Saturday, January 06, 2007

South Africa

Ah, South Africa. Its majestic undulating veldts, whatever they are. Animals that eat people. Diamonds scattered liberally on the ground. The world's most grating English accent. Oh, and a delicate smidge of racist oppression, once upon a time.

South Africa today is a model of harmony and an excellent lead for Israel/ Palestine to follow, at least that's how I view it from a rainy bedsit in Chiswick. 40 years of enforced apartheid seems to have given way to reconciliation, forgiveness, and general bonhomie. (You can tell I've never been, although I was afforded the opportunity to travel to SA driving from hotel to hotel for a series of specialist guide books about two years ago. The job was as good as mine until I received an email at the 11th hour telling me it wasn't.)


It was in 1652 that the Dutch East India Company established themselves here, at the Cape of Good Hope, to be exact, and expanded eastwards like the circular water rings of a Dutch pebble dropped into someone else's ocean. Well, tried to expand eastwards until they came across local people who'd rather they didn't. But Dutch this Southwestern tip remained, and for 150 years, during which time Indonesian, Madagascan and Indian slaves from East Asia were introduced. A strange caste system seemed to develop, as once irksome former royals were despatched from these places and sent to Africa, becoming the highest ranking among those who weren't Dutch and white. Their children, should they have dared been produced with some considerable help and fun from a dark native, were coloured, and therefore somehow lesser an individual than their Asian begetter, but clearly not as lowly as the other parent. You know, the black one.

To add to this mix of slavery and colonialism came Great Britain to seize the day and the Cape, because it was such a charming stopover en route to Australia (to drop off our criminals) and India (to rule over and grow tea).

Fortuitously for us Brits, the Dutch East India Company went bankrupt, meaning the Cape Colony was ours, all ours, in 1805. We continued to plough eastwards, despite the best efforts of those irritating locals. At the same time, abolitionists in Britain - fucking liberals - were able to force parliament to stop its global slave trade and, 27 years later, extended this ban to slavery in general throughout all British colonies, in 1833. (Interestingly, had the British army in America not been an equivalent of our modern day cricket team and tried just a little bit harder, we would've beaten those dastardly American rebels meaning that slavery would've been abolished in the States a lot earlier, and there probably wouldn't have been that less than civil Civil War. See Americans? Being ruled by greedy despots does have its benefits.)

Back in South Africa, the discovery of gold and diamonds in the mid to late nineteenth century drove everyone absolutely fucking nuts. Immigration increased, as did a general subjugation of the local populace now that the country became so much more interesting to all concerned. Britain ended up at war with the Boers, famers descended from the original Dutch, who had settled (i.e. nicked someone elses land) further eastwards in an effort to avoid the Brits as we too moved east. In an effort to overcome the Boers (we did), the British invented the world's first concentration camp - I'm so proud.

The Union of South Africa became, in 1934, a dominion, an overseas territory of the British Crown, but not of England, Great Britain, or the United Kingdom itself. It's all largely semantics. The point is we'd nicked it and stuck a flag in the ground.


I recall, many years ago on my travels, meeting a Dutchman called Peter Buijs, and watching with amusement as he conversed with an Afrikaaner. They were, Peter told me later, speaking in their respective languages, yet could understand each other almost perfectly which I found interesting because I'm a nerd who's fascinated by language. For example, the Afrikaans for an Orange is 'Lemoen'. Good god.

The language Afrikaans (quite simply, Dutch for African) descended from Old Dutch and was considered a mere dialect until 1925, when it was bumped up to a language in its own right. The only English equivalent to Peter's conversation that I can come up with would be if I hopped into a De Lorean and travelled back to London circa 1650 and struck up a conversation with someone. Fascinating. To me, anyway.
That, and Johannesburg is colloquially nicknamed Jewhannesburg, which I find amusing and disturbing in equal measure.

South Africa is apparently extremely dangerous. The life expectancy of a South African police officer is one of the lowest (as well as poorly paid) in the world. Plus a chap I once knew who hailed from nearby Swaziland regaled me with stories of his youth. He told me about the local nightclubs where, as well as having a cloakroom to hand in their coats, they also had to hand over their, erm, guns, to be collected once they'd drunk enough dirt cheap Castle Beer and were spoiling for a fight. (Can someone please confirm the existence of gunrooms in South African nightclubs, as the mind boggles.)

Nowadays, I only have to wander up to Shepherds Bush to be confronted by a huge swathe of Southern Hemisphere travellers; Aussies, Kiwis, and the aforementioned Saffas. But don't mention apartheid. That's all ancient history. Although it did inspire Spitting Image's 'I've Never Met A Nice South African' song in 1986.

South Africa ~
Pros: Nice people now. Year round gorgeous weather. Penguins.
Cons: Bad people then. That accent. Surfers. A lot of violence. The 'A' word.


Eileen Dover said...

I'm saddened you didn't write about Oprah Winfrey and her opening the school for girls there last week.

Tsk tsk.

fwengebola said...

Oprah Winfrey's done what now?

Miao said...

She invested US$40 million to build an African girls' school that is so posh that my eyes turned green in envy when I set sight upon photos of it.

Just passing by.

Fussy Bitch said...

The one thing I knew about SA (before reading this, obv) is that my great aunt lived there when it was Rhodesia and when she came back to live here she shouted at a black lady for sitting near her on the bus. In Scotland.

fwengebola said...

Miao ~ Hello there, and welcome. That was very decent of The Winfrey, although I'm sure there are a hell of a lot of places in the States that could do with a US$40mil girls' school.
Still decent of her though.
Fuss ~ Oh dear. That's disturbing. A friend of my Mum's went to SA for an unethical holiday during the bad old days. She came back with a lot of harsh words to say... about black people. I sometimes wonder if you're inherently, if secretly, racist, going to someplace like apartheid South Africa is only going to bring those particuarly horrid views to the fore as you suddenly think segregation's normal. Wouldn't that be Zimbabwe though? I.e, Rhodesia once upon a time?

Fussy Bitch said...

Oops. Is that not South Africa then? My geography is embarrasing, obviously.

fwengebola said...

Not that embarrassing. They're neighbouring countries after all. Mind you, so's the UK and France and no-one confuses them.

Except Sicilians.

Joie de Vivre said...

I had a zim boyfriend, and when we visited there, his neighbour told us how his dog had been taught to hate "the kaffirs" - i pointed out that the dog was black and therefore also must be evil and trying to take over the country. The irony being that IS what white zims think, that the black folk are taking over 'their' country! although, mugabe has fucked it right up.

Havent been to SA, avoiding it until they let me play sun city.

Denim Boy said...

Don't talk to me about South Africans.

Just don't ever get in a toilet cubicle with one, that's all I'm saying.

fwengebola said...

JDV ~ My mate Monkey Dave's missus is Zimbabwean. She's lovely. Not a bad word to say about anyone. But her dog's a bit racist.
Ah, no he's not. He's lovely too. With human eyes. Mugabe's evil though. And what were you planning to play at Sun City? Or do you just mean craps?
DB ~ What if the Saffa has something alluring about her? Wait, didn't I read about you, a cubicle, and some bloke's brother recently???

Joie de Vivre said...

I've been singing "I aint gona play sun city" for so long now, its so last decade (god, possibly the one before?!) that I am now singing "I really wanna play, please let me plaaaaaay, sun city"

noones listening, so why the fuck not?

can i please request a country ... I am dying to hear the NZ countryfile

fwengebola said...

But it's sooo far away and I'm doing them all in some vague geographical way.

Plus I'll only write Hobbits about a dozen times, toungue-sticking-out-emoticon.

luna said...

So that's what they are Baboons not Buffoons as I was calling them,well,not far off,the pair of blackmailing,cat whacking,bullying Afrikaaners living down my staircase.
Even have the same rictus and hair colour too! (sorry Fweng)

As for apartheid,still alive and spreading judging by their fencing in,encroaching and partitioning.

fwengebola said...

Then barricade yourself in, or hold an improptu Illegal Gethering.

Sky flier said...

hello and fenks for al yor reelee cleva coements abowt a country what yoof nevva been to. I especially enjoyed the one about apartheid being 'alive and spreading'. If I can be allowed to climb onto my soap box for just a moment: apartheid was a legislated system of racial separation, the abolition of which was hard-fought (to say the least) by a good many people who would no doubt be somewhat taken aback (those who made it through that is) to hear that it is still going strong. If you are talking about apartheid mindsets, then yes, there are South Africans who could be said to be stuck in the past. Believe me that they are not the majority and they will not win out, despite any delusions that they probably harbour to the contrary. And yes, it's sad that many South Africans are taking ever more extreme measures to barricade themselves into their homes, but this may have less to do with racism and more to do with a failure of the justice system to protect all our citizens, black or white. Perhaps you should reserve judgement until you have had a loved one savaged by a knife-wielding thug or held up at gunpoint in their own home. That our complex past has its influences on the current state of affairs is not in doubt, but that doesn't change the fact that people are just trying to find ways to live with the crime rate on a daily basis. Who are you to pass comment on people who are scared and trying to avoid having their brains blown out by the next gun-toting reprobate? Ok, now that I'm all worked up, can I just mention that what I know to be true about my country, South Africa, is that it is a complex, diverse, contradictory one where generalisations do not work. There is a lot of despair, and there is a lot of hope; there is much to be proud of, and much to be ashamed of. There are those who embrace reconciliation and those who shun it; there are the criminals and the corrupt, and then there are those who are working for positive change. On a less flowery note, there are also 11 official languages, so a single South African English accent does not exist - I trust you hate them all equally? (And truly, I'm living in the UK at the moment and surely you must agree that certain British English accents are beyond awful...I mean you said it yourself - 'haitch?'...seriously?). Finally, I would encourage you all to visit South Africa if you ever have the opportunity - I hope you will be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

fwengebola said...

Hello sky flier, and christ what a huge comment. I do agree with all your points although your main bone of contention, that Luna thinks of apartheid as 'alive and spreading' is more a commentary on her neighbours in Britain than South Africa.

Wait, you're not one of her neighbours, are you?

But I do agree with all you say. And I would love to visit, and fully intend to soon. But one more thing, gun cloackrooms???

luna said...

Fweng I'm scared,I think he's my ghastly neighbour!!!The one that takes my picture unawares and then tries his hand at blackmail! He snoops on my posts,Fweng,heeelp...:0

Weird to be misread and sorry for the flak you got on my account.:(
At least you don't misconstrue my words!

As regarding the barricading it's already implemented,but as for the gethering,since I live by myself I don't see how I can manage that unless I go downstairs with a mirror...until they get round to allowing cloning.

Philip said...

All i can say is that if you had your 2 year old daughter raped or your 90 year old gran infront of you maybe you would think differently. This is day to day life in SA. I'm not Afrikaans or South African but did live there for a couple of years. I hate all them. no regard for life or people. The difference between a tourist and a racist is 2 weeks. Try it!!

P.s Oprah's school is riddled in corruption now.

fwengebola said...

And I'd argue that the difference between a tourist and a racist in two weeks is a tourist who was a little bit racist to start off with. You don't pick up these attitudes as a fully-grown adult in a fortnight without already having a smidge of hate in you.

That said, I know the crime rate in SA is fucking appalling. But then look what it's trying to dig itself out of.

Anonymous said...

Best to do your research properly! Interview black and white South Africans. Blacks preferred living under white leadership as they has social housing, schooling etc Now they are starving thanks to your interferring! You have NO right to give your small minded views when you have not lived in SA as I have!
I am British born born with no prejudice however I am entitled to comment as I lived in SA for over 20yrs. The reason I left was CRIME and it is fact since 1994 CRIME has risen. Why are we all over in Blighty ? Because interferring twats like you interferred in our policies! Now the country is a ridden with crime. Let all the bloodshed be on your head! Well hon looks likes like all of them are pulling into London causing stabbings, gangs, rapes etc. As I say the wheel turns a full circle!

fwengebola said...

Uh, my interfering? You're right, I'm personally responsible for dismantling apartheid. As for your bullshit that the majority were thrilled to be living under minority rule, that's a well observed and clearly totally accurate insight coming from that very minority. I note you fled SA because of crime that you're also saying has followed you here. Then why don't you leave the UK? Or will you just continue to bitch about the British and blame us for everything whilst staying put?
Congratulations. You win worst comment ever.