Friends have asked me how things are in South Africa, and I find it difficult to be as optimistic as I usually am about my country’s future.  In the last (December 2009) Fish Hoek Notes, I expressed my concerns, and today these have deepened.

Julius Malema,  Eugene Terre’Blanche (ET) and “Kill the boer”.

Let me start with this unedifying saga, which illustrates many of our contemporary fault-lines. These events have had much media attention in UK, but little in the U.S., so I will summarise. 

Julius Malema (a 29 year old high school drop-out)  is the fiery and controversial  president of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), an important organisation, founded by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu,  Oliver Tambo and other great ANC leaders. Malema, a radical populist, appeals to two classes: first, young unemployed Africans, who are fed up with the lack of improvement in their living conditions since 1994, and second, certain senior members of the ANC.  Some suggest that these politicians use Malema as a stalking horse,  (or decoy?) allowing him to make outrageous statements, so as  to draw attention away from yet another political scandal. There may be some truth in that. Others suggest (conspiracy theories abound here, as elsewhere) that Malema has some knowledge of misdeeds by President Jacob Zuma and other leaders, so he can blackmail them. Malema has been described (by Pierre de Vos)  as “the most dangerous man in Africa for half a century” and also as “a little  fascist kleptocrat”, referring to his fondness for “bling” – a $35,000 Breitler watch, Chivas Regal whisky,  a luxurious Range  Rover, grand  homes in Sandton, Johannesburg’s up-market suburb. In addition, Malema is  director of several companies, one of which was awarded major building contracts in Limpopo, Malema’s home base; the projects were shoddy.

Malema has been widely criticized for publicly singing the “struggle song” which includes the words  "awadubule bhunu", “kill the boer, kill the farmer”. After complaints, the SA Human Rights Commission declared this to be hate speech, and a judge said that this was “incitement to murder”. Undeterred, Malema said he would ignore the “untransformed judiciary “ (the judge was white) and continue singing the song. Some Africans, even some white liberals,  alleged that this was merely a struggle song, directed against apartheid, not at individual farmers.

The popular Afrikaner song ,about the Anglo-Boer War General de la Rey, was regarded by many Africans as provocative and offensive, yet it was allowed. "Since the dispute over "De la Rey" began, a ban on singing it has been issued and revoked at Johannesburg's Loftus Stadium, the nation's most hallowed rugby field, the culture minister affirmed his support in Parliament for people's freedom of expression and Nelson Mandela's personal assistant defended the song as a youthful cry for direction."  New York Times, February 27, 2007

We are in sensitive territory here, because many white farmers have been murdered  since 1994. Exact figures are difficult to find, but the number is between 1.800 and 3,000. Some, of the murders have been committed by disgruntled farm-workers, after disputes over pay and working conditions. I know, from my fieldwork with Mexican-Americans in California, in the 1960s, something about farm-workers – that  they are usually among the lowest paid, with the worst and most dangerous working lives. Both in California and in contemporary SA, farmers use labour contractors, who are very often  from the same racial groups as the workers; they  tend to be unscrupulous and highly exploitative. In SA, they hire many Zimbabwean refugees, who in desperation accept low wages and forfeit basic health and safety measures, and workmen’s compensation enrolment. (See Jonny Steinberg’s book Midlands : A Very South African Murder for an acute analysis of a farm murder in KwaZulu Natal).

Malema has also:

rewritten history, claiming (on its 50th anniversary)  that the fateful 1960 Sharpeville massacre (when 69 unarmed, peacefully protesting Africans were killed by the police) was orchestrated by ANC, not by the Pan African Congress (PAC).

• alleged that the woman who accused Jacob Zuma of raping her, in 2005, “had clearly enjoyed it”, because she did not leave JZ’s home immediately;

• been abusive to a
BBC journalist who questioned him at a press conference.

• travelled to
Zimbabwe, where he embraced Mugabe, praised the mess that Mugabe has created , and ridiculed  Prime Minister  Morgan Tsvangirai. Of course, this raised again  the spectre of “SA becoming another Zimbabwe”, which Malema seems to wish for. Not that I am an expert forecaster, but this scenario seems , at present, unlikely.

Eugene Terre’Blanche (ET)

Now I turn to another unsavoury character, Eugene Terre’Blanche (ET) who was murdered (aged 69) on April 2, 2010. ET was notorious for founding the right-wing Afrikaner weerstandsbeweging (AWB) “Afrikaner Resistance Movement”) in 1973. He organised two spectacularly unsuccessful  protests, and served time in prison. The murder occurred when there was wide discussion about  the song “kill the boer”, and some said that his murder was inspired by the song. However, one man and a 15 year old boy gave themselves up to the police, and it seems that there was an argument about pay, culminating in ET being battered to death. The trial of these two will be held in camera, (one of Director of Public Prosecutions Simelane’s curious decisions) supposedly because of the age of the second defendant. Many would prefer to have the trial held in public, to settle the many doubts about the murder. Investigation into this murder has been hampered by  lack of forensic skills in SA, and also by political interference. There have even been allegations of homosexual activity between ET and his killers.

ET was, and Malema is, a dangerous demagogue, both stirring up hate and spreading accusations of racism. There seems to be more writing about “racism” (both white and black) today than in any of the previous ten years that I have lived here. However, I cannot say that I have experienced any racially inspired animosity, in my (admittedly limited ) forays.

SA - the Good News:

(A reminder – I needed to check population statistics. In round figures, the total population of SA is 48 million, nearly 80% being black, with whites and coloureds each representing +/-  9% and Indians just over 2%.)
Here is a cheering report from SA - the Good News:

"While it might still be too early to say that the political storm in
South Africa has blown over, the past week has seen the torrent of threats, racial slurs and irresponsible statements from the camps of the AWB and ANCYL supporters make way for a more constructive narrative.

Instead of the racial war that some media were so quick to predict, the effects of the events have been more of a testament to South Africa's 'middle ground' - the majority who feel increasingly uncomfortable with the statements made on behalf of their racial group by the likes of Julius Malema or supporters of the late Eugene Terre'Blanche
South Africa: The Good News

Jacob Zuma (JZ)

continues to be weak, indecisive, without vision and with  a complete lack of leadership. Moreover, he has been described as “morally bankrupt” after the disclosure that he had fathered a child on a young woman, the daughter of his “good friend” Irwin Khoza, the notorious soccer boss. JZ’s apologists made half-hearted attempts to excuse his conduct by explaining that he was merely following traditional culture. This back-fired, when  several Africans took JZ to task:

• The Zulu kingdom should be ashamed of how you have paraded its culture of polygamy… you are not a beacon of hope for me, but rather one of disaster. (Lukhona Mngunhi)

• What he (JZ) is doing has nothing to do with African culture. (Sempuve Sesanti).

Other African correspondents criticized the ANC:

• In the ANC you either agree or you  ‘go hungry’.

• There is a culture of fear…..why are we afraid?

• The ANC has an Orwellian culture, some are more equal than others.

• The ANC is sacrificing all moral credibility

And Nqabayomzi Kwankwa of Guguletu (a Cape Town “African township”), after quoting W B Yeats and Adam Smith, deplored "the crass materialism, the conspicuous consumption and the acquisition of wealth at all costs".

Kader Asmal, a former ANC Minister, is one of the few prominent politicians to openly express his disappointment with the ANC. In a speech when he received an honorary degree from the University of the
Western Cape, Asmal bravely denounced "the bullying and intimidation that now characterizes the ANC".

I have quoted these African critics because, as I wrote last time, the government might pay more attention to their complaints than to those of white writers.

Many critics have urged the government to control the in-fighting between the various wings of the party - this battle is partly ideological, but it seems also to be about “snouts in the trough’ : the state is seen as the means  to wealth and of private advancement"  (Franz Fanon). Smuts Ngonyama, a former presidential spokesman, is reported to have said, defending his purchase of an expensive home, "I did not join the struggle to be poor". With these prevailing attitudes, it is hardly surprising that many South Africans, black and white, feel increasingly alienated from the government.

Nearly all commentators urge the government to concentrate on the important sectors – education, health care,  rural investment, jobs, the judicial system and crime, infrastructure. Here are a few notes on these sectors:


2/3rds of schools lack libraries, and laboratories;
2/3rds of “learners” do not reach Grade 12, the matric year;
40% of those who wrote the matric examination failed , even after standards were “dumbed down”, 30% in 3 subjects constituting a pass.


Solly Benatur (Professor Emeritus of Medicine, UCT) explained why  the proposed National Health Service was an impossible dream. SA is a middle income country, with a massive burden of disease and the largest number of HIV/AIDS patients in the world.  SA does not have the necessary “minimum critical mass of well-trained dedicated medical personnel at all levels”. Spending on private health care is $1500 per capita, against $150 for the public system. SA needs “an innovative and pragmatic approach” as well as improvements in nutrition, sanitation, housing, education, employment….. 


I receive, online, a daily “Word of the Day”, (
Babylon ), an amusing diversion. Recent words included hugger-mugger, bedizen and popinjay, which were familiar, but I did not know today’s word: malversation, defined as  “misconduct or corruption or extortion in public office”; singularly appropriate for contemporary South Africa.  And columnist David Bullard claims that there has been “institutionalised venality in the ANC since 1994”. 

An African journalist coined  a new and appropriate word – tenderpreneur : so many politicians, their spouses and their associates, are given rewarding tenders, despite lacking capacity to perform the contracts, when there are other tenders, often lower, from established firms.

I will take one case study to illustrate corruption in SA. ESKOM, the national Electricity supply parastatal, has been under pressure to ensure an adequate power supply. The World Bank made a loan to SA  of $3.75 billion, $3b of which was to help build a new coal-fired 4800MW power station at Medupi, in Limpopo province. ($260 million was for wind/solar projects). There had been serious objections to this loan on three grounds:

  1. local residents complained of the adverse effects on health ,and also that they would receive no benefits;
  2. Environmental groups were critical of the reliance on coal, a “dirty” fuel, rather than other sources;
  3. In 2008, the ANC signed a $38.5 billion contract with the Japanese firm, Hitachi, to supply boilers for Medupi. A new company, Hitachi Power Africa , was formed, with Chancellor House (the “investment wing” of the ANC) receiving 25% of the shares at a very nominal price. ANC shilly-shallyed, but it became clear that the ANC would be receiving huge – and illegal – donations from Chancellor House. Contradictory statements  have been made by ANC, but it is uncertain whether Chancellor House will sell the Hitachi shares.

Siphiwe Nanda, the Minister of Communciations, was allocated an official residence in Cape Town one year ago. But he has not yet moved in, preferring to stay at The 12 Apostles or the Mount Nelson (two of our  top  hotels) at rates of about $600 per night. His office does not respond to questions. (Note: at least we still do have a free and lively press, with outstanding investigating reporters).

After that depressing litany, I quote from the conclusion of David Welsh’s book, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid (reviewed by Stanley Uys, who described this volume as “outstanding”).

"….democracy has survived, and even if it is democracy of a poor quality, South Africa is nevertheless a vastly better society than it was under apartheid". I heartily agree, and I try to remind myself of this salient truth, when our politicians behave badly – as they often do.

I also try to gain perspective by thinking of the grave problems – of different types - faced by other countries; Certainly the US is still in deep trouble, despite Obama being president; and if I look at Greece, Mexico, Russia, Israel…….then I reckon that we are not doing too badly



Although – as I wrote last time – SA has not suffered from the recession as severely as the US or European countries, nevertheless 1 million jobs were lost in 2009, mostly by young African males. On average, five people depend on each worker. The growing inequality and the poverty (13 million receive social grants) constitute an ominous time-bomb. I am always saddened and worried when I leave “the leafy suburbs” where I live, and drive past the endless rows of “informal housing”. SA ‘sTwo Nations” are as starkly divided as were Disraeli’s in  late C19th Britain.

Hundreds of poor urban communities have staged protests, often violent, against lack of service delivery of basic services. Now many affluent (nearly all white) rate-payers have started to withhold their rates, paying them into trust funds, in protest against (a) lack of services, and (b) increasing and illogical rate increases. Local governments are furious.

Tokyo Sexwale, the new Minister of Housing, made a good start when he admitted that 40,000 RDP (low-cost) houses had been built so badly that they needed to be renovated  or even demolished, at a cost of over
Rand 1 billion. A commentator wrote that one major problem here was the absence of the old “Clerk of Works”, an official who monitored all building projects, ensuring that standards were met. More than 900 of these officials have been “let go”, because they were “demographically disadvantaged” – i.e. white. And there are hardly any black persons with the necessary experience to do this vital job.




In the 1960s, there was much discussion, in international development circles, of the problem of maintenance. So many development projects started off well, then collapsed in a few years because no provision was made for maintenance. Bernard  and I saw graphic examples of this in Kenya, in the 1970s, when Kenya’s Rural Special Development Programme financed the provision of water to remote areas in Mbeere. No allowance was made for maintenance,  nor for education in water management, and in a few months, most taps were broken, and large sections of pipe had been stolen by local blacksmiths.

Here in SA, major works are needed on infrastructure, particularly on roads. The
Western Cape roads are not in very bad shape, but elsewhere (especially in the north, and in KwaZulu/Natal) enormous and dangerous pot-holes are common. The railway line runs past my house, but for some months the final stretch, from Glencairn to Simon’s Town, has been closed, because of damage to the track – caused by lack of maintenance. One unexpected and welcome result of the closure of the rail line is that the previously endangered African Black Oystercatchers (Haemotopus moquini) have begun breeding in the rocky coastline: I am happy when I see them, and I hear their shrill cries, from my terrace

African Black Oystercatcher

I was cheered by this incident: last week; when the water main outside my home broke, interrupting supply. A team from the City Engineer’s department soon arrived, dug down 1.5 m, and within a few hours had restored supply of water, Moreover the hole was covered and tarred over by the next day.


The FIFA World Cup 2010

The new soccer stadium, Green Point,
Cape Town

With the first match due to be played on June 10, there are many questions about this event.
- Will air travel disruptions from  the volcanic ash affect the World Cup? (It seems at this stage we are spared)
- Why were here not more “cheap” (
Rand 140 = $19) tickets available for local people?
- Why were ticket sales handled so badly?
- Will there be far fewer visitors than expected?
- Why were local traders treated so disdainfully by FIFA?
- Will there be disruptive strikes before or during the games?
- Is security adequate?


JZ recently announced the appointment of Jon Qwelane as the new ambassador to
Uganda, which was debating a bill to introduce the death penalty for homosexuals. Now Qwelane is a notorious homophobe, who, in his career as a DJ, often made hateful remarks about gay men. JZ ignored the national and international protests  from gay and human rights groups – and went ahead with the appointment - this despite the South African Constitution prohibiting discrimination against persons on grounds of their sexuality. Black lesbians still lead hazardous lives, cases of “corrective rape” having been reported, and many more being unreported.

Pietermaritzburg (“Umsinduzi”)

After many scandals and charges of “malversation”, The KwaZulu/Natal Minister of Executive Council, Dube,  “asked the mayor and other councilors to step down “ putting this municipality under administration. The new mayor is Mike Tarr, who is a white man. The Governor of the Reserve Bank, Gill Marcus, Barbara Hogan, Minister of Public Enterprises, and several other senior officials, are also white, showing that the racist lines are not absolute.


• Music

The local classical music scene is  lively, with regular concerts, of high quality, both at the Lindbergh Foundation in Muizenberg ( chamber music) and at the ornate Edwardian City Hall (Symphony Concerts). For evening events, I continue to be lucky in getting a lift with Martin and Val West, who now live near me, and who  are also “culture-vultures”. On Good Friday we went to a superb performance of the St. Matthew Passion, at
Bishop's School chapel. The six soloists all had splendid voices, particularly the Evangelist (tenor), Christ (baritone) and the counter-tenor. The first two are men of colour; incidentally, the enthusiastic audience was 99% white, which is fine with me: I do not expect Bach choral music to have a universal appeal.

• Opera 

I continue to go regularly, with Bill and David to Live at the Met, movies from the Metropolitan Opera. This year we have seen  Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Der Rosenkavalier, CarmenSimon Boccanegra and Hamlet; all were richly satisfying.

• Dance

Sadly our local Cape Town City Ballet, which has a long (for South Africa – 75 years) history and an excellent  reputation,  faces closure, after three failed requests to the National Lottery , which is  sitting on millions of unspent Rands.

• Theatre 

Athol Fugard, South Africa’s best known – and most prolific – playwright directed his new play, The Train Driver, at the new Fugard Theatre, located on the edge of District Six. Like most of Fugard’s work, the play is bleak, but was superbly acted by Sean Taylor and Owen Sijake. I look forward to seeing  more outstanding plays in the stunning Fugard Theatre.

"London Road", at the Kalk Bay Theatre (2 kms away) was another gripping play. Also a two-hander, it featured two women, an illegal Nigerian immigrant, and an elderly Jewish woman, both living in Sea Point, Cape Town. Despite Cape Town having a population of nearly 4 million, the arts world is quite small: for example, I know both Ross Devenish, co-director of The Train Driver, and Nicholas Spagnaletti, who wrote London Road.




POW pals

DWB and Stan Smollen in Johannesburg
DWB with Stan Smollan on his 90th birthday,
Johannesburg Jan 2010

I had mentioned being re-united with Stan Smollan, my benefactor who gave me a great-coat at our North African POW camp. I did go to Johannesburg for Stan’s 90th birthday party. I never attend large school, university or army re-unions, but this was special, a thrill to see Stan still very active, with his children, grand-children and great-grand-children . On the topic of generations, I am now a great-great-great-uncle, my eldest niece’s grand-daughter (in Scotland ) having given birth to a little boy.

Indeed I am blessed in having a loving and close family, consisting (counting Bernard’s side as well) of : six nieces, one nephew; fourteen great-nephews, six great-nieces;about (Bernard was better than I at keeping track of the generations) fifteen great-great nephews and –nieces; one great-great-great-nephew, Leon .

family photo 5 generations in one room

FIVE generations in one photograph! (From Left): Paddy Blackwood, Deirdre’s son; Margaret Thurso, Deirdre’s Mother; Meghan, Paddy’s daughter; with her baby son Leon; Deirdre, my niece, Guy’s daughter.

Our family has been affected,- as have most white, and many black - South African families, by the diaspora, but several still live in Southern Africa . My niece Judy and her husband Roger come each March to Cape Town for a two week stay in their time-share in Sea Point. This gives me a welcome opportunity to have long beach walks and talks with Judy. In April, I flew to Durban to spend a long week-end with Judy. My nephew Garry took me to a rugby game, his local team, the Sharks, beating the visiting Auckland Blues in the “Super 14” league, teams from SA, NZ, and OZ. I seldom watch rugby, but I really enjoyed the whole ritual, finishing with a braai in the car park. One of the Sharks black players is Tendai “Beast” Mtwararira, from Zimbabwe . As I had written in FH Notes for April 2009, it was weird to hear thousands of fans roar, affectionately, BEAST!

DWB & Judy, Fish Hoek Beach, March 2010


Bernard’s Nurse

Bernard's former nurse, S, calls in about once a month, for a cup of coffee and a chat, and to give me news of her family. Her husband has throat cancer, and can do only light work, so S is the main bread-winner. Her two elder boys are both in their final year at High School, The big event for them  is not the Matric examination, but rather the Matric Ball, for which the boys will have to hire Evening dress suits, and incur other expenses. I contribute to school fees, but not, feeling a little like Scrooge, to Matric Ball expenses. I first read Thorstein  Veblen on “conspicuous consumption” sixty years ago, and I remember the same feeling of impatience when I saw how poor Mexican-Americans in California’s Central Valley indulged, despite their poverty, in conspicuous consumption – in relation to weddings and funerals. S’s eldest daughter is completing a three year nursing course, intending to work with disabled children. The second daughter is, like her older brother a keen golfer, desperately hoping to find a sponsor. (I have no idea where they get the money to play golf, nor to arrange transport to and from the golf course).


When I stayed, last August, in the Bachmuths’ flat in London, there was no TV, and I became accustomed to its absence. Since my return from my RTW trip, at the end of October, I have not watched any TV at home: I am happy to read in the evenings, always having a backlog of books. Also Donald, my computer adviser and friend, lends me DVDs from BBC televison (sent to him from the UK): at present I am much enjoying Owen Sheer's excellent series of Poets in Britain. Most of you will know that I have limited computer skills, so I should explain that I rely on Donald to put these Notes in an attractive format, and to edit and place the photographs.

Former students

Over the years, I have been gratified when former UCSB students have contacted me; recently a new record was set, when I had an email from Robin Witt, who had taken a class (“Social Change in Africa”) from me at UCSB in 1967. (I had just started teaching at UCSB, and I was nervous, wondering whether I was getting through to the students). Now Robin is  a speech-writer in
Sacramento , for the Californian legislature, and the  grandfather of five, I remember him, vaguely, as an intense (those were intense  years) young man. He told me (I had forgotten this) that he had  wished to enter a Lutheran theological college, and I had tried to dissuade him, saying he was too immature. ”Boy, you were right!”, he wrote, explaining that he had dropped out after a year. He had found me through the Internet, and had read Brokie’s Way.


DWB & Elspeth, Overberg Nov. 2009

I have often written about my “magical farm”, Appelsdrift, in the Overberg. Sadly, some of the magic has gone, as Elspeth Jack died (ovarian cancer) on February 2. A few days before her death, Elspeth and her winemaker (Flagstone and Fish Hoek wines)  son Bruce, planned her funeral, choosing both music (Elspeth had taught guitar at UCT for many years) and speeches. On April 17,  (Father) Bram, who knew and also loved Elspeth) drove me to the farm, to perform a simple and moving ceremony for the burial of the ashes. This was for family only , and I was thrilled when Ishbel, Elspeth’s elder sister, said  “And David you are part of our family”. I am fortunate in having such loving support from my friends here.

Best times of Day

I enjoy particularly dawn and dusk.  I have been in the habit of walking on the beach, for about an hour, really early, to be  there at first light and to greet the dawn. On Easter Sunday, when I was at the far (Clovelly) end of the then deserted beach, a young (?20) African approached me, said that he had been robbed and asked me  for money. I told him, truthfully, that I had none, we shook hands and I continued walking. I felt a movement on my back, and this rascal was rifling the pocket of my back-pack, probably searching for a cell-phone. When I turned around, he ran away . No harm done, but it was a warning, now I go hour later, when there are always other walkers – and their dogs – on the beach.
Dusk is, by established custom, my sundowner time. I sit on my terrace with a libation: depending on the weather, and my mood, this might be wine, or Scotch, or cane and tonic.  I say “Cheers, Bernard”, as I have done thousands of times to himself in person, and I sip my drink. There is always something to see – lovely cloud formations, sailboats, canoes, especially on Fridays when there are races, para-surfers, a lone seal, great flocks of cormorants, pairs of African black oyster catchers, occasionally a school of dolphins, even this week a one whale, at the “wrong” time of year for the Southern Right Whales.

Hirundo rustica

Here is a happy note for my ending.  35kms north of Durban is Mount Moreland, where the 35 ha. wetland attracts each October between 3 and 5 million barn swallows (hirundo rustica), which have flown the 6000 kms from Europe . One of the world’s great avian spectacles (see photo below) is the dusk descent of huge flocks of these tiny birds, as they return to the wetlands. But the nearly completed $1billion King Shaka International Airport (just a few kms away, and built for the World Cup)  threatened the migratory birds. To protect the birds, a special radar system was built in the U.S. at a cost of $300,000; this will monitor the birds, and enable flight controllers to delay or alter flights. (from the website of “South Africa : The Good News”).



DWB. May, 2010



NB. Previous Fish Hoek Notes are available by clicking on the relevant date below:-

December 2009

August 2008

April 2009.

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*Brokie's Way

* Round the World 2006

* European Safari 2008

* Round the World 2009

* Bernard Riley memoir

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to access the personal writings of David Brokensha please click on one of the above links.
DWBrokensha 2005-10