Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “new South Africa”

Bees, wasps and hornets

On the alt.usage.english newsgroup we’ve been having a discussion on bees, wasps and hornets, and it seems that the names of these insects vary a great deal from country to country.

In my youth I used to be terrified of insects like the one in the picture on the right, which used to come buzzing into our classroom during morning lessons and distract us from anything our teachers were saying.

When I was at Mountain Lodge School in Magaliesberg we used to call them “hornets”, but I later heard they were called “mason wasps”. This picture comes from an American web page here, where they are called “mud daubers”.

I’ve looked for pictures of mason wasps on the web, and they don’t look much like the insect in the picture. As far as I can judge the picture shows the insect pretty much life size, at least for the ones we have around here.

They seem to be solitary insects — unlike common South African wasps, they don’t live in colonies. They come into our house about November-February, and buzz around looking for places to build their nests. And if not chased out, one will come across the nest, weeks, months or sometimes years later — in a fold in a curtain, or when pulling a book off a bookshelf. Their nests, as the American name implies, are made of mud.

What I would like to know is what they are called in South Africa. If they are not hornets, and not mason wasps, then what are they?

I’ve never been stung by one, and am not as scared of them was I was when I was 9-10 years old, though I still discourage them from nesting in the house because I don’t like finding books whose pages are glued together with a mud construction.

What is Union Spirit?

Union Spirit is (or was) biofuel made as a by-product of sugar refining in Natal, South Africa.

Someone asked the question “What is Union Spirit” in a newsgroup devoted to human rights, and I think it was a reference to some political slogan being used in Burma alias Myanmar.

But I remember it as a brand of petrol.

It was originally (in the 1940s) sold only in Natal, and mainly in and around Durban, where many garages would have a Union pump. In those days garages sold several brands of petrol. There were no “one brand” garages. The commonest brands were Caltex, Shell, Pegasus and Atlantic. Pegasus later became Mobil and is now Engen. Atlantic became BP.

In the Transvaal province in the 1950s there was Satmar, which was made from torbanite (oil shale) and later Sasol (made from coal).

In the 1960s there was one garage in Johannesburg that sold Union Spirit. It was in Jeppestown, and was in demand among sports car drivers because at that time the regular petrol sold at other garages was 87 octane, and not suitable for high-compression engines, even at Johannesburg’s altitude

Union Spirit was 100 octane.

Zuma sells SA sovereignty to stop two old men having a party

The pettiness of the refusal of the government to give a visa to the Dalai Lama to stop two old men having a party puts us back to square one.

As Mamphela Ramphele puts it Ramphele backs Tutu on Dalai Lama – Times LIVE:

“Isn’t it ironic, that when he’s celebrating his 80th birthday, the most fundamental right — the right to association — is being taken away from him?

“He can’t have a party with his friends and they are just old men,” Ramphele said on Monday evening at a candlelight vigil outside Parliament to put pressure on the government to grant the visa.

That’s exactly the kind of petty nastiness one had come to expect from the National Party government. And it’s worse, because our constitution now upholds the rights to freedom of religion, freedom of travel, and freedom of association — all of which are trashed by this act. The old National Party was not as cynically hypocritical as that. They made no bones about it — any foreign religious leader was a persona non grata, and found it very difficult to get a visa. And any Nobel Peace Prize winner, domestic or foreign, was the same, and so the combination would not have much hope.

I suggest that any Southern African religious bodies hosting international conferences to which foreign religious leaders may be invited should seriously think of moving the venue to Botswana or Namibia, or they may find that their speakers are unable to attend. That would include the congress of the Southern African Missiological Society, due to be held in January 2012.

The petty spitefulness of stopping two pensioners having a party, however, is overshadowed by the implications for South African sovereignty. Zuma, who was elected ANC leader by promising to be all things to all men and courting universal popularity, is now finding that popularity gurgling down the drain, and trying to shore it up by disciplinary hearings of his most vociferous critics, but not daring to contradict his (and our) colonial masters.

As a student I sometimes enjoyed listening to Radio Peking (as it was spelt in those days), denouncing US imperialism as “a paper tiger, a bean curd tiger”. But Chinese imperialism seems to be lapping up South Africa like bean curd.

The Dalai Lama visited South Africa when Nelson Mandela was president, and again when Thabo Mbeki was president. Why not now? And above all, why stop him from coming to Desmond Tutu’s brithday party?

Russian religious revival

During the Bolshevik era the Russian government was officially atheist and actually promoted atheism through quangos like the League of Militant Atheists. The number of working Orthodox Churches had dwindled to 7000. Now there has been a quite spectacular revival. Interfax-Religion:

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia cited the statistics that 23,000 Orthodox churches have been restored in Russia over the past two decades…

Patriarch Kirill emphasized that this had been done against the backdrop of economic, political and social confrontation, rather than at a time of economic and political security and social well-being.

The religious revival actually began before the end of the Bolshevik era, and was in no small measure responsible for the collapse of Bolshevism.

Back when that was just beginning a Russian bishop and some diplomats met with some leaders of the NG Kerk in Pretoria, and it became clear that just as some people were feeling their way uncertainly into the new South Africa, so Russians were feeling their way uncertainly into a new Russia. They were uncertain because in both cases the rules had changed, and freedom was beginning to appear on the horizon, and the old certainties of a world in which whatever was not forbidden was compulsory no longer applied. Here’s an excerpt from my diary for Sunday 5 July 1992:

We went to the Liturgy at Brixton. Bishop Victor of Podolsk was there. He had come to bless the offices of the Russian Federation Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He spoke briefly on the church in Russia, and said that the church buildings and monasteries were being handed back by the government, but the church had no money to maintain them. He came to tea afterwards, but had to rush off to another engagement.

In the evening went to Prof Johan Heyns’s house, and bishop Victor was there, together with the ambassador, Alexei Makarov, and three others from the Russian Chamber of Commerce – the Vice President, Alexey Leonidovich Kolomeichuk, the public relations officer, Vladimir Michaelovich Korostelev, and the local representative, Vadim A. Mejnikov. Johan Heyns asked how I had become Orthodox, so I explained that I had originally been Anglican. The bishop said that the Russian Orthodox Church had had dialogue with the Anglicans for many years, and felt some theological affinity, but that they had broken off the dialogue when the Anglicans ordained women.

After we had supper the bishop explained the position of the church, and said there had been a spiritual hunger in Russia in recent years, and millions of people were
flocking to the church, but the church did not have resources to minister to them. They were ignorant of the rudiments of the faith – they were seeking God, but did not know why they were seeking, or in many cases they did not know what they were seeking. Henno Cronje asked why this spiritual hunger had appeared so suddenly now – had political changes caused it. The bishop replied that it might have been partly responsible for the political changes, and Dr Makarov said something similar. Henno Cronje also asked if the bishops had been appointed by the government under the communist regime, and bishop Victor said he had only been a bishop for two years, so he could not speak from personal experience, but he knew the government had had the power of veto on the election of bishops.

The DRC people said that they thought there were a lot of affinities between South Africa and Russia – but the ones they gave, even Piet Meiring, were different from what I expected. I thought the most obvious similarity was that both were beginning to emerge from decades of oppression under totalitarian governments, and that they were both discovering that freedom is not without its problems. But they spoke of the mystical identification of the church with the soul of the people, the patriotism, and the love that Russians and South Africans had for their country.

Henno Cronje asked about the meaning of ikons, and the bishop explained how they differed from Western religious painting – that they were not representations of physical objects, but that they had a spiritual meaning. Vadim Mejnikov translated, but obviously had some difficulty with theological terms. At the end all the
Russians, except the bishop, said they were not members of the church, but it seemed that even as the bishop spoke, some kind of spiritual hunger was being awakened in them. As the bishop spoke about the longing for God, it seemed that they were hearing new things, and responding.

One thing that amused me, though I didn’t record it at the time, was that all the solemn DRC dominees giggled like naughty schoolboys whenever the Russians said “kak”, which means “how” in Russian but “shit” in Afrikaans.

The Russian Ambassador, Makrelov, was quite emphatic about the religious revival leading to people’s disillusionment with Bolshevism and contributing to its fall.

It is rather sad to think that both Alexei Makrelov and Prof Johan Heyns died in tragic circumstances not long afterwards. Alexei Makrelov died in a domestic accident, when his wife, who was carrying a tub of hot water, slipped and spilt it on him. Johan Heyns was murdered by an unknown assassin on 5 November 1994.

And so it ends

For a month we’ve had the soccer World Cup, and last night it ended. In some ways we’re sorry. As far as the matches themselves were concerned, we watched them all on TV, so it might just as well have been anywhere else in the world. We did try to get tickets to the Serbia-Ghana match in the local stadium at Loftus Versfeld, but the online booking system kept saying that there were no tickets available, though when we watched it on TV, there did seem to be some empty seats — perhaps those were the more expensive ones.

But even so, it had an effect on local life, and now that it is over we’ll miss it. We’ll miss meeting foreign teams and fans in shopping malls. One of the advertising slogans was “Feel it – it is here” and it was. There was a palpable air of excitement. And it also became the subject of jokes. The World Cup is usually held in the northern hemisphere, but here it was midwinter, and some fans in Polokwane (normally one of the warmer towns in South Africa) carried a sign saying “Feel it — it is cold”. A local radio station commented on a news report that 46000 sex workers would be converging on South Africa for the World Cup, said “Feel them — they are here.”

People drove around with flags on their cars, and yes, they probably wasted a bit of petrol, but they also were conversation starters with strangers in the street, the newspaper sellers, the garage attendants, “Who will win?” and when South Africa was out, “Who do you hope will win?” It broke through the urban reserve, and made people more friendly. And it was good to see two teams that had never won it before in the final.

Our neighbourhood crime watch predicted an increase of crime durung the World Cup, as police were redeployed to match venues. But the police who were left seemed to be extra-vigilant, patrolling more, and actually there seemed to be less crime than usual during this period. There were warnings of child abductions by human traffickers, but there didn’t seem to be a great increase in those either.

The dire predictions in the overseas press (especially the British) about how disastrous it would be were never fulfilled. Some British newspapers produced an “expert” who predicted earthquakes in Durban and Cape Town during the World Cup, even though no part of South Africa lies in a major earthquake zone. In fact the 2012 Olympic Games in London are more likely to be disrupted by volcanoes. The London Daily Mail in particular appended to every report of crime in South Africa the observation that South Africa was to be the host of the 2010 World Cup. Well, there were no earthquakes, and no terrorist bombs wiping out Spanish and Dutch royalty and other VIPs at the final.

Among the high points was the referee from Uzbekistan, who reffed the opening match. Kudos to him. Among the low points was Uruguay’s cheating to reach the semi-finals. We listened to the 3rd/4th place playoff on the radio as our son was watching a movie on TV, and the booing when Suarez (Uruguay’s cheater in chief) got the ball was audible above the droning of the vuvuzelas. Among the entertaining diversions was Paul the Octopus’s uncannily accurate predictions of the results of the last few matches, which coincided with the feast of St Euphemia the Martyr and so provided material for my sermon on Sunday morning.

The opening and closing ceremonies seemed pretty good as such things go, but then we’ve had experience of such things before, having hosted the rugger World Cup an 1995 and the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in 1996, both of which we won, and temporarily, at least, they helped to foster a sense of national unity. Those for the cricket world cup a few years ago were also quite memorable, even though we didn’t win that time. And for this World Cup they were at least as good as the extravaganza put on at Beijing for the Olympic Games two years ago, without going on for too long.

At the closing ceremony I first became aware of the World Cup theme song, “Waka Waka”, sung by Shakira (whom I’d never heard of). The song that I associate with the World Cup is the Coca Cola advertising song, “When I get older, I will be stronger”, which seemed to be much more prominent, and probably shows just how commercial the whole thing is.

And here are some assessments of the World Cup by foreign journalists, some positive, some negative, noting that the core of the World Cup is big business.

Celizic: World Cup well worth the cost for South Africa:

Despite dire predictions, the stadiums were finished on time, the infrastructure improvements got done, security was leakproof and, other than some minor hearing loss, no one got hurt.

Spain won the Cup for the first time, the final was an entertaining — more so for all the fouls — match, an octopus became the Edgar Cayce of soccer psychics and the folks who keep track of such things say that as many as a billion people watched the final match.

Yeah, South Africa needs a lot of improvements in a lot of areas, just like most other countries in the world. Yeah, there are other places the reported $4 billion it took to build all the new stadiums could have been spent.

But this was money spent on an event that riveted South Africa’s attention for years and consumed it for a summer. It was money that made people feel good about themselves and their nation. It brought people from all over the world to a place they otherwise never would have visited. For the past month, I’m sure, life was pretty exciting in South Africa.

And, on the minus side: Bye South Africa, thanks for being had by us – The Irish Times – Mon, Jul 12, 2010:

And the corporate partners know how to use the muscle. In the World Cup zone you can only use an ATM if you have a Visa card. McDonalds are everywhere. This column attended a domestic league match here during a working visit eight years ago and the walk to the stadium was a long ramble and graze through a never-ending line of street vendors. For the World Cup, that particular flavour of Africa has been disappeared. Sponsors’ tents are the only thing selling anything within the commercial exclusion zone around the grounds.

The humourless nature of this pin-striped Mafia pervades everything. The heavy-handed treatment of the brewer Bavaria Beer for its amusing skirmishes was no surprise to those who had watched the local budget airline, Kulula, suffer the threat of legal action for using the mildly amusing slogan “the unofficial national carrier of you know what”. Even the acts which opened and closed the tournament to such high visibility were bought in from a international promoter with just a token smidgin of African music thrown in.

But even being aware of that, I think the positives outweighed the negatives. And some of the positives were apparent even before the opening match. Loftus Versveld rugby stadium in Pretoria needed to be prepared for the World Cup, so the Super-14 rugby matches were transferred to Orlando Stadium in Soweto, 50 miles away. The supporters of the Blue Bulls, the Pretoria rugby team, are largely Afrikaans-speaking, and twenty years ago most of them would have been supporters of the National Party. And what took place was a minor transformation.

Our transformation challenge: The Blue Bulls show the way! – South Africa – The Good News:

“Transformation is first about behaviour and second about attitude,” a sweaty, vuvuzela-blowing, horns-in-hard-hat Blue Bulls supporter said as he offered me a Captain and Coke in a shebeen deep in Orlando West. “I used to think it was the other way around, but crossing the boerewors curtain, coming to Soweto and watching die Bulle, my manne, wen has changed my life forever” he enthused.

“And if they’d lost?” I innocently enquired.

“Ag, voetsek man!” he laughed.

But therein lies the rub. But for the change of venue 60 000 Bulls supporters would not have made it to the semi-final and the final in Soweto. They would have played at Loftus and their attitude would have stayed north of the curtain.

When residents of the still largely white suburbs of Pretoria braaied on the streets with residents of the still overwhelmingly black Soweto, something has changed, and some of the wounds inflicted by apartheid are beginning to heal.

South Africa – 100 years old

With all the excitement of the football World Cup, which begins next month, something that seems to have been overlooked by many is that South Africa, as a country, will be 100 years old on 31 May 2010. It will be a century since four British colonies — the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal Colony — united to form the Union of South Africa.

One writer, however, has not forgotten, and wrote BusinessDay – MESHACK MABOGOANE: Salute the bravery and vision of SA’s founders:

Former colonies, republics and kingdoms were forged into a unitary and variegated state, the first — and still the only modern state — founded by natives on a continent whose other states were created outside by foreigners.

The founders — Louis Botha, Barry Hertzog, and Jan Smuts — were war-seasoned generals, who had led a genuine anti-imperialist struggle in a true people’s war. These great men laid the foundations and frameworks that have enabled the evolution of a complex and dynamic country with a thriving economy and vibrant society.

The article is a paean of praise to Botha, Smuts and Hertzog, South Africa’s first three prime ministers, and takes some nasty digs at Oliver Tambo, though it does not mentio0n him by name.

Perhaps we should remember, though, that in the negotiations leading up to Union, Botha, Smuts and Hertzog fought to prevent the Cape Colony’s non-racial franchise from being extended to the rest of the country, and in 1936 Hertzog and Smuts conspired to abolish it in the Cape Colony as well. By so doing they entrenched racism in South African society and helped to prepare the way for apartheid.

But yes, the formation of the Union of South Africa is something worth remembering, for good or ill. Before 31 May 1910 the term “South Africa” was simply a geographical expression, and referred to a region, like East Africa, West Africa and North Africa. Once “South Africa” became the name of a country, a new name had to be found for the region, and it became known as Southern Africa. That is something worth remembering if you read books published before 1910.

It was in the 1860s that the British government, which ruled the Cape Colony and Natal, came up with the idea of forming a single country in Southern Africa. The confederation of Canada in 1867 was the model, and the Conservative government, led by Disraeli, tried to apply it in South Africa too. Theophilus Shepstone led a band of filibusters from Natal to take over the South African Republic (Transvaal), and a much larger British army invaded the Kingdom of Zululand in 1879. It was initially repulsed at Isandlwana, but later succeeded in taking the capital, Ondini (Ulundi), and King Cetshwayo went into hiding. The Transvaal, led by Paul Kruger and others, then fought back and sought to regain its independence. The Liberal Party came to power in Britain, under Gladstone, and lacking the imperialist ambitions of the Conservatives, ended the First Anglo-Boer War by recognising the Transvaal’s independence, and left Zululand to fend for itself, split into 13 principalities that fought among themselves. So the first attempt at union left South (ie Southern) Africa more divided than ever.

Eventually Zululand was incorporated into Natal and in the late 1890s, with a Conservative government back in power in Britain, and the New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa in full swing, Joseph Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary, and Alfred Lord Milner, the British High Comissioner at the Cape, sought a casus belli with the South African Republic, and the Second Anglo-Boer War broke out in October 1899. The war was ended by the Peace of Vereeniging, signed on 31 May 1902. The South African Republic became the Transvaal Colony, and the Orange Free State Republic (Oranje-Vrijstaat) became the Orange River Colony.

In 1906, the Liberal Party came to power in Britain again, and, as previously, sought to mitigate the imperialist policies of the Conservatives. The Transvaal and ORC were given self-government, and the governments that came to power were led by the generals who had fought against the British in the Second Anglo-Boer War, Louis Botha, Jan Smuts and Barry Hertzog. And they became prime ministers of the Union of South Africa as well, so that some historians have called the period of South Africa’s history from 1910 to 1948 the Age of the Generals. It was these generals who fought to keep the Cape nonracial franchise from being applied in the rest of South Africa.

The Cape franchise may have been nonracial, but it was sexist and classist. It allowed adult males who owned or occupied property of a certain value to vote in elections. At the time of Union, most of the voters were white, but a growing number of blacks were able to vote. The Cape politicians valued their nonracial franchise, and seeing the threat to it posed by the Generals and others, only consented to join the Union if it was entrenched in the constitution — it could not be taken away by a simple parliamentary majority, but only by a two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament voting together. In 1936 Hertzog and Smuts united their parties in a fusion government, forming the United Party, and they thus commanded a two-thirds majority, which they used to remove black voters in the Cape from the common roll, and gave them three separate (white) representatives in parliament. In 1960 even those were taken away.

Along the way, there were a few other changes that served to entrench white power. There was agitation for women to be given the vote, and eventually they were — but only white women. And in the cape, white women were not subject to the same property qualification that male voters had, so the property qualification was removed for white male voters, but not for black voters. Sad to say, feminism helped to consolidate racism.

So no, I don’t agree with what Mabogoane says in his article. The Age of the Generals was generally a pretty disastrous one for South Africa, as they assiduously cultivated the racism that led to apartheid. It wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, but it was a disaster none the less.

I am old enough to remember the celebrations of 50 years of Union, now 50 years ago (see Tales from Dystopia VI: 1960 was a very bad year | Khanya). A special pennant, with “50” on it was distributed to school children and was as ubiquitous as World Cup logos are now becoming. The actual celebration took place in the middle of the State of Emergency declared after the Sharpeville massacre, and was most appropriately symbolised by a cartoonists drawing of a frightened little man hunkering down in an armoured car, holding the “50” pennant above the rim of the gun turret. That was the path that Botha, Smuts and Hertzog had set us on. It’s only 16 years ago that the armoured cars began to disappear from our streets.

We could still laugh about it, though, as Jeremy Taylor did in his song about Hennie von Saracen, who was somewhat unwillingly conscripted into the army:

In my first weeks of training
I nearly went insane
They marched me all around the square
up and back again
They taught me how to kill a man
They said it was no sin
And soon I was the driver
of a five-ton Saracen.

One day, outside Blikkiesdorp
I got out of control
And I ended up in Bree Street
with my tank stuck up a pole.
A traffic cop came up to me
And said, as he scratched his ear,
“Well did you got a licence
to park that blerrie thing here?”

Well I tried to explain
when I got back to the station
that I wasn’t cut out to fight against
the Army of Liberation.
The Commandant agreed
and as he put me on the train
said, “You can push off home to Joburg
And don’t come back again.”

Twenty years old today: the new South Africa

Twenty years ago today Preisdent F.W. de Klerk announced a new South Africa. He announced his intention of unbanning opposition political parties, and releasing political prisoners, and opening up political debate.

It was the light at the end of the tunnel. We still had a way to go before we emerged into daylight, but at least there was an end in sight, and we could hope for the freedom we had not dared to hope for.

There had been a scent of freedom in the air for a while — the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of Ceaucescu in Romania and other events over the previous few months. But F.W. de Klerk’s announcement brought it home. Those things were “over there”, this was here!

I wrote in my diary 2-Feb-1990, Friday:

Sam came in this morning with the announcement that F.W. de Klerk had finally made it across the Rubicon, and was unbanning all political organisations. Well, we’re back to 1950. Perhaps we’ll soon get back to where we took the wrong turning and we can begin to go forward again. In the mean time, let’s drink to glasnost and Pretoriastroika…

Watched all the TV news, most of which was devoted to F.W. de Klerk’s speech in parliament. Amazing how everyone is claiming that their policy/actions were responsible for it. Someone said that sanctions brought it about, Maggie Thatcher said it was their refusal to impose sanctions … and so it goes on. Not that it matters much now. Best to get on with the rest of the journey, from the Rubicon to Rome.

The “Rubicon” reference was to a speech by the previous President, P.W. Botha, five years earlier, which the media hyped up beforehad. It was going to be a major policy shift, they said, it was going to be a crossing of the Rubicon. They had been speculating for years that P.W. Botha was going to announce his “reform programme”, and it finally became clear to the media optimists that he didn’t have one. It sank like a stone to the bottom of the Rubicon.

But finally F.W. de Klerk came up with the real thing.

It was on a Friday, and the following Sunday was we drove to church in Johannesburg we saw that a graffiti artist had painted on one of the bridges over the freeway: FW – top man.

And twenty years later I am reminded of a song that was quite popular back in 1973, sung by a group called Parchment.

Yesterdays dream didn’t quite come true
We fought for our freedom, and what did it do?
Now no one can see where they stand.
Let there be light in the land!
Let there be light in the people!
Let there be God in our lives from now on.

Fifteen years ago, just a year after our first democratic elections, I visited Kenya for the first time. I was a little surprised that there was only one thing about South Africa that interested Kenyans. They were not interested in our transition to democracy. They weren’t interested in how we were going to build a better future. No, the only thing that interested them was the Mandela divorce, and who would get the money. I tried in vain to explain that it wasn’t really like that. Mandela had given his Nobel prize money to establish a children’s fund. He wasn’t in it for the money. And Kenyans found that impossible to believe.

And then I realised that I was learning a lesson about Kenyan politics, and what the average Kenyan thought of their politicians. And I was thankful that South Africa wasn’t like that, yet…

But now?

Yesterday’s dream didn’t quite come true.

And we’re just the same as Kenya, and the UK, with their MPs’ expenses scandal, and all the rest of them.

But at least we’re still free.

Post Navigation