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Archive for the category “Africa”

The heart of redness, rural development, and skunked words

The Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve already written something about this book in a blog post here Post-apartheid writing and posthumous books | Khanya. Many wondered what South African writing would or should look like after apartheid, and Zakes Mda certainly provides one answer. This is what it looks like, and this is what it should look like. Mda puts his finger on some of the pressing problems of post-apartheid South Africa in this book, especially the problems of rural development.

It’s a thought-provoking book, and here I’m adding some of the thoughts it provoked in me. If you just just want a straightforward review, see my review on GoodReads.

In recent months there has been much controversy over mining on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape, and this book is very relevant to that, dealing as it does with the effects of such development on local communities. Zakes Mda, though he is writing fiction, writes from personal experience here, as he himself was instrumental in establishing a beekeeping project in the Eastern Cape. In the book the big project involving outside capital is a casino, and there have been those too on the Wild Coast, even though the current concern is mainly mining..

We have previously discussed the issue of mining on the Wild Coast at places like Xolobeni in our book club — see Philosophy, science fiction, capitalism & rural development | Khanya.  I urge everyone who is concerned about the effects of mining and similar developments on such rural communities to read this book. In this, as in many other things, Zakes Mda seems to have been prophetic, and much more accurately prophetic than Nongqawuse, who features in the book.

My one complaint about the book is that it is perhaps too didactic. At times it seems as though the characters are overridden by the need to introduce some or other ideological stance, which is not always consistent with the previous roles of those characters, and makes them at times seem inconsistent. But perhaps that is part of the truthfulness of this novel — as G.K. Chesterton said, truth is always stranger than fiction because fiction is a product of the human mind, and therefore congenial to it. And those ideological stances play an important part in the development of the story, so someone among the characters had to embody them.

One of the themes that that needed a character to embody it was do-gooding. In the book the protagonist, Camagu upbraids a shopkeeper, John Dalton, for planning an implementing a water supply project without consulting the local community. Dalton has the role of the do-gooder, one who thinks he knows what the community needs, and goes about providing it for them. The do-gooder is someone who likes doing good to other people.

Reading this, I was reminded of a true story from Zululand in the days of apartheid. A group of people went to the local magistrate to complain that they had no water. The magistrate asked why, since a new dam had been built there very recently. Yes, the people said, the dam is there, but we can’t drink the water. Why can’t you drink the water? asked the magistrate. There’s a dead dog in the dam, said the delegation. Why don’t you remove the dead dog? The government must remove the dog. The government built the dam; it’s the government’s dam, so the government must remove the dog. .

Fifty years ago I was persuaded to start an ecumenical youth group in Durban under the auspices of the Christian Institute. You can read about that here. The group was too big, so we split into smaller groups, each of which had an action project. And our group soon showed an ideological split between two groups, which I will call the Do-gooders and the Enablers.

The Do-gooders wanted to do good things for poor people. The Enablers felt uncomfortable with that, but would be happy to enable poor people to help themselves, if the poor people asked them to. The Enablers found the thought of offering unsolicited help to people embarrassing. In the book, Camagu is an Enabler, and Dalton is a Do-gooder.

I find I keep coming across this split. I go with my colleagues in Orthodox mission to a place where some one, or some group of people has expressed an interest in the Orthodox Christian faith, and one of them says something like, “Tell them we’ll build a clinic.” And I cringe inwardly, because I can see, right across the road, a doctor’s surgery with a sign “Ngaka” in big letters, and round the corner is a hospital.

No, don’t tell them you’ll build a clinic. First get to know the people, and then find out what they think their needs are. Zakes Mda, I know, from reading his memoir, is an atheist, so this would probably be of little interest to him, but I’m pretty sure that the “Tell them we’ll build a clinic” attitude has done nothing to increase his sympathy for the Christian faith and may well have contributed towards his atheism in the first place.

I was once involved in a mission project where we tried to follow the enabling approach rather than the do-gooding one. It is described in my blog post on Makhalafukwe. I keep coming across clashes between these two approaches, so I think it is very good that Zakes Mda has raised it in his book. The urge to Do-gooding persists, and perhaps one of the effects of it is that terms like “Enabler” and “Enablement”, which were unambiguous 30 years ago, have tended by be skunked by gathering bad connotations, especially, it seems, on the other side of the Atlantic.

Another related word, popular in the 1960s, which also seems to have lost some of its meaning, is “facilitator”. Back then the term “facilitator” was used instead of “leader” for small group discussions, because the task of the facilitator was not to lead discussion, but to facilitate or enable it. While a leader dominated a group, a facilitator would retire into the background, and only intervene when more enablement was required. Just how far the meaning was lost became apparent when I worked at the University of South Africa in the Editorial Department, and we were introduced to a task team, whose task, they proudly told us, was to “facilitate conflict”…. and they wondered why all the English editors laughed.

Another thing that Zakes Mda puts his finger on in The Heart of Redness, as well as in some of his other books, such as Black Diamond, is BEE, which ostensibly stands for “Black Economic Empowerment”, but actually means Black Elite Enrichment. Again, there are examples from real life. Once when my wife Val was a financial manager, a new black manager was appointed, and because he was black (as a result of BEE), his salary was a third more than that of the guy he replaced. Val observed that for the extra money she could have appointed two young junior clerks at good salaries who could learn the job hands on, and gain experience at doing the work, thus improving their future employability. There was nothing wrong with the bloke who was appointed to management — he was a nice guy and competent. But because of BEE the elite got more money rather than the poor getting more jobs.

The Heart of Redness is also, in part, a historical novel, alternating in time between the cattle-killing episode of the 1850s, and the late 20th century, where the descendants of those in the earlier period seem doomed to reenact the controversies of their ancestors, which, in changing circumstances, sometimes lead to inappropriate behaviour as they are confronted by questions like what is development? What is progress? And who stands to gain and lose from such developments?

So I repeat, if you are concerned about projects like mining at Xolobeni, and similar projects elsewhere, read this book.

View all my reviews

Darkness suspended, a novel by Jurie Schoeman

Darkness SuspendedDarkness Suspended by Jurie Schoeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was an absorbing read, at least for me.

Perhaps one of the reasons I found it so absorbing is that it was in a familiar setting. It is set in Pretoria about 15 years ago, 2004-2005, and so a lot of the scenes are familiar. I’ve had coffee and been to the bookshop in Brooklyn Mall, and also at Greenfields in Hatfield (alas, no more!). We’ve many times taken visitors sightseeing on the road past Fort Klapperkop and looked across to the Union Buildings and then gone there.

Was it just its familiarity that made it interesting?

No, I think it’s more than that. The characters are interesting too, and so one sympathises with them in their ups and downs. It’s a crime novel and a romance novel, a love story. And the crime is true to life. It’s not a whodunit. You know who did it, but you see how crime affects the perpetrators and the victims.

The protagonist is the Revd Nigel Jones, the youth pastor of a Baptist Church in the well-to-do eastern suburbs of Pretoria. His closest friends are a fairly wealthy doctor and the manager of a security company — the latter is his running partner, and they take their running seriously, entering marathons and the like.

The things that happen to them test Nigel’s faith, and that of his friends. And that is perhaps the most realistic part of the book. I’ve read many crime novels, but the crimes that take place in them are remote. I don’t know anyone who has experienced anything like that. The crimes and passions and temptations and sins and setbacks experienced in this novel come much closer to home.

So the picture the book draws of life in the “rainbow nation”, or at least the middle-class part of it, in 2005, is absolutely authentic. And that makes it worth a read.

The book has some flaws, too.

It is self-published, and was obviously prepared for publication with a word processor designed for business reports, and it is formatted more like a business report than a novel. The prose could have been tightened up with more editing, and some of the word choices could have been improved — “staunch”, for example, is not a good description of a facial expression.

But those errors were minor and did not get in the way of a good story.

View all my reviews

Sometimes there is a void (review)

Sometimes there is a Void – Memoirs of an OutsiderSometimes there is a Void – Memoirs of an Outsider by Zakes Mda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve often found that I enjoy literary biographies and memoirs more than the works of the writers themselves, and this one is no exception. I had read one of Mda’s novels, Ways of dying but I knew him mainly as a newspaper columnist before I came across this memoir in the library. I found it very interesting, partly, no doubt because the life and times of Zakes Mda overlapped so much with my own. As I often do, I’m expanding my review on GoodReads here, adding some reminiscences of my own, and comparing Mda’s experiences of some events with mine, because that was what I found most interesting about the book

Like me, Zakes Mda was born in the 1940s, so we belong more or less to the same generation, one of the ones before Americans started giving them letters. He grew up in Johannesburg and in the Herschel district of the Eastern Cape, near the Lesotho border. His father was a political activist, first in the African National Congress (ANC), later in the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), and had to go into exile in Lesotho, along with his family. So Zakes Mda finished his schooling in Lesotho after dropping out and going back to complete his high school education.

He describes one of his drop-out periods as follows

We saw ourselves as part of the international hippy culture. Make love, not war. Janis Joplin was our chief prophetess. “Mercedes Benz”. That was my song asking God to buy me the luxury German sedan. The one that I sang as Mr Dizzy strummed the guitar. I never learnt how to strum it myself, so he strummed it for me. And hummed along. Another prophetess was Joan Baez with her folk songs. And the prophets were Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix with his psychedelic rock. When we were around the shebeens of Maseru reverberated with some of their music instead of the traditional Sesotho songs that were a staple of drunken sing-alongs. And Mr Dizzy strummed his guitar.
Source: Mda 2011:159

And I can say much the same of when I was a student in Pietermaritzburg and Durham in the 1960s. Mda mentions Jeremy Taylor’s Black and White Calypso from the revue Wait a Minim, which I saw in Johannesburg in 1962 on my 21st birthday.  Mda heard it sung by his friend Mr Dizzy (Sechele Khaketla) in Maseru shebeens, and it seems that Jeremy Taylor’s satire was appreciated just as much there as it was by the all-white audiences in Johannesburg. And a few years later Bob Dylan’s satire had much the same effect, when he was singing about “you unpatriotic rotten doctor commie rat” — just how the South African government of the time thought of us.

Mda tells his story in a series of flashbacks — visiting places from his past, and then telling of past events in those places. And so I discovered that he was far more than a novelist and newspaper columnist. He had begun as an artist, hawking paintings to tourists in Maseru, and his fame was chiefly as a playwright. He also became a teacher, teaching literature and creative writing both in Lesotho and in the USA.

I knew vaguely that plays that were banned in South Africa were sometimes performed in Lesotho — my wife had once travelled from Durban to Maseru with her cousins to see Godspell, which was then banned in South Africa. What I was not aware of was that there was such a lively literary scene in Lesotho, with local authors and playwrights mingling with South African exiles, so Mda’s memoir reads like a who’s who of southern African writers.

I am more historically inclined, so what I found most interesting was Mda’s take on historical events that I had been aware of, but from a different viewpoint. The ANC/PAC split of 1959, for example, and its relation to the politics of Lesotho. I had then been living in Johannesburg and at university in Pietermaritzburg, where I had once tried to explain it to some of my fellow students, and I was interested to see that my explanations fitted pretty closely with Mda’s experience.

Mda’s father was critical of a preface to a book of his plays, written by Andrew Horn, which said that Zakes Mda questions the basic tenets of the PAC, saying that they rejected class analysis of South African society and adopted a narrower race-based Pan-Africanism, influenced by Marcus Garvey. Mda’s father rejected this analysis.

My father believed that in a free and democratic South Africa there would be only one race, the human race. He spoke of non-racialism as opposed to multi-racialism long before it became the trend in South Africa and wrote against “narrow nationalism”. Race as defined by the social engineers of the apartheid state came into play when he discussed the intersections of class and race. Even ardent Communist leaders like John Motloheloa came to him for his class analysis of the South African situation. Although I am not an authority on my father’s writings, as people like Robert Edgar and Luyana ka Msumzwa are, I’ll be so bold as to say Marcus Garvey never featured in any of them.
Source: Mda 2011:353

And that was how I tried to explain it to white South African students in 1965. The predominant perception among whites at that time was that the PAC was racist and anti-white (and anti-coloured and anti-Indian). And the PAC, being banned, could not correct this impression. No doubt some rank-and-file members saw it that way, and their opposition to communists in the ANC was that most of the communists were white. But that was not how Robert Sobukwe expressed it, and he had been a lecturer at Wits University when I was a student there. Sobukwe said that whites were Africans too, as long as they saw Africa as their home, and did not have one foot in Europe. In his book Mda reports that the PAC later did become more narrowly racist and chauvinist, and he then switched his support to the ANC, but at that time Robert Sobukwe was in prison, and could not influence its direction so easily.

I was disillusioned with the PAC, though I still believed in two of its three guiding principles, namely continental unity and socialism. It was with the leadership’s interpretation of the third principle, African nationalism, that I had a problem. It was quite different from the way in which my father used to outline it for us at one of his family meetings. His was not a narrow nationalism. It was all inclusive of all South Africans who identified themselves as Africans and paid their allegiance first and foremost to Africa. But the way my PAC comrades understood the concept it became clear to me that the rights of citizenship of a future Azania, as they called South Africa, would be limited only to black people of African descent. In the meetings which we attended, especially when I was staying at the Poqo camp, the leaders did not make any bones about that. I saw this position as a misrepresentation of the tenets of African nationalism as propounded by my father.

The PAC wrote extensively against tribalism: African nationalism was essentially about embracing Africans regardless of which cultural, linguistic or ethnic group they belonged to. But our PAC and Poqo cadres in Lesotho, who were predominantly amaXhosa, had a negative attitude towards their Basotho hosts. They viewed themselves as naturally superior to other ethnicities.
Source: Mda 2011:250

I had visited Maseru a few times in the 1960s when attending student conferences over the border at Modderpoort in the Free State. On free afternoons groups of us went to Maseru just to enjoy a freer atmosphere. There we sometimes met a bloke in a pub, Desmond Sixishe, whom we didn’t quite trust, and thought was a South African government spy. On one such visit we saw a procession of vehicles, mainly LandRovers, with flags waving, hooting and celebrating. They were from the Basutoland National Party (BNP), which had just won a by-election. We stood at the side of the road as they went past, giving the hand signals of the opposing parties, the Basutoland Congress Party and the Marema-tlou Freedom Party. A few hours later in the pub Desmond Sixishe told us he had seen us, as he had been in the procession. It turned out he was a big BNP supporter. And from Zakes Mda’s memoir I learned that he had become a cabinet minister. But he later died in an ambush on a mountain road.

I was in Namibia when the BNP lost the 1970 general election, but continued to rule by staging a coup. I was then far away in Namibia, but Mda confirmed that it was just as nasty from close up as it looked from a distance, and after that Lesotho immigration and other border officials went from being the friendliest and most welcoming on the subcontinent to being the surliest and most arrogant and officious.

Another link that I found was that Zakes Mda had stayed at my Alma Mater, St Chad’s College, Durham. Same place, different times. I was there from 1966-1968, and he was there 25 years later.

The following year I went to Durham, England, as a writer-in-residence at the Cathedral there. I was the guest of an organisation called Lesotho-Durham Link which was itself linked to the Anglican Church. My brief was to write a play that would be performed in the Norman Cathedral as part of its nine hundredth anniversary celebrations. I was based at St Chad’s College just across the street from the Cathedral and I spent a lot of time taking walks along the Wear River. It was during these walks that my character Toloki was born.
Source: Mda 2011:357

Durham Cathedral, above the banks of the River Wear, where Mda’s character Toloki was conceived

His character Toloki is the professional mourner who is the protagonist in Ways of dying, and I recall many walks along the banks of the River Wear (as it is called locally — the “Wear River” is a South Africanism). My friend Hugh Pawsey would give names to the strange alien vegetation that I had previously read about in books, but could not have identified or even imagined — beech trees, rhododendrons and so on. Rhododendrons are a bit like oleanders and azaleas, which we do know. I recall the “Count’s House”, a tiny dwelling once the home of a man who was only three feet tall. But I can picture the place where Toloki was born. .

Mda does not tell us how he felt, as an atheist, being asked to write a play to commemorate the centenary of an Anglican Cathedral, but he did leave before his term as writer-in-residence was up.

When I was a student in Durham in 1967 there was a civil war in Nigeria, and the Eastern Region broke away from the federation and became the short-lived Republic of Biafra. Someone from the Nigerian High Commission in London came to Durham to speak to the university African Society about the civil war, and noted that the Igbo people of the Eastern Region had a legitimate grievance, because 30000 of them had been killed, but he said that was not a sufficient reason to break up the federation.

I found  it interesting that Mda and I both supported the breakaway state of Biafra, though for quite different reasons. Mda and his friends supported the secession of Biafra from Nigeria in 1967, in spite of its being contrary to Pan Africanism. They knew the Igbo people well because of Chinua Achebe’s books, and did not know of any other of the peoples of Nigeria. In 1967 the only book by a Nigerian author I had read was My life in the bush of ghosts by Amos Tutuola, who was a Yoruba from the Western Region, It was a kind of magic realism story.

At independence in 1960 Nigeria was a federation of three regions. The Northern Region was Muslim and feudal and dry savannah or semi-desert, where Hausa and Fulani people dominated. The Eastern Region, where the Igbo people lived, was around the Niger Delta, largely forest, rich in oil, and the people were mostly Christian. Igbos from the Eastern Region migrated to the north for trade and business, but because of religious and cultural differences were regarded as exploitative foreigners, and were increasingly subject to xenophobic attacks similar to those on Nigerians and Somalis in South Africa in the 21st century. Eventually in a pogrom some 30000 were killed, which led to a civil war, and the secession of the Eastern Region as Biafra. And in the northern part of Nigeria the killing of Christians by Muslims has continued to this day.

Mda notes that such a thing went against his Pan Africanist sentiments. He wanted the countries in Africa to be united. He mentions admiring Julius Nyerere, who united Tanganyika and Zanzibar to form Tanzania. What he does not mention, however, is that Julius Nyerere supported Biafra, one of the few African leaders of the time to do so. After the secession of Biafra ended, and Nigeria ceased to be a federation and became a unitary state with the aim of avoiding such secessions in future, Nyerere published a kind of elegy for Biafra, explaining why he had supported it. He said it was an elementary matter of justice. But in this world oil counts far more than justice.

A couple of years later I was living in Namibia, where South Africa was busy tightening its control, and planning to apply the apartheid policy in Namibia as it was doing in South Africa. I saw each of these closer links as a retrograde step, and was glad to see the independence of Namibia. So I am not a strong pan-Africanist. And one of the reasons for that is apparent from Mda’s own life. He was able to escape the clutches of the apartheid security apparatus precisely because Lesotho was not part of South Africa, and though the South African security forces made incursions into neighbouring countries, and kidnapped or killed people, Mda and his family found a safe refuge there. An advantage of having a lot of small countries rather than just one big one is that there are more places where one can take refuge from an oppressive government.

Mda also makes some interesting observations about developments in South Africa since the end of apartheid. He describes attending his mother’s funeral:

Throughout the ceremony I wear a white Xhosa ceremonial blanket, which makes me feel rather silly. These are some of the traditional innovations that have been introduced by Cousin Nondyebo into our lives. We never used to practise any of these customs when my father was alive. We didn’t even know about them. But, what the heck, it’s only for a few hours. I might as well humour the neo-traditionalists in the family and wear the ridiculous blanket. It all has to do with the movement that is sweeping the country of black people trying to find their roots after having “lost” their culture due to colonialism and apartheid. The problem with this movement is that it does not recognise the dynamism of culture but aims to resuscitate some of the most retrogressive and reactionary, and sometimes horrendous, elements of what used to be “tribal” culture but have long fallen into disuse..
Source: Mda 2011:543

This neo-traditionalism and attempts to resuscitate the culture of an imagined past has been much promoted by the SABC, and has led to the phrase “our culture” being used to justify all kinds of dubious practices. A few years ago a student who had studied in another country was told by the college authorities that he would not be readmitted as he had committed adultery with a married woman whose husband had vowed to kill him if he ever saw him again. On being asked about this the student attempted to justify his adultery by saying “it’s our culture”. I wonder what King Shaka, who had no compunction about putting adulterers to death instantly, would have thought about that.

Mda also has some interesting comments on the tendency to refer to the people who used to be called Bushmen in English as “San”:

You’ll notice that I keep referring to these vanquished people as the Bushmen instead of the politically correct term that is used for them today, the San people. The reason is simply that these people never called themselves the San. They merely referred to themselves as “people” in the various languages of the tribal groups. The clans or tribes did indeed have names: the !Kwi, the /Xam and so on. The San label has the same weight as Barwa or abaThwa or Bushmen, it was what other people called them. They were called the San by the Khoikhoi people (who did call themselves the Khoikhoi) and the name referred to those people who were vagabonds and wanderers and didn’t own cattle,. The Khoikhoi even called fellow Khoikhoi who were poor and didn’t have cattle San. So the name, though generally accepted, has derogatory origins.
Source: Mda 2011:306

I found the last hundred or so pages a disappointment, however. Mda was going through an acrimonious divorce, and lets a lot of the acrimony spill over into the pages of his memoir. During much of that time he was teaching at a university in Ohio in the USA, but he says little about his classes or what he was teaching, or the literary characters he met. It was all about his wife and his marital problems. I’ve no doubt that that played a big part in his life and affected his creative work, and so could not be left out. But there seemed to be too much self-justification, and trying too hard to persuade the reader that his wife was an evil villain. But for that I might have given it five stars on GoodReads.

Mda was also asked by many why he lived in Ohio and taught at a university there, now that South Africa is free. Why did he not return home to help build the nation? And he explains that there was no place for him in South Africa, dominated as it is by crony capitalism, where who you know is more important than what you know and in applying for a job party affiliation trumps competence every time, whether one is talking about membership of the board of the SABC or running a municipal sewage purification works:

Though Mda doesn’t explicitly say so, it seems reasonable to me to infer from what he does say that the ANC has learned a great deal about how to govern from the Broederbond, and in this respect has confirmed the observations of Paolo Freire in his Pedagogy of the oppressed — that the oppressed interrnalises the image of the oppressor.

 

Land expropriation without compensation: who will suffer most

In the lead-up to the 2019 General Election President Cyril Ramaphosa is often shown on TV uttering rather enigmatic sound bites about “land expropriation without compensation”. Occasionally he elaborates on this to say that it will be done in such a way that it will not harm the economy.

There has been debate about this for the last couple of years, with the ANC saying that it intends to alter the clause in the constitution that protects property rights, to enable the confiscation of land without compensation. And so this has become a sound bite. President Cyril Ramaphosa has also been in photo-ops, giving out title deeds to people and telling them that these are important documents, without mentioning that his party is planning change the constitution to enable them to be rendered valueless.

Racist groups like Afriforum fill in the blanks for the President’s enigmatic soundbites, by saying that the government intends to take land from white farmers. President Ramaphosa doesn’t have to say anything like or about that, because Afriforum will say it for him, and thus help to secure votes for the ANC from people who might otherwise vote for the EFF and BLF, who have promised to nationalise all land.

The Afriforum campaign has succeeded in spreading disinformation all over the world. Almost every day on the Question-and-Answer web site Quora I see questions like:

I have never heard President Cyril Ramaphosa mention “white farmers” in talking about land expropriation without compensation. He doesn’t have to. AfriForum has done it for him. And AfriForum and similar groups have managed to create the kind of impression overseas that is shown in the above questions.

But to see the real threat of land expropriation without compensation, one must listen, not to President Cyril Ramaphosa, but to Gwede Mantashe, the Minister of Mineral Resources. He has been pushing for expropriation of land from black farmers, for the purpose of mining. And by using the land for mining, such expropriation, of course, will not “harm the economy”.

The first to suffer, and those likely to suffer the most, will be people like those mentioned in a report by Human Rights Watch, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), groundWork, and Earthjustice. See here: Mining activists in SA face death threats, intimidation and harassment – report | Saturday Star:

The 74-page report, compiled by Human Rights Watch, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), groundWork, and Earthjustice, describes a system designed to “deter and penalise” mining opponents.

The authors conducted interviews with more than 100 activists, community leaders, environmental groups, lawyers representing activists, police and municipal officials, describing the targeting of community rights defenders in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northwest, and Eastern Cape between 2013 and 2018.

They report intimidation, violence, damage to property, the use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities in highlighting the negative impacts of mining projects on their communities.

“The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilise to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants,” write the authors.

“Women often play a leading role in voicing these concerns, making them potential targets for harassment and attacks.”

But municipalities often impose barriers to protest on organisers that have no legal basis while government officials have failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse.

These protests have been going on for some time, but I have never seen questions on Quora about them, and racist groups like AfriForum are only concerned about white farmers, not black ones.

In the media “farm murders” refers only to white farmers, mostly killed by armed robbers, not black farmers murdered by people acting on behalf of mining companies, or who think they can make more money themselves if the mining companies take over the land.

Last year we learned how the High Court rules in favour of Xolobeni community in historic mining rights case | News | National | M&G: “The Amadiba Crisis Committee launched a court battle against the department of mineral resources and Australian company Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources (TEM) over mining rights earlier this year.”

But if the constitution is changed to allow expropriation without compensation, would the High Court have any jurisdiction in such matters? Ramaphosa makes enigmatic pronouncements, AfriForum produces a convenient smakescreen, and in the murk Mantashe and the mining companies are going around dispossessing black farmers. And people on web sites like Quora are asking if “the West” will allow white farmers from South Africa in as refugees, because they assume, and have been led to believe, that white farmers have all already been kicked off the land.

 

 

Being out of touch with pop culture

I woke up this morning and discovered what South Africans have been tweeting about overnight:

 

As Tom Lehrer says, this, I know from nothing.

I don’t recognise any of them. I ask my wife, who’s the football fan in the family, if any of them are well-known soccer players, but she hasn’t heard of most of them either,. Perhaps they are soap opera characters, and we don’t watch the soaps on TV. We occasionally watch quiz shows, and most of what we know about soaps comes from questions asked on quiz shows.

Still, it’s interesting to see what South Africans are obsessing about less than a month before a general election. Is this the freedom we fought for?

I’m still trying to work out who to vote for, but some of the parties seem very shy and to have a minimal social media presence. Does anyone know anything really bad about the African People’s Convention (APC) and their list of candidates? Their only MP, Themba Godi, seems to have done a reasonably good job of chairing parliamentary committees, and that’s about all we know.

But none of the parties or candidates seem to be trending on Twitter this morning.

 

 

Election 2019: who can one vote for? Part 2

In an earlier post I listed some of the main political parties in South Africa, and my reservations about voting for them.

One of the things that stands out for me in this year’s general election is that so many people I know, even those with fairly strong political convictions, don’t know which party to vote for.

Now I’m trying to make a list of the parties I’m thinking I might vote for. I’ll be watching to see what they do, and hope that if anyone knows of any dodgy dealings by people on their lists they’ll let me know.

African People’s Convention (APC)

The African People’s Convention is a breakaway from the PAC, it has had one member of parliament in 2009 and 2014, Themba Godi. He is the only opposition MP to have chaired a parliamentary committee, and to all accounts has done it quite well.

PRO: It is a parliamentary party and therefore not likely to be a wasted vote for a pip-squeak party. I know nothing bad about its only MP. It seems to have broad political principles rather than a narrowly-defined ideology like the SRWP below.

CON: Don’t know enough about them and their policies, though if there are policies I strongly disagree with, they are unlikely to be in a position to implement them after this election.

The Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party

It has only just been formed, but it has been one of the few groups to explicitly counter the Thatcherism of the ANC, whose policies of privatisation and semi-privatisation have led to the plundering of public resources by monopoly capitalism (white AND Indian, if you want to get all racist about it). In representing the urban workers it is similar to the MDC in Zimbabwe.

PRO: It might oppose the Zuptas’ “Radical Economic Transformation” of South Africa into a kleptocracy.

CON: It seems, to all accounts, to be wedded to a rigid Marxist ideological framework, which can lead to internal squabbles about political correctness. Also, it seems to be linked primarily to one trade union, so its claim to be able to unite the working class seems a little hollow.

Liberal Party of South Africa (New)

Not to be confused with the old Liberal Party, which disbanded in 1968. This one was formed in 2017, and like the SRWP was a reaction to the corruption of the Zupta-dominated ANC.

PRO: They affirm liberal values, and are very aware of corruption and the danger it poses to the country.

CON: I was at the official party launch in 2017, and was not sure whether the main thrust of the party would be nonracial liberalism or coloured nationalism. Both seemed to be almost equally prominent. Also, I’m not sure if it’s even registered for the 2019 elections.

Anybody else?

Any other parties worth considering?

I’m not interested in hearing about the main parties listed in my earlier post here — please comment there if you have a good counter for my reservations about them.

At the moment I’m most inclined to vote for the APC, but that could change at any time between now and 8 May.

 

Boer renegades and their fate

BoereverraaierBoereverraaier by Albert Blake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 was a complex affair of conflicting loyalties.

Back in the 1890s what is now the Republic of South Africa was four different countries. In the south was the Cape Colony, originally Dutch, but in 1899 a self-governing British Colony. In the south-east was the Colony of Natal, which had recently become a self-governing colony. In the centre the Oranje-Vrijstaat (Orange Free State, OFS), an independent republic, led by President M.T. Steyn, and in the north the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (South African Republic, ZAR, also called the Transvaal) led by President Paul Kruger.

Gold had been discovered in the Transvaal and the British High Commissioner and Governor of the Cape Colony, Alfred Lord Milner, a fanatical imperialist, wanted to control it, and tried to browbeat Kruger. Eventually Kruger realised that war was inevitable, and tried to gain the advantage by declaring war first, and President Steyn followed suit as an ally. The combined forces of the two republics (the Republicans, or just “the Boers”), invaded Natal and the Cape Colony, and after initial successes got bogged down in besieging towns like Ladysmith and Mafeking (now spelt Mahikeng).

The British brought in more troops, drove most of the Boers out of the two colonies and staged a counter-invasion of the two republics, and after 18 months had seized and occupied most of the bigger towns and main transport routes.

It was at this point that many Boer soldiers, thinking that there was little point in continuing the fight, surrendered to the British, and some Boer renegades joined the British forces and fought against their erstwhile comrades.

So the republicans were divided into three groups: the “joiners” who joined the British forces, the “hendsoppers” (those who put their hands up in surrender), and the “bittereinders”, who fought to the bitter end, which was 31 May 1902 when the Peace of Vereeniging was signed, after which the ZAR became the Transvaal Colony and the OFS became the Orange River Colony .

When the Boer forces captured British soldiers, those who were British or from the Natal or Cape colonies were treated as prisoners of war, and most of them were eventually disarmed and freed. In the guerrilla stage of the war the Boer forces had no facilities for guarding prisoners. But the Boer renegades, the “joiners”, were tried for treason in courts martial, and if found guilty, they were executed by firing squad. and that is basically what this book is about. The title Boerverraaiers means Boer traitors.

Who were the traitors, how were they tried, how were they executed, and what happened to their families?

The book is thoroughly researched, and Albert Blake has gone through archival records, published and unpublished war diaries, and collected reminiscences of family members of the traitors and those who tried them to try to make the account as accurate as possible.

I noted at the beginning that the war was complex, with conflicting loyalties. The migrating Dutch farmers who founded the Boer republics originally came from the Cape Colony, so many of them had friends and relatives there, and many were born there. Some, including relatively recent immigrants from Britain, settled in the ZAR where they worked in the mines or associated industries. When war came, some had become citizens of the ZAR, other had not. But when the British army occupied the land, many of those who had become citizens reverted to their old loyalty.

People would find that they were in a firing squad ordered to shoot their childhood playmates or members of their own families. Nowadays people can often get counselling for such conditions as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but there was nothing like that back then.

The book is full of tragic stories, like the widow of a renegade who was shot by a firing squad, who then married a staunch republican, who never let her daughters by her first husband forget that they were children of a traitor. The son of another, who was executed as a spy, was made to stand up in class at school, so that the other children could see what the son of a traitor looked like.

Many of the “joiners” were of the bywoner (sojourner or squatter) class, who had no land, no income, and joined the British forces for money, to be able to feed their families. The British also took the women and children off the farms, burnt their houses and kept them in concentration camps where thousands died of malnutrition and disease.

After the war, therefore, many families and communities remained divided, though many tried to consign the renegades and their fate to oblivion. It became something that one did not talk about, but one effect was to make Afrikaner nationalism very suspicious of any signs of deviance. Terms like “joiner” and “hendsopper” were used as political insults more than a century after the end of the war.

In 2004 Tony Leon, then the English-speaking DA leader, repeatedly taunted Marthinus van Schalkwyk, then leader of the National Party, as a “joiner” when he joined the ANC. Van Zyl Slabbert, the leader of the official opposition in the 1980s was accused of being a “hensopper”, and a few years later Pik Botha, a former member of the NP cabinet, was dubbed a “joiner” when he was accused of getting too close to the ANC. (my translation)

A lot of black people were also executed as traitors, but their names were not recorded. Though they were not burghers (citizens) of the republics, and had no right to vote, they were regarded as subjects, with a duty of loyalty, so they too were tried by courts martial for treason, and many were executed if found guilty, and on at least one occasion a childhood playmate was in the firing squad.

The usual method of execution was to lead the condemned to where graves had been dug. They would be blindfolded and stand on the edge of their graves. The firing squad had 7-12 members, and someone else loaded the rifles, half of them with blanks, so that no one would know who had fired the fatal shots. They would fire simultaneously, and usually the executed traitor would fall into the grave, which would then be filled up. Sometimes relatives would erect a gravestone, and on some occasions they arranged or the reburial of the body in a cemetery. But the location of many graves of the renegades have been lost.

So this book exposes the pain of divided loyalties, and opens a subject that people would not talk about for many years, though it had a profound effect on South African society.

View all my reviews

Election 2019: Who can one vote for?

Some time later this year there is to be a general election in South Africa. With our proportional representation system we have a large variety of parties to choose from — some say over 200 — which will make the ballot paper look more like a book — yet it has never been more difficult to choose. As one friend wrote on Facebook this morning:

Being a person with quite clear opinions, I never thought I could be classified as an undecided voter. But that’s where I am as elections loom.

And most of the comments on that took a similar line.

I see no point in voting for a small party that is unlikely to get at least 0.25% of the vote — that’s what is needed to get one member of parliament. Anything less than that and the party will not be represented in parliament at all. So it has to be one of the bigger parties. In some previous elections I’ve chosen by a process of elimination — which of the bigger parties is least objectionable.

Here are my thoughts this time around.

The ANC

Quite a lot of people have been saying that since Cyril Ramaphosa has replaced Jacob Zuma  as president of the ANC the Zuptas are in decline, but a poor showing in the election  will make Ramaphosa look bad and strengthen the hand of the Zuptas, therefore one should vote for the ANC to strengthen Ramaphosa’s hand. and enable him to deal with the Zuptas.

My inclination is to wait and see who is on the party list. A lot of prominent politicians have been fingered by the Zondo and other commissions as having been involved in corruption on a massive scale, and stealing public funds. If any of those people are on the ANC party list, I’m not voting for the ANC. It’s no use playing the “innocent until proved guilty” card — I’m not voting on their guilt or innocence, I’m voting for who I want to represent me in parliament, and I don’t want those people to do so. So that’s a relatively simple criterion.

The DA

I haven’t even considered voting for the DA since Tony Leon’s “Gatvol” and “Fight back” campaign of 1999. Admittedly that was the Democratic Party, which later united with the rump of the right of the National Party to form the Democratic Alliance (the left of the National Party joined the ANC).

In 2003 we had a municipal by-election, in which the choice was between the right, the far right, the super right, the hyper right and the ultra right. I considered not voting, then thought that Willie “stem reg, bly weg” Marais of the HNP would take a non-vote as a vote for him, so I went along and parked up the road from the polling station. As I got out of the car my right arm was grabbed by a burly gentleman from the Conservative Party and my left arm by an equally burly gentleman from the DA, each of whom was assuring me that his party was the only one that could “Stop the ANC”. I wanted to ask “Stop the ANC from doing what?” but I feared that if I did so I would be there all afternoon, and i just wanted to vote and go home. There was in any case no ANC candidate in our ward. None of the parties or candidates said anything about their vision for the City of Tshwane. The only thing they claimed was that they would be better than any of the others at “Stopping the ANC”. I want in and voted for the only independent on the ballot paper. I didn’t know what he stood for either, but at least he wasn’t a party hack.

As far as I can see the DA just wants to stop the ANC. If the ANC does something bad, they’ll try to stop it (but the EFF was more effective at that). And if the ANC does something good, they’ll try to stop that too. Their policy is simply to “Stop the ANC.” It’s entirely negative., at least in the public image they try to cultivate.

And then there is this: Herman Mashaba, the DA Mayor of Johannesburg, writes in An open letter of apology to all South Africans | News24:

We had witnessed how an oppressive government had been defeated by the people of our country. It was a magical moment.

With this belief, I voted for the ANC in 1994 and 1999.

For this, I offer my most profound apology.

Well I too voted for the ANC in 1994 and 1999, and I see no reason at all to apologise for doing so. I believed then, and I still believe now, that it was the best party to vote for at that time. It wasn’t perfect by any means, and I had plenty of complaints about it (the arms deal, abandonment of the RDP and more). But voting for it then did not turn it into what it became after December 2007. To Herman Mashaba I say Bah! Humbug.

The EFF

The Economic Freedom Fighters, like the DA, are largely negative. You know what they are against, but when you ask what they are for, the story is tailored to what they think the particular audience wants to hear. They gained quite a lot of support when Zuma was president, and I think their vociferous opposition was more effective than the DA’s whinging. They exposed a lot of corruption among the Zuptas, but the VBS bank affair has left them with mud on their faces. Zuma’s recall took the wind out of their sails, and since then they have been flip-flopping trying to catch the slightest breeze.

COPE

I never considered voting for the Congress of the People Party before, because of their in-fighting leadership struggles, which made them seem to be more about personalities than policies. But that seemed to settle down and I was seriously considering voting for them until they recently allied themselves with a militantly racist organisation called Afriforum, and a militantly anti-Christian organsation called Dignity, whose leader spouts hate speech against Christians at every opportunity. Thanks, but no thanks.

The UDM

I have long had two reservations about the United Democratic Movement led by Bantu Holomisa. One is that he once led a coup, and the second is that he seems to enjoy being sycophantically addressed by journalists as “General”.

To these an additional reason has recently been added: when the UDM conspired with other parties including the EFF to remove the DA mayor of Nelson Mandela Municipality in order to replace him with one who appears to be just as corrupt as any of the Zuptas.

The IFP

The Inkatha Freedom Party resisted the first democratic elections in 1994 for several months, and as a result more than 700 people died. Enough said.

The ACDP

The African Christian Democratic Party claims to uphold Christian principles, but I’m not so sure about that. For one thing, they favour capital punishment, though on the credit side they are opposed to abortion on demand. Being “pro-life”, I am opposed to both.

Whenever I have, in the past, considered voting for the ACDP, my mind has been decisively been made up by receiving a bundle of far-right wing propaganda pamphlets sent in the name of the ACDP by one Ed Cain. Ed Cain used to publish a right-wing “Christian” paper called Encounter, which was funded through the old Department of Information of scandal fame — one of the few instances of government corruption exposed in those pre-democracy days of media censorship. Encounter published articles from people with enormous differences in theology. The only thing they had in common was a right-wing political stance.

A friend of mine who supported the ACDP assured me that Ed Cain was a loose cannon and did not represent the party, but the fact remains that the party did not officially repudiate Ed Cain and the publications he sent out in its name. That made me suspect that a lot of the party’s support came from the right-wing followers of Ed Cain, and they could not afford to alienate them, just as Cyril Ramaphosa cannot afford to alienate the Zuptas in the ANC.

Agang

Well, I have to admit that I voted for Agang for parliament in the 2014 election, mainly because I thought Mamphela Ramphekle had things to say that the country needed to hear, and that even as a minority she could have an influence in parliamentary committees etc.

What happened? There seems to have been an internal party coup in which Mamphela Ramphele was ousted, and Agang is represented in parliament by a couple of jobsworths who are just waiting for their parliamentary pensions, because I doubt that anyone will ever vote for them again.

Oh, and also in the 2014 elections I voted for the EFF for the provincial council, because I thought they might be more effective in opposing things like toll roads in general and e-tolls in particular — another reason why I won’t vote for the ANC in Gauteng province, even if, in the event of their leaving all the Zuptas off their list, I might consider voting for them for parliament.

Oh, and there’s also the Freedom Front Plus. They are at leas more honest about their right-wingness than the ACDP.

Where next?

So here I am, the proverbial floating voter.

Are the pubs still closed on election day? Perhaps I’ll vote for the first candidate who offers to buy me a drink.

I’ve heard rumours of a “Revolutionary Workers Party”, but they are either keeping a very low profile, or the media are pretending they don’t exist, preferring to give publicity to clowns like Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who, having destroyed the SABC now wants to destroy the country as well with his local content party. The Revolutionary Workers Party sounds a bit like the MDC in Zimbabwe, but if they keep such a low profile no one will be able to find their name in the ballot book.

Are there any more promising candidates among the 200 or so others?

 

 

 

Vanishing dishwasher tablets

Does anyone know of any supermarket in the Great City of Tshwane that sells these Bingo dishwashing tablets? Preferably one within 8 km of Kilner Park by road.

We used to get them at our local Shoprite/Checkers in Queenswood (it keeps changing the name back and forth), but then it closed for about 18 months while they were renovating the buildings. During that time we still could get them at the East Lynne branch.

Now the renovations are complete, and the Queenswood branch has reopened, but it no longer stocks these. They only have a rival brand that costs twice as much.

We tried shopping at the Silverton branch (where most of the Queenswood staff were transferred during the renovations) — see In a Relationship. But they don’t have them there either.

So if anyone knows of a place within a reasonable range of where we live that stocks these, we’d like to know, and will probably do a lot of our grocery shopping there too.

 

Interrogating silence

I’ve been reading an interesting article by André Brink, on Interrogating Silence, which was in a book I found in the library.

No this isn’t a review of the book, which got poor reviews on GoodReads, and I haven’t finished reading it yet. This is rather some thoughts sparked off by reading a couple of the articles, and memories of old friends, and the kinds of silences that are imposed on us by changing circumstances.

Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970-1995Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970-1995 by Derek Attridge

I took this book out of the library mainly because it had an article by an old friend, Graham Pechey, who died in Cambridge, UK, in February 2016. I had known Graham Pechey when I was a student in the 1960s, and it was he who introduced me to Bob Dylan. He lived in a flat next door to another friend, John Aitchison, and had borrowed the Dylan records from yet another student, Jeff Guy, who later became a historian.

On one memorable evening, on 11 November 1965, after Ian Smith had unilaterally declared the independence  of Rhodesia, and Bram Fischer had just been rearrested after several months on the run, and I had received an official warning from the magistrate in terms of the Suppression of Communism Act, John Aitchison (who was banned) and I sat with Graham Pechey in his flat, and drank toasts to Bram Fischer, Harold Wilson, and Queen Elizabeth II. I’ve described the occasion more fully in another blog post here.

At that time Graham Pechey was an atheist and a bit of a Marxist, but he later explained his sympathy for monarchy, which I am inclined to agree with, on Facebook on the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:

‘The rise of Hitler, Franco and Stalin showed that there are worse institutions than a Monarchy–that a people deprived of a Royal Family can turn to far more dangerous gods. As one Socialist said before the war: “If you throw the Crown into the gutter, you may be sure that somebody will pick it up”‘. Wise words from the Observer, June 1953, reprinted in today’s issue.

Graham Pechey, 1965

Graham Pechey later married my philosophy lecturer, Nola Clendinning, who took to paining ikons, and in Cambridge, I am told, he was a pillar of the local Anglican Church. I would love to have been able to meet with him and chat about these things over a beer, but the last time I saw him was in 1971, and though we  were later reconnected on Facebook, it’s not the best medium for that kind of conversation. So now all I can do is interrogate the silence.

Though I do have the article in the book: The post-apartheid sublime:rediscovering the extraordinary.

The first article in the book, however, is by André Brink, on Interrogating silence.

In it he writes:

The experience of apartheid has demonstrated that different kinds or levels of silence exist. There is the general silence of which I have spoken above and which exists in a dynamic relation with language/literature; but there are also more specific silences imposed by certain historical conjunctions. If any word involves a grappling with silence, the word uttered in the kind of repressive context exemplified by apartheid evokes an awareness of particular territories forbidden to language. Just as surely as certain sexual relationships were proscribed by apartheid, certain experiences or areas of knowledge were out of bounds to probing in words. These were often immediate and definable: certain actions of the police or the military; certain statements or writing by ‘banned’ persons; the activities of the ANC or other organizations of liberation.

That recalled John Aitchison, who was banned from 1965-1970, and after a year of freedom, again from 1971-76. During those periods he was not allowed to publish anything, nor was any publication allowed to quote him. As described in the article mentioned earlier, in 1966 I went overseas to study in Durham, UK and was away for two and a half years. During that time John Aitchison and I were in frequent correspondence, writing, on average, about once a fortnight. In our correspondence we were constrained by the suspicion (which later proved completely correct) that our letters to each other were being read by the Special Branch (SB) in South Africa, so there was a kind of imposed silence there. The SB reports to the Department of Justice frequently referred to “a sensitive source” (‘n delikate bron) for information that could only have come from letters we wrote to each other when I was overseas.

John Aitchison, 1965

At one point John wrote to me expressing the fear that it would become even more repressive. There was a proposal to extend the restrictions in banning orders so that In addition to not being allowed to publish anything, a banned person would not be allowed to write, compose, compile or distribute any document, photograph etc which was not a publication within the meaning of the act, if it contained any political reference at all. That would have been yet another level of silence. Even private letters not intended for publication would have to be bland and non-political.

I returned to South Africa. We shared many ideas and talked about them and bounced ideas off each other. We published a small magazine called Ikon which shared some of these ideas, about human and inhuman settlements, about theological trends and various other things. John was still banned, so his name did not appear as an editor. Articles we wrote jointly bore only my name. By that time John had married my cousin Jenny Growdon, who was an art teacher and did much of the artwork. But silence was still imposed.

Ikon was originally published under the auspices of the Christian Institute, an ecumenical group that was itself founded to counter some of the silence imposed by apartheid, particularly on members of the Dutch Reformed Churches. But Ikon proved too radical even for the Christian Institute, which was seen by the apartheid government as dangerously radical, and was eventually itself silenced by being banned; both the organisation itself and its leaders were banned in 1977. But it was the Christian Institute itself that attempted to silence Ikon, so we had to publish it independently. Nine months later I was in Windhoek, sitting in the boss’s office in the Department of Water Affairs. After working there for a month as a waterworks attendant, I was told that I was sacked; no notice, leave immediately. I could see a press cutting on top of the file folder open on his desk,. As it was upside down I could only read the headline: CI keer wilde jeugblad (Christian Institute rejects radical youth magazine). O! the ideological perils of being a waterworks attendant!

John’s ban expired in 1970 and communication was freer, but he was banned again  within a year. I was deported from Namibia in March 1972 and stayed with John and Jenny Aitchison in Pietermaritzburg. We had embarked on a new project, the promotion of Theological Education by Extension (TEE) in the Anglican Church. John wrote a 20-page executive summary of a 600-page book called Theological Education by Extension edited by Ralph D. Winter. I duplicated it on a stencil duplicator on green paper and we sent it to all the Anglican bishops in Southern Africa, and all those responsible for theological education in the Anglican Church.

Then I travelled the country (at my own expense) trying to sell the idea to the those we had sent the document to. Many of them were suspicious because the “Green Thing”, as we called the document, was anonymous. It was anonymous because if the SB discovered that John was responsible for it, he could go to jail for five years. In 1972 a lot of Anglican bishops were still rather politically naive, and were not really aware that South Africa was a police state. The following year the government expropriated the Federal Seminary, run jointly by the Anglican, Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, showing that they did indeed regard theological education as an ideological threat.

My career as unpaid promoter of TEE ended abruptly in July 1972 when I was banned. I was living in the same house as John Aitchison, but was henceforth not allowed to communicate with him in any way at all. More silence. The Minister of Justice dealt with that by banning me to Durban, even though I had nowhere to live there, and was dependent on the generosity of clergy (Anglican and Congregationalist) who took me in.

Steve Hayes and John Aitchison, 13 July 1972, about to part for 4 years, both banned and prohibited from communicating with each other in any way. If the SB had seen this photo and known when it was taken it could have meant 5 years jail for both.

But in a sense, that enforced silence was never lifted. It seemed to have a permanent effect. Even after our bans were both lifted in 1976, our friendship was never again as close. Instead of communicating once every couple of months, or once every couple of weeks, it’s now once every couple of years. Did the double ban make the effect permanent. Apartheid is dead, but perhaps in ways like this its ghost still haunts us. How does one interrogate that silence?

After the end of apartheid I wrote a couple of novels set in the apartheid years. One was a children’s story, Of wheels and witches, set in 1964. You can read more about it here. The other was for adults, set 25 years later, but having some of the same characters. It is The Year of the Dragon.

In these books there is a release from some of the immediate and definable constraints of apartheid that André Brink speaks of, the things that were out of bounds to probing in words, namely certain actions of the police and military.

For such things, the silence has been lifted — or has it?

In the last week of 2018 review copies of the book were available free, and I wondered if anyone would like to talk about these things. Eighty review copies were taken, but so far there have been only two reviews. One you can see on GoodReads here.

John Davies, sometime Anglican chaplain at Wits university, now retired in the UK.

The other review, by Bishop John Davies, has not hitherto appeared on the web, but I did send it, along with the invitation to take review copies of the book, to members of three book discussion groups I’m a member of. One group meets face to face once a month, the other two meet on line.

In all three forums The Year of the Dragon has been met by a resounding silence. Apartheid has ended, and so cannot be blamed for this silence. No one has said they have liked the book or disliked it. No one has said anything at all. It seems as though everyone is avoiding the subject.

How does one interrogate this silence?

In an attempt to get a wider readership than just people I talk to anyway, I promoted the book on Twitter, among other things by using the hashtag #iartg. That is the Independent Authors Re-Tweet Group. It provided an interesting assortment of books on my Twitter feed, quite a large proportion of which had covers featuring male human torsos. Perhaps they’re more attractive than dragons’ torsos.

I’ve invited people to ask questions about the book on GoodReads. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Lutho. Silence.

Can you interrogate this silence?

There is something else about the Writing South Africa book.

As I said, I haven’t read all the essays in it, only the introduction and a couple of the other articles. And it did get bad reviews. But it was about the period before 1995, and so was looking forward to a kind of postcolonial literary future, that would not be dominated by struggle literature. It is interesting to read it 20 years on, and compare hopes and expectations of 1995 with the reality.

After the Zuma years that sanguine outlook seems a little naive and unreal. Most of us are a lot more cynical and pessimistic than we were back in 1995. Is there any hope? Is there any reason for hope?

One lesson some of us may have learned is from a Psalm that is sung at almost every Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church:

Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs he returns to his earth, on that very day his plans perish.

And as for hope after the Zuma years, perhaps this:

And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.
And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed (Joel 2:25-26).

 

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