Hands Full of Rose Thorns and Fridge Oil

Elizabeth Lowry

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.’

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