BETWEEN PORT ELIZABETH AND ALEXANDRIA Dec 5th
The countryside around here is very reminiscent of downland in southern England. It rolls, the valley sides are steep and wooded, the valley floors are wide and do not contain rivers, and the hilltops have been cleared and converted to grazing land. Sitting on the stoep of the house I am staying in and looking over the valley it dominates reminds me of the north facing view from the stands at Goodwood or the Ridgeway above Wantage. The underlying geology is definitely not chalk, however, but something like a porous sandstone. Yes, I know.
The main differences are in the human traces. The visible housing has green corrugated iron on the roof and is either single-storey, brick and large or single-storey, concrete and small. The former is occupied by the farmers, white, and the latter by the farm workers, black. The roads on the valley sides are not dark tarmac but light grey dirt. Wind driven water pumps, like those on the livestock stations of outback Australia, stand alongside large water bowsers. Vehicles are either pick-up trucks or 4WD jeeps. Properties are all surrounded by high electric fences and, although not visible, protected by the biggest and fiercest dogs imaginable, which spend their entire lives outside.
So far I have not seen enough to have a definite view and the people I am with have all been wealthy and white. It is impossible not to be aware of the differences, even so. One of the squirearchy at the INDALO meeting said something which I found interesting. 16 years on it is no longer valid simply to play the apartheid card to account for those differences, when so much of the investment and promotion since then has been in the interests of those ‘previously disadvantaged’. It is a bit like the Brown administration blaming the years of Conservative government of the 80s and 90s for their problems. This is probably completely wrong but my feeling is that there were expectations of immediate change, which did not and could not happen, a skill vacuum, based on lack of experience and, in some cases, education amongst those who were thrust into official positions and a misunderstanding that somehow the goodies would fall out of the sky without very much being done by the individual to earn them.
What is also interesting and positive is that the future might easily be different. I have seen more smartly dressed black 20-30s than in any other age group. This generation seems not to have so much of the sullenness of those who suffered under apartheid and is ambitious and keen to move on. Groups of black school students in Alexandria and Malelane seem to be very similar in their demeanour to those in the UK. The Sandton shopping mall had many black Saturday shoppers from the under 30s, most of whom were doing what under 30s do in London, browsing the clothing, mobile phone and music outlets.
It will be interesting to see how many of these views I still hold on January 6th. I came here last as a 17 year old in 1974 and was not old enough to make any lasting impressions, save one. It has not changed in the intervening 36 years and it is this. If you are not South African, you don’t understand and your views are erroneous, so please do not bore me with them.