Hands Full of Rose Thorns and Fridge Oil
In the English popular imagination, the grimly oligarchic Old South Africa, with its smug suburban swimmingpools, bullish police force, forbidden wines and ostracised sports teams, has become the sunny New South Africa, a country against which the rest of the civilised world may once again safely play cricket and where a holiday hardly registers on your credit card. The Anti-Apartheid Organisation has been disbanded. Fergal Keane has packed up his microphone and gone home. In Trafalgar Square, a beaming Nelson Mandela casts a paternal eye over the lobby of South Africa House. Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo have been signed up by Heinz to carol ‘Inkanyezi Nezazi’ in an advertisment showing blond children eating tomato soup. In Britain we are occasionally treated to a television documentary or news headline about the spread of Aids among South Africa’s black population, the decline in the rand or the alarmingly high crime rate, but most non-South Africans probably know little more about South Africa and its bewilderingly pluralistic society than they did before. One group, however, is always present and easily located on the Uitlander’s mental map. Just outside the boundaries of moral decency – beyond the pale, so to speak – there is a thorny area inhabited by parochial plutocrats speaking an incomprehensible variant of Dutch. It is marked: ‘Here be Afrikaners.’
Vol. 22 No. 4 · 17 February 2000
Elizabeth Lowry writes misleadingly that apartheid ‘began as an extensive affirmative action programme on behalf of the Afrikaner’ (LRB, 20 January). She evidently hasn’t been to Pietermaritzburg, where there is a statue of Gandhi: under it a short inscription explains how he was thrown out of a whites-only train carriage by British colonial authorities. To rework one of SAA’s slogans, the Afrikaners did not invent apartheid, they merely perfected it.
Vol. 22 No. 5 · 2 March 2000
Charles Landon (Letters, 17 February) is quite right to point out that there is a long tradition of British racism in southern Africa, including Natal. Indeed, in the British self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia, white artisans and farmers were also protected by legislation from African competition, and, as in Natal, there was a less liberal attitude to race than in the Afrikaner-dominated Cape. Moreover, the National Party’s introduction of a ‘civilised labour policy’ after 1926 was supported by its largely anglophone Labour Party coalition partners. However, I do not think it at all misleading, in a review of a novel about Afrikaans-speaking poor whites, to have concentrated on the Afrikaners and their own tradition of ‘affirmative action’. After all, virulent as the racism of their anglophone compatriots often was, it was the Afrikaner Nationalists who developed the most complete and systematic form of racial segregation and gave it a name which would return to haunt them.
Vol. 22 No. 6 · 16 March 2000
Charles Landon is himself misleading when he accuses Elizabeth Lowry of being misleading about apartheid. Gandhi did not want to abolish apartheid. He simply did not want it applied to Indians, going so far as to urge Indians to support whites in the war against the Zulus in the hope that this would induce whites to give Indians white status.
Forncett St Peter, Norfolk
Vol. 22 No. 8 · 13 April 2000
I don't understand how Julian Burgess (Letters, 16 March) can blame Mahatma Gandhi for not opposing the system of apartheid since, as Richard Thompson explains in the same issue, it did not come into being until after Gandhi's death. Surely this is a sly attempt to discredit him and Burgess should not be allowed to get away with it.
Vol. 22 No. 11 · 1 June 2000
Julia Gasper’s argument (Letters, 13 April) that Gandhi could not have opposed apartheid because it had not been invented is irrelevant. There was institutional racial discrimination and Gandhi himself was a victim of it. My accusation, or ‘sly attempt to discredit him’, as Gasper puts it, is not, as she says, that he did not criticise this prototype apartheid but that by trying to persuade Indians to join the war against the Zulus so that they would be given white status he attempted to collude with it.
Forncett St Peter, Norfolk