Obsessed with racial politics, fearing not only the native majority they suppress, but a government that spies on them even in their homes, white South Africans hope for a miracle to solve the problems of apartheid. Dr. Helen Reid, a Canadian who recently visited South Africa, reports on

October 15 1966


Obsessed with racial politics, fearing not only the native majority they suppress, but a government that spies on them even in their homes, white South Africans hope for a miracle to solve the problems of apartheid. Dr. Helen Reid, a Canadian who recently visited South Africa, reports on

October 15 1966


Obsessed with racial politics, fearing not only the native majority they suppress, but a government that spies on them even in their homes, white South Africans hope for a miracle to solve the problems of apartheid. Dr. Helen Reid, a Canadian who recently visited South Africa, reports on

Last year Dr. Helen Reid spent several weeks as a member of a Canadian medical and sociological team on primitive, isolated Easter Island. The result was a memorable article in Maclean’s and a popular book, A World Away. This year Dr. Reid accompanied her husband. Dr. A. L. Chute, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, to South Africa and several Commonwealth countries. Here is what Dr. Reid observed in the land of apartheid.

I WENT TO South Africa determined not to get too involved in discussions about politics, which is practically another way of saying apartheid. After all, our visit concerned medical matters, and I felt that (a) racial problems could not possibly preoccupy the everyday life of South Africans to the extent that reports in Canadian papers suggested, and (b) that our hosts and contacts — doctors, administrators, professors, scientists — would have more pertinent subjects to discuss with Canadian colleagues than racial segregation. (In fact. Sir Arthur Sims, the New Zealand industrialist who sponsored the Commonwealth Traveling Professorship to which my husband had been appointed, had specifically asked that South Africa be included, although it is not now in the Commonwealth. on the grounds that medicine does not recognize political boundaries and thus our contacts and discussions would be helpful rather than divisive.)

I was wrong on both counts. South Africa is obsessed by racial politics. The host who met us at Johannesburg’s Jan Smuts Airport lost no time in volunteering this fact as we drove away: “We think about apartheid all the time. We talk about it always. It is always present.”

In the month we spent in South Africa, visiting universities and medical schools, settlements and industrial plants and the vast complex of the Council For Scientific And Industrial Research, it was always there.

White South Africa — certainly those parts of it that I saw — lives in a state of siege. All the whites live in real or imaginary fear of the blacks, many of whose human rights have been curtailed to the vanishing point. The “liberal” whites, who oppose the more outrageous aspects of oppression (but

agree that South Africa is not ready for a one-man-one-vote democracy), live in fear of being persecuted for their liberalism by anything from loss of freedom of movement within the country, to house arrest, to indefinite sentences in jail without trial. “There are more real liberals in South Africa than in Canada, the United States or England,” one man assured me earnestly. “Here it costs you something to be a liberal — it can cost you your freedom.”

Apartheid was visible even before we touched down on South African soil. Johannesburg, “city of gold,” producer of nearly three fourths of the world’s supply of that precious metal, was a panorama of the fact stretched out below us as the big jet circled for a landing. We looked down on clusters of skyscrapers, great power stations, mountains of slag from the mines — some of them neatly tailored and overplanted with grass — ribbons of superhighways knotted with cloverleafs and pleasant residential areas with golf courses and pools. On the periphery, tiny houses spread like a vast mosaic in patterned rows for several miles — Sowetco, a ghetto for 750.000 blacks whose labors nurture the city’s industries. (For some reason lost in history, Sowetco’s

railway station is named New Canada. ) Trains and buses bring the segregated black workers into white Johannesburg early in the morning and take them back in the evening — for no black may stroll in white Johannesburg after dark.

The formalities of entry at the Johannesburg airport were routine, except for one item that puzzled us: my husband was handed a certificate, signed by the minister of health, authorizing him to examine patients for the 30 days we would be in the country. Later, in conversation with South African doctors, I gleaned the reason for this certificate: the ministry of health had apparently ascertained that my husband was a “suitable” person to examine black and white persons — meaning that he was qualified and white.

For. in spite of Sir Arthur Sims' fond hope that medicine speaks a universal language, no sphere of South African life is more segregated than medicine. I listened, incredulous, when Professor O. V. S. Kok, of Pretoria, explained that it is, for example, against the regulations for a black doctor to treat a white person; for a black doctor to be present at a medical meeting at which a white person is used by the lecturer as a subject of a medical demonstration. (At this point the black doctor must withdraw'.) It is even against the regulations lor a black doctor or medical student to be present at an autopsy on a u'hite person.

I asked another doctor, “What would happen if a black doctor was first at the scene when a white person critically needed emergency treatment?” He shrugged and changed the subject. It was obviously not a question that a man who was both a doctor and a believer in racial separation cared to answer, or even to think about.

But to a Canadian every facet of life lived under the rules of apartheid is inconceivable. We met intelligent, educated people who supported the separation of races in South Africa: “We don’t give a damn what the rest of the world thinks; we know we are right and we are fighting tor our very lives.” And we met liberals who deplored the more oppressive measures of the Nationalist government: “But we whites are in this / continued on page 40

WHERE FEAR LAYS SIEGE comi,wed Iron, page 25

Don’t criticize the government: your home may be bugged

together, whether we are English or Afrikaans. We pray for time, hoping for some miracle but knowing that it cannot come.”

When I say that white South Africans live under siege, it's more than a figure of speech. We were taken by our hosts in Johannesburg, and later in Pretoria, into residential areas where most homes are surrounded by defensive walls or fences. Metal grilles, decorative but entryproof, guard the windows. Just to make sure any would-be invader gets the message, the fences display footsquare, brightly colored signs: AUTOSONIC ALARM, or, DAY/ NITE ANDREWS ALARM, or, TORSON » URGIA R ALARM. Manufacturing and installing burglar alarms is big business in South Africa.

Most homes are guarded by at least one and often two or more dogs. "I wouldn’t stay alone here without the dogs,” one woman told me. “And we never leave the house empty. A member of the family or a trusted servant is always here." No woman, or pair of women, would dare walk alone after dark even in tightly segregated white residential areas.

It is not comfortable to live surrounded and outnumbered by a people whose lives are an endless series of insult and underprivilege imposed by you or your class — especially when those people have shown on several occasions that they can react with sudden wild violence. (Nor is it entirely a case of tension between the

ruling white race and the subservient black. Old hatreds between whites are intensified by South Africa’s policestate atmosphere, and it was no surprise to me when I heard the news later of Prime Minister Verwoerd’s assassination— by another white man.)

Even within a well-guarded house the white South African can be less than secure. To enforce the regulations and to prevent any action against it. the government has set up an effective organization with 35,000 police and a home guard of 50,000, with informers who are paid off in privilege, and a minister with the power to imprison without trial or charge if, in his opinion, the person is a threat to the security of the state. During a conversation in the living room of a Port Elizabeth family known for its liberal tendencies, my hostess waggletl a warning finger at me to change the subject. (The same thing happened more than once afterward in other homes.)

Blessings from the church

Later in her car she told me she was sure her home was “bugged.” Not long before, her daughter, a university student in Cape Town, had visited her parents and taken back to her Cape Town apartment a small radio. At midnight police invaded and searched her apartment without warrant, found the radio, and charged her with possessing an unlicensed radio,

though it is doubtful that is what they were looking for. Fortunately, there was a licence for it at her parents’ home. Mailed to Cape Town, it saved the girl from prosecution.

All this unhappy situation is based on one salient fact of South African life: the immutable policy of 2,100,000 Afrikaans-speaking whites, supported (with some reservations) by a majority of the 1,400,000 Englishspeaking whites, and blessed by the Dutch Reformed Church to develop separately the 12 million black and nearly two million other nonwhite fellow residents of the republic. The four-to-one nonwhite majority cannot remotely be called citizens. They do not vote for the legislators who run their lives. Where they work, the jobs they are allowed to take, where they live (and whether they can have their family with them), where they can walk, eat, drink, shop, urinate, amuse themselves; what they can earn regardless of ability — all these are dictated by an incredibly complex series of government directives in which they have no voice. There is one ironic exception: Asians are

lumped with the “coloreds” (mulattoes), except for Japanese residents, who are accorded “white” status. “We do a large trade with Japan,” a businessman explained to me blandly.

The personnel manager of a large automobile-assembly plant in Port Elizabeth tried to explain to me the rules he must follow in hiring workers

and allocating jobs. “Half our labor force is white, 40 percent ‘colored,’ 10 percent black — almost all the latter in low-rated jobs,” he said. “They all work side by side at the same benches, breathe across each other — but they must enter the plant by separate doors, use separate washrooms and lunchrooms, and visit plant doctors in separate clinics. The ‘job-reservation’ law governs the type of job that can be assigned to each classification of worker — with the blacks at the bottom of the heap.

“In rare cases a colored worker may be elevated from his job category,” he continued, “but only with special government permission, which is given only if a white worker of equal skill is not available — and the authorities always complain querulously, ‘Why can’t you find a suitable white?’

“If or when a white worker of equal ability does show up, the colored must be immediately ousted in favor of the white. And in any case a black or colored worker must never be given a position in which he is required to give orders to a white man. A lazy or incompetent white man can take a menial job, as a sweeper, for example, but again it must not be under the

continued on pape 42


“White blood” is fit for everybody; “black” for blacks only

direction of a nonwhite. And the discrimination in pay is blatant. For the same job a white person receives $ I 2 a day or more, a colored person five dollars and a black man three — ‘because Bantu living expenses are less.’ ” The sheer cost of racial segregation, in terms of public and commercial accommodations and facilities alone, is

enormous. Two and sometimes three separate facilities must be provided for a long list of the everyday things people use. Hotels, schools, movies, buses, hospitals are separated. So are phone booths, park benches, post offices and the hospital blood banks. (A black man can receive a transfusion of “white blood" but a white man

must not be given “black blood.")

Washrooms are, as a matter of course, rigorously segregated. Some department stores provide only white facilities and let the rest shift for themselves. A wealthy Indian woman 1 met told me, “I could go into a store and spend $ 1,000—but I may not use the lavatory."

The pervading racial tensions of South Africa show themselves in some strange ways. In Cape Town, Dr. William Wittmann of that city’s Children's Hospital offered to take me on his rounds of Elsie’s River, the last small remnant of a depressing slum settlement where many of the “houses,” which are of cardboard and scrap wood that do little to keep out wind and rain, are being replaced by modern new units in a well-planned black township.

“I'll get you a white coat and we'll ride in the hospital wagon,” said Dr. Wittman. “We doctors and the wagon are known out there, but the people would resent it if a strange white visitor came along: they'd feel you were patronizing them by looking at their squalor.”

Red tape and “getting permission” are so ingrained a part of South African life that a doctor who took me on a tour of the Sowetco township near Johannesburg, thought it wise to inform a city official of his intention. Sowetco, the sprawling community we had seen from the air when we arrived, is one of the government's showplaces demonstrating its claim that it treats black Africans well. And, to the extent that a twoor three-room house with running water and a flush toilet is luxurious compared with a tarpaper shack or the mud-and-thatch rondeval of the native territories, Sowetco is impressive. There are even some houses within the township that in Canada would be in the $20,000 suburban-bungalow class. They belong to blacks who have prospered by operating businesses in Sowetco, where white tradesmen are not allowed to locate.

Break a rule: banishment

Sowetco boasts three 30,000-seat sports stadia, recreation halls, swimming pools, and schools staffed by black teachers. Sports, recreation and local improvements are financed by a municipally run “Bantu beer” factory. Bantu beer is the staple drink of the blacks. About 20 percent of Sowetco’s houses are being bought by their occupants. After 10 years of occupancy, the black family can consider itself fairly secure — but all other nativetownship residents are subject to banishment to distant native reservations for infractions of a multitude of rules and regulations.

Many of the inhabitants of Sowetco and other black townships work as domestic servants in the cities, and the regulations under which they live involve the housewives who hire them in a maze of mandatory paper work. A directive, Your Bantu Servant And You, issued by the city of Johannesburg, requires five closely printed pages to list the legal requirements of the employer, of which the following is a typical sample:

"In response to an application for labor a suitable workseeker for the vacancy will be sent to the prospective employer for interview. The workseeker will be in possession of Form R.I29 addressed to the employer concerned. as well as Notification of Engagement (‘E’) and Notification of Discharge ('F') Cards.

"The employer is required to endorse the R.129 form in the space


“I left South Africa with a sense of relief at being free”

provided to the effect that he is either desirous or not desirous of employing the workseeker. If he decides to employ bearer he is also required to complete the ‘E’ Card in full. He must then hand the completed R.129 form and the completed ‘E’ Card to the Bantu and instruct him or her to report to the Department at 80 Albert Street, in the case of males, and at 1 Polly Street in the case of females.

“The necessary authority for the workseeker concerned to take up employment with the specific employer will be stamped in his or her reference book and the registration of a service contract in respect of such employment is then complete . .

Which way now?

At the core of the concept of separate development is the Bantustan, a country within a country, a native homeland area set aside solely for blacks, owned and administered by them. With its own elected government. chief minister and cabinet posts — excepting defense and foreign affairs — it offers a training in the democratic process. Transkei, the first of a projected eight Bantustans, has industries encouraged by tax concessions and exemption from labor regulations, located on the borders to provide employment for the vast labor force within. It also receives financial support from the government of South Africa.

Where will the South African problem end? I had a long talk with the lone Progressive member of parlia-

ment, Mrs. Helen Suzman, a chic, intelligent, articulate woman who was a university lecturer in political economy. Even Mrs. Suzman does not believe that black South Africans should be given the vote on the sole basis of being 21 years old. But her proviso seems modest to a Canadian: that the individual must have also completed

primary school (equivalent to our grade four) and held a job for two years, or have completed the Canadian equivalent of grade seven. But Mrs. Suzman admits that even if the government accepted the liberals' plan, it will be years before a majority can reach this status, even though primary and secondary schools and black uni-

versities now are available to them.

1 left South Africa with a sense of relief at being free from the obsessive political talk, the compulsive need to explain and justify their stand, and with the firm conviction that the government of a country so rich in natural resources and so self-sufficient. entrenched as it is, with all the weapons on its side and with the leaders of any opposition already in jail or banned, will not be overthrown in the foreseeable future. ★