An eyewitness account of the brutality of South Africa's apartheid system.
ON MY FIRST DAY BACK IN PRETORIA I drove up to the hills of Waterkloof which is now the fashionable residential area. It was nearly six o'clock and in the beautiful rolling valleys below, the city streets and suburbs were almost hidden by the winter dusk. Then the street lights came on and each little light seemed to glide in the valley like ships on a sea of darkness. Higher on the hill where it was still light, it began to grow dark very quickly. A White girl out for a walk with her dog began to run to her home several hundred yards away. Two minutes later an African girl also sprinted for the shelter of a house.
Things were like that three or four years ago when I was last here, but how much worse today. The tension grips you even in Cape Town.
A century ago J. S. Mill wrote about the tyranny of social convention. And Whites in S.A. have learned to fear the whiplash of the majority will of Whites. The Nationalists, now at the receiving end of a Black economic boycott, have for many years exercised a boycott against the Indians. South Africans, the White ones, probably more so than many other peoples are born into a definite environment, a certain set of values. They have, for one thing, very definite ideas about the Blacks. Probably a lower proportion of them are mentally self-propelled on this subject than say, members of a Tory family are about trade unions and the Labour Party. The social pressure put on the Calvinist Afrikaner to conform to certain ideas on race is fiercer than the anti-homosexual pressure in Britain. Race in South Africa is translated into: "How would you like a Black man to marry your daughter?" Abuse that runs parallel to "queer" in Britain is kaffer boetjie (brother of the Kaffir) in the Union.
There is also a set standard of behaviour towards the Indian. He is the coolie and must be treated with contempt and condescension. He's a sly fellow and a bit too clever by half at business. If he comes to live next door to you your property values go down with a bump. And how would you like your daughter to marry an Indian? A cinema manager told me that when Rita Hayworth married Aly Khan, as far as the South African public were concerned she had married a coolie and her box office sank right through the floor.
There was a time when you saw the White farmer chatting away amicably to Ishmail in some little country store. The Indian shopkeeper would turn a blind eye or a long-suffering grin on Meneer van de Westhuizen as his apples and bananas were sampled. Meneer would enquire about Ishmail's family at home and at the same time, with steady contemplative hand and eye, sample a strip of biltong on the country. Meneer had something of the attitude of a Brooklyn cop on beat taking an apple from the Italian immigrant's fruit shop every time he passed. Nowadays social pressures have intensified. It wouldn't do for Meneer to be seen talking to Ishmail. His attitude must be "send 'em all back to India."
Behaviour patterns have changed radically over the last few years. The behaviour pattern of the overlords has changed from the paternal contempt of a superior to an inferior, to aggressive fear. In its main aspect, I believe, apartheid is an attempt to push back the black oceans steadily encroaching on the white islands. These islands are the cities. But even in the cities it's only the inner fastnesses that belong to the Whites … and then only by day. Walk up Adderley Street, Eloff Street or Church Street at the height of the rush hours and business hours and you might say to yourself, "Ha, here is a European land." But early morning and at night the streets belong to the non-whites. Even more so does this apply to the suburban streets. Only a fraction of the white population understand an African language. It's quite fantastic how two peoples, living a master-servant relationship side by side, can have so little human contact. To walk outside the gate of one's front garden is to find oneself in a world of strangers.
Now and then White strangers exchange nods like a fraternity of priests in a godless city. And now and then the Black buses pass, full to the brim. White buses pass, oh so often, with but a sprinkling of passengers. On the country roads the White man in his car is supreme. He may whizz along the excellent national roads at eighty miles an hour. But if he runs out of petrol or his engine fails he may find himself among a hostile people.
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When Bernard Shaw visited the shores of the Cape many years ago reporters went aboard the ship and plied him with questions. Of course the burning question has always been the 'native problem'. Shaw seemed such a know-all. "Answer this one," they challenged. "What should we do to solve the native problem?" "Marry them," Shaw replied. Throughout the country there was outraged indignation and contempt. If Shaw irritated the English, be infuriated the South Africans.
The warmth of touch of hand and eye is taboo in South Africa, and therefore the warmth of humility and humanity is absent in the everyday contact of masses of human beings. It is almost inborn in the White man to humiliate his fellow Black human being … so that often he doesn't notice it any longer.
When he sends to the butcher for meat, there is separate meat for the Africans called "boy's meat". It's not as good as ordinary meat and a bit better than dog's meat. Also there are two classes of dogs in S.A., Kaffir dogs and White man's dogs. The Kaffir dogs are curs, the others are noble — especially if they bite at the sight of a black skin. It's commonplace for dog-owners in South Africa to say, "No Kaffir can come near this place, Rex goes mad when they come along. They're scared stiff of him." Apartheid among dogs has existed ever since the days of Jock of the Bushveld.
There is something of a common mentality between the bomber pilot who indiscriminately scatters his bombs over enemy cities, and the South African who indiscriminately practises his apartheid and its pinpricks against all black skins. The bomber pilot can scatter his bombs because those below are absolutely impersonal to him, mothers, sweethearts, babies, pretty girls, their men. They are the enemy. They are not human beings. I once saw a film about a pilot who was given an assignment to kill a spy in occupied France. He had to get to know the man and kill him in the privacy of his flat. Now the pilot who had been responsible for countless deaths, but whose imagination stopped with the bomb button that he pressed, found out that his victim was a very human man. He loved cats, children, life, and even to the pilot who had come to kill him, he showed great kindness and hospitality. The task of killing him became suddenly impossible … grotesque … horrible. But he kills … and after-wards he has not even the dubious refuge of knowing the victim is a spy. He turns out to be innocent.
It will turn out that the South African, "killing" humanity with apartheid, will no longer be able to salve his conscience with the condemnation that the Black man is a savage … but that he is innocent. If he does become inhuman towards the Whites, it will only be because he has never been allowed to find the soul of the White. White and Black will only become human towards each other when they are not kept a bomb's toss away from each other.
It is an interesting fact that if you speak to Mr. Average White South African about the inhumanities of apartheid, he will immediately tell you how good he is to his domestic servants — indeed how he likes them and how much they like the children. This is told in a believe-it-or-not tone. Then you will hear how Jim wouldn't work anywhere else but in the home of Mr. Average South African. "He's part of the family — almost". Probably Jim is the only African whom Mr. A.S.F. has remotely got to know. Not that he ever rubs shoulders with him or goes out to the "boy's room" except to see if Jim is keeping it clean.
That's where the personal part of apartheid comes in. The leaders of this new religion know very well the impersonalising effect of remoteness. They will do everything in their power to prevent the rubbing of black shoulders with white. For years and years Black, White and Coloured travelled on buses in Cape Town side by side. Then the Government stepped in to protect the susceptibilities of the Whites. Many, many Whites weren't happy about the "big brother Nationalist's" good intentions. They got together a great petition saying they didn't want segregation on the buses … but the big brother knew best.
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The impression I gained is that the White heart, like Pharoah's heart, is hardening, not softening. To be soft is to be weak, to be hard is to be strong. And the Whites know that they can only maintain their privileged position by being strong and hard. They are, in another sense, like small boys who have been holding bees in a jam jar and tormenting them. They dare not lift the lid of the jar for fear of the consequences. The bees will have to lift the lid by their own strength.
The Coloured people are for their part humming round angrily in the jam jar (with no jam) trying to attract the attention of other bees in the outside world to help them … and also other small boys who might be of better heart than the tyrants who are holding them down with such gingerish fingers. The bees in the free world live mostly in the new free states of Africa, the boys of goodwill live mostly in opposition parties, the free press and the United Nations.
How are bees going to get out of the jam jar? Are the boys with fear in their hearts for bee stings, going to have a change of heart? Secondly, are the bees, who are getting angrier and angrier, going to be content to stay in the jar? Thirdly are the bees of the outside world going to help them? Fourthly are the boys of goodwill going to help them? Fifthly are the little bees going to adopt the line that has been followed in Algeria, Cyprus, Ireland and Palestine, in believing that God helps those who help themselves, and use the sting in their tails? Or sixthly, are the bees going to agree with the boy's offer of a preserving jar instead of a jam jar?
There can be little doubt that the bees want to get out of the jar. Hold any creature in confinement and it'll struggle to be free. Life is strong. Even the tender plant has been known to break through concrete. Africans will be free. How will it come about?
MAURICE GOLDMAN, born in Natal, 1918, is a pharmacist turned writer (his South African novels have been translated into four languages). He studied economics and politics at Witwatersrand University and philosophy at Cape Town.