricated. Whereas at the beginning the general mood had been one of mild curiosity, by this time it had shifted to one much more emotional, an odd mix of release and enthusiasm. The mayor made a short and moving speech and a white lady at another table took the plunge, grabbed a startled black man, and started to jitterbug with him in a most energetic fashion. Perhaps I was imagining, but I sensed that many of the whites in the audience were experiencing a kind of catharsis, where after all these long years of apartheid, it was now, suddenly, OK to commingle with all those black wraiths they had been sharing their country with, without communication. Like the Berlin Wall falling, a bit at least. Hard to describe, but almost tangible.
The black reaction seemed to me to be one of total surprise and puzzlement. The black ladies in the mother hubbards took in the mayor’s speech and the lady jitterbug with their mouths open and their eyes goggling. Several blacks in the audience held up clenched fists. I guess they could have been jugged for that, had they done it much earlier. One clutched his private parts, whether as a political gesture, or because of something more personal I do not know. The blacks were receiving the warm sentiments the whites were directing at them, all right, but they didn’t seem to have the foggiest idea how to respond. A paradigm for the larger situation?
We met a Reverend Stubbs there, an Anglo South African who had achieved a certain notoriety, and several years banishment, by marrying a black woman. We arranged to meet next Monday evening–should be interesting.
Tuesday, Feb 4 – 7:30 am
On Sunday Chris drove us out to Stellenbosch, seat of the oldest and most prestigious Afrikaner university. Then on through the wine district to the Rhebokskloof winery, on the back side of a mountain from Paarl. We toured the vineyards and the winery, lunched, and bought some wine. Home via Paarl itself and a different route, including an indifferent stop at a crocodile farm. Then on to dinner at Bill Swing’s, where we had a good dinner and an equally good discussion, though the latter broke no new ground that I can recall. Bill invited us to stay at his residence in Pretoria later this month, and volunteered the help of the Embassy in setting us up for a tour of Soweto while we were there. We accepted both offers enthusiastically. He suggested we stop by Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland, when we went that way on our way to Kruger, and visit with Steve Rogers, our Ambassador there. As a former specialist in mountain kingdoms, I found the idea intriguing.
Yesterday I did a mess of telephoning, including a call to Steve Rogers, who invited us to stop by and overnight with him on Monday the 17th. Then we drove to Mr. Avis’ emporium and switched our little Corolla for a slightly larger Volkswagen, which proved to be a much less desirable car in all respects except one: it was air conditioned. And as we expected, that feature became increasingly necessary as we drove north, toward the equator, in high summer. Bobby rejoined us and I re-hired him for the day. We went to a Pick n Pay Supermarket and shopped for supplies for the road. It was a totally modern market, organized along lines identical with our Safeways and Giants, with checkout lines, bar-coded merchandise, loss leaders, and so forth. Because of sanctions there was almost no imported merchandise, but the shelves were loaded, with quality and variety that compared well with ours, and spoke volumes for the strength and diversity of the South African economy in general, and its food processing industry in particular. Then home and on to lunch at the seaside suburb of Clifton.
Our host was Juanita Rabies, a friend of a neighbor of ours in Virginia, through whom we had an introduction. Her home was pleasant and comfortable, and she served a light lunch herself– no servant visible. With her was an older lady, Edith(?), very elegant, who divided her time between London, Paris, the USA, and her South African homeland. It became evident that she was Jewish, and a strong supporter of Israel, when I made some moderately anti-Israeli crack. Aunt Edith was full of gloom and doom generally, and particularly regarding South Africa. There was no question of flight of capital; hers had fled. She was bitter that she had had to sell some of her landholdings in the interior for less than she thought they were worth. She was standing by helplessly but not mutely as her natal land went down the tube. She obviously did not intend to be around when it went bottoms up. Not so Juanita, however, who provided an interesting contrast to Edith. She said defiantly that her ancestors had come to South Africa in 1780 and she had no place else to go. Jane encouraged her to distinguish between her own forebears, who had emigrated to the Cape and stayed there, and the “Voortrekkers” or pioneers who had trekked north in the 1830’s. Juanita replied that the latter were “no good”; she preferred the Afrikaners who, like her family, had stayed put. She didn’t say so, but the implication was that she found the northern settlers boorish in comparison to her own people.
Unfortunately, we were pressed for time, so we had to leave Juanita’s lunch early. Bobby rushed us back to Chris’ house, and we went to a golf course and played golf in a heroically bad way. We rushed back from golf to get ready for a date at the Anglican headquarters in town, which Chris had arranged for a follow-up meeting with Rev. Stubbs and his black wife. When we got there, we met the Stubbs’s, also an Anglo lady named Isabel who dealt professionally with prisoners and children, and a dynamic Ugandan black, very personable and articulate, who is the UNHCR representative to South Africa. After a while we all went to Freda’s restaurant where Chris treated us to a long and excellent dinner. The conversation was lively and informative, but I cannot recall anything that broke new ground.
Now we are poised on the brink of takeoff (except for final packing and saying goodbye to Chris and company). All in all, this Cape visit has given me a lot of constructive ideas about what remains a total tangle. I’ll be trying to unsnarl my own thinking as we progress.
Wednesday, Feb 5 – 5:30 pm
On a scale from 1 to 10, the intellectual stimulation has dropped from 9+ to 2-, but the scenery is varied and handsome. After penning the previous entry, we packed, farewelled, and departed. We struck boldly off on the wrong autobahn, but discovered and corrected our error, and soon arrived at Worcester, beyond Paarl on the edge of the Little Karoo. The two Karoos constitute a vast semi-desert covering the western half of the country north of the Cape region. We headed east through a gaunt highland that looked fit only for sheep, but actually had vineyards dotting its slopes here and there. A roadside cottage calling itself “The Normandy” surprisingly produced an elegant and expensive lunch. We were heading for Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the universe, but as the afternoon wore on we found ourselves running late. I poured on the gas and we got to the ostrich farm we had targeted just in time for its last guided tour of the day. A cute German lass told us all about the sex life of the ostrich, and what to do if it attacked, and how they are monogamous but it is the females that start the fights when couples meet (they sound almost human), and how the Afrikaners steal their eggs one by one so the poor bird ends up laying 40 of them (at 1 and 1/2 kg. each) instead of the regulation 15 (“They can’t count, nicht?”). We saw ostriches close up and at distances, big ones and little ones, and Jane actually rode one, briefly. I decided the Hungarians should get into the business, they could call their farm the Ostrich Hungarian Empire.
By about 5:30 we were all ostriched out, and we drove south across a mountain range through rugged, ostrich-studded range land. Eventually, after a considerable descent, we reached our destination, a farm offering bed and breakfast to travelers, run by an Afrikaner family named Muller, situated about twenty clicks inland from the coast. We checked in and as it was almost supper time, we soon started to get acquainted with our hosts. Afrikaners to the core, heavily accented English, doughty farmer, sturdy wife, three strapping grown boys and a girl, patriarchal, no books visible anywhere except for the Bible. They were hard workers themselves and had about twenty blacks living nearby who worked for them as well. It was a pretty big farm, huge by our standards I guess, but not by theirs. The prime qualities of our host and hostess, it struck me, was that they were a) agreeable, and b) insular. I had the impression (a) would be easier to change a than (b), and tried not to be too controversial. The lady of the house laid on a terrific, hearty dinner. I donated a bottle of my Rhebokskloof wine which made a huge hit with the pater familias. Mama was less enthused, evidently, she works hard at keeping papa off the bottle.
This morning we got up to another huge meal, a lavish breakfast. Salaams all around, and off we went to the coastal resort town of Mosselbaai, the Bay of Mussels. It was a big, kitschy spread of little houses where white South Africans go to spend a week or two of their summer vacations–lots of beaches and boats, very much like Brant Rock, a summer place near our family place at Marshfield, Mass. We took one look and scooted through and on up the coast to the east, to a more serious town called George. There we found a tourist office which provided local maps and fixed us up with a B&B lodging place for the night a ways farther down the road, just north of a town called Wilderness. We drove around, picnicked, walked a bit, and when it began to rain we checked in to our B&B place. Our hosts are Mr. and Mrs. Flemington, elderly, semi-retired suburbanites rather than farmers. Mr. F., of Scottish provenance, has just invited us in for a “noggin”, so I should have more to report presently.
Thursday, Feb 6 – 7:30 am
Happy hour was a cheerful and conversational event yesterday evening, segregated in the old-fashioned way, by gender. “Chappie” Flemington had me on one side of the room and we were eventually joined by a solid-looking burgher named Fourie (a common Afrikaner name of Huguenot origin, a corruption of Faure). Jane was on the other side with Mrs. Flemington, who was solid Afrikaner, not a Johnnie-come-lately like her husband, who was only one generation removed from the old country. And there were a couple of other ladies with them. I can report only on the men’s talk.
Chappie had been a bush pilot most of his life, mostly in Namibia and Botswana, and had tales to tell, and told them. His politics were basically liberal, but he showed considerable anxiety at the looming changes in the power structure. He expressed strong dislike for the radicals, both black and white, at the two ends of the political spectrum–the black Pan-African Congress, and Eugene Terre-Haute’s white Afrikaner Resistance Movement. He had misgivings as to whether the majority of the blacks were ready to participate fully in modern society. (“Chap came to a filling station, had the attendant fill his tank up, and when asked for payment said ‘I don’t have to pay, haven’t you heard, the apartheid laws have just been abolished!'”). Sanctions had hurt and the economy was on the skids… inflation, depreciated currency, etc.–but he gave no indication he had ever even considered emigrating.
Chappie talked to the other fellow about local zoning regulations that prevented him from selling off half of his property. This led to a discussion of how the land had been distributed in the first place. Evidently the whole area had been a huge ostrich farm, back at the turn of the century when ladies wore ostrich feathers. Then about the time of the First World War the market collapsed, and the farm went belly up. It had employed a lot of white workers as well as blacks, and they were floundering. So, the Dutch Reformed Church bought the farm and subdivided it and distributed it among the former employees. The old boys that got the land this way are all gone now, but their descendants live on, beneficiaries of a religious organization so strong it could function as a parallel government.
Friday, Feb 7 – 8 am
The Flemington breakfast served us well. We salaamed all round, J inspected the garden, and we boomed off, up N2 toward Port Elizabeth, with thoughts of excursions and walks en route. First, we diverted to a point, Noitzee, that stuck out in the sea but it was pointless, or rather roadless, and it started to drizzle. We stopped at a wayside picnic spot modestly calling itself “The Garden of Eden”. Indeed, there were a few acres there of primeval forest, and the short walk was interesting despite the rain. It stopped raining and we had a somewhat more strenuous walk at another point projecting into the sea, Robberg, next to Plettenberg Bay, another resort town all full of pastel colors and arty shoppes. And on eastwards to Tsitsikamma Forest, where we lunched on beer and sandwiches in the bar of a woodsy tavern. And then on east, through rolling countryside, by now mostly agricultural and less touristy, to our destination.
I’d previously arranged with the Fouries in P.E. that we’d arrive about five, but we actually reached town closer to three, so instead of calling them at once I went to the city center to parlay some local currency out of my credit card, as my rand supply was low. The banks make this a much more complex process than necessary, especially as the rand is freely convertible. If they want more tourism they ought to sort this out. Also clean it up. Eventually, after much horsing around, I was referred to an assistant manager of the bank, a white man, who took my passport, shook it, and observed wryly that you never could tell, often there was a fifty rand note stuck in these things. I did not bribe him. I waited for the better part of an hour and was told the bank couldn’t accomplish the transaction. I exchanged some cash dollars and left. It would seem that even among the God-fearing, straitlaced, prosperous South African white community there is hanky-panky.
We checked in to a fancy motel and repaired toward 6 to the Fourie residence. Johan and Sybil were charming hosts, living in a nice prosperous ranch house in an area that closely resembled hundreds of prosperous American suburban areas. There was the inevitable braai, and Johan soon started firing it up. Other guests arrived, an Anglo lawyer with a wife who burned with a bright feminist flame, and a Brit of South Asian extraction. The Anglo gentleman turned out to be very anti-Anglo: he claimed to be of Russian and Jewish provenance by way of Ireland, and spent most of the evening loudly trying to prove that all, and maybe even 110%, of South Africa’s problems were caused by the British. He did make an interesting case to the effect that the entire legal foundation of apartheid derived from British law, introduced in the 1820’s. He was deeply concerned about South Africa’s prospects, which he felt depended entirely on the survival prospects of Mandela and de Klerk, and kept coming back to the theme that just two bullets, maybe only one, could bring on a holocaust.
Sunday, Feb 9
Friday and Saturday were both great days. After we checked out of our motel at Port Elizabeth we drove north, away from the coast, to the Addo Elephant Park, a considerable game preserve specializing in heffalumps. It was our first exposure to a National Park, and one of the more felicitous ones. We paid 11 Rand entrance fee, enough to keep out the unwashed but not enough to make a serious dent in the piggy banks of the serious game watchers. We were given a map and presented with a choice of drives through the park lands. As in Kruger, we could drive anywhere there was an authorized road, but had to stay in the car except for a designated area near the gate where they had a restaurant, office, store, and picnic grounds. So of course, we took the longest available drive, Jane’s eyeballs half out of her head as she searched the bush for heffalumps. Finally, when she was getting discouraged, I told her to look ahead instead of far out to the side, and she squeaked at a huge solitary male standing right beside the road flapping its ears at us in a mildly querulous fashion. And later we saw two more solitary males in similar proximity, and then a herd of a half dozen cows and babies that actually blocked the road for a while. Eventually we got back to the entrance area and decided to picnic there on the grounds. As we were starting, one elephant after another started ambling in over hill trails to a water hole less than a hundred yards away, across the fence that cordoned off our area. They kept coming, till there were over thirty of the brutes, standing around and gossiping and taking turns wallowing in one pond and drinking out of the other, and amiably pushing each other around and generally having a most sociable time. Jane was ecstatic. Before we left we remembered to thank Lord Ganesh, who was obviously looking out for us.
We pushed on north through increasingly dry country, and by late afternoon we reached a second national park, called The Mountain Zebra National Park. Again, we paid our entry fee, and discovered they had cabins for overnight visitors, and a restaurant. And they had a cabin free, it being the off season. We checked in, took the shorter of two gravel-road game tours, and saw lots of game. The late afternoon light was perfect. We even saw a meercat seeing us. Jane was ecstatic again, double-ecs’d in one day. The dinner was sufficient, and we were abed by 9.
I awoke very early and we were able to do the other drive, the longer one, by dawn’s early light. There was a lot more game to be seen. Gorgeous. Then a longish walk near the cabin area, rugged terrain, with lots of little rock rabbits or hyrax scampering around. We were on the road by mid-morning. We backtracked to Cradock, then headed northeast towards the high hills. Nothing but cow towns lay ahead and we were getting hungry. Our guidebook was scratching pretty hard to find things to report: About Steynsburg, it recorded the exciting fact that Prime Minister Kruger’s mother had lived there from 1820 to 1829. The Afrikaners seem to be as good at producing trivia about their history as they are at producing wine, and that’s saying something. We stopped in one of these towns and had a most indifferent lunch. At another we bought fruit at a store run by an Indian. We were headed for the Golden Gate National Park, which Johan had raved about, but it was still a longish way from our lunch and fruit stops, so we headed for Zastron Johan had recommended the hotel there. We arrived in midafternoon and checked into the hotel, although it was a disappointment. Jane spread out on the bed and began some heavy relaxing while I fussed with some travel brochures. Lo and behold, our Farm Bed and Breakfast Book, our Bible for the trip, popped open to a hitherto unexplored section, revealing to my surprise that there were three B&B’s in the area. J and I were undecided, after all we’d already checked in, but some impulse, maybe Lord Ganesh again, made me go ask the drudge at the front desk if we’d have to pay through the nostrils if we transferred to another hostelry. She couldn’t care less. I operated the front desk phone–Hello Central! The system in Zastron is still the original, you crank and a bell rings in central and you discuss your phone call with a real live female operator who then plugs you through. I got a Mrs. Labuschagne on the line and in heavily accented Afrikaans English she said fine, come ahead, glad to have you. The directions were complicated so she said she’d meet us up at the main intersection near her farm. We packed and drove to the meeting place and there she was, a handsome woman probably approaching her forties, with 4 or 5 kids in a Toyota sedan. We greeted each other and followed her down a long dusty dirt road to her farm. Her husband Hennie appeared, greeting us effusively. Various daughters and dogs coalesced around us, plus Hennie’s old father. A man named Perry Muller appeared, who held down a government job in Zastron; also, Perry’s 17-year-old son and his wife. We were shown to our room, all chintzy and comfortable with “Welcome” writ large all over it. Hennie took us for a drive in the Toyota, several k into the back beyond, to an incredible view and an empty house he owns, which he rents out to tourists who want to get away from it all. (We learned later that while he had rented that house previously, he had only just begun to accept overnight travelers into his own house on a B&B basis–and that we were his very first customers). (How lucky can you get, Thanks again Lord G.!) On the way back, Hennie stopped, got his two border collies out of the trunk, and sent them across a fence and over fields to a small flock of yearling sheep 400-500 yards away. The dogs, following his whistles precisely, mobilized the sheep and in no time, had them milling around right across from the fence where we stood. Unlike the Kiwis who had given a similar demonstration to us last year, Hennie used no artificial whistle in his mouth–he just puckered up and let fly. Jane was asking non-stop questions, and continued afterwards, when we visited a spectacular vegetable garden managed by Hennie’s aged father. I gathered that until a few years ago Hennie’s father had run the whole farm, while Hennie held down a job in Zantrum. When the old man was widowed he retired and Hennie took over. But pa kept the veggie garden as consolation prize. Oedipus and Freud notwithstanding, the transition was smooth, with nary a harsh word, a veritable model of an ideal father-son relationship.
My handwritten notes here run to several pages, and Jane contributed almost a page in her own right. We had a hell of a good time that evening. Everybody drank wine and talked and joked and ate to bursting–the food Aret laid on was fantastic. (Aret = derivative of Margaret). The good fellowship was of a rare and precious nature. The daughters, age 15, 13, and 11 were all lively and interesting, with distinct personalities, and the little boy, the youngest sibling, was most engaging. It was a family I could be from. I think it was a bit of a watershed for Jane too. These people were religious and paternalistic and all that, but they were warm and human too. And essentially reasonable: Hennie has given parts of his land to the blacks that work for him, to till for themselves, as starters for getting them onto the capitalist ethic. On the current unraveling of apartheid, he was strongly opposed to the extremists whether white or black, but he was confident that the Nats and the ANC could work things out. If he was concerned about racial conflict getting out of hand, he didn’t show it.
I concluded my notes on the Labuschagnes with this: The Labuschagne family humanized Boers for us, especially Jane. I’d already been willing to recognize them as a basically good lot, although they had taken the wrong path with their blacks. Jane had not been quite as generous with her judgments. It was a bit similar to my feelings about Germans after World War II. My 1946 letters home from Bremen showed that I started with a strong general animus towards all Germans, but that that animus eroded rapidly as I got to know individuals, and to appreciate that they were no better or worse than the rest of us, they had just been trying to survive under Nazism, as most of the rest of us would have–has there ever been a society where everyone is a hero? H&A showed us in many ways that they regarded the blacks they worked with as people, not objects, and that within the system they tried to do well by them. And they accept the inevitability of radical change soon–as do all the Afrikaners we’ve dealt with so far, as far as I can tell. We can and should insist that the changes proceed on track and without cheating. But we should not demonize the Afrikaners in the process–what’s the point?
Monday, Feb 10 – 6 pm
Yesterday morning the Labuschagnes laid on a breakfast that was almost as elaborate and exciting as the previous dinner. Hennie was embarrassed when I reminded him I was paying for the B&B and only would take about half what he should have. They seemed genuinely sorry to see us go. But not sorry that we were leaving early–they were all dressed and poised for the drive into town, and church at 9.
We were headed for Lesotho, formerly known as Basutoland, an independent country, or so they say, entirely surrounded by the South African Republic. We took a gravel road for about 20 km and arrived at a pukka border post. A blond South African official helped us fill out forms and we departed his country. A rather less snappy black official on the other side cheerfully helped us with his forms, and in we went, into the “sovereign” Kingdom of Lesotho.
It was another country, all right, definitely Third World. We South Asian types felt right at home: it was crowded. On the other side we’d gotten used to towns 30 km or so apart, big ranches, isolated farms. Here the villages were clustered all over the hills, almost obscenely close to each other, tin roofs sparkling in the sun. On the other side everything was orderly and fenced in–miles and miles of fences, stretching off as far as you could see. Here there was not a yard of fence to be seen anywhere. Instead there was a mélange of people and animals, all sorts of animals, swarming around inchoately. There were no litterbugs on the other side, everything was picked up and clean. Here there was an endless panorama of tin cans and broken bottles. The carcasses of wrecked cars and buses decorated every other gulch that we passed, and were liberally distributed around the villages. What a contrast, what a summation of the physical differences that separate the First and Third Worlds, even when they are cheek by jowl spatially!
The road had a few potholes, and the signs needed repair, but the highway system appeared to have been built by the same people who constructed the magnificent road net in South Africa proper, and we made fairly good time. We reached Maseru, the capital, which rather reminded me of a North Indian town without the flies. We passed an outpost of the Western World as we left town, a large white complex dug in behind miles of barbed wire–the US Embassy. Neither Jane nor I expressed regret that we had never been assigned to Maseru.
We had a more chaotic and time-consuming exit from the land of the Sothos than our entry, because hordes of others were competing with us. When we finally got past all the people in bright clothes carrying chickens in baskets, and the rest of the clutter, and entered South Africa again, it was like going into a soundproofed room. The car purred along quietly on the broad smooth tarmac. The signs told us just what we needed to know. We stopped at a picnic table in a squeaky-clean roadside area and ate the lunch Aret had insisted on sending with us. We continued on down the road and pretty soon we arrived at the Golden Gate National Park, checked into our quarters, and unpacked.
The GGNP is a wonderland of mesas and buttes towering over green canyons, and miles of grasslands sloping around in between. It is mostly between 6000 and 9000 feet in altitude, so although it is midsummer, and hot in mid-day, the air is bracing. The park is as highly organized as any of our own National Parks, and I gather that in season, it is just as well frequented. Fortunately, it is off season now, so they gave us this “chalet” even though we didn’t have a reservation. It is spartan but comfortable. You enter through a kitchenette, leading both to a bathroom and a bedroom, and there is another bedroom beyond. Plenty of room to unpack and reorganize our growing clutter. (Whenever we travel this way we buy things along the way, mostly consumables, and chuck them into the back seat. Pretty soon this sort of unpacking and reorganizing becomes essential).
Early this morning I rousted Jane out and we did the full park circuit, spotting game. Lots of boks of various sizes and stripes, from the little guys that jump around as if their legs were pogo sticks, to the big black hairy guys I used to think were gnus, but now know as wildebeests. Then we took a long, rocky and mostly vertical walk. I made lunch in our kitchenette while Jane did a huge laundry in the nearby laundromat. This afternoon we wasted. Now, after two more swallows of my regulation evening scotch, we are going to go down the street to the restaurant for our supper.
Tuesday, Feb 11 – 6 pm
It feels good to be home again, in our little chalet at the Golden Gate. We had intended to move on either to the Royal Natal National Park, or to the Giant’s Castle National Park, but a couple of phone calls this morning ascertained that they were both full up. So, we had a stiff 55-minute walk here, first thing this morning, then struck out for a day trip to the Royal Natal.
The Royal Natal, like the Golden Gate, borders on the northeastern side of Lesotho in fairly high mountains. It lies south of the GGNP, and the two parks are separated by a thinnish peninsula of non-park land that looks pretty much uninhabited on the map. About the only feature the map describes is the Witsiehoek Pass, which Johan had described to me as a worthy test of my driving skills. What the hell, we thought, let’s do the pass, drive around the Royal Natal, and get back early in the afternoon. There was a pleasant blonde at the park’s reception desk, who didn’t seem to know much, who muttered something about Qwa Qwa and gave me a map of the Qwa Qwa region, which seemed to lie off to the east of where we were going. Her map and mine didn’t seem to agree on anything, but her directions were clear enough. Take the eastern park exit, go east for a while, then take the road south to Witsiehoek and our destination.
We went quite a way on a rough gravel road and found a dirt track leading off to the south. A faded, broken sign drooped in that direction and said “Witsie.”. We followed the track uphill through great scenery, but the road kept getting worse, till it became a real challenge. After many miles it ended ingloriously in an abandoned farm. A driveway bore off to the left with a broken gate and a sign saying “Privaat”. We drove that way anyhow, along more miles of barely negotiable track. The track finally improved, descended, and fed into a larger road. We rubbed our eyes: it seemed we had stumbled into another planet. Where the map indicated uninhabited wasteland, the place was swarming with blacks and chickens and goats; little houses and shops everywhere; it looked like the back end of a goddamn city. As we proceeded from each road into a larger one, it became clear that we actually were in the back end of a substantial urban center. We stopped and asked assorted blacks for guidance. It was a little embarrassing as I didn’t know the right question: was it “Where are we?” or “Take me to your leader”. It didn’t make much difference, for no one spoke a word of English anyway. “For Christ-sakes, Jane” I yelled, “we’ve got to find a white man”. “There’s one” she replied excitedly, and I spotted a small group, behind a van labeled Veterinary Services, consisting of a white man, several blacks, and a cow. The trouble was, the white man had his arm away up one of the cow’s rear orifices, almost up to the armpit, and was a bit preoccupied. It was an interesting tableau, and under other circumstances I’d have shut up and watched, but my circumstances were desperate, so I cleared my throat and asked where I was and how I could get out of here. The white man just glared at me but one of the blacks answered in excellent English that if I just kept on going I’d soon come to a marked highway leading me to the center of town. We did so, and after some more milling around found a government information center.
A nice young white lady in the center finally cleared up our confusion. It seems we had stumbled into the flourishing urban center of, hold on, Phuthaditjhaba, the capital of Qwa Qwa, a self-governing black homeland, which though relatively small enjoyed the same status as Kwa Zulu and a couple of the other homelands. I guess that is why it wasn’t on any of our maps, it was for blacks only, and we had maps for whites. We had entered the back end of Poop-poop, as I called it, via a non-road that our informant hadn’t even known existed. If we had continued south when we first hit the back end of Poop-poop we’d have gotten to Witsiehoek, on the northern border of the Royal Natal Park, but we couldn’t have gone any farther, i.e. into the Park headquarters, because it was too mountainous and there was no road. To get into the park we had to go way the hell and gone to the east, away from the mountains, and then south, and then back west to the Park’s entrance. We thanked the young lady and did just that. It took well over an hour to get to the Park, though on the map it looked like a ten-minute drive. It was a scenic place, but for walking not driving around. You looked at scenery not game. It was full of Limeys in knee socks. We had a sandwich and a beer at the park, and a nap in the car, and a bit of a walk up to some waterfalls. Then a two-hour drive back to the good old Golden Gate, home sweet home, and a hot bath, and a drink, and a cool breeze, and these notes, and the following reflections:
Qwa Qwa is a peninsula of more or less useful land surrounded on the north, west and east by some of the highest mountains in the whole country. The architects of apartheid shoved as many blacks as would fit, and then some, into it. The better to pretend this wasn’t a black majority land, this beautiful, picked-up, tidy South Africa, their very own white homeland. What a self-deception! But nobody is all bad, and at least they were environmentally sound, insofar as they could be. There were some pretty nice parts of the Qwa Qwa region, scenery-wise, especially up towards the boundaries of the Golden Gate Park. So, they took those parts, constituting perhaps a third of all Qwa Qwa, and designated them “wilderness areas”, and kept the blacks more or less out of them. I guess they dispossessed a few whites too, like we dispossessed some hillbillies when we set up the Shenandoah National Park. That would explain why the farm at the end of my dirt track, marked Privaat, wasn’t so private after all…The whole subject merits further study, which I am unlikely to undertake. But I do know that Poop-poop was a substantial city, many times more populous than most towns in the white areas, with shopping centers and different districts, and an extensive suburban sprawl around it. And it just wasn’t there at all on either the big map of the whole country that we were using as our basic guide, or the more detailed maps the South African Automobile Association had given us when we started our trip. Weird!!!
Thursday, Feb 13 – early am
Yesterday morning we said farewell for the last time to the Golden Gate, drove east and then a long way south, and west again, and after getting lost (but only once), we arrived at Giant’s Castle National Park. We picnicked on curried fish, as there was no restaurant and that was all we had left in the car. We walked to some Bushman paintings, got shown around, and walked back. Then we backtracked several dozen kilometers to our appointed B&B, chez one Mr. Lemmer. We got there just ahead of him; he and his wife drove in behind us in a large Mercedes. I noticed an Audi and another car, was it a BMW? in the garage already. I parked outside. Another one of these impoverished farm families. We all settled in, Jane and I in a ground floor apartment, the family upstairs. In due course we got together in their upstairs patio for drinks and dinner, accompanied by serious discussion.
In the hall next to our bedroom was a bookcase containing several dozen books, mostly slushy novels of the kind that are always sold in airports. I mention this because it was the first time I had seen any books whatsoever in an Afrikaner farmhouse, except, of course, for the Bible. Jane and I had begun to operate under the strong impression that the Bible was the only book that most of those people ever read. Television, of course. There were newspapers too, but except for the Weekly Mail they were limited almost entirely to sports and scandals.
Mr. Lemmer, proud and erect, is a good Afrikaans father figure. His grandfather left South Africa for Tanganyika after the Boer war, together with a group of other like-minded Boers who were unwilling to live in a British-run state. They were doomed to disappointment, as the Germans were kicked out of Tanganyika during the First World War, and the Brits took over there as well. Lemmer’s father stayed on and died in Tanganyika, but his son, my host, pulled up stakes and moved back to South Africa when the winds of “uhuru” and independence began to blow too hot. Mrs. Lemmer was a South African Afrikaner by birth, who met and married Mr. Lemmer when she was in Tanganyika teaching school. They have four daughters and one son. The latter is now 21 and a disappointment, in that he wants to be a white hunter rather than take over the family farm. The farm itself is big (1,200 hectares) and prosperous.
Mr. Lemmer is gritting his teeth about the way things are moving in South Africa. He believes the black radicals, notably the PAC, are strong throughout the land, as are the white radical supremacists; he wishes the two movements could fight it out and cancel each other, leaving the field clear to sensible people. He feels that abandonment of apartheid is necessary, and bases this opinion, as far as I could tell, largely on international opinion. Not that sanctions are all that effective–he says you can always find a way around them–but South Africans are tired of the moral opprobrium, and want to regain the world’s respect. On capital flight, he insisted that government regulations were so tight that he would find it impossible to take his money out of the country.
Why do I have this sense that in conversations like this one, I am floundering. It would seem that I not only do not have answers, I don’t even have the right questions…for example, what are the moral rights and wrongs? (more complicated by far than it appears on the surface)//what are the priorities as between economic productivity and political freedom, and what should they be?//how much weight can we, or should we, expect the South Africans to give to international concerns as expressed by sanctions and opprobrium, in the context of their overwhelmingly urgent domestic concerns?//which South Africans are we talking about?//and if none of these questions have clear answers, what are the priorities for the rest of us, what are we hoping and trying to accomplish?
Friday, Feb 14 – 8 am
I had a good breakfast discussion with Pa Lemmer yesterday, but recall nothing that changed the outcome of the previous evening’s discussion. Then we drove down the zoom-way to Pietermaritzburg, where we visited a Voortrekker Museum and bought some curry at an Indian takeout shop. (Once again, we were struck by the proliferation of fast food emporia all through the country. From Col. Sanders to curry, these shops have sprung up everywhere. What is it in the SAf psyche that has caused this? Is it seen, at least currently, as a solution to the problem of unwelcome mixing of the races at the trough?) Anyway, armed with curry, we backtracked north several km’s to the Victoria Park, which turned out to be a great success. Amid lovely vegetation on rolling hills, we ate our tucker, with virtually tame zebras and bonteboks lolling around only yards away, and without any fencing. They could have come and joined us but didn’t. Probably just as well.
On down the zoom-way to Durban, Jane driving. I had studied the map and found our way to our destination without a false turn, something of a record. Jane got rattled by the challenge of city driving anyway. We parked upstairs in a commercial lot just like the ones in downtown DC and repaired to Naran’s antique and curio shop, where we presented ourselves to a large Tamil named Danny. He phoned Rumilla and her husband “Shorty” and they soon appeared. Shorty told me he could get me a good price at the Maharani Hotel, and I agreed. We drove off and checked in at the Maharani, 5-star and luxurious beyond belief. The concierge, who had received Shorty’s call, greeted us like royalty, and set a rate for us that had the girl at the cashier’s desk gasping in disbelief. Rather less than half the going rate, I believe. The room itself was magnif, 22nd floor overlooking the beach. Shorty and Rumilla came by for a drink and we discussed our activities for the next day or two. Then we had an excellent dinner at the Maharani’s poshest restaurant and to bed.
All this good fortune befell us because a friend of Luree’s had recommended to Jane that she look up someone named Rumilla Naran when we reached Durban, and Jane had had the good sense to phone ahead and talk to Rumilla before we arrived. Rumilla had told us not to make advance hotel reservations, she would cope when we arrived. What this meant in practice was that Shorty and Rumilla adopted us during our entire visit to Durban. And we could not possibly have had a better set of hosts.
Durban, Friday and Saturday, Feb 14-15
I’m going to reorganize my original notes here. First, I’ll relate what we did for the balance of our stay in Durban. Then I’ll describe our principal informants and encapsulate some of what we learned from each of them.
On Friday morning (Valentine’s Day), after I had brought my notes up to date and breakfasted, Rumilla picked us up and drove us back to the Naran shop in the center of town. We met Shorty’s father, “R.J.” Naran, a most impressive person. The four of us called on the Branch Public Affairs Officer, John Dickson, whose office lay behind the ramparts of the AmConGen. There was some argument about the effectiveness of sanctions, but no new insights. Then we went on to another office building where we met Slimi Moodli, the Secretary of AZAPO, the Azanian People’s Organization, a radical black political movement. Moodli regards all whites as enemies and agreed to see us only because R.J. is his landlord. I shall record substance later. Then we left Rumilla and R.J. and lunched at a downtown hotel with Fana Zungu, a Zulu social worker whose name we had also been given in Washington, and whom I had contacted independently. Rumilla picked us up after lunch and drove us to the so-called Indian market, a large covered suk catering both to the Asian community and to tourists. The biggest and poshest tourist trap, of course, was the Naran emporium, a branch of the downtown store. We looked around and bought trinkets. Then back to the hotel for rest and recuperation. After a while Shorty and Rumilla picked us up and we saw a musical named “Taxi Jam”. It was an all-black production, set in a typical black township outside one of SAf’s major cities, and was very lively indeed. It alternated effectively between moments of hilarity and genuine pathos, and contained much that bore mordantly on current strains in the post-apartheid environment. Probably a good bit of the sense I have gained of black attitudes towards authority, apartheid, and life in general I derived from seeing this play. After it was over Jane and I went back to the hotel and had a drink and a light supper with R.J. (It seems Valentine’s Day was a big deal in Durban, and anyone who could afford it went out for dinner. All the restaurants, including those at the Maharani, were booked up to the gills, so we and R.J. supped in the bar).
Saturday morning, we lazed a bit, explored the beach and swam, and eventually had an excellent lunch in the Maharani’s Indian restaurant. Rumilla picked us up and we went to their shop in the bazaar. We bought gifts and a new wallet for me, at less than half the marked price. Rumilla then drove us to a big Indian township, about 20 km outside Durban, which was middle-class and the opposite of squalor. We stopped at a new, sparkling Krishna temple, quite large and expensive, where a young lady acolyte gravely instructed us in theology. There is no matter without life, she said, and that nonsensical proposition so embarrassed me (as to whether to argue the point–I didn’t) that in my confusion I left 10 Rand in the collection plate. I need to assert better control in these matters…anyway, we went back to the hotel to rest a bit, then Shorty and Rumilla picked us up again and we ate at a fancy Italian restaurant. Shorty, of course, knew everyone that worked there and most of the diners. Then on to another play, a satire on local university politics called “Panic”. Well-written and produced, the satire was devastating. It was also useful for the insights it provided into inter-racial attitudes, though less so than Taxi Jam. Finally, there was coffee and a nightcap next door, and we were dropped off at the Maharani amid loud exclamations of mutual esteem.
Sunday morning, we took off again in our V.W. for the outback. I’ll get to that later. First, some observations about the Durbanites we dealt with, and what they had to say:
R.J. Naran: Shorty’s father, “R.J.” Naran, is a wealthy Durbanite of Gujerati origin, a power person, worldly-wise, political, well-connected. According to Shorty, R.J. has long been a power in the local Gujerati community and during apartheid the government tried several times to co-opt him; but he always refused. R.J. sympathizes with the ANC and since the ANC has come back from exile it too has urged R.. to join it. Again, he refused, on the grounds that he has good relations with all factions and wants to keep it that way; also, he thinks he can be more use to the ANC by staying nominally independent. He is not modest about the role that the Indian community played in bringing about the end of apartheid. “During the long years when Mandela and the others were in jail”, he told me, “it was the Indians that kept the ANC spark alive”. He ran through a roster, which unfortunately I did not record, of the Indians who had played key roles in the ANC over the years, and it was impressive.
R.J. insisted that support for the present Codesa process is very broad-based. He was troubled by the possibility that either Mandela or de Klerk might fall to an assassin’s bullet, but assured me that even if that happened, the process would go on. Inkatha, the Zulu movement propped up by whites, is an empty shell, he asserted. He personally knows Buthelezi’s nephew, the King, and considers him “empty in the upper story”. The average Zulu who belongs to Inkatha also secretly has joined the ANC. Blacks generally, of whatever tribe, yearn for economic stability and a decent wage more than for anything else, and will support ANC even if the Codesa process results in something substantially less than what ANC has been demanding and they have been promised.
Shorty: “Shorty” is a misnomer acquired in childhood; he is of at least average height. He is an engaging hyper-kinetic who reminded me vaguely of Bhekh Thapa in his ability to make friends with everybody and have a finger in every pie. He helped run his father’s antique business and had several more enterprises of his own. One was bringing rich Texans to Natal to hunt on the estates of aristocratic but land-poor Afrikaners, who have discovered that wildlife is more profitable than sheep, especially with a few Texans thrown in. He had a sweetheart deal where he would lodge the Texans at the Maharani and the hotel in turn would guide its clientele to Naran antiques; hence Shorty’s demonstrated clout in fixing us up with a ridiculous rate.
Shorty tended to be pretty generous in his judgements of most people and situations, but not about apartheid. He found the whole concept of racially segregated townships particularly galling. As far as the black townships were concerned, he thought it was pretty counterproductive, especially if you agreed it was desirable to strengthen family structures and limit the black birthrate. Worker X lives in a township so far out of the city that he can’t afford the daily commute. So, he leaves his wife out there and just visits her Saturday night–enough to keep her pregnant. The rest of the time he shacks up with the servant of a white family in the city, and pretty soon he gets her pregnant too. She gets fired and he finds another one. And so it goes. But as far as Shorty himself being exiled to some Indian township was concerned, it wasn’t so funny. It wasn’t just the insult, it was the fact that he couldn’t wheel and deal in real estate matters as he wished. Both he and Rumilla told us stories about how a bunch of intellectually underprivileged Boers who happened to be in positions of power could buy land cheap, then make the Indians move on to it, whereupon, of course, the land price skyrocketed. I mentioned Gary Ackerman and his “Pick n Pay” grocery chain. Sure, said Shorty, the lucky bastard counts as white so he can put his damn stores anyplace he wants to, wherever the market survey shows he can turn a profit. My choices are strictly limited, and even if I do manage to get into a good Indian location, someone is likely to come along and kick out the whole community. Talk about a level playing field!
Talking about Gary got us onto the subject of South Africa’s Jewish community. Shorty said some people in that community had emigrated, and a lot of Jewish capital had left the country before the authorities clamped down. But for every individual that has emigrated, two more have immigrated, from Israel. Johannesburg, he said, now has sections where the people in beards and funny hats are just as abundant as they are in parts of New York and Jerusalem. Shorty knew the Ackerman family–at least he knew about them, and in considering their case, he said, yes, the Jews do plan ahead when they do business, unlike the Zulus, who don’t. But he bristled at the suggestion that South Africa’s Jews were uniquely talented. Just give him that level playing field, and boy, he’d show them!
Talking about Zulus, he said an old Zulu had come into his shop a while ago and said he wanted to order a golden spearhead, to replace a revered tribal artifact the Boers had ripped off several generations ago. He gave Shorty some sketches, and Shorty told him the gold alone would cost 20,000 Rand (about $8000). Shorty said he’d have to have half that sum up front. Whereupon the old Zulu whistles to a flunky who drags in a suitcase jammed with dirty old rand notes that smell as though they’d been buried. Shorty makes the spear, and the Zulu comes back and pays the balance the same way. Shorty makes inquiries: the Zulu is not just a tribal chief, he is the owner and manager of one of the bigger minibus taxi outfits, that hauls black workers back and forth between their townships and the cities where they work. He has seven wives, an enormous number of children, and countless grandchildren. Appearances can be deceptive.
Rumilla: Rumilla Naran was a well-spoken Berkeley graduate, a PhD. in social sciences, who was fighting to get a job on the faculty of Durban University. (The white one–there were others). She was the best qualified applicant by far, but the white professors had circled their wagons, despite the abolition of apartheid, and the battle was joined. It wasn’t just race, as the faculty already had a token Indian, but more a question of power, and fear of the new ideas Rumilla would introduce. Rumilla was sweating out the results of her latest application, and threatening legal action if it were rejected.
Rumilla provided details about Natal’s “Asian” community that we found described the whole caste and communal and linguistic and ethnic mosaic that is the Indian subcontinent, but in microcosm. The Gujeratis run the businesses, the Tamils generally occupy more humble positions. Twenty percent of the community is Muslim, and Muslims and Hindus are constantly squabbling over mosques vs. temples, Ayodhya revisited.
Fana Zungu: Fana is a dynamic black activist in the cross-cultural field. In the past he has worked with the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (IDASA), an organization partly funded from the USA. It was through that connection that we heard about him. At present he is the sparkplug of a new and very small organization–unfortunately I never did get its name–that organizes workshops that bring together students age 16-21 from all four major racial groups. He described four kinds of workshops he runs, of which I can recall two: one explores cross-cultural differences, as in eye contact, and stereotypes–whites and blacks and coloreds and Asians telling each other what stereotypes they hold about the other groups, until everybody gets hysterical about how grossly misinformed their parents and elders are. Another kind of workshop presents a basic course in civics; the what and why and how of a vote, et cetera. All in all, it sounded to me as though Fana was one of the most constructive and useful people I’d seen in a long time.
Slini Moodli: Moodli is the Secretary of the radical Azanian People’s Organization, either for the national organization or for its Natal branch, I’m not sure which. He is an Indian by origin, tall and ascetic, lightly bearded, and a thorough ideologue. He received Jane and me, and RJ, in his office in a suite which also contained other functionaries, printing machines, reams of propaganda, and so forth. He started right off with the party line, which he seemed to have repeated so many times that it sounded like a memorized recitation. The speech was inoffensive in tone, but pretty bristly in substance. He talked about black rights, the many years of injustice, and the need for basic reforms. Azapo has refused to join ANC and the others in the CODESA process, because CODESA is a “bureaucratic” committee and won’t achieve the kind of basic reform Azapo thinks is required. Azapo has studied the “important” population areas in the country, has worked out a “scientific” plan, and will show its strength when and if there is a free and fair election–but only then. For the time being it intends to stay in the background.
Moodli gave us a long dissertation on economic policy. Again, the tone was reasonable, but the substance added up to a program of massive expropriation, and socializing the entire economic structure: break the monopoly of the “Big Five” corporations; take over the means of production and “rent” them back to the “people” who will allegedly use them more efficiently than now. Develop indigenous industry, “so we don’t just export raw materials and import finished goods” (Note: I recalled here my amazement at the extent of the indigenous food processing industry when I visited a local supermarket; I reflected on the fact that South Africa is a major arms manufacturer and exporter; and I wondered if Mr. Moodli had bothered to check any of his theories in-country, after he had soaked them up at the London School of Economics, or in Moscow or wherever).
Moodli contended that Azapo was not a racist organization. It refuses to admit whites into its ranks, at least for the present, because until black consciousness is raised, whites would profit from long-standing cultural perceptions and rise to the top, as they have in so many other “black” organizations. He cited Malcolm X as authority for this position. I said I didn’t see how Moodli could claim to be non-racist if it hewed to such racist admission policies, no matter what the reason; we didn’t work it out. Afterwards, RJ and I agreed that it was clearly Azapo’s strategy to lie low and hope Codesa would fail; violence would ensue and eventually Azapo would perhaps be in a position to move in and pick up the pieces.
There was an interesting aside as we left Moodli’s headquarters. RJ, only partly kidding, said “if you guys come out on top, please don’t shoot me”. Moodli replied, “if there’s a bullet for you, there will be one for me too”, the inference being that no Indian was entirely secure in this black and white land, no matter what his politics, and no matter who came out on top…
Now let’s leave Durban and pick up where we left, heading northeast along the coast, on a sunny Sunday morning:
Wednesday, Feb 19 – 3 pm, much ground to cover
The main problem with Sunday was that we didn’t know where we were going to spend the night. The B&B of my choice didn’t answer when I phoned it from the Maharani on Saturday, nor, to my surprise, did it when I phoned again early Sunday morning. So, I called Safha, a B&B agency under which many of the B&B offerings in our book were listed, and got an amiable fellow who undertook to line something up for us. Call back towards noon, he said, and I’ll be able to tell you where to go. So, we tore up an excellent road along the coast, in a northeasterly direction, towards Mozambique. We turned left after a while and headed north into the interior, in the direction of a town called Vryheid (Freedom), which was the general area I had asked Safha to bed us down in. We were making much better time than I’d expected; it looked like Vryheid would be nothing like the short day’s drive we’d expected. Jane was rummaging around in the guidebook while I was driving and discovered that if we’d continued up the coast several dozen more clicks and then turned inland, we’d have hit a big game park famous for rhino–actually two parks together, the Umfolozi and the Hluhluwe (the latter being unpronounceable). We figured that we had plenty of time to make a detour that would run us through the middle of this park area. It was foolish of us, we’d forgotten among other things that empty spaces on the South African maps are not just empty spaces, especially if they contain homelands. And this was the heart of the homeland of the Zulus, Kwa Zulu.
So instead of continuing north to Vryheid, we turned east and headed back toward the coast, to a hamlet the map identified as Empangeni. In retrospect, this detour delayed our arrival in Vryheid by exactly 24 hours. Empangeni turned out to be the industrial heartland of Kwa Zulu, another Poop-poop squared, and getting through it was not easy. But we finally got back on the coast road, headed northeast a few more clicks, and turned north on the road to the parks. The park headquarters was several miles inside the park and by the time we reached it, it was 12:31 pm. I was going to call Safha from there, and find out where we were going to spend the night. But the premises had a big sign saying lunch hour was 12:30 to 2:30, the door was locked, and no one in sight. I was going to get gas, as we were running low, but the gas station there was similarly closed for siesta. We lunched briefly from our limited supplies, and I consulted the map of the park we had received at the gate. That map had a road leading from the other side of the park pointed toward a town called Ulundi. Ulundi, judging from the map, was a hamlet in the howling desert, some distance removed from the park, and unconnected to its–but it lay between us and Vryheid. What the hell, nothing ventured nothing gained, and we had a long way to go to wherever we were going, that was clear. So, we drove across the park and out the other side on good gravel roads, more or less guessing which way to go, until after many miles, and with the gas gauge on empty, we came to the outskirts of Ulundi. We were desperately hoping we could find both gasoline and a telephone there, but weren’t too hopeful, since on the map it looked like the last outpost on the way to nowhere. But Lo! all of a sudden it arose before us, as a mirage! a big Total gas station on the left, and a spanking new Holiday Inn on the right! Jane dropped me off at the Holiday Inn and went to the station to gas up. I went into the mirage, found it for real, found a bored desk clerk who let me phone, and got directions to our appointed hostelry for the night–some 40-odd miles east of Vryheid, i.e. not more than 80 or so miles from where we were.
Then I looked around. The first thing I saw were a couple of brass plaques commemorating the establishment of the Inn two or three years ago. Chief Buthelezi’s name, and several Afrikaner officials were cited as congratulating each other on the felicitous partnership that had made the creation of this Holiday Inn possible. Then I wondered why the effort had been made in the first place. The clientele seemed to consist entirely of some bored Boers in flowered shirts and short pants lounging around just like tourists in a Florida motel. I engaged a couple of them in conversation and was told the following: the only thing of interest in the whole Ulundi region is the site of a battle wherein the British slaughtered many thousands of Zulus a hundred-odd years ago. The only clientele at the Holiday Inn are Afrikaners on bus tour; they implied, without specifically saying so, that only Afrikaners are that moved by the evocation of the slaughtering of blacks. (Presumably it would have been even better if the Boers had done it, but what the hell, let’s not be too picky).
Ulundi, I gathered later, is the heartland, in effect almost the political capital of Chief Buthelezi’s Inkatha movement. There have been a lot of nasty scandals linking this movement with much of the recent violence around Johannesburg and elsewhere, and evidence that his goons have been covertly supported by government security services. Certainly, Buthelezi is regarded as an out-and out Quisling by the ANC and other black nationalists, while the white supporters of apartheid have used Inkatha as an argument against the kind of negotiations that are now taking place with the ANC. I had tended to keep an open mind, and credit Buthelezi with at least some status as a genuine popular leader. But those brass plaques in Ulundi gave me pause.
We didn’t pause long, as it was getting on in the afternoon and we still had a lot of back roads to negotiate. Our destination, as we had just discovered, was something called the Magdalena Game Reserve, in the high veldt, a rather mountainous area running east of Vryheid and south of Swaziland. We had directions only from Vryheid, but I figured out how to get there directly, via a much shorter route. The roads were not good but the scenery was gorgeous, particularly in the late afternoon light. The last ten miles were off the main road, through commercial timber being harvested, and then on a track through very rugged country. The Magdalena Game Reserve’s headquarters was a couple of small houses in the middle of a huge holding in this rugged land, with a couple of cottages placed at some distance, at scenic locations, for the guests. A very pleasant young Afrikaner couple had purchased the whole shebang a year ago and were apparently regretting it–we were the first “guests” they had had during the month of February. Hardly a paying proposition. They welcomed us enthusiastically and took us to a cabin about a mile beyond their place–well appointed, though without electricity, and furnished with one of the most magnificent views imaginable–a huge waterfall out front, and miles of veldt all around, with substantial game-viewing potential right from the front stoop. Later they brought us our supper, and the next morning (Monday Feb 17) they produced breakfast. We paid up and left, for Vryheid and Swaziland.
The trip north was scenic but uneventful. After Vryheid, we crossed into Swaziland, another mountain kingdom, which was rather like Lesotho, but a bit less crowded. Shortly after lunch we arrived at Mbabane, the capital, and the residence of the American Ambassador, Steve Rogers. Steve and his wife, Kent, greeted us warmly. They had overlapped briefly in New Delhi with me in 1959 and pretty soon the usual talk about shared experiences and identification of mutual friends accomplished the necessary bonding, so it was as though we had always known each other well. They took us for a long drive through the countryside, and later we ate dinner at the residence. Steve had invited George Lys, a British adviser to the King, but he didn’t show. (George’s father, Jimmy Lys, was an ex-Gurkha officer and a fixture around the Kathmandu golf club whom I had known there). It was too bad, because everything Steve told me about the Swazi monarchy–and he told me a lot–whetted my appetite to learn more. The rules of succession were squirrely, the relations between the palace and the cabinet were obscure, as was where the army fit in, and there was a powerful Queen Mother who wasn’t necessarily the King’s mother. Swazi monarchies are distinguished from other more or less absolute monarchies I have known in that the monarch can have several score wives and literally hundreds of offspring. Since there is no primogeniture, the succession involves a rather broad-based selection process; to the extent the old king was really the father of his people, you could almost call it a kind of democracy. But in other ways the Swazi monarchy resembled all the others I have known: in Kathmandu, in Thimpu, in Rabat, and in pre-revolutionary Tehran: the most devious and unscrupulous people in the land end up brown-nosing the person of the monarch, and protecting themselves from public accounting by all sorts of tricks and chicanery. Really, we have evolved, since we booted out our Kings…except, when you think of it, we have our own palace, the White House, and it really isn’t all that different from the others, in principle…
The next morning (Tuesday Feb 18) we headed north on a relatively good road, to the northern Swazi town of Pigg’s Peak, named after an old gold prospector who destroyed the peak he named after himself in search of gold. On the way we stopped and toured around Swaziland’s largest national park, the Malolatja Nature Reserve. We saw lots of bok, per usual. We lunched at Pigg’s Peak and Jane shopped. Then north, and back into South Africa. We blazed northeast and east on splendid roads to Komatipoort on the Mozambique border, and thence north to Crocodile Gate, our port of entry for the famed Kruger National Park….stay tuned….
Thursday Feb 20, 4 pm
We spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the Lower Sabie Camp. Today we continued further north, and have just checked in to Satara. Either we have been lucky, or we are excellent game spotters, or both–or perhaps Lord Ganesh has been discreetly pulling for us. We’ve seen lots of elephants, giraffes, zebras, and gnus. The ubiquitous impala has attended us by the thousands. With the help of a new mammal book we have not only seen but identified kudu, waterbuck, and the sable antelope. We have traded insults with baboons and monkeys and many warthogs. We’ve observed hippos disporting in water, and yesterday morning not one but two of the portly brutes waddled across our road in front of us. So, did a rhino, and we have seen several others at greater range. Plus, squirrels and other small mammals, and ostriches and other strange birds, and a huge crocodile. I have gotten too much sun, and am feeling it.
Item: We saw two female warthogs, with six piglets between them. First one would suckle all six, then the other. Are warthogs communists or what?
Item: Our prize spotting was a pride of lions this afternoon. They lazily observed zebra at a waterhole, then got visibly excited when a sable antelope came up for a drink, but did nothing. Question: are lions allergic to zebra meat? Do they have a union that forbids them to kill before nightfall? If so, can the authorities at Kruger have it changed? We nearly cooked, waiting in vain for the sight of blood and gore.
The accommodations seem to be pretty much the same from one camp to another–spartan but utilitarian. Prices for the rooms are reasonable, but you have to spend all your other money in the camp store and/or restaurant if you want to eat. I am off to the camp store, for we ate and drank most of our supplies on the drive up from the Lower Sabie today, and have a similar drive tomorrow, to Olifants.
Tuesday, Feb 25 – 10 am
We stayed in Kruger one day longer than we had planned, and at Olifants one day less. When we got there–it was last Friday, the 21st–we were told that there might be a possibility of a game walk, accompanied by a ranger–but only out of Letaba, about twenty miles farther north. The day was still young, so we drove on to Letaba, where after a considerable wait we found the ranger we were looking for. He turned out to be not only agreeable but well-informed. He said he was working on getting permission for a game walk but hadn’t yet gotten it through, so on this trip we’d have to be content with driving around like everybody else. He told us about the results of the New Hampshire primaries, the first news we’d had from that front. And finally, he gave us our first word about the by-election at Polchefstroom, and de Klerk’s call for a white referendum. We talked about the implications of that bombshell; he said, matter-of-factly but seriously, that if the “nos” carried the referendum, it would mean civil war.
I wanted to make a phone call to Pretoria, as I’d promised Bill Swing I’d call before the end of the week and confirm our arrival plans. (Since he’d invited us to stay at his residence, it was not an unreasonable request). I learned when we got back to Olifants that the camps within the Kruger do not have telephone connections to the outside world, except for Skukuza, the park headquarters, which lay far to the south, behind us. So, we changed our plans.
Olifants was too fashionable for our taste, full of beautiful people, anyway; we had reservations for two nights there, but we canceled the second night and on the 22nd we continued north past Letaba to Mopani. On the way we jogged west, past the park boundary to the town of Phalaborwa, where we bought more supplies and made our phone call to the Embassy in Pretoria. All of which would hardly be worth reporting, except that Phalaborwa turned out to be a stronghold of conservative Afrikaners, and we arrived in the middle of a big political rally staged by the AWB, the African Resistance Movement, Eugene Terreblanche’s fascist bully-boys. The place was larded with angry placards and banners and swarming with muscular young blond males in brown shorts and brown khaki bush shirts; not a black in sight, and I was real glad I was a white man. I suppose it was a little like being in the middle of a rally of Hitler’s brown shirt bully boys in Germany in the mid-thirties.
We saw lots of lovely scenery, and a fair amount of game that afternoon on the drive northeast to Mopani. The next day, Sunday, we continued to Punda Maria in the far north. As we progressed farther north we saw less big game–no rhinos, some elephants, giraffes, zebra and antelope–and it got hotter. We identified several new species of antelope, mostly quite small, and interacted harmoniously with eight black dwarf mongooses at the Babalala picnic spot. (Black squirrels with brains). Jane and I argued lustily over how fast to drive and whether we were leaving enough time to get back to camp before the 6:30 gate-closing, but on the whole, it was very pleasant and we enjoyed ourselves. The Volkswagen was getting increasingly cantankerous–really a dreadful little car. We rose early yesterday morning and did a final round of game spotting around Punda Maria. We think we saw a leopard, beautifully camouflaged in some bushes– watching us. Other than that, we saw little. And so farewell to Kruger, and back into the more complicated world of human animals–
From the park gate near Punda Maria we headed in a generally western direction towards the town of Louis Trichard. Mostly we traversed the northern homeland of Venda, which was pretty crowded compared to neighboring white areas, like the other homelands we had seen. At Louis Trichard we picked up the main north-south highway, and stopped for gas and sandwiches. An Indian shopkeeper refused to sell me sandwiches, saying he only catered to blacks. Ah, the whip of discrimination! I bought sandwiches down the road from a Greek Cypriot lass who had emigrated in 1985 and was not nearly as proud as the Indian–I guess she would sell to anyone, except maybe a Turk.
It was a longish way south to Pretoria, and it was hot, and we had trouble finding a picnic spot. In a bizarre twist, we finally in desperation turned into what we thought was a little park on the outskirts of Potgietersrus, which turned into a mini-Kruger, and suddenly we found ourselves looking at a rhino–fortunately behind a fence. We lunched in the car and went on. We reached Pretoria in the middle of the afternoon and with some difficulty found our way to the middle of the city. I parked, and left Jane in the car while I went in search of the local Auto Association office, which the map indicated was nearby. I found it and got directions to the American Embassy, which was dug in on the upper stories of a nearby office building. I got there, to be thwarted in my efforts to find out where I was going by the Marine Guard, who wanted to send me to his Assistant Regional Security Officer, whose office was in some other part of the city. Finally, I persuaded him to let me through the Pearly Gates into the Embassy itself. What a privilege! It looked just like a lot of other Embassies, a warren of admin and sub-admin offices. I finally found the office of Jane Randall, the Community Liaison Officer, and she took pity on me and gave me excellent directions to Ambassador Swing’s residence. The next job was to find my own Jane again, as I’d gotten a bit lost by this time. Finally, us country mice got going again, and managed to stagger in our cranky, dusty little V.W. out of the big city in the right direction, and attain the Nirvana of His Excellency’s very own residence! We moved into a heavenly soft clean and cool environment like a couple of dust devils. Thank you Bill Swing! He’s in Cape town still, but we praise his generosity. We dined courtesy of his live-in maid/cook, and slept, and used his swimming pool. This morning I have spent mostly on the Ambassadorial telephone, making sundry arrangements, which I shall record in due course, if they work out.
Tuesday, Feb 25 again – 5 pm
One of my calls this morning was to a Dr. Ina Plug, an archaeo-zoologist at the Transvaal Museum, down toward the center of town. She is a professional colleague of Jane’s brother Paul, who has corresponded extensively with her on geologically ancient matters, and recommended that we look her up. She readily agreed to have lunch with us, and turned out to be a delightful, sensible, middle-aged lady. She was born in Holland but has spent all her life in South Africa. Her political views paralleled ours. She figured de Klerk would win his referendum, but the possibility that he might not made her nervous. She strongly supports the Codesa process and the end of apartheid. As a frequent traveler to international conferences, she is tired of being treated as a pariah. She confessed that when people asked what country she was from, she tended to mumble. Now the process is irreversible, you can’t turn back the clock… Treuernicht (de Klerk’s Conservative Party rival) is a political opportunist and untrustworthy. The sanctions are hurting. At first, they only affected people at the top end of the economic pyramid, but their effects have soaked down. They have contributed to the present recession, and in this way, they are now affecting everyone, including the lower-class blacks. On the other hand, sanctions had contributed to the development of a strong South African arms industry, which would have been a spur to the economy, except that with the demise of the cold war, the need for such arms has fallen way off.
Dr. Plug is a strong environmentalist, and subscribes to the eminently sensible view that there are too many people; preservation of the planetary support system ultimately requires cutting back on population. She advocates stiff financial penalties and incentives to persuade everybody to have fewer kids. (Not just the blacks, but especially the blacks, since they are the worst offenders). I praised the Kruger Park as an attempt to preserve at least some of our global heritage for future generations, but noted human intervention in the form of development of windmill-driven pumps for water holes so the beasts would have something to drink in times of drought. Dr. Plug corrected me: the fences around Kruger were themselves the original human intervention. In earlier times, the larger mammals would migrate across several of the present international boundaries when there was a regional drought. Now they cannot migrate any more, so putting in the water holes is a balancing act, not an intervention as such…Jane said her brother Paul had asked us to collect land snails for his research, but we hadn’t found any. Dr. Plug tartly told us to remind him that land snails estivate in summer and are not to be found, at least casually. Jane was grateful for this explanation, as she had been feeling a bit guilty about spending a month or more in South Africa, and nary a snail so far…all in all, a stimulating and useful lunch, wherein we each fortified our own views through the agreement of the others…
After lunch with the good doctor, I wanted to go take a nap, but Jane persuaded me to go instead to the Voortrekker Monument, a granitic, grim secular cathedral towering over Pretoria, commemorating Boerishness. We found our way up the right hill thanks to Dr. Plug’s directions, and respectfully circumambulated the monument. The premises included a small Voortrekker Museum, a curio shop, and a bar/restaurant. Jane and I went to the museum, where we split, she going to the store, I to the bar. As I sat sipping my beer, the barman explained to me that the crowd in the restaurant was the Pretoria Press Corps, come to hear Eugene Terreblanche, the head of the neo-fascist AWB, tell them that his movement would boycott the referendum and oppose it with customary ferocity. As I was being told this, the meeting started to break up, and a bearded man came into the bar. It was the great man himself, the Holy Terror, Terreblanche. He said some nice things to the two barmen, who beamed, then turned and said something to me, very charismatic from the sound of it, but in Afrikaans. I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak your language”. He switched to English: “You looked like one of my boys. You better watch out; the ANC will have a bullet for you”. I said, “I’ll take my chances, I’m leaving your country in a couple of days anyway”. He gave me a big smile and left. I realized I was wearing a brown khaki bush shirt, with shoulder straps, that Jane had talked me into buying back in the Park, and that indeed I was more or less in uniform. The barmen were overawed. Jane came to fetch me and when she heard what had happened, she was so furious at missing out that it almost cured her of her shopping habit.
Back at the residence, after a swim I continued arranging things by phone. It looks like we’ll end our trip to South Africa where we began it, in the red-light district. We’re going to spend Thursday night in Jo’burg, and I’d asked the Embassy to get us into one of the top hotels. But they are booked solid, some sporting event looms–and the only room they could get us is, you guessed it, back in the good old Randy International, right where we started…
It is still Tuesday, Feb 25–10 pm
Since writing the foregoing we’ve had a good talk with a couple of the Embassy people, who dropped by at my invitation for a drink. Bill Swing, still in Cape town, is flying up tomorrow, so we’ll get to thank our benefactor in person before we leave. Herewith some general impressions I gained from this evening’s bull session:
Mandela has a very complex personality, which you have to understand, more or less, before you can understand why he does things that appear foolish to us, like recently advising Bush to go easy on Qaddafi, or publicly supporting Castro. One of his “personas” is thoroughly rational and sensible, while another is essentially sentimental. He remembers his long years in prison, and who sided with him at that time, and because of the irrational strands in his personality he cannot be ungrateful to those former supporters, e.g. Qaddafi and the PLO, even when public gratitude carries a price…
The collapse of communism in the area of the former Soviet Bloc has some amusing local consequences. A young Romanian diplomat, recently assigned to South Africa, listened to some ANC types discussing their economic policies, and chastised them caustically, telling them they “sounded just like communists!” He went on to explain how “even we relatively evolved Eastern Europeans” reduced their economies to shambles, employing theories like the ANC ones he was hearing… Polish diplomats are also actively courting the ANC with socialist horror stories… it appears the Eastern Europeans are our best allies at present in weaning black leaders away from leftist theories.
During apartheid, education policy seemed almost deliberately designed to keep the blacks down. The mission schools that educated Mandela and Sisulu were closed, so the generations of blacks that followed could only get that quality of mind-opening experience if they were able to study abroad. The law said and still says that everyone must go to school until age 12, but the percentage of all blacks entering school who made it through high school declined continuously throughout the apartheid period, ending up at a very low figure.
I also got some good advice regarding entertainment in Jo’burg Thursday evening, and other tips. Then Jane and I scooted down the hill from the residence to a good dinner at an Italian restaurant. And now to bed.
Wednesday, Feb 26 – 6:00 pm
This morning an Embassy car and driver picked us up and drove us to Johannesburg, to the Consulate General, where we met Ron Trigg. Ron once studied Russian in college, and put it in his personnel record, and therefore has just been assigned to what will soon be our Embassy in Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan. Evidently Personnel’s computers in the Department have been scouring the records for anyone whose Russian vocabulary extends beyond da and nyet. Ron was understandably preoccupied with his impending assignment, and I was less than helpful when I found this out, by giving him some horror stories from my days as consul in Tabriz.
We lunched at the Carleton Hotel, and talk of Soviet Central Asia gave way to talk of Soweto, which we were about to visit. Ron reaffirmed to us that Soweto, with a population of two and a half million, was one of the biggest cities in Africa, possibly the biggest, after Cairo, even though it was just a bedroom suburb for blacks working in Johannesburg. Lunch over, we drove off toward that embattled township, and pretty soon it came up over the horizon, an apparent infinity of small houses and curving roads. Once I got lost in outer suburbia, between Rockville Md. and Gaithersburg, where the little houses cheek by jowl and the little lawns and the pretty little curving roads just went on and on forever. Soweto was rather like that, given that the houses weren’t quite as nice and were a bit more crowded together. Or most of it, that is. Soweto has some bad patches, and Ron showed them to us. A squatter area, a real shantytown of jerry-built slums where people had moved without permission. It was largely vacant, depopulated by recent violence. Inkatha bully-boys beating up on the squatters and forcing them to flee, presumably. And then there were the hostels, where male workers without families were assigned–there has been much recent trouble associated with these places, too. But for the most part, Soweto was typical suburbia, peaceful, settled, dull. (But much more crowded, Jane notes, and she is right. Many of those peaceful-looking suburban houses contained several times as many people as they were designed to hold. Typically, when a black comes in from a homeland looking for a place to work, he moves in with a relative or friend from his village, and stays on…)
The ring around the outskirts of this suburban hive was composed mainly of shops–which were kept out of the interior, for the most part, by regulation. Also, swarms of minibus taxi stands, the minibus taxi being the preferred means by which Soweto residents commuted to and from their jobs in Jo’burg. Judging from the figures Ron gave us, there were almost as many minibuses around Soweto as there were taxi bicycle rickshaws in Dhaka!
Ron said many of the blacks living in Soweto have white collar jobs in Jo’burg, like bank clerks and store attendants; some of them work at the same positions as whites and draw pretty good pay, very good by African standards. He said that the population of Soweto is de-tribalized to a large extent. Someone coming in fresh from a homeland will move in with a relative or friend, but most marriages that occur within Soweto are inter-tribal. Soweto in other words is the heartland of that portion of the black population of South Africa that thinks and acts modern, that supports the ANC in its efforts to achieve not a black south Africa but a truly interracial society. It is where the blacks are that are the movers in the present unfolding drama. It is also a place where foreign influences can be focused. USIS has a branch office there, from which it runs a variety of programs designed to support democratic and interracial attitudes, a sense of civic responsibility, and so forth. That branch is also where a lot of scholarships for study in the US are worked out. And, of course, there is a respectable-sized library there–and when we visited it seemed well used. I had a feeling that our Information Agency was using our taxpayers’ dollars to very good effect in this location. I also took my hat off to Bill Swing, our Ambassador, for a very gutsy move two years ago. He held our national day reception not at his residence in Pretoria, but at our library in Soweto. This forced a lot of foreign diplomats and white South African officials to come to Soweto, many of them for the first time. It was a powerful symbolic act showing where America stood, and when I see him I’ll tell him so. (Note: I did, and he was pleased).
Ron’s general assessment was that support for the ANC would continue strong in the black community, at least for a while, and he was moderately optimistic about the near-term future. As for the medium and long-term outlook, he was less assured…
Thursday, Feb 27 – noon
Yesterday evening was confused but enlightening. We got back to the residence late yesterday afternoon and waited around for Bill Swing to arrive. He was flying up from Cape town to preside at an event at the residence, something involving a gathering by the international women’s club and a speech by an eminent opponent of apartheid, a Rev. Bereya Naude. We got mixed signals as to whether it was a pre or post-prandial affair, and as we had been misled to think it started at 6:30, we mistakenly assumed we were to eat afterwards. Well, people started arriving at 7:15, and Bill didn’t show up until 7:30, along with the good Rev. Naude. Then we went in and heard the speech, and after that we all attacked a huge table spread with wine and cheese, and socialized with a whole lot of people, and finally Bill woke up to the fact his house guests hadn’t been fed, and took us off to a little restaurant where he ate salad, and finally we packed it in quite late. Bill took off for the hinterland at 6:30 this morning. He is a whirling dervish. In this season he flits back and forth between Cape town and Jo’burg like a Ping-Pong ball. He burns with a bright flame for democracy and the dignity of man in South Africa, and if the taxpayer is getting his money’s worth out of our branch library in Soweto, the same can be said in spades for Bill.
The Reverend Naude, I was told, was the only white South African the black leadership completely trusts. At age 76, he ranks next to Bishop Tutu as an icon of opposition to apartheid. He was well launched on a promising career as an ecclesiastic in the (white) Dutch Reformed Church when he became enlightened about the universal nature of humanity. He resigned, spoke out, and became a shocking thorn in the side of the Church and community he had just left. The authorities hounded him and put him under house arrest, but never quite dared to jail him. He became a leader of the black Dutch Reformed Church, and still is. I found him a delightful as well as impressive person, humble and self-deprecating but quite clear in his views; he gave a marvelously lucid and persuasive speech, without notes, and then handled himself beautifully in the ensuing question period.
Here are the major points he covered, as best I can recall: History has converged on this point in time, this is the moment of truth for South Africa. Either the whites vote yes in the referendum, or there will be an election and the Conservatives will take over the government. Young blacks will react with violence, and radical whites will respond. We do not want our country to become another Lebanon or Northern Ireland. But with a yes vote, a long healing process can begin. It will take time, for apartheid’s legacy of mutual ignorance and misunderstanding must be broken down… Economic policy is very important. On the one hand, there must be wealth, and on the other, it must be distributed more equitably… Who should be doing what? The leaders of the business community must push for a yes vote and do everything they can to get whites to the polls. The churches likewise. The international community’s role is more delicate, but white South Africans should have no question in their minds but that a no vote will mean not only internal violence and economic stagnation, but stronger sanctions, total isolation and renewed international condemnation.
There were many good questions, but here is the one I remember: Q- Can you as a theologian explain how the Dutch Reformed Church managed to use the Holy Bible to justify apartheid? A- Oh yes, for years, when I was younger, I did it myself, before I realized the profound error in that kind of thinking. You see, it is all a matter of which parts of the Bible you quote. My fellow Afrikaners found, I think, three passages in the whole Bible that they quoted over and over as justifying their policy. The principal one was the story of the Tower of Babel. People that spoke in many tongues crowded together in one place, and God visited a terrible judgement on them. Therefore, claimed my ecclesiastical colleagues, God never meant that people speaking different tongues should live in the same place. Therefore, the Zulus and the Xosas and the other tribes should all have their separate places, and the whites should live by themselves. It was a monstrous misreading of the intent of the Holy Book as a whole.
Friday, Feb 27 – 6 am
This will be the last entry in this South African chronicle. In a couple of hours or so we’ll be in the airport, waiting for the plane to fly us up to Malawi. I may take some notes there, or I may just leave it to Jane, but I’ll not try to tack Malawi onto this account…
As the foregoing account shows, I was much struck by Rev. Naude’s analysis. Of course, I agreed with it; it paralleled my own evolving views, and to some extent fleshed out and clarified them. After the good man’s speech, a lot of us conversed substantively at the wine and cheese spread, and then Jane and I had a further good talk with Bill Swing over our late supper. But I recall nothing that hasn’t already been recorded in these notes, one place or another.
Yesterday noon we had lunch with Kent Obee, the Public Affairs Officer at the Embassy, and his wife Ruth. Kent and Ruth knew us by repute, as we knew them, for we have almost served together at several posts during our careers, and we had many mutual friends and areas of common interest to discuss. They also discussed current conditions in South Africa, with commendable lucidity, but here again I can’t recall that we covered any new ground.
Yesterday after lunch with the Obees we drove our hiccuping VW down the highway and into Jo’burg, finding our way pretty well, as we had just done the route the day before. We parked outside ANC headquarters in the middle of town. Like an American Embassy these days, the ANC was dug in in the upper stories of a big office building, and you had to go through security cordons to get in. We had an appointment with a mid-level lady staffer at the ANC, whom an American contact had recommended. Jane had called her a couple of days earlier and had set the meeting up. Jane also has covered the actual meeting with her in some detail, so I’ll only include a couple of impressions here: Our interlocutor was generally cheerful, but confessed she had seen something on TV lately that had been haunting her ever since. A big building, comparable to the one we were in, had been demolished by four charges placed at the corners. The whole thing had tumbled down, and she couldn’t help seeing the whole ANC headquarters there in it… She smiled as she related this, and seemed pretty upbeat throughout–but deeply troubled all the same… For many years she was a political exile in Zambia, with much of the rest of the ANC cadres. Now she and her husband have moved out of Soweto, into a white neighborhood close to Jo’burg. She said her white neighbors still mostly ignore her–but one of them waved at her the other day–progress… We were constantly being interrupted by other ANC staffers bearing messages or requesting information. On the whole, the ANC headquarters seemed like a bustling, busy, going concern, a bit frantic perhaps, but when you consider that until about two years ago the ANC was banned, and fragmented into underground cells on the one hand and staff living in exile on the other, it was doing pretty well.
After we left ANC headquarters we checked into the good old Randy International, rested up a bit, then sallied off to the Market Theatre complex, old market area that had undergone a major face-lifting and been converted to a theatrical and gourmet mecca for the Avant Garde of all races. And it was pretty integrated, as well as Avant Garde. We had a very modern, beautifully presented, and expensive supper at a restaurant called “The Harridan”. Then we took in a concert called “Malombe”, which had been highly recommended by our friends in the Embassy. For the first hour or so I couldn’t see why, as the show centered around a fat black lady who screeched, four skinnier ladies who shimmied, and a couple of males who pounded out essentially dull rhythms on drums. But after the intermission Philip Tabane came onstage with a drummer and his golden guitar, and it all began to make sense. PT is apparently a living legend, and his performance for us put him on a par, as far as I am concerned, with luminaries like Segovia, Ravi Shankar, Heifetz and Horowitz. You wouldn’t believe the things he did with that guitar. And the dialogues he undertook with the drummer. He also played the kwela, a tin flute that was popular a couple of decades ago, again with results you wouldn’t believe if you didn’t actually hear it. Personally, he was a very tall, very skinny, very gangly and very black man with pop eyes and a generally minstrelish look about him. A commanding illustration of the importance of recognizing that at least some talent is distributed everywhere amongst the members of our species, and that giving everyone the opportunity to show his stuff is not only fair, it is in everybody’s interest.
* * * * *
That ends the chronicle. At the end of my notes are a couple of paragraphs of overall impressions, along these lines:
Bullets: Tension underlies everything. One of my first impressions was barbed wire everywhere, with a new layer of concertina wire on top. One of my last impressions was that image of a great building crumpling, with the ANC headquarters in it. You mention the phrase “just two bullets” to anyone, anywhere, and they know you mean for Freddy and Mandela, and they shudder. Cf. RJ Naran’s brief exchange with Moodli in Durban… Or Terreblanches final shot at me, “the ANC will have a bullet for you”. The rapids that lie ahead could be very rough…
Apartheid: One of the major crimes a portion of humanity has committed against humanity as a whole. Its legacy is a nation whose component parts don’t know each other, haven’t had a chance to rub off against each other and work out accommodations in detail, and now they have to do the whole thing, top to bottom…getting rid of stereotypes, working out details and charting courses for national policy, all at once…
Choices: The whites, in my opinion, have made their choice, and will ratify it in the March 17 referendum. They have been getting psyched up to it all along. As their reaction in Cape town showed that evening when I sat at the Mayor’s table, they are scared but almost relieved. Of course, there are holdouts, who will vote no, but the ayes have it, or will. Now it is up to the blacks. Some of them, the Soweto types, are psychologically prepared to seize the moment. How about the rest?
Paradigm: As we traveled through the land, with white paradises and crowded homelands all jumbled up next to each other, so close, and yet so apart–is that not a paradigm for the larger planetary conjunction between the rich and poor societies, where insulating, comforting distance has been annihilated by modern transport and technology? If the SAfs can get through the rapid waters that lie ahead without shipwreck, maybe the rest of us can too. If not, at least we ought to learn a lesson or two. That tribalism used to be eugenic but it isn’t any more, it’s lethal. That we all have to think universalist. End of sermon.