South African Dialogues: Part 6


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


Market square

April 15, 1858

– Have you heard the news, Mary? They tell me the Lady Kennaway has sunk.

– Where?

– It was still at East London, off what passes for a harbour at the mouth of the Buffalo River. The gale that swept through a few days ago drove the ship onto the rocks.

– Well, I’d like to think it’s an omen. The ship that brought us, 157 vestal virgins, from Belfast to Africa is no more a going concern. So what? We may not have met up with any fabulously rich white men to marry and live happily ever after with yet, but give us time. When we start charming them with our blarney, and what else besides, there’ll be no stopping us!

– Yeah, right, Mary. It’s easy for you to talk. You’re young, pretty, intelligent. Sure you’ll hook up with a rich farmer soon enough. But for most of us, the more dowdy bunch, I don’t see many great prospects. Do you?

– Oh Colleen, look on the bright side, would you? You could be cooped up in a stodgy old boarding house in Belfast, dripping wet with rain and only the local pub to warm your cockles. Now, what have you got? Plenty of sunshine, and it’s well into autumn already. I mean if this is how bad the weather gets here we can hardly complain, can we? And isn’t the countryside beautiful?

– Beautiful! It’s different yeah, Mary, but not beautiful. Beautiful are the rolling hills of Derry, the mountains of Mourne.

– Yes, but look out there, would you? That row of blue mountains in the distance. Aren’t they lovely? What do you suppose they’re called?

– Someone said something like Amatola, although I’m sure that’s an anglicisation of the native word.

– You know what, Col? With your writing skills, I bet you could make a go of it in Grahamstown. Despite the ongoing battles with the Kaffirs, I hear it is a thriving little place, with plenty of crack. A town like that needs clerks, secretaries, teachers, even perhaps someone to work on the local newspaper.

– You’ve been reading my mail! You know I’ve always harboured the idea of working on a newspaper. And if we’re going to bring civilisation to this god-forsaken part of the world how better than through the press? Sure, those English, Scottish and Irish missionaries are spreading the word, but often it seems they have to carry a Bible in one hand and a rifle in the other. Just to be safe. But with the free flow of information in an independent newspaper, we’ll be able to give the locals something to really think about. Not to mention the Colonial government down in Cape Town!

– So you’re going to head on to Grahamstown then, Col?

– Definitely. I’ll make a name for myself there. You’ll be hearing a lot more of Colleen Irvine, ace reporter, in the near future. Or maybe not. Whatever happens, I have a good feeling about this place. It may be totally different to home, but then what did an orphan girl ever know about a place called home?

– Well, I’ll see you around then Col, dol. While you’re trundling along on that old ox wagon, I’ll be dining with a handsome young farmer, a German lad, who’s invited me out to lunch at the local café.

– Oh Mary, you never told me.

– Don’t hold out too much hope. He barely understands English. But he’s certainly good-looking and he does own a farm.

– Well good luck to you and look after y’self then.

– You too, Col. Bye.

– Bye.