Thursday, February 26, 2009


The real tragedy of South Africa is that the rest of the world has never been content to leave it alone. In common with every other country, in every other corner of the world, it has had its internal problems from time to time, but whenever it did, it was not long before the powers-that-be somewhere else, would see fit to intervene -- that is, if they weren’t actually bent on taking it over altogether! -- only to make matters worse! Finally such interference has contributed to reducing to utter chaos what was once a sublime place in which to live. A country respected by the rest of the world, a place where the world’s first heart transplant was carried out, has been damaged, wrecked, soiled to the extent that we read in an Australian newspaper, under the title of Wounded Nation that, ‘after bathing in the warm, fuzzy glow of the Mandela years, South Africans today are deeply demoralized people!’... That, in a country that provided some of the best Battle of Britain pilots; a country, one of whose Prime Ministers – Jan Christiaan Smuts - was among the architects of the ‘League Of Nations’, an association of countries established in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles to promote international cooperation and achieve international peace and security! When it was replaced by the United Nations in 1945, it was Smuts who drafted the Covenant of the United Nations, which is considered to have been his major achievement; but it should also not be forgotten that as a Field Marshal of the Allied Forces during WW2, he enjoyed the respect and friendship of both General Eisenhower and the King of England.

I am indebted to, and wish I could find the name of the author of that Australian article, who goes on to report: “The lights are going out, in homes, mines, factories and shopping malls as the national power authority, Eskom - suffering from mismanagement, lack of foresight, a failure to maintain power stations and a flight of skilled engineers to other countries - implements rolling power cuts that plunge towns and cities into daily chaos.” He, or she laments that South Africa has become a country where crime is rampant and the national police chief faces trial for corruption and “defeating the ends of justice, as a result of his alleged deals with a local mafia kingpin and dealer in hard drugs.”

Oh, what agony it is to think back to the days when many of us, including my husband and I, were regarded as the skunks of the universe! When people, recognizing our accent, scrambled out of the elevator at the Regent Palace hotel in London; when Arabs left the bus in which we were all going to Heathrow Airport, at Hounslow, rather than travel with white South Africans. It was all supposed to get better, and the country was supposed to emerge from the darkness after 1994, but the newly-lit candle of hope very soon flickered and burned out.

It is possible that, around the world, many supporters of the of ANC (and they are legion) are unaware of the fact that Jacob Zuma, the recently elected African National Congress (ANC) leader – and thus the State President-in-waiting - narrowly escaped being jailed for raping an HIV-positive woman last year, and faces trial on many other charges, among them soliciting and accepting bribes. This last offence is in connection with the country’s alleged deal with weapons manufacturers in Britain, Germany and France.

I understand only too well what that writer means when he goes on to say that in 2008 the big shots of the ANC 'still speak in the spiritually dead jargon they learned in exile in pre-1989 Moscow, East Berlin and Sofia’ while promiscuously embracing capitalist icons.’ – But does the ‘rest of the world’? And does that ‘rest of the world’ feel pleased with itself?

Nothing I can say can compare with what Anne Paton (widow of Alan Paton, author of ‘Cry the beloved country’, has written in a letter to the Editor of the London Sunday Times. She speaks for many when she confesses: “I love this country with a passion, but I cannot live here any more. I can no longer live slung about with panic buttons and gear locks.” She is tired, she says, of driving with her car windows closed and the doors locked. Tired of “being afraid of stopping at red lights.” She is tired of 'being constantly on the alert, having that sudden frisson of fear at the sight of a shadow by the gate, of a group of youths approaching - although nine times out of 10 they are innocent of harmful intent. Such is the suspicion that dogs us all.'

I can't bear to think of my Dutch pioneer ancestors who came to found a new country in 1652; my Huguenot forebears who fled from religious persecution in France, and their descendants who have fought and died for South Africa (in the Boer War, on the side of Britain in the two world wars, alongside the United Nation Forces in Korea, and, at the behest of the Americans, in the seemingly interminable Angolan conflict.)

Maybe that's why I write novels about the way it used to be. I want my readers to know the good stuff, but have I not perhaps been hiding the truth of how it is now?

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