Page 4, 3rd March 1972

3rd March 1972
Page 4
Page 4, 3rd March 1972 — South African myths

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Locations: Durban, London, Cape Town


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South African myths

'THOSE who have never JIL been to South Africa arc looked on with disfavour (by South Africans) for holding forth about apartheid and kindred subjects. Now that I have been there myself. I am not surprised. For I am delighted to be able to report that—for the majority of the people in the country as a whole—apartheid works very well.

One must of course be careful about terms. The expression "majority" has quite a different meaning in South Africa to what it has in countries such as Britain. And one must never just speak about the country in general, but always about "the country as a whole." The crude counting of heads, as is done in certain other parts of the world, would, for the purposes of determining policy, produce chaos in southern (not just South) Africa; a highly selective sounding of opinion, on the other hand, produces exactly the result that is required. Indeed, by this magic formula, a resounding Rhodesian "yes" to the well-meaning Pearce team is not only possible but highly probable. For regardless of what the, largest amount of people happen to think or feel. it is "the country as a whole"— and those who operate it— which finally counts.

Thus. the Republic of South Africa—as a whole— is run by whites who form 20% of the total population. Of this 20% roughly two thirds arc Afrikaners, while the rest are mostly of English descent. The former, in general, support the ruling National Party headed by the Prime Minister, Mr. B. J. Vorster, and the latter the United Party, led by Sir dc Villiers Graaff.

Thus for the "majority" of the people in this sense — apartheid can be said to work admirably. It may have. admittedly, certain side effects which, at first sight, are repugnant to the visitor from outside. Within a half an hour of landing by jumbo jet at Johannesburg airport, an African porter was taking our luggage for us from one part of the building to the other. A lot of other African porters were doing exactly the same thing for other passengers. Suddenly a uniformed, fanatical-faced white man, ordered the porter to put down the cases and clear away from where the taxis were lining up. The porter fled for his life before the verbal onslaught of the wildly gesticulating gauleiter. who offered no explanation for his astonishing behaviour.

I was to hear similar encounters between white foremen and black workers, for example on building sites or doing street repairs; the whites yelled and the blacks remained silent. But I'm sure it was just a coincidence that I happened to be walking by just then; and that we happened to arrive at that particular airport at that particular moment.

Nor should exaggerated notions be deduced from the attitude of white people to African servants. waiters, etc. It is true that such an attitude is arrogant and uncivilised by English standards; but one must not insult South Africans by implying that English standards either should or do prevail in their country. And if many people have not, in the past, been used to having servants, or such attentive service, they must surely be allowed time to get used to their new affluence.

You would think. Moreover, that such a master-andservant relationship would have a brutalising and undesirable effect on the latter. Not a bit of it! The servants are almost invariably much nicer than their masters. A good indication of how well the whole thing works. The seemingly infrequent cases where African servants are treated as friends and members of the family would be heartening to sentimental outsiders; but that is another matter.

Not only does the whole thing work, but it is liable to go on working in the same way for many decades to come. There is no chance of any radical change by constitutional means. White representation of blacks on a limited "federal" basis is, it is true. a plank in the United Party platform. And Sir de Villiers Graff, whom it was a privilege to meet, said he could see signs of more liberal thought among young people, including Afrikaners. Thus the United party might achieve power in ten to twenty years.

"Petty apartheid" (e.g. segregation on public transport, etc.) might then disappear; otherwise general policy would be much the same. And the white South Africans have a touching faith that though the world can change out of all recognition. they can carry on as usual for ever. Indeed the actions and thoughts of the rest of the world barely intrude into the secluded life of most South Africans.

The government is most diligent in its censoring of radio programmes, and there is of course no television. The comparatively liberal and "cosmopolitan" English. language papers scarcely mention non-South African events. The search for a London paper, in, say. the Cape Town area will result, after trying about a dozen shops, in the triumphant discovery of a five-week-old News of the World.

So one can readily see how consistent is the whole pattern and how scrupulous the Government is in protecting and guarding its citizens.

The possibility of change by revolutionary methods is equally out of the question. The pursuit, detention and general "discouragement" of all "subversive" activists is most vigilantly conducted by the powers that be; and the rigid exclusion of communism in all forms (both real and imaginary) is never relaxed.

And please no outrageous remarks about "a police state"! About a third of the police force are themselves African or coloured. How about that for lack of prejudice? Of course only the white police are armed, and so could soon deal with the others in the case of any "trouble." So here again the authorities show how well they have thought everything out, consoled by the fact that the highly ellicient Security Police are at all times doing their work with the utmost fervour and dedication.

The African and coloured "townships" are depressing in the extreme to outsiders; but the barbed wire is only there for the protection of the inmates, and you can, as we did, get in and out if you know the way. Those livincr there are confidently reported positively to like the squalid but simple life they lead there. and any resemblance to the atmosphere of a concentration camp is purely the imaginary impression of an uninitiated outsider.

If things are well thought cut now, plans for the future have been even more carefully laid. "Separate development" is aimed at resulting in non-white "commonwealths" inside the Republic, not indeed independent, but self-sufficient within limits. These commonwealths will will have no precisely defined geographical areas, but will be broken up as seems most practical and will include notional or nominal members living many miles away and working in the towns.

For it is in the urban areas particularly that the whites cannot continue their present way of life without the nonwhites. The splitting up of families, and other anomalies may well have to continue, and many millions of people may have to go on suffering. But the price is considered to be low when the good of the country as a whole is at stake.

On this subject certain people have made some rather outrageous statements. One of them is Archbishop Denis Hurley who has written that "white South Africa must choose between surviving by injustice or perishing with justice. It can see only one solution: to perish is out of the question, survival is the only choice and if injustice is its unavoidable accompaniment, so be it. We will survive with injustice."

Not everyone of course is as outspoken and "troublesome" as the Catholic Archbishop of Durban. And it must be remembered that the minority Churches find themselves in a difficult position. Cardinal McCann, Archbishop of Cape Town— another person whom it was a great privilege to meet— pointed out that with Catholics numbering only 6% of the population, the Church's stand on social matters was made extremely difficult; the struggle for change and justice without violence could only be a slow one.

But here again the very terms can be a source of confusion. The dominant Christian (Dutch Reformed) Churches see no problem here at all. Their Calvinist zeal is extraordinary; and for them the blacks are divinely destined to be inferior for all time to the whites. And that's that.

If there are about 12,000,000 pure blacks, there are getting on for 2,000,000 "coloureds." Where does the dividing line come? Often no one knows, and some members of the same family might be classified as "white" and others as "coloured." ("Coloureds" have no vote, by the way, and nor, of course, have Africans.) It is difficult—in fact impossible—to write about South Africa without enraged criticism from those who live there. But let it not be said that the majority of white South Africans are as parochial. prickly and sensitive as sometimes pictured. Indeed the vast "majority," in the specialised sense of that expression, (in other words at least 20%) are quite the opposite.

No, let's be fair. The fight against "communism" and decadent ideas of "democracy" goes fearlessly on in South Africa. The country's leader after all must now be forgiven for being a war-time Hitler supporter; and times have changed in the world at large (if not much in South Africa) since he pleaded the cause of an "authoritarian National-Socialist State," and for a movement demanding that "the present mixture of parliamentary, provincial and municipal institutions should be swept away to make room for one strong and expert authoritarian government."

There are strange colours and lingering mists among the mountains and nature reserves of the beautiful Cape Peninsula. There is indefinable magic at the point where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans embrace each other. There is calm and clear water between the jagged rocks at the Cape of Good Hope. But lowering over South Africa — as a whole there is a heavy cloud of myths.


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