South African Dialogues Part 4: A devastated kraal

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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

KEISKAMMA RIVER, EASTERN FRONTIER OF THE CAPE COLONY

A devastated kraal

February 19, 1857

– Aai, Mzwandile. What are we going to do now? The young girl, Nongqawuse, her prophecy was wrong, wrong! We are lost, broken. Our tribes will never recover. We have lost our cattle, our crops. Many, many are going to starve to death.

– It is tragic, Sipho. For nearly a century we have been fighting these abelungu, these invaders from the sea. But each year more and more of them arrive. Too many wars have been fought. First, it was the Mfecane. Those Zulu warriors, haai, they don’t know about farming or living a peaceful life. They just know about war, fighting. But they won’t take our ancient lands across the Kei. Haikona! Never! The amaXhosa will always have that land, that beautiful wild coast, to fall back on. It is deep within our being as a people.

– Ja, Mzwandile. That is so. But this part of the world is so different. There have been Boers living almost like we do, occupying huge tracts of farmland, for a hundred years. We collide with them too much. Then there are the relative newcomers, the red-necked Englishmen. With their fancy manners and strange accents. And they won’t budge either. And now Germans too. Lots of them. There in eMonti, which they’ve called East London. Whites all over the show. In Port Elizabeth, what we call eBhayi, Grahamstown, Queenstown, Cradock, Uitenhage. All these alien names, while our lifestyle, our way of life for generations, for centuries, is virtually destroyed.

– We were fools, Sipho. We trusted that girl because we were desperate to get rid of these invaders. But a fat lot of good it did us. No my comrade. We have no other option. Now we have to beat them at their own game. You know for so long we have resisted being assimilated into the Cape Colony’s economy. But there have been governors only too keen to turn us into “black Englishmen”. So let’s become just that.

– But where do we start? We only know our traditional lifestyle. How does a black man earn a living in the white man’s world?

– Well, dear cousin, not all of us have been so short-sighted. In eBhayi you’ll find there are already small Mfengu and Xhosa settlements. For decades our people have been working in their harbour, in their factories, cleaning up their mess. And I have an uncle doing just that. He’ll help us.

– Well then, cousin, it seems we have no other option. Let us make our way to Port Elizabeth. Let us show the great British imperialists we can indeed beat them at their own game.

 

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