South African Dialogues: Part 2

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Is there any hope for South Africa? In this series of imaginary dialogues down the centuries, KIN BENTLEY offers a historical perspective into how we arrived at our current crisis and how, with generosity of spirit, goodwill, and integrity, we can resolve it.

The first of 23 different dialogues takes place in the late 17th century while the last is set in the near future ahead of the 2019 general election. They will be serialised over the next few weeks.

All but the last were written around 2004 as President Thabo Mbeki supported his Zimbabwean counterpart Robert Mugabe’s seizure of white-owned farms, precipitating the collapse of that country’s economy. Back home, Mbeki replaced Nelson Mandela’s focus on racial reconciliation with an overtly Africanist policy. This found expression in affirmative action laws like Black Economic Empowerment and the Employment Equity Act.

The final and longest discussion seeks to pull together the decade and a half since 2004, with a particular focus on how corruption and incompetence under the Jacob Zuma presidency brought this country to its lowest ebb since the apartheid era.

All characters, apart from obvious historical figures, are fictional. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Pejorative racist term were used for the sake of authenticity. The odd anachronism was also unavoidable. – © Kin Bentley 2018

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND

On the quayside

13 February 1820

– Well Dad, Mum, Frank. I guess this is it then. I’ll be fine, just fine. Yeah, fine.

– We know you will son. You’re a strong lad and with your experience both as a soldier and working at the mill all those years, you’re sure to come up trumps.

– I’ll miss you terribly dear. You look after y’self then. And steer clear of those naughty ladies in Cape Town. I’ve heard stories about them, especially the dark-skinned ones. They’ll gobble you up and spit you out, just like that!

– You don’t have to worry about that Mum. Anyway, you know we’re not going to Cape Town, although we may stop off there en route.

– En route! En route to where?

– I’m sorry, Luv. I should’ve told you earlier. Our lad’s going to the Cape, sure. But not to the town, not Cape Town. No, under this emigration scheme the government’s offered to sponsor his fare only if he settles further east, near a place called Algoa Bay.

– But why would they want to send anyone there?

– It’s simple really, Mum. They need Brits to settle on farms there. To act as a buffer between the colony and the black tribes to the east. At least that’s what I’ve heard from my army mates. There’s been no official word on it though.

– So, you mean, you mean you’re going to be a soldier again?

– It may come down to that, sure, Mum. Listen, after the Napoleonic wars ended in 1815, once the little dictator met his Waterloo, so to speak, we all knew there would be massive unemployment back home. It seems Europe needs a permanent war. That way it keeps young men like me out of mischief. Ironic, isn’t it? You make a career in the army where the chances are that if you’re called on to do your job really well you may just end up dead – run through with a sword or bayonet, or blasted to smithereens by rifle or cannon shot. Well I survived all that. I know a bit about a lot of things. I’ve had a fair education. I’m fit, and I enjoy adventure. So roll on the Cape Colony frontier. Let’s see what those black tribesmen are made of!

– Jimmy, brother, I think you may be in for a surprise. I’ve been reading up a bit in The Times. It seems a guy from the Colonial Office did an in-depth analysis – he basically rode across the colony – after we first took control of it from the Dutch in 1795. Well, he was quite taken by these so-called warlike tribes. Found them ever so peaceful. Farming with cattle and maize. But, what most impressed him about the Xhosas, as he called them, was that they walked around virtually naked. Proud black men. Likened them to noble savages. You know Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept? My fear, good brother, is that when we move in and colonise those areas, these tribes will lose not only their land but also a way of life they have known for centuries. Maybe even for thousands of years.

– Can’t be helped, Frank. This is how history is made. The government needs us to expand the empire so we go where it wants us. At least it’s not as remote as India. I mean if you take the globe you’ll find I’ll be virtually on the same line of latitude down there as we are here, give or take a couple of degrees. So we’ll all rise at roughly the same time and sleep at the same time. Not like if I was going to India or down under. Those buggers are just so isolated from the rest of the world. It’s like they’re stuck in a time warp, if you’ll pardon the expression. Not sure where I heard that one. But enough of this idle chatter. I must away. My ship awaits. My fellow settlers are already on board getting their first taste of sea-sickness. I don’t want to spend another hour in this dank, smoggy old land. Look, they’re unfurling the sails. I’m sad to be saying farewell, sure, but also eager to visit this new land of hope and sunshine. I’ll be thinking of you as I work on my tan, with my herds of cattle and sheep, my rows of maize. My lovely little farmhouse…

– But Jimmy, dear, what do you know about farming?

– Who cares, Mum? I’ll learn on the job. Or I’ll go work in a town, if I can find one. They say Grahamstown has some opportunities – for soldiers anyway.

– Well, good-bye son. We’ll miss you terribly. Please do remember to write.

– Of course I will, Mum. Cheers then.

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