Tuesday, February 16, 2010


On Sunday I spent a lovely afternoon boozing with a bunch of Saffas and talking about their experiences growing up under Apartheid. It was an eye-opener. These are some very intelligent, passionate and socially-conscious people - quite the opposite of the stereotype that we're fed about thuggish, racist, conservative jaapies.

It was very interesting to hear how information was kept from them throughout their childhoods (they're all in their mid to late 30s), how little they knew of the realities of their own country, and how the government stamped down on the dissident whites as well as the black populous. My ex-wife grew up in the GDR (in East Berlin) under the Stazi repression but even there the control of information didn't seem as complete as in the RSA - simply because of East Germany's proximity to democratic countries. South Africa was geographically cut off which allowed for even greater filtering and repression.

I guess I'm guilty of not really thinking much about the white South Africans except as rugby-playing meatheads, racist Boers and backpackers/immigrants. Odd how the vilification of the Apartheid regime has pretty much tarred all whites with the racist brush despite the fact that most of them were as much prisoners of their own government as much as the blacks. Not that I'm equating treatment of the two groups of course.

They're not bitter people but after years of being in South Africa with all the dangers that go with that have made them understandably defensive. I'd kinda noticed the national trait to a certain edginess before but one of them pointed out why: the wariness and fear that accompanies simply walking down the street in Johburg informs the rest of your life. It's a hard habit to break.

I've realised there are big gaps in my knowledge of recent South African history and, as a Kiwi - with all the sporting connections and history New Zealand has with RSA - I really ought to know more. Especially since it's the football World Cup this year and there's bound to be a mass of misinformation and historical whitewashing going on. Must ferret out some unbiased (as much as possible) books  - anyone have any leads for me?


helena said...

I don't know any books that might be useful...but I know someone who might. I'll ask her.

fishboy said...

Maybe I'm going about it the wrong way by jumping straight to the books (it's the librarian upbringing) - I should probably just spend more time talking to the Saffas. They're lovely people as well as interesting.

fishboy said...

But thank you helena, I appreciate the help :)

The Real Mr Nobody said...

I have met both kinds of Saffas you can guess which are still my mates... but what I've been a little shocked over was the amount of Aussies I have met on my travels with similar negative opinions of the Aborigines. Perhaps more importantly, am I as discriminating as they are towards the Maori and other races? but have too high an opinion of myself to see it?

fishboy said...

It's true - the general attitude of white Aussies to Aboriginals is beyond appalling. It feels hopeless here - they, as a people, have been crushed so completely that their culture is pretty much dead. The conditions many in rural areas live in are unconscionable too..

When I go back to NZ I notice the friction between Maori and Pakeha more than when I lived there - but I'm encouraged about how in the open and actually discussed it is. The debate is real, rather than lip service. It may not be a harmonious country yet but there is definite progress towards that.