DAVID BROKENSHA ~ FISH HOEK NOTES DECEMBER, 2009
(NOTE: During my recent Round the World trip, many friends told me that their local media carried hardly any news about SA. This section is aimed at these people: if you are better informed, I advise you to skip to the next section. “AS” is the veteran columnist Allister Sparks)
The African National Congress (ANC) annual conference, held at Polokwane in December 2008, was a watershed in SA politics. Not only was President Thabo Mbeki replaced by Jacob Zuma, but since then the strains and tensions in the “tripartite alliance” have intensified. This alliance comprises the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). ANC is certainly the dominant member, but it is being constantly challenged by the other two parties. Basically, the struggle concerns political direction, with ANC favouring a continuation of the existing model, of liberal capitalism, and COSATU and SACP demanding a shift to the left, with more attention being paid to the workers. None of the parties seems to be addressing the dire condition of the massive underclass of the unskilled and unemployed (estimates range from 25% to 40%), The demands include “some arcane Marxist rhetoric, with few policy specifics” (AS). The radical Julius Malema, Chairman of the ANC Youth League, whom I have mentioned earlier, has called for the nationalisation not only of the mines ( the usual target) but also at private wealth : he was aiming not so much at “randlords” like the Oppenheimers, but at the black nouveaux riches, such as Patrice Motsepe and Tokyo Sexwale (now Minister of Housing). These men have amassed , through skilful manipulation of BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) and of their political connections, fortunes of more than Rand 10 billion each ( Current rates are : £1 = Rand 12.2; US $1 = Rand 7.4).
Parastatal Enterprises have been attacked for “cadre deployment” – appointing incompetent and/or crooked people to top posts because of their “struggle credentials” or their political connections.
I return to the huge underclass: as I have mentioned before, for me the most depressing feature about SA is the extent of the poverty, and the inequality , which is still the highest in the world. 57% of the SA population lives in poverty, with a figure of more than 70% in the two poorest regions, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. And 13% barely manage on social grants.
Last month witnessed another unwelcome round of xenophobic attacks, on Zimbabwean farm-workers near De Doorns, not far from Cape Town. The foreigners faced the usual accusations, mainly that they were “taking our jobs”, by accepting low wages; labour brokers were blamed. (In my enquiries into farm-workers in California in the 1960s, the labour contractors, similar to labour brokers, often played a murky and disreputable role). The columnist Tony Weaver wrote that “like all economic migrants, the Zimbabweans are prepared to work harder and for less money”. Farm jobs are becoming scarce, and there is much competition for the seasonal work. In this case, the race struggle has become a class struggle.
SA has not been as adversely affected by the recession as other countries, although an estimated one million jobs have been lost. Last quarter saw a growth of nearly 1%, with analysts differing about its significance.
Skills: The government now recognises that economic recovery is hampered by a critical skills shortage, exacerbated by the emigration of skilled teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers and others.
Housing: Millions of low cost housing have been built since 1994, but many of them proved to be sub-standard, built with poor materials, and have to be extensively renovated. I noted before the reluctance of government to enlist the extensive base of skills and experience.
Water: An estimated Rand 30 billion needs to be spent on protecting and expanding SA’s water resources, but few specific plans are in place.
There is a huge difference – in educational standards, quality of faculty, libraries, everything - between “the historically advantaged” universities and the ” historically disadvantaged” ones. One proposed solution (admittedly, not very likely to fly, for now) is that funding should be taken away from the favoured universities, (UCT. Wits, Rhodes and a few others) and used to provide “free and affordable education for the poor”.
“The Reitz Four” are four male students at the University of the Free State who humiliated African domestic workers, making them perform embarrassing tasks. Their acts were video-ed, with the video becoming public knowledge – leading to a great outcry, Calls for the students to be expelled were rejected by the new Rector of the University, Jonathan Jansen (a coloured scholar), who pointed out that to dismiss the four would amount to saying that these were only a few “bad apples”, whereas he maintained that these disgraceful acts were the result of an institutionalised culture of racism at the university. His stance created more outcry, with some calling for the rector’s ousting. In a surprise move, the firebrand Julius Malema met Jansen, later declaring himself in support of the rector’s position.
A similar argument has been used to propose a National Health Service, which, if put into effect, would erode the present first-class system for private patients, without significantly improving the deteriorating public health system.
AIDS: President Zuma’s announcement of major changes in policy and , management of AIDS was welcomed by all. Zuma encouraged people to take tests, saying that he himself had had a test. (Life expectancy in SA has dropped from 65 (1994) to 52 today, due to AIDS and the poor health system.
M3 (or “the Blue Route”), the highway that I take in driving to Cape Town, used to be lined with colourful oleander bushes, which have all been cut down. We are not sure whether this is part of the drive to clear alien vegetation, or because of the poisonous nature of this shrub.
Ukweshwama is the Zulu name for the annual ritual slaughtering of a bull, performed with the bare hands of about forty young men, and supposedly transferring power to the men and to the King. National and international animal welfare organisations deplored this “cultural practice”, but a court decided that the slaughter of the bull could continue. An aide to the President, in a letter to the CapeTimes, wrote that “the criticism of ukweshwama is nothing but sheer, unbridled arrogance and imposed Western civilization”. Fred Khumalo, who is himself Zulu, suggested, in a column entitled “Not in my name”, that the bull should be killed with a single spear thrust .
Much is happening in Cape Town, as demonstrated by this (partial) list of my “cultural” activities, in just over a month since I returned from my travels.
Opera – Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen at Artscape.An outstanding co-production of Cape Town Opera and UCT Student Opera.(with Val West).
Theatre - Jeremy Crutchley, in I am my own wife at the Baxter studio, was the best play I have seen this year. Great drama, based on the tale of a defiant East German transvestite. (with Enid Bates)
Dance - Nutcracker, by a modern dance company from Johannesburg. Imaginative, exciting and true to Tchaikofsky (with Val).
Music - A series of five Thursday evening concerts, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Victorian City Hall. All good,if a rather conservative selection of pieces, to encourage Cape Town audiences. (with Martin and Val West, who now live near me, and kindly drive me to evening events).
Art . Next week we, (Val West, and David and Bill, lunch at the latter couple’s home) will go to Stellenbosch for exhibitions by the South African artist Charles Bell (1813 – 1882) and others.
Reminders of Prisoner of War days
In the past four months, I have received, by strange co-incidences, four dramatic reminders of my time as a POW period. ( BW refers to page number in Brokie’s Way)
About two years ago, at a braai at Elspeth and David Jack’s seaside compound” at Arniston, I met Cathy O’Brien, the sister of Diana Passmore, Bruce Jack’s mother-in-law. Later Cathy read my book, and mentioned it to her neighbour in Inanda (Johannesburg), as he had also been a POW. This was Stan Smollan who, in late 1942, when we were in our North African camp at Tarhuna, gave me a great-coat, probably the most welcomed gift that I ever received. (BW p.77). Paul and I met Stan once after the war, in 1957, at the Wanderers’ Club in Johannesburg, then I did not hear of him again until a few months ago. I am in touch with Stan, and I will be going to Inanda next month, for his 90th Birthday.( I will stay with Cathy).
At Father Bram’s suggestion, I spoke briefly about Brokie’s Way, at coffee after mass, and sold some copies, including one to a parishioner named Creina . Now shortly after our capture, Arthur Winter and I had offended an Italian guard, because we shrank away from his dirty hands when he was counting us. We were punished with a few slaps, nothing serious (BW p.75-6). Recently, Creina told me that she knew an Arthur Winter, now living in England, who had also been a POW – and he indeed is the same person. Arthur stayed in Glencairn (an adjacent suburb) while I, unfortunately, was on my travels, but we are in contact by post.
Last month I received an email, with eight photographs attached, from Chris Brown, whose father, Hinton (Paul’s pal at Maritzburg College) had also been captured at Tobruk, and taken to a camp in Italy. But Hinton had escaped, and in July 1945 was at Durban Railway station to greet our train, and to take photographs; Paul and I had come by ship from Southampton to Cape Town, then by train to Durban. (BW p.118). Chris, going through his father’s photographs, discovered these, and managed to locate and contact my nephew Garry, who gave Chris a copy of my book, and my address. I was thrilled to see these historic pics, very much “period pieces”, like scenes from 1940s movies. One was of Paul kissing Jil, his fiancée, and later his wife - whom he had not seen for four years. Written in chalk on the outside of our compartment are our names, to help friends identify our location on the train, There were pics of Ouma (our mother) of Paul and me, and of other family and friends. Oddly, although I have fairly good memories of my war years, I remember nothing about this train journey, and very little about the station welcome.
Last week I had an email from my great-niece Tan, (Judy’s daughter) who lives in England, with her husband David and sons Tai (9) and JJ (7):
My own health, I am happy to report, remains good - my minor ailments are all under control. I have, however, developed an unusual syndrome, “imaginary smells”. The invaluable GOOGLE informed me that this is fairly common, and neither significant nor threatening – just weird. I first noticed this in Christchurch, New Zealand, when the imaginary smell was of star jasmine, after a rain shower. That disappeared over time and has been replaced by a quite different smell, like a boat building yard (shades of sailing days in my boyhood), with a distinct trace of linseed oil. (“End of interesting fact”, as Bernard would have drily commented).
*this talented young South African photographer has a website.
DWB. DECEMBER, 2009