To South Africa, ink and watercolor, 30" x 22," $425
Inside South Africa, 1975-1976
It was the fall of 1974. I had exactly fifty dollars to my name and had been unemployed for almost two years and with incessant talk about an imminent worldwide depression I asked myself, "Where can I get a job teaching English? Where in the world would no one in his right mind go?" I immediately thought of South Africa. I must confess that the thought of going to South Africa did not excite me. At Harvard, at the University of California at Berkeley, and at the University of Haifa I had occasionally run across South African émigrés who regaled me with horror stories about their native land. These tales together with a few facts about gold, diamonds, and apartheid by and large constituted my total impressions of South Africa. South Africa was not a place I had any vested interests in or ties to or relatives. Why not go to South Africa? I asked myself. If South Africa is a racist police state, as the liberals claim, so what? In America the liberals will not hire me. Must I starve because of the liberals? So much for liberalism. I shall write to South Africa. Within a month I had an offer of a job from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. My stock and credit suddenly and dramatically went up-- and the denunciations began to pour in. People whom I had known for years attacked me as if I had committed some unpardonable sin. I was called a fascist, a bigot, a racist, a traitor to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights Friends called me a hypocrite and said they never wanted to speak to me again. Better the indignity of unemployment than a sellout to the fascists, I was told. One friend justified my departure to South Africa with the comment, "Well, if you had gotten an offer from Moscow University, I suppose it wouldn't be much different"
Letters from the University began to arrive with increased frequency. I was going to he teaching marvelous courses on Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Keats, Dickens, Donne, Blake, Lawrence. Instead of having negative thoughts my mind now diligently prepared itself for the coming challenge in Johannesburg. The City of Gold began to haunt me primarily because I knew nothing about it or its history. So I borrowed piles of books from the library, and as I was halfway through them, a telephone call arrived from the South African Embassy in Washington requesting that I fly in for an interview. By this time I knew enough about the South African regime to anticipate some sort of political inquisition concerning my position towards Communism. For days I rehearsed in my mind the ten best arguments why I was not a Marxist, and when I arrived at the stately and elegant building on Embassy Row, I felt I was prepared for the most thorough of investigations. Alas! It was not I who was interviewed but the interviewer. For fully two hours the very benevolent attaché tried to justify the ways of South Africa to me. "Look," he said as part of his apologia, "We have apartheid because we want to preserve our identities. You'll see. It's not as bad as it's made out to be. Everything is changing." So I was going. Visas, papers, formalities-all would be expedited to Pretoria to make sure that I would arrive before the beginning of the term In February. At the door of the Embassy he added, "You're going to a great, to a liberal university. You'll be associating with enlightened beings. Bon voyage."
I was ecstatic--- especially about the contract with its generous salary, many fringe benefits, and free one-way airplane ticket . (I was obliged to arrive with a return ticket in hand so that the Government would not have to foot the bill if I made a nuisance of myself and had to be deported), and the contract was for two solid years. I, leaving behind 7500 unemployed Ph.D.s in English, would escape the Great Recession of the 1970s. I was saved. GOD BLESS SOUTH AFRICA, I said to myself." And I was going to a university, which, in a brochure given to me by the embassy itself (Surely, I said to my friends, the regime couldn't be all that bad if its embassy were dispensing literature such as this), wrote:
of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
"To uphold the principle that a University is a place where men and women, without regard to race and colour are welcome to join in the acquisition and advancement of knowledge,
and to continue faithfully to defend the ideal against all who have sought by legislative enactment to curtail the autonomy of the University,
How therefore, we dedicate ourselves the maintenance of this ideal and to the restoration of the autonomy of our University."
A South African couple I met in Boston informed me that I was entering the lion's den; that the University, better known as Wits, was one of the half-dozen centers of opposition to the regime; and that, though the institution was a world center of medicine, metallurgy, and paleontology, it was under siege, psychologically and politically, and I would have to watch my steps lest the return ticket be used far in advance of its departure date.
It was a hot day in February when after a twenty-four-hour flight I arrived at Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg. Contrary to my anticipations, my luggage was not searched for contraband material, terrorist manuals, and other such items. I was also pleasantly surprised to be met by Professor Hartford, a youngish and smartly dressed ex-lawyer who taught in the English department and who quickly whisked me away to a downtown hotel. Professor Hartford, knowing that I had taught in Berkeley during the "Revolution," cautiously asked me what I thought of student radicals Wits had its share, he confided-- "a crowd of dangerous and dirty demagogues. But we'll talk later. You'd better get some sleep."
However, too exhausted and curious for sleep, I left the hotel and headed to the University. My first impression of Johannesburg was of a place of glass and steel totally without character. Such was not the case with the University. Situated on eighty acres of a knoll at Milner Park on the northern edge of the city, Wits, a conglomerate of architectural styles, was a little chunk of Western culture in the heart of Africa. Beneath classical Greek columns bluejeaned students, some with Princeton and Oxford sweatshirts, were scurrying about. Everything was slightly familiar, especially the signs advertising various student events and clubs: VISIT LONDON FOR EASTER, WAITING FOR GODOT, TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION, 2001, STUDENTS FOR CHRIST, DEUTSCHER STUDENTBUND. At the ultra-modern Wartenweiler Library I rubbed eyes as I examined the card catalogue. Professor Marcuse, Karl Marx, Henry Miller-- despite censorship they were actually represented ( though, as I later learned, they were represented only here). Surely I had not erred in coming to South Africa.
Indeed, as I settled in, Wits was too good to be true. People at the University were kind and considerate, and my only major problem was locating an apartment. About a week after my arrival I was sitting in my office when a woman in a madras jacket entered, introduced herself as a lecturer in the English department, and said she was a Fidelista. Was this possible? I asked myself. That in South Africa where the Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie reigns supreme there should be a Fidelista is only another instance of how the commissars of the Western press have distorted the scene behind the Gold Curtain. Eager to produce affidavits of her political affiliations, Mrs. Heller described herself as the most enfant of the enfants terribles of the Johannesburg underground. Mrs. Heller was very now. Her pomegranate lipstick, her psychedelicatessen of political references, her hatchet job on the University-- all this, not to mention her hints and innuendoes about sexual calisthenics, threw me off balance. When I told her I made paintings, she insisted that I come for supper and bring some along.
Several hours later the Hellers picked me up with my paintings at the hotel and after zipping around the suburbs we arrived at their place. I was glued to my sea. A king's ransom couldn't have purchased the Hellers' palazzo. A gentleman and a scholar, I kept my mouth shut as I stared at the eight terraces that made up the manicured garden, the two Rolls-Royces in the driveway, the camouflage of palm trees, the fake blue-and-white della Robbia plaques in the hallway, the whole Disneyland atmosphere of the Hellers' establishment. We talked and the Hellers laughed like hyenas while a pimply-looking servant served the martinis. To a down-and-outer like myself this sudden metamorphosis into the haute monde set me on edge. After all, I was at the Hellers' with a portfolio of my hundred best watercolors. Yet to the Hellers the price of one of my paintings was like a breadcrumb. In a game of psychological chess I threw an impasto of lush rhetoric around the origin of my oeuvre. Heller, an industrialist, fiftyish, and totally bald, was impressed. His eyes of forget-me-not-blue stared at my creations. His pot belly heaved .
"Your paintings," he commented, "reveal that you are in touch with what Jung called the archetypes. Let me tell you, these are hot numbers, corrasable bond, salable. You can make a mint. Let me turn down the Vivaldi. Would you like a cigar? Life's not a bed of roses but, you see, I have occult interests-- strange happenings, coincidences, what Jung calls synchronicity. I belong to the Psychic Research Society. Come along sometime. You've arrived in a marvelous country. Easy living. Look-a-here, we have our problem. Who doesn't? But apocalyptism isn't my cup of tea. Things are not so simple. This isn't the bourgeois Gomorra so many, my wife included, claim. Me, I'm a patriot. I belong to the United Party, the opposition, to be sure. What do we believe in? Look, I'll tell you a secret. Traditional ideas of political science just don't fit South Africa. The franchise, liberalism, sovereignty, autocracy-- forget these words. You're in a new reality. General Smuts once wrote a book, Holism and Evolution, a philosophical classic. Holism teaches that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Now, the United Party believes that holism would be lost if the Republic were to be divided, as the Nationalists want, into nine separate parts. We are one country, a great country. By God, why doesn't the world give us a chance? All we need is fifty years, you see, only fifty years to educate the blacks, to bring them up to our level. Now, you must understand that my party, the official opposition in Parliament, opposes universal suffrage because it wants to safeguard human rights. That's correct. That's what I said. Take the rest of Africa and show me what the suffrage has done. Idi Amin is merely the worst of the lot. Black majority rule in South Africa would only result in chaos, tyranny, and misery. Do you think these primitives can govern a modern industrial state? Why, most of them can't make head or tail of traffic lights. So we've developed a plan, you see, in the United Party-- the New Look I call it. Kidding aside, we believe that basic human rights can best be preserved by the enlightened leadership of the white peoples. What would South Africa be without the whites? I ask you that. So we've got a plan. Upon our return to power we shall review all discriminatory laws. To make sure that educated non-whites will not be denied a voice in the Parliament we propose that the coloreds have six MPs and two senators who may be white or colored, that the Indians have two MPs and one senator who will be white, and that the blacks have eight MPs and two senators who will be white. What we want in South Africa is a race federation."
Not until Heller had finished his monologue did Mrs. Heller break her silence. Then her lips twitching and her face white.....
"G, my insides squirm when you talk like this. Here we are living like like the Aga Khan, and eight white MPs are your Christmas gift for blacks. Marvelous! Now you can return conscience-free to the country club. That's what the United Party is-- a glorified country club! If you attend the right schools and universities, belong to the right clubs and have the right social connections, you might even get a seat in Parliament. It's G's crowd of genteel snobs in the United Party who are the real reactionaries. How enlightened they are with their hand-me-down ideas from the mother country, their.....
"My dear, not in front of a foreigner."
"And why not, G? Behind your whole facade of liberal cant you're as much for White Supremacy as the Nats. But it's so easy to soothe your conscience by posing as a member of the opposition! The real opposition is Nelson Mandela and the leaders of the African National Congress in prison on Robben Island. You know that."
"My dear, we stand for certain humane and liberal traditions that are absent in the party in power"
"A plague on both your parties! What's South Africa all about anyway? We're the richest piece of real estate in the world, and who owns it? Anglo-American, Schlesinger....."
"Please, I refuse to listen to any more of your pseudo-Marxism. There is no place for Marxism in the context of South Africa. And in addition you're playing with fire even by spouting these gutter-trickles. You must understand the situation, my friend. Our freedoms are limited. One by one our rights have been taken away by the Nats. If we keep in line within a certain spectrum of opinion, there's no problem. But once we deviate out of this spectrum, off with our heads! You must be careful while in South Africa about what you say and to whom you say it. Certain subjects must never be discussed openly."
"Communism. We do not debate in South Africa the merits of Communism."
"And do you know why? Because on account of censorship virtually no one knows anything about Communism. At the beauty parlor the other day as I was having my hair dried I overheard these two Afrikaners talking. One of them actually said., 'Communism is holding wives in common. That's what they do in Russia.' There's our level of discussion. Yet the only solution to South Africa's problems is Communism."
"My dear, no! I will not hear this drivel again"
"And do you know why not? Because you don't want to hear the truth. You don't want to hear why blacks are paid ninety rand a month in the gold mines and whites five hundred rand, why....."
"You must understand that my wife sees all our troubles in terms of economics. But the political situation is not so simple. Let me explain. We, the whites, constitute two groups: the Afrikaans-speaking and the English-speaking sections. By and large the Afrikaans-speakers are of Dutch descent though there are a great many French and other European strains."
"Not to mention African. How many of them, even the VIPs, have black blood in their veins-- the hypocrites!"
"Yes. You sometimes see a dark Afrikaner who could easily be classified as colored."
"But he probably knew someone in the Nationalist Party who got him classified for a fat fee as white."
"My dear, please. The English-speakers, roughly forty-five percent of the white population, are by and large from everywhere a hundred thousand Greeks, a hundred twenty thousand Jews, about a hundred thousand Portuguese, a bonafide immigrant society, like America."
"Thirty-five thousand fools beguiled by the Government's propaganda have streamed in here every year for the past five years now whereas anyone with intelligence has fled."
"But the vast majority of English-speakers are of British descent and try to preserve some of the liberal traditions of Great Britain."
"Such as colonialism, racism, and snobbism."
"Your contrapuntal voice is not appreciated, my dear. I want to register the fact that we are very different from the Afrikaners. Inasmuch as we are more liberal, our links are with the modern world whereas the Afrikaners awaken for short snatches only from their Calvinist dreamworld."
"Don't let him confuse you by these subtleties. The left-handed marriage between Afrikanerdom and the English-speakers rests on many more similarities than differences."
"On the contrary. Look at their history. I think it is summed up by Paul Kruger, President of the South African Republic, who when he went into exile after the Boer War still insisted that the earth was flat. When gold discovered here on the Witwatersrand in the 1880s and half the carpet-baggers in the world poured in, Kruger vehemently refused to grant the franchise to the Uitlanders or strangers so as not to contaminate the homogeneity of Afrikanerdom. These two anecdotes illustrate their insularity and exclusiveness. They are a tribe making a fetish out of their language and their nationality."
"At the expense of us all."
"Indeed. Indeed. Sometimes I think Afrikanerdom is the invention of some insane deity who in a mood of perversity created them to afflict us all."
"And yet they are so sanctimoniously religious. Everything shutting down by law Saturday afternoons and Sundays, the theater, the cinema, the buses. Why, it's like Jerusalem."
"I call them perverted Christians. History has known such phenomena before. Incapable of seeing beyond the confines of their tribe and therefore incapable of adhering to the Christian belief in human brotherhood, they really worship all the idols of nationalism."
"Even more, since they are strict Calvinists they believe they are the Elect of God. This special dispensation is proven to them by their prosperity which rests, I need not mention, upon minerals and slave labor. They are fanatics-- twisted, monomaniacal, ruthless, unwilling for a moment to deviate from the principles of their tribal mentality. If an Afrikaner does criticize or dissent, his penalty is usually ostracism from the tribe-- like Byers Naude."
"Who is Byers Naude?"
"The Sakharov of South Africa. A former Dutch Reformed Church cleric, Byers Naude a few years ago spilled the beans about the Broederbund to the English press. In 1961 he formed the Christian Institute which tries to help blacks by means of social action programs. But these programs infuriate the Government because you can't really help the blacks outside of officially approved government agencies. Byers Naude is Afrikaner Enemy No. 1."
"Tell me, the Broederbond-- what is this? I've heard it mentioned several times since my arrival last week."
"There are two views about the Broederbond. The first claims that the Broederbond controls the Government and therefore South Africa itself, the second that the Nationalist Party has actually taken over the Broederbond. But I venture the guess that it's a question of the chicken and the egg. Essentially the Broderbond is a secret society set up in 1918 to further the aims of Afrikaner nationalism and culture. Its approximately 8500 members encompass all the leading figures of Afrikanerdomthe politicians, business men, academics, and Dutch Reformed Church ministers. Because the Broederbund is a secret society aside from these details no one can say very much about its organization except that it is run by Twelve Apostles and that it is from the Broederbund's dogmas that stems the rigidity of the Government's race doctrines."
"In many ways the Broederbund can be compared to the Communist Party in the Soviet Union."
"G, that's ridiculous. The Party in Russia is the organ of all the people, the Broederbond only of Afrikanerdom. The Party is public, the Broederbond is secret. The Party works for the liberation of mankind from economic servitude, the Broederbond has imposed its exploitive racist ideology upon four fifths of our population. The Party has won the hearts of half the world whereas no one ever has been so demented to copy South Africa's system."
"The hearts of half the world! My dear, the Party doesn't care a fig about people, only about power. For sixty years the Party has been murdering people. But I've stressed to you time and time again not to discuss this subject. You see, the Afrikaners are a very strange lot. They suffer from a fundamental flaw in their thinking patterns so that they can't see shades, only extremes. Therefore in their eyes the whole world is against them and their only alternative is ruthlessness After all, the wounds of the past haven't really healed. They suffered dreadfully during the Boer and will always belabor the point that twenty thousand of their women and children died in British concentration camps. Now that they have power I think they have gone mad. They have this concept of the laager from the days of the Great Trek. A laager is a circle of ox-wagons from which they used to fight the Zulus. I'm afraid that eventually they will transform all of South Africa into a laager. We in the United Party can only look with abhorrence upon how the Afrikaners have perverted the idea of democracy by introducing police-state methods in order to impose their will upon us all. Indeed, if tribalism is the curse of Africa, it is no less of a curse here. And yet no matter how much they may yearn for acceptance from the outside world, no matter how much they may crave the legitimacy that so few will grant them, no matter how much they unceasingly cry that they are the most loyal members of the Free World, the Afrikaners are still the world's lepers."
"What hypocrisy, G! What complete hypocrisy! As if only the Afrikaners were the lepers, as if only the Afrikaners supported the present government, and as if your party would put itself out one iota to change the situation!"
"My dear, let us not gloss over the fundamental differences between ny party and the Nationalists. Let's recall, for example, the famous statement by Malan, our first Nationalist Prime Minister: "Afrikanerdom is not the work of man but the creation of God. Our history is the highest work of art of the architect of the centuries." And Verwoerd-- did he not proclaim it was God's will that he should be Prime Minister?"
"And it was God's will he was assassinated too!"
"My point is that the Nationalists see themselves as placed in power by divine sanction. Not only that, their Calvinist doctrine of a God-given state authority makes them immune to criticism."
"Exactly. That's what I've been saying for years. To the Nats the state has inviolate status. That's why the Nats are so holier-than-thou, why they simply don't care about criticism, why to them individual suffering is irrelevant by comparison to the order of the state."
"You make South Africa sound like a theocracy"
"But it is! It is God's will that the Afrikaners rule over South Africa."
"Certainly you don't believe that?"
"Of course not! You see, our greatest problem in South Africa is that we are the prisoners of dead ideas. We are a fossil controlled by theologians in the atomic age. Half the dead ideas in the world are flourishing right here in South Africa."
"I don't think you can say that, my dear. As much as I detest the Nats, I don't think that their ideology is dead. My goodness, is the blueprint of Separate Development a dead idea? Would that it were! You must understand one thing about the Nationalists. They have the minds of classic bureaucrats. Having concocted a scheme of social engineering, they are determined to see their policy of Separate Development through come hell or high water."
"That's what is so terrifying about them. Their Master Plan for South Africa resembles Huxley's Brave New World except that here people will be permanently classified not according to intelligence but according to color. In a world where technology is bringing everyone closer together the Nats have concocted an ideology of separation which extends to everything-- telephone booths, buses, schools, toilets, postoffices. Everywhere those damned signs-- Blanke or Nie Blanke. And you're correct. They do have the minds of bureaucrats. Even the language they use is bureaucratic. If you want to hire a black, you requisition a Bantu. If you want to keep blacks out of the city, you call it influx control. This type of language only contributes to the dehumanization of blacks, to the fact that they are nothing but our slaves."
"I once spoke to an Afrikaner theologian at Stellenbosch who argued the reason the blacks must remain permanently subordinate is that they suffer from more original sin than whites."
"And this is not an example of dead ideas? The doctrine of separate development is a perverse utopian fantasy which can triumph only by the destruction of all liberal and humanitarian ideas. Let me tell you a secret. The Nats have a plan-- I've been told this on good authority-- to destroy Communism not only in Africa but in the whole world. Their ultimate aim is to destroy the Soviet Union."
"You're making this up."
"No! God has given the supreme mission of destroying the Soviet Union."
"How are they going to do that?"
"Who knows? But I tell you they are mad enough to try."
"My dear, you're letting your imagination run away with itself. I don't deny for a moment that the Communist menace is a scare tactic but....."
"Scare tactic! Day and night the Nats rant about Communism in South Africa. And why? I'll tell you why--to gain support from the West, to gain allies among conservative capitalists, even though the Party was destroyed twenty-five years ago."
"Let me ask you a question. It is often said in America that foreign capital investments in South Africa will have the effect of loosening the rigidity of apartheid. Is that true?"
"That's only propaganda. You have to realize that there are two aspects to apartheid, petty apartheid and grand apartheid. A while back Botha, then our ambassador to the United Nations, got up and said, 'Give us six months and we will show the world what we will do to eliminate racial discrimination.' Ha! So what has happened? Blacks can now sit on park benches, can use libraries in certain municipalities, can rent their houses in the townships, can go one day a week to the Nico Malan Theater in Cape Town, and can be served liquor by whites. That's how petty apartheid has changed. But as for grand apartheid, which has all the status of a theology in South Africa, nothing will persuade the Nats to deviate one inch from their policy. As for foreign investments, forgot it. Capitalists are interested in only one thing: profits. And the Government's policy guarantees that with no labor unions and with cheap labor foreign capitalists will get their profits. And just what kind of executives do American companies send? Usually conservatives who make it a point to say nothing to antagonize the Nats."
"My dear, let us not speak of unions. First of all, is a black even reliable for a nine-to-five job"
"There! There's the mentality of my husband! And he's one of the more enlightened Whites too. You see, we're a hundred years behind the West, and in agriculture perhaps as much as five hundred years because, based on serfdom, it is feudal. The whole system can be described in one word: exploitation. The blacks are our colonials, living not ten thousand miles away but in our midst. That is the anomaly of South Africa. Virtually anything that is said in South Africa in defense of the system is only double-talk for economic exploitation. And the mines--ha! there we find the ultimate in double-talk. Anglo-American is always so eager to tell its critics how advanced they are, how they are building hospitals and recreational facilities and cafeterias for their miners. But look at the facts. It's a criminal offense for black miners to break their contracts and go home. They can't strike because the mines revise to allow unions. Not only that, but more than half the black miners are recruited from abroad so that with this vast population of floating migrant workers who can't strike the wages are kept low."
"My dear, you always see only what is wrong with the situation. You don't try to see the situation in its totality. What is the chief cause of our discontent in SouthAfrica? Not exploitation because the blacks are better off than anywhere else in Africa, but the unmistakable fact that only since the Second World War has South Africa really begun to industrialize . Industrialization has let out the same Pandora's Box of problems that plagued Europe in the nineteenth century. Between 1947 and 1967 the GNP increased one hundred fifty percent. Between 1960 and 1967 the national product rose from 5.2 billion and to 9 billion rand. Do you think this has not created problems?"
"Double-talk! I won't listen to anymore of it! You make it sound as if our iniquitous laws were the result of industrial growth rather than part of the masterplan of these, these, these .....What words can describe them? These oligarchs of South African capitalism, these.....Look, answer me one question. How much do unskilled construction workers earn an hour in America?"
"About nine dollars an hour"
"And do you know how much a black construction worker gets here? Maybe twenty rand a week if he is lucky. That's why Johannesburg has so many skyscrapers-- not because our industrial base is so large but because labor is so cheap. The whole system of laws is predicated on the assumption that the white standard of living must always be higher than the black. We are really ignorant of the sufferings of the blacks. Do you realize that an old age pension for a black is R5.38 a month? That's six dollars a month in a country where the standard of living is equal to America-- for whites."
"My dear, it will go up."
"Up! To what, 6.38? I want to get back to the laws. G says they are the result of industrialization. Is it industrialization that forces more than half the blacks in the white areas to live without wives? Is it industrialization that dictates that black children over the age of eighteen cannot live with their parents? In this country any black who is not useful--a widow who is sick or unable to locate work, a child deserted by his parents, an orphan, not to mention an agitator-- these are thrown on the rubbish heap, forced to leave the white areas and go back to the reserves where there is almost no employment"
"My dear, it is getting late. I think we must drive our guest back to the hotel. It has been most enjoyable. I'm sure we shall see each other again. You see, we are very fond of Americans here in South Africa. After all, we are so much like you." (c)
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