South African Dialogues: Part 5

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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

BERLIN, GERMANY

Peasant home on the outskirts of the city

August 19, 1857

– I don’t know how we’re going to survive another year, Helga. The harvest has been very poor and our savings are at rock bottom. What are we going to do?

– Heinie, trust in God. Before all else, trust in the Lord. I’ve prayed about this and it seems our best, our only hope, is to take up the state’s offer. The British-German Company wants married farming folk in Africa and we fit the bill. So let’s make a go of it. Heaven knows, we have nothing to lose. Sure our home is adequate, but we’ll never be wealthy. Indeed, each year we seem to get poorer. And with young Hansie growing up so fast he’ll soon be eating us out of house and home.

– You’re right as usual, Helga. I know it’ll be risky, but reports I’ve heard say that the climate in British Kaffraria is very mild all year round. So at least we won’t freeze to death.

– Ja, but we may just be set upon by marauding natives. Apparently, there is no end to the Kaffir wars. The British have built forts across the length and breadth of the place, but still, the natives keep invading. Although I gather the power of the tribe was recently severely damaged when, for some obscure reason, a 15-year-old girl persuaded them to destroy their crops and cattle. She believed this would bring back the ancestors who would drive the colonists into the sea.

– What a wild mob they must be, hey Helga? You know they’ve just sent out about a thousand German soldiers to this British Kaffraria. But the move was a failure. Seems they need married men who’ll settle, not young lads who’ll chase anything in a skirt, or even a loin-cloth, God forbid. The little port we’ll arrive at, if we go, is called East London. It was originally called London, but they changed the name because the Brits got confused between their capital city and a tiny village. Anyway, it was only established as a port about 10 years ago. It has a small river harbour and very little else. But who says we can’t tame that part of Africa; establish a little bit of Germany there? Even name some villages after our own towns and cities. Maybe a little Berlin. We won’t have to call it West Berlin, though, because I think we’ll know the difference. Ha-ha.

– Ag ja, Heinie. I’m beginning to like the idea more and more. Also, we’ll be sailing out in our autumn and will arrive in their spring, which means we’ll have one long summer. Let’s register today. Please, Heinie?

– Sure, my lovely Helga, sure.

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Kin Bentley is a freelance writer and editor, having worked as a journalist for Port Elizabeth’s main newspapers, the Evening Post and Herald, for 32 years. After covering the UDF-led uprising against apartheid in the 1980s, he was selected to work as the SA Morning Group’s London correspondent in 1990-91. On his return to PE he resumed his coverage of the rapidly evolving local political scene before switching to night sub-editing on the Herald in 1994, where he remained for 22 years until he was forced into retirement in 2016.

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