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Archive for the category “history”

The Tudors

The Tudors (British Monarchy)The Tudors by Geoffrey Christopher Morris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There is a chapter on each of the Tudor monarchs of England, a dynasty that lasted from 1485-1603. Each chapter deals with the character and relationships of the particular ruler, derived from contemporary sources.

One of the most interesting of these sources was Edward VI’s diary. He came to the throne at the age of 9, and died before he was 16, and was one of the earliest English diarists.

The biggest problem I had with the book is that it assumed the knowledge one expects to gain from such a book. It is not really a history, or even a series of biographies, but a series of character sketches of the reigning monarchs. It is therefore best to be familiar with the history before reading this book.

For example, it says that Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs, came to the throne not so much because of a hereditary claim, because his claim was weaker than that of some other candidates, but because he won the Battle of Bosworth. It does not, however, explain what his hereditary claim was, not even in the genealogical tables at the end of the book, or who the other claimants were. Nor does it explain the Battle of Bosworth, who the combatants were, or what they were fighting for, other than the throne of England.

I knew some parts of the history, having studied Church History at an English university, though that was 50 years ago. The period was that of the English Reformation, and the character sketches of the monarchs throw some light upon that, but this book is best read after reading a more general history of the period. Or else be prepared to interrupt your reading by Googling such things as the Battle of Bosworth.

The Background section of the Wikipedia article is the kind of introduction that should have been included in this book, but wasn’t. The lack is all the more remarkable since, when the book was first published, neither Wikipedia, nor Google, nor the Internet itself would have been available.

And since Wikipedia is now available, I suggest reading the Wikipedia article on The House of Tudor before reading this book.

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A copy of this post may be found at my old blog here.

I originally intended to post it here, but could not find the functional WordPress editor, which had been hidden again, and only the new enhanced dysfunctional one was available. Eventually I did find the working editor, so was able to post it here too.

Beaufighters over Burma

Beaufighters Over Burma: 27 Squadron, Royal Air Force, 1942-45Beaufighters Over Burma: 27 Squadron, Royal Air Force, 1942-45 by David J. Innes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I spotted this book in the library, thought “That’s interesting”, then took it out and read it, interrupting all my other reading to do so, and found it more absorbing than many novels. Having finished it, I’m left wondering why.

It’s not particularly well written, and has the rather annoying habit of some writers of military history of putting a list of all the medals a person was awarded after their name in the text. But I still found it fascinating, and I find aircraft of the Second World War particularly fascinating.

I’m not sure why I, a convinced pacifist, should find that particular conflict so interesting. Perhaps it is because I was born during the war, and I was four years old when it ended, and so war seemed to be part of the normal state of things, and when it ended, the world seemed to be in an abnormal state. My uncle, who had been in the paratroop regiment, had a couple of books called Aircraft of the Fighting Powers and I read them with great interest when I was about 9 or 10 years old, and had the specifications of several of the aircraft memorised, even though some of them were probably inaccurate to confuse the enemy.

One of the things that struck me about Beaufighters over Burma, however, was the logistics and bureau7cracy of war, with people being posted into and out of squadrons for no apparent reason. That must have been an enormously costly exercise in itself, and I wonder who decided such things and why. There was this squadron with trained crew and pretty expensive aircraft, and they would have pilots and navigators transferred in and out and all over the place, for no apparent reason. And in the days before computers, who kept track of these things, stores and supplies and personnel, not to mention petrol and ammunition to keep the planes flying and shooting up the Japanese occupation army in Burma, and trying to disrupt their supplies of petrol and ammunition and personnel.

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Neoinklings: Tolkien in South Africa

At 10:30 we went to Cafe 41 in Eastwood Road for our monthly Literary Coffee Klatsch of Neoinklings, and David Levey joined us to inkle, as he put it. It seemed a rather felicitous term.

He told us of a thesis someone had written, or was writing, on Tolkien’s South African connections, and we had a rather discursive discussion about that — Tolkien had left South Africa when he was 3 or 4, and as far as I know he never returned. Most of one’s memories of that age seem to be a series of still pictures. I recalled Leo Aylen, a poet who was the son of a former Anglican bishop of Zululand, who visited there about 35 years ago. He said the Australian aborigines had a concept of early childhood as one’s dream time, and he was revisiting the scenes of his dream time to give him something to write about.

Goanikontes, Namibia

Goanikontes, Namibia

We talked of the landscape — the Free State, where Tolkien was born, seems to be like the land of the Rohirrim in Lord of the Rings, and Val said that Goanikontes, in the Namib desert, was like Mordor though it seems unlikely that Tolkien would have visited it. Goanikontes had been where Val’s great great great grandparents, Frank and Frances Stewardson, had lived for a while, in the 1850s, and it may have been there that Frank Stewardson had been mauled by a lion.

We talked about the identity, or lack of it, of white English-speaking South Africans. It will be interesting to see if the thesis mentions whether Tolkien had such an identity, but generally speaking white English-speaking South Africans do not have a distinctive identity or a distinct culture. There is no consciousness of being a “volk”, like the Afrikaners. Though one could put them in a Venn diagram, it would be far less significant than a set of white Afrikaans -speaking South Africans, or Zulu or Tswana-speaking South Africans. I mentioned a friend who had recently written of “we”, referring to white South Africans, and that I find that to be one of the primary markers of racism, using “we” to refer to a group defined by race, and “they” or “these people” to refer to the outgroup. David said that John Lambert, one of the former history lecturers at Unisa, was writing about white English-speaking South Africans, and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with.

He also mentioned that the history department at Unisa has now been reduced to one lecturer, which is very sad, and does not augur well for the future of South Africa — all of history before 1994 will, in effect, become dream time, and labelled “Van Riebeeck”.

 

A traveller’s history of India

A Traveller's History of India (2nd ed)A Traveller’s History of India by Sinharaja Tammita-Delgoda
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I added this book to Good Reads, and discovered it was my 1000th book, a figure that seemed to deserved some sort of notice.

As the title suggests, it’s a traveller’s history, a compact book intended to be read by foreigners travelling to India, and taken along for reference when there. It has a gazetteer of historic towns mentioned in the text, with indications of what can be found there, in addition to a brief outline of Indian history. I’m unlikely to visit India in my lifetime, so it won’t serve its purpose for me, but I nevertheless found it an interesting account.

It did, however leave me with some questions. Though the author is himself a foreigner (Sri Lankan) and so sees India with an outsider’s eye, he seems to adopt a north India point of view, and the south is only mentioned in connection with attempts by the north to conquer it.

He mentions the Aryan invasions (which many Hindu nationalists dispute) but says little about the people that the Aryans found when they invaded, other than that they tended to become members of the lower castes as Hinduism developed. It would have been interesting to know how this worked out in the south, where the Aryans barely penetrated.

There are also gaps in the story of the development of languages and religion. It appears that Sanskrit was brought by the Aryan invaders, but the Buddhist scriptures were mostly written in Pali, and won wonders where that came from, and somehow both got replaced by Hindi somewhere along the line.

Obviously one can’t fit everything into a small book, but a few extra paragraphs on these topics would only have added about 5-1o pages to the book.

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Inside Quatro: ANC and Swapo prison camps

Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPOInside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPO by Paul Trewhela
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s taken me nearly six years to read this book. It’s about prison camps run by the ANC and Swapo, mostly in Angola and Zambia, in which party dissidents were detained without trial, and sometimes tortured. The book consists mainly of essays reprinted from a publication called Searchlight South Africa edited by the author, Paul Trewhela, and his colleague Baruch Hirson, both of whom had been jailed for anti-apartheid activities in South Africa.

The articles, it seemed to me, varied greatly in quality, and that was one reason it took me so long to read it. Another reason was that there seemed to be no way of verifying the claims that are made, and so I didn’t really feel competent to write a review — so let anyone reading this review beware.

Some of the articles seemed factual, and thus believable, while others seemed to be much more tendentuious. The title, too, is misleading. It is not the exile history of the ANC and Swapo — that has yet to be written, or maybe it has been, but I haven’t seen it. There were some things I knew a bit more about — churches in Namibia, for example — but Trewhela dealt with a period after I had been deported from Namibia, and so was out of touch. But again, it did seem to be very patchy and incomplete. In part that is because of the nature of the material.The articles were all topical articles in a magazine, and so could not really be expected to provide a comprehensive history.

I was initially put off be a couple of the early articles, which had “Stalinist” in almost every paragraph, to describe the ANC. Paul Trewhela had been a member of the South African Communist Party, which was inclined to be Stalinist. He left it and became a Trotskyist, and I had read somewhere that many of the American Neocons who had pushed the US into war in the early years of the century had originally been Trotskyists, and some of the early essays seemed to lend support to that thesis. They seemed to be the kind of thing the National Party government would say to try to discredit the ANC and Swapo as “communist”. So I put the book aside, and only picked it up occasionally to read another of the essays.

The later ones generally seem better than the earlier ones, but there is no way of determining how accurate they are without a great deal of historical research, and that is the kind of research that I would prefer to leave to others. I’m interested in writing about periods that I do know something about, where I have at least some first-hand knowledge.
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The municipal elections

The municipal elections have come and gone. The votes have been counted. The talking heads have talked and are still talking. Why do I add to the verbiage by writing this? Partly to see if events bear it out.

The results show that the ruling African National Congress (ANC, aka “the ruling party”) is losing support. One image keeps coming back to me: the Windhoek carnival in 1970. Namibia was then under South African rule, and they had a float procession through the streets of the city. One of the floats had a lot of chairs falling off the back, with the words “We are losing seats”. The National Party had been in power for 22 years, as long as the ANC has been in power now, and it seemed like an eternity. And for the first time since 1948 the NP had lost ground in an election, losing some seats, and showing reduced majorities in others.

Think of all the things that had happened — the Suppression of Communism Act, the Defiance Campaign, the Treason Trial, the Sharpeville Massacre, the Sabotage Act, the 90-day Detention Act, the Terrorism Act. By comparison the ANC is still blaming its own failures on apartheid, and subjectively yes, our democratic constitution and the like seem quite recent. But 22 years after coming to power the ANC, like the National Party at the same stage, is losing seats.

But though those 22 years of National Party rule seemed like an eternity, we weren’t even halfway. There were another 24 years to go before freedom came.

The ANC has lost control of a number of municipalities, and has a precarious hold over a few others. The exact picture isn’t too clear. One major difference was that back in 1970 the media told us exactly what was going on — how many seats the NP had lost, and by how much its majority had been reduced in others. The reporting in this election has been much more vague.

The biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has gained a bigger proportion of the vote, and interprets this as a gain in support. I am not so sure. While the proportion of ANC voters has decreased, the absolute number has increased.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which was formed only 3 years ago, failed to gain control of a single municipality, but they were happy with the result. Indications are that their support mainly came from supporters of other parties that had broken away from the ANC, like COPE and Agang, which had destroyed their own chances by leadership struggles and infighting. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) regained some lost ground in the heart of Zululand, indicating that voters there had tried the ANC, had not been happy with the result, and gone back to the IFP.

The DA worked hard to get their supporters to vote, and the percentage poll was higher in DA wards than in ANC wards. Some ANC spokesmen attributed this to the weather. DA supporters interpreted this as a win, but the DA didn’t win many wards in traditional ANC areas. I do know some former ANC voters who voted for the DA, but not enough to make much difference. The main difference was that many ANC voters simply abstained, and not because of the weather, as the spin doctors would like us to believe. The DA didn’t win, but the ANC lost. Even though the ANC controls more municipalities than all other parties combined, it controls fewer than before, and that is a loss. The question is, can the ANC recover from the damage inflicted on it by Zuma and his cronies before the abstainers seek an alternative political home? And can the opposition parties attract the abstaining ANC voters, because they don’t seem to have done so yet?

Some have criticised South Africa’s electoral system, saying that the proportional representation system means that MPs are accountable to party bosses and not to the electorate. That is true, but in the municipal elections there is a mixture of proportional representation and constituency systems, which combines the advantages of both. A pure ward system would have favoured the ANC, and it is proportional representation that gives the smaller parties a voice. In Tshwane, COPE had two city councillors in the old council, and will have one in the new council, even though they didn’t win a single ward. For all its faults, the proportional representation system does allow minority views to be heard.

The biggest question arising out of the 2016 local governmentl elections is whether the ANC can repair itself in time for the 2019 general election. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa thinks it can — ANC not arrogant, self-serving, says Ramaphosa | IOL:

African National Congress deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday said, unlike what many South Africans think, his party was not an arrogant, self-serving political organisation.

“The ANC, as opposed to what many people may believe, they think we are arrogant, self-centered, self-serving and I would like like to dispute all that by saying we are a listening organisation,” Ramaphosa told a scrum of reporters at the ANC desk in the IEC’s results operations centre in Tshwane.

But Ramaphosa himself demonstrated the ANC’s arrogance and failure to listen — Gauteng e-tolls here to stay | News | National | M&G:

Gauteng’s e-tolling system is not going anywhere. In fact, motorists will need to settle outstanding e-toll fees before their vehicle licence disks can be issued when up for renewal.

Announcing the new e-tolls dispensation, including price reductions of up to 50% and compliance measures, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said the new dispensation was about addressing the concerns raised by people in the province of Gauteng and beyond.

But what the people wanted was not reduced toll fees, but the abolition of toll roads altogether. The ANC leaders like to blame apartheid for our problems, but toll roads were introduced by the apartheid government in the 1970s to pay for the invasion of Angola, and the ANC has retained and expanded the system in spite of objections. This is a clear example of the ANC not listening.

Toll roads are not the only issue, of course, but they are a particularly clear example of the ANC’s arrogance and refusal to listen.

There was an even more powerful demonstration of this when, at the final results announcement by the Independent Electoral Commission, four young women stood in in silent protest front of the stage where President Jacob Zuma was making his speech, and leading members of the ANC women’s league went ballistic, demanding that the security people and the Defence Minister do something about it.

Silent protesters at President Jacob Zuma's speech at the IEC's final election results meeting

Silent protesters at President Jacob Zuma’s speech at the IEC’s final election results meeting

The silent protest was brilliant, and perhaps summed up the whole election and the reasons for the ANC’s loss of support. It was far more effective than burning twenty buses and innumerable tyres.

But the response of leading women in the ANC demonstrated once again the ANC’s arrogance and refusal to listen — SUNDAY TIMES – “You sold us out!” furious ministers tell Mapisa-Nqakula over Khwezi protest:

Furious ministers Nomvula Mokonyane, Lindiwe Zulu and Bathabile Dlamini were seen by the Sunday Times confronting Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula over what they saw as a serious security breach. The four women protesters, dressed in black, stood silently in front of the stage carrying placards as Zuma spoke.

The protesters, who included student activists Simamkele Dlakavu and Naledi Chirwa, staged the protest to mark 10 years since Zuma was acquitted on a charge of raping a woman who became known as Khwezi. The women all had IEC accreditation tags that identified them as part of the EFF election team.

Today is National Women’s Day, and the reaction of these women to the protest shows that any resemblance between the ANC Women’s League today and those who marched on the Union Buildings sixty years ago is not merely coincidental, but quite delusional. The watching world could see the arrogance and the failure to listen for themselves.

As one of the protesters said, “Tomorrow they will be singing wathint’ abafazi wathint’ imbokodo (you strike the women, you strike the rock), yet they touched and violated us in front of everyone” (Woman in Zuma #Khwezi protest speaks out | IOL)

Trial by media trumps truth and justice

The warmongering mendacity of the Western “mainstream” media just became a whole lot more obvious. They lied about the Iraq War, and several other wars, but at least they did report on the Chilcot report, which exposed many of their lies as just that.

But they are still covering up the lies they told about the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession, which they assiduously promoted. They lied about Slobodan Milosevic, the former President of Serbia, calling him “The Butcher of the Balkans”, a “mass murderer” and saying he was responsible for the deaths of 250 000 people. They brainwashed a lot of people, especially in the West, into believing these lies, which is presumably why none of them have said a word about this — ICTY Exonerates Slobodan Milosevic for War Crimes | InSerbia News:

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague has determined that the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was not responsible for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

In a stunning ruling, the trial chamber that convicted former Bosnian-Serb president Radovan Karadzic of war crimes and sentenced him to 40 years in prison, unanimously concluded that Slobodan Milosevic was not part of a “joint criminal enterprise” to victimize Muslims and Croats during the Bosnian war.

Why should we worry about this?

Slobodan Milosevic

Slobodan Milosevic

Slobodan Milosevic died more than 10 years ago, the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession ended nearly 15 years ago — why not let the past stay in the past? What purpose can be served by dragging all this stuff out of the past?

It is almost a cliche to say that those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it, but what the Western media did to Slobodan Milosevic 15-20 years ago helped to promote a regional war, and what they did to Milosevic back then they are now doing to Vladimir Putin, where the stakes are higher. It is not just a regional war they are trying to promote, but global thermonuclear war.

Here is one example of an obituary in the Western “mainstream” media — Slobodan Milosevic, 64, Former Yugoslav Leader Accused of War Crimes, Dies – The New York Times:

As he rose and then clung to power by resurrecting old nationalist grudges and inciting dreams of a Greater Serbia, Mr. Milosevic became the prime engineer of wars that pitted his fellow Serbs against the Slovenes, the Croats, the Bosnians, the Albanians of Kosovo and ultimately the combined forces of the entire NATO alliance.

By stirring a dormant but incendiary nationalism, he succeeded in rallying support for himself in the late 1980’s, at a time when Communism in the rest of Eastern Europe was in its death throes.

At the time of Milosevic’s death most of the obituaries accused Milosevic of “engineering” or “orchestrating” these wars. I wrote more on this at the time of his death here Will the real “Butcher of the Balkans” please stand up? – Methodius Hayes’s journal. The stories treated these accusations not as allegations, but as established facts, though the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has now shown that most of these accusations were groundless.

As for the “orchestrating”, a contemporary American policy analyst, Samuel Huntington, describes the orchestration as follows (in his book The Clash of Civilizations):

The breakup of Yugoslavia began in 1991 when Slovenia and Croatia moved toward independence and pleaded with Western European powers for support. The response of the West was defined by Germany, and the response of Germany was in large part defined by the Catholic connection. The Bonn government came under pressure to act from the German Catholic hierarchy, its coalition partner the Christian Social Union Party in Bavaria, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other media. The Bavarian media, in particular, played a crucial role in developing German public sentiment for recognition. ‘Bavarian TV’, Flora Lewis noted, ‘much weighed upon by the very conservative Bavarian government and the strong, assertive Bavarian Catholic Church which had close connections with the church in Croatia, provided the television reports for all of Germany when the war began in earnest. The coverage was very one-sided’…

Germany pressured the European Union to recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia, and then, having secured that, pushed forward on its own to recognize them before the Union did in December 1991.

And the first violent act in the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession was the seizure of customs posts along the Austrian border by Slovenian nationalists — did Milosevic really “engineer” that? One of the better obituaries of Milosevic in the Western media is to be found here — Scapegoat, R.I.P.:

Slobodan Milosevic’s obituaries are damning. In death, as in the last years of his life, the former Serbian president is being blamed for all of the death and destruction that accompanied the breakup of the Yugoslav Federation in the early 1990s. He has been described as the “Butcher of the Balkans.” He is accused of masterminding four wars, of committing genocide and ethnic cleansing. These charges have been repeated so many times that they have become part of received wisdom. Yet the facts tell a different story.

And among the facts that the author, James Bisset, adduces are:

But it was not the Serbians and “Slobo” who started the wars in Yugoslavia. The fighting started because Slovenia, then a Yugoslav republic, declared unilateral independence and used force to seize customs posts along the Austrian border.

The federal prime minister of Yugoslavia, Ante Markovic, who happened to be a Croatian, ordered the army into Slovenia to restore order. The army was met by armed resistance and retired to barracks in Croatia to avoid further bloodshed. The Croatian security and paramilitary forces then surrounded the federal barracks and fighting broke out in Croatia. At this time, Milosevic, as president of Serbia, had no control over the federal army. (Incidentally, the federal minister of defence at the time was also a Croatian, as was the foreign minister.)

Later, when the army lost all of its non-Serbian soldiers, it did become a Serb-dominated force. But when the federal government collapsed, it was none other than Milosevic who ordered all Serbian soldiers out of Bosnia.

Bisset goes on to point out that Milosevic was not a very nice man. He was an unreconstructed communist leader, but so were Tudjman and Izetbegovic, who were backed by the West. But he was not a war criminal, the accusation used by the leaders of Nato at the time as a casus belli.

The Western media are not just spinning, they are spinning out of control, and I urge anyone with any concern for truth and justice to tweet and retweet and share this until the Western media acknowledge that they lied, and start publishing the truth for a change.

Naked Racism

Someone posted this photo on Facebook with the caption: White South Africans leaving SARS offices after paying their taxes.

White South Africans leaving SARS offices after paying their taxes

White South Africans leaving SARS offices after paying their taxes

That’s a good example of the racism that still pervades our society, with whites demanding special privileges, and lower tax rates just because they are white. It reeks of the culture of entitlement.

This is far more evil and insidious than anything said by that Theunissen bloke or that estate agent auntie or that arrogant privileged student who bullied a waitress.

People like that make news headlines and spark waves of indignation, but stuff like this doesn’t because so many people think it is “normal”.

Ironically enough, the picture might have had a point under the old National Party government, where blacks and whites were taxed separately and at different rates. But since 1994 tax rates have been the same for people of all colours, both sexes, and any sexual or genderial orientation. So the picture is just a lament for lost white privilege, and demonstrates the truth of the saying that equality seems like oppression to those who previously benefited from oppression.

Just for the record: under the National Party government, blacks had a lower tax threshold than whites, and so poor blacks paid more tax than poor whites and so were forced to subsidise their own oppression. On the other hand, rich blacks paid less tax than rich whites — hence the appropriateness of the picture for that era.

Don’t be suckered into propagating this racist propaganda!

Ghosts and culture

The Ghost That Closed Down The Town: Stories of The Haunting of South AfricaThe Ghost That Closed Down The Town: Stories of The Haunting of South Africa by Arthur Goldstuck
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At last I’ve finished the book, after writing two “What do you think” pieces on the way. So now I can get down to an actual review.

I’ve moved the other two pieces to my blogs. First I was excited because the book mentioned as haunted places that I knew from my youth, or had actually visited. You can read that one here, if you like The missing ghosts in my life | Notes from underground.

The second one got me even more excited when the ghost turned out to be related to my wife. It’s quite something to have a family ghost. And you can read abou that one here The family ghost — it’s official! | Hayes & Greene family history.

And those were, for me, the most interesting things about the book. I have a couple of Arthur Goldstuck‘s earlier books on urban legends, and there’s something about them that applies to ghost stories too (apart from the fact that ghost stories are often themselves urban legends). The main interest in reading about urban legends is if you have heard them in the wild. And in the same way, ghost stories are interesting mainly if you know the places or the people concerned. Having the ghost actually related is a bonus.

But a long string of ghost stories, or non-ghost stories, tends to get boring rather quickly. The non-ghost stories are about places that are said to be haunted, but where no one actually claims to have seen a ghost, and there seem to be rather a lot of those, including the famed “spookhuis” in the Armscor grounds in Pretoria.

I found the most interesting parts of the book were the beginning and the end. The beginning told me some things about history that I didn’t know, and had some interesting information about Islamic ghost stories told by slaves in the Cape, which would include stories told by slave nannies to the master’s children, and so the conception of ghosts among Calvinist white Afrikaners was influenced by folktales from Muslim Indonesia.

The blurb makes much of the point that South African ghost stories are multicultural, as the different cultures influence one another, so I expected a bit more analysis and interpretation of some of the individual ghost stories, tracing the cultural influences and the different conceptions of ghosts, but there was little of that. At the end there was a potted description of how Judaism, Islam and different varieties of Christianity regard ghosts, but it too did not relate them to any individual stories. There were some quite interesting ghost stories written by children, and a description of Pinky-Pinky, a ghost that went viral among school children in the mid-1990s — a tokoloshe for the new South Africa, as Goldstuck puts it. That was one I hadn’t heard of, though our kids were still at school then.

So apart from the personal bits, I found the book a bit disappointing. If it hadn’t been for the personal bits, I’d probably have given two stars, but for them I give three.

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The missing ghosts in my life

Ghost That Closed Down The Town,The: Stories Of The Haunting Of South AfricaGhost That Closed Down The Town,The: Stories Of The Haunting Of South Africa by Arthur Goldstuck

I haven’t finished the book yet, so this isn’t a review, but rather some thoughts inspired by some of the bits I’ve read so far, that mention places that are familiar to me, or at least that I have been to.

Arthur Goldstuck has written several books about South African urban legends, and there is an overlap between urban legends and ghost stories, especially in the legend of the Vanishing Hitchhiker. Hitchhikers have now vanished in more than one sense, and I’ve written something about that here and here.

In one of his earlier books Goldstuck mentioned the Uniondale ghost as a story belonging to this genre and he has dealt with it more fully in this book. I found it quite interesting as I recently travelled the road in question, though when he mentioned the Barendas turn-off the name didn’t ring a bell, but when I looked it up on a map I did find that the road we had travelled along passed a railway halt called Barandas. Perhaps the ghost entered the typesetting machine to add a little more mystery to the story.

The story is of a motorcyclist who have a hitchhiker a lift, and lent her his spare crash helmet, and a little further on he felt the bike swerve a bit, and looked round and the hitchhiker had gone, and the helmet was in its usual place.

We travelled that road four years ago, and again in September this year. On Friday 29 April 2011 we drove down the N9 from Graaff Reinet, noting the empty dam on the Groot Rivier (a trickle), and about 40 km south of Willowmore we turned west on to the R341, leading to De Rust. I think this is what Arthur Goldstuck refers to as “the Barendas turn-off”.

We had only gone a few kilometres when an ambulance came the other way, lights flashing, and the driver signalled to us, and stopped, so we stopped, and he asked if we had seen an accident involving a motorbike. We said we hadn’t so he turned around and passed us going the same way we were, and past the turnoff to Uniondale we came to the scene of the accident. The ambulance had obviously come up from Uniondale and hadn’t known which way to turn.

We didn’t stop at the scene of the accident, but passed by sending up a silent prayer for the rider, since the ambulance was there. Now, having read the stories in the book, I wonder if we had stopped, would we have found that the accident was caused by a ghostly hitchhiker?

The other thing that struck me in the book was the mention of the Sandringham Dip. I lived for 6 years at Sunningdale, on the ridge above the dip in question, from the age of 7-13, and four years down the hill in Sandringham itself. The dip actually leads from Silvamonte to Senderwood, and as you go that way the grounds of the Rietfontein Hospital were on the left, and on the right was the Huddle Park Golf Course. At the bottom of the dip is a stream, a tributary of the Jukskei, which runs between Sandringham and the golf courses. As a child I used to play in the stream, and I went through the dip many times, by car, bicycle and on horseback. I rode on horseback with friends to see another friend who lived in Bedfordview, and a little way up the hill past the dip was a gate that opened to the Huddle Park golf course. When the gate wasn’t locked we would take a short cut through the gofd course, galloping down the fairways. There was a danger of being hit by a sliced ball perhaps, but we were more afraid of municipal officials who might accuse us of trespassing and make us go back. Nothing could be further from our minds than the fear of ghosts.

Goldstuck mentions a grave at the bottom of the dip. I never saw that, but I did know of a graveyard at the top of the hill beyond the dip, and took photos of it because I thought it was picturesque, with mouldy wooden monuments and crosses rotting under the trees.It may have been the graves of people who died in the hospital, but I doubted it. It was too far from the main hospital, and looked more like old farm graves.

As children we also used to ride on horseback through the grounds of Rietfontein Hospital, because there were plenty of wide-open spaces, which were (and are) getting harder to find in an increasingly urbanised landscape. We gave the hospital buildings (a few old Victorian houses) a wide berth, partly because of the fear of Authority, which might chase us away, and also because it was an isolation hospital for infectious diseases, and we were afraid of catching something.

More recently I have been in correspondence with people who are concerned about proposals to develop the site, because apparently a lot of people who died at the hospital have been buried there over the years, and local history groups believe that these sites should be respected.

So I seem to have missed the ghosts. Though I was in the right places, obviously it was at the wrong time.

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