Settlers' Way

R.W. Johnson · The Dutch

Yesterday's game between Holland and Uruguay was the last in Cape Town – tonight's semi-final will be in Durban and the final in Jo'burg. Quite probably Cape Town's many visitors in the last month failed to notice that they could still drive on roads named after Hendrik Verwoerd or even on a main boulevard named after Oswald Pirow, a prewar cabinet minister who became an open Nazi. This is not a comfortable situation for many Cape Town residents who would like such names removed, along with such others as Settlers' Way and Jan Smuts Drive. But there the problem starts. Smuts was clearly a racist but he was also South Africa's greatest prime minister and his statue still sits outside Parliament. So, many whites who would be happy enough to ditch Verwoerd and Pirow would like to keep Smuts and, as descendants of settlers themselves, say that you can't get rid of Settlers' Way without implying that a substantial segment of the population is illegitimate. Which, of course, is exactly what the apartheid law against racially mixed marriages made the Coloured (mixed race) population feel.

Renaming is thus a sticky subject and there have been several false starts. Everyone knows that Durban's sectarian ANC has made a terrible mess of renaming which, years later, has left large parts of the population permanently antagonised, with street names repeatedly painted out or removed and no one knowing any of the new names. One previous mayor of Cape Town got the sack when it was discovered that he had rigged a ballot on renaming streets. Some three years ago the local ANC unilaterally decided to rename all the streets so we all woke up to find new street names – which, however, didn't last a week since the ANC had lost power in the city and was in no position to impose its will. In addition it renamed Cape Town International airport after an old Coloured Communist who, later research revealed, had all the time been a police spy. Then the Democratic Alliance leader, Helen Zille, set up a committee of non-partisan citizens to choose new names – but shelved their report, apparently out of concern that the changes might be controversial. But yesterday it was announced that we're going to have a big renaming fest in September. So more fun starts here.

The local press is languishing somewhat, with South Africa long out of the Cup. So it has taken up cudgels against its supreme hate object, the British media, who are accused of Afro-pessimism and of having wanted the Cup to be a flop. There are even proposals for a special room at the Cup's media centre where British journos would have to eat copies of newspapers in which they had vapoured on about the crime statistics, the power cuts and other unwelcome facts of life. Only a little less hated were Uruguay for having 'cheated' Ghana out of the Cup. Inevitably, this meant that everyone backed Holland to win today. Cape Town is 42 per cent Afrikaans-speaking with Xhosa and English bringing up the rear, which means that Dutch supporters feel at home here, as indeed they are, although Afrikaans is even closer to Flemish than Dutch. All round stand the Cape Dutch gables built by their ancestors and many of them still bear Dutch names.

As for the game itself: Holland were never behind and it went according to the script. In the SABC studio afterwards, Ruud Krol, a great figure in the magnificent Dutch teams that were World Cup runners-up in 1974 and 1978, was asked who he would prefer Holland to face in the final, Germany or Spain. Well, he said, whenever we play Germany it's very emotional for historical reasons. Spain are tough too but we'd prefer to play them. Translated, what that means is that Holland has been occupied by both the Spanish and the Germans but whereas the former occupation has faded into the history books, the latter hasn't. And that, if the worst comes to the worst, Holland would rather lose to anyone except the Germans. However, if they are to win this time and not be perennial runners-up, one suspects they may have to face such dark fears and overcome them.


  • 7 July 2010 at 10:15pm
    robert higgo says:
    I'm not sure it will only be the British journalists who have some eating to do. RW Johnson is an increasingly sour commentator on South Africa. This wasn't the case when he first returned from Oxford, but the passage of time is taking its toll. I have to keep reminding myself that he originally hails, if memory serves me right , from Birkenhead, and not Bulawayo. It all smacks of Rhodesia by the sea. Just a stone's throw from St James.I'm still waiting for his prophecy of World Cup chaos to come true.

    • 8 July 2010 at 12:42pm
      Tumi says: @ robert higgo

    • 8 July 2010 at 1:13pm
      Imperialist says: @ Tumi
      Johnson’s views are galling because he is the lone voice of the centre-right in the LRB, and, more profoundly, because the LRB reserves this reactionary lens for Africa. You would never publish a Zionist’s criticisms of Palestinian liberation efforts, say, no matter analytically rigorous. Why is the sole voice of Africa an old white dude? (Let’s not even talk about Jenny Diski’s ill-humoured, sanctimonious report on Cape Town.)

      This is not to question RW’s talent as a writer or historian. His Diary piece about losing his leg was as moving and astute as anything I’ve read in ages. And analysis is obviously more important than ideology. But the coverage of South Africa and the rest of the continent is so at odds with the London Review’s normal tone that it raises a very serious question: is the LRB patronising or merely ignorant?

    • 9 July 2010 at 1:18am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Imperialist
      so at odds with the London Review’s normal tone ...

      Normal tone? I'd say the more abnormal the better. I wouldn't want the LRB to stop printing Bill's pieces just because some of his views are conservative. I agree they could use more voices on Africa, but I too particularly liked the Diary piece you mention and I'd go so far as to say he's always worth reading whether you agree with him or not (mostly not). I'm more worried that all the blog commenters seem to speak with one much too predictable voice.

      ...that it raises a very serious question: is the LRB patronising or merely ignorant?

      No, it's not. And this isn't a very serious question.

    • 11 July 2010 at 11:39am
      Geoff Roberts says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Back you on this one.

    • 12 July 2010 at 9:54am
      Imperialist says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      a)‘the more abnormal the better’. sure, but my point is that the LRB (more or less) expresses a uniformity of ideology (or whatever) with one curious exception.

      b)“I wouldn’t want the LRB to stop printing Bill’s pieces just because some of his views are conservative.” me neither. “he’s always worth reading whether you agree with him or not (mostly not)” his pieces are the first thing I read and are uniformly first-rate.

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