The World

South Africa: twilight for a master race

Barry Callaghan September 20 1976
The World

South Africa: twilight for a master race

Barry Callaghan September 20 1976

South Africa: twilight for a master race

The World

Barry Callaghan

There is a bar on Twist Street. It is dark, the lights on the hanging wagon wheels have ochre glass shades. Around the oblong bar the stools are chained to the floor so that the two men alone together must keep their place, chained to the floor. The poet wearing a Cardin striped yachting jersey, repeats what he has been reading: “Looking into South Africa is like looking into the mirror at midnight when one has pulled a face and a train blew its whistle and one’s image stayed there, fixed for all eternity. A horrible face, but one’s own.”

It is very hot. The black man wears a woolen cap and a grey woolen sweater. He stands in the doorway of the jewelry store. The burglar bars are locked across the glass. There is a mechanical camel behind the glass with a leather saddle and little mirrors sewn into it. The head wags up and down. The black man is rolling a cigarette with one hand and under the same arm he carries a small rolled carpet for sitting and sleeping on in doorways.

“Oil the time I tink mebbe they get free from us, maar mos white mens they tink how to be baas inne blek land but make sure the bleks be nobuddy. They plenny of police and they part us here and white mens dere. The wishbone don break for nobuddy, we bleks en white mens locked hold like toads. Toads thet are fucking en canno let go, sometimes die that way, so Soweto like a toad locked on white mens for death, mebbe. You go see the blek toad inne Soweto, maar you need a permit to go inne Soweto.”

I’ve been.

“The police mens know?”

No.

“You tink they don know, maar they know.”

The sign says Private Road. Private means black, blacks in blockhouses, ribbons of corrugated roofs (from a distance it seems some mad monster-child has laid down track after track of abandoned tank treads on the rolling hills). There are utility poles along the road, and wiring and street lamps, and for a while you’re fooled, you think there must be a lot of light here, but there are almost no lines into the houses, there’s no wiring in the rooms, no light at night, no electric kettles, stoves, brooms, clocks, heaters, none of the equipment of comfort, only cold tap plumbing, no ceilings, little plastering, many mud floors, no pavements, hapless garbage collection, only outhouse shacks set over holes in the backyard dust, the mushroom brown dust,

and soot, soot from the coal stoves.

One million black men, women and children—half of them officially unknown, officially elsewhere; sometimes there are 16 to a blockhouse, sucking Soweto coal smoke. Soweto, a name that isn’t a name, only a euphonious abbreviation for South Western Townships—something somebody thought of in 1963 to describe these 85 square kilometres, fifth largest city south of the Sahara, a brutal bunkhouse for the black Johannesburg workers (it is the nature of this mining city that everything is abbreviated—Soweto, Jo-burg, a life in a passbook, childhood and marriages dwarfed and broken). If you’re black you’ve got, on the average, 40 years, bleary years, a little desperate joy on Sunday in one of the hundreds of holyroller churches, or soccer games cheering for their big teams, or maybe you sit for half an hour outside on a kitchen chair and hose down the mud and then go and get drunk in a shebeen and end up with a shebeen queen which your wife won’t say anything about because she’s scared of divorce because divorced women have almost no rights.

Soweto is the outcrop of the blacks who came into the towns from the tribal lands through the mid-Thirties, Forties, and especially after the war. They found jobs in Jo-burg. They lived in barrack-hostels, rented tin shacks, sometimes built their own blockhouses, but never owned land. By definition, they were “regarded as mi-

gratory citizens not entitled to political or social rights equal to those of the whites.” If a black doesn’t live in Soweto, or a township like it, he could end up removed to one of the reserves where “rootless African women, old people and fatherless children were plucked from their homes and left to rot in their resettlement villages .. . tents, then small corrugated iron shanties, then finally cramped concrete huts, always overcrowded and in which human beings live in deplorable conditions” (J. H. Russell, South African MP) and of 22 children who died in a reserve’s general hospital “13 were suffering from malnutrition or starvation.” At least in Soweto there’s the largest hospital in the southern hemisphere—Baragwanath—where the bottles hang in the resuscitation unit for infants dehydrated by acute gastroenteritis. The blacks are landless, voteless and compelled to provide cheap labor, but some lie, cheat and steal to stay in Soweto.

There are three murders a day in Soweto (South Africa averages 5,700 killings each year and through the past two decades

220.000 men have borne approximately

1.220.000 strokes of the lash; over five years in the Sixties, 508 persons were executed, almost half the world’s reported total of 1,033). Every day a quarter of a million people travel in and out of Soweto to work in Jo-burg, by car, taxi, bicycle, but most of them jammed into the brown trains that leave every two-and-ahalf minutes at peak periods. They are terrorized every payday by the tsotsis, the young thugs who stab in the back, rob, and leave the dead jammed upright, or attack

out of the dark on the street with long sharpened bicycle spokes, hitting above the coccyx; instant paralysis.

At the root is violence, the violence of apartheid, apartness, men and women with no tenure, and it is the women who are worst off: the houses are allocated under the Bantu (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act to men who qualify under Section 10(1), (a) or (b), that is, those born in

Jo-burg, those who have lived in Soweto for 15 years or have been employed by one baas for 10 years. If a husband is arrested and loses his qualification, the woman must leave home with him. If a husband dies and a widow is left with minor children, and qualifies for the allotted house, she still has to find a man to marry her who also qualifies under Section IO (l), (a) or (b). If not, she and her children are out, removed, or gone into hiding, scavenging for a corner to lie in.

In a dump, children pick through the garbage mounds, on a tilt on their haunches so that they look short-legged and long-armed, like hyenas. There are cannibalized cars all over the field, in the yards, strij ped clean like eruptions of shaped steel out of the earth. Nothing goes to waste and everything is waste, the end product of apartheid, Vulture Culture, so called by the poet now in prison, Breyten Breytenbach: “Apartheid is the White man’s night, the darkness which blurs his consciousness and his conscience. What one doesn’t see doesn’t exist. White is the Black man’s burden and what he wishes for most, probably, is for the man to get off his bloody back and stand on his own two feet. Obviously, this instrument of repression is also used, structurally, on White so-

ciety itself. In the name of the State—the State is the daughter of apartheid—all dissidence is suppressed. White workers too are told to sacrifice their legitimate claims on behalf of apartheid. It is fascist. It is totalitarian. Apartheid is alienation. It is schizophrenic—a mental disease marked by disconnection between thoughts, feelings and actions. It is paranoic. Apartheid is White culture. The culture of the Whites in Saint Albino—this state of whiteness, the prison of laws and taboos—negates all political consciousness. Apartheid justifies itself in the name of Western civilization, in the name of the Afrikaans culture.” But what is Afrikaans culture? Who are the Afrikaners?

They are Dutch, Huguenot and German, but they think of themselves as Africans. They are a white tribe of about 3.8 million cornered at the end of a continent of 300 million blacks. Their country is the foremost industrial power on the African continent, and they enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. They are determined, resourceful and efficient people. They have a sense of superiority born out of race and faith; they have a sacred view of their own history and destiny. But their preeminence is based on two factors: abundant minerals and an abundant supply of cheap black labor.

It was in the 18th century, according to the historian van Jaarsveld, that Afrikaners began to develop their prejudicial color consciousness. “When the whites began to realize that they, too, were indigenous to South Africa, that they were Afrikaners and, like the Israelites among heathen peoples, could lose their identity unless they cherished their white heritage.” Apartheid is rooted in this developing fear that the white tribe will disappear. Out of this fear and the Afrikaners’ Calvinist faith came a conviction that God speaks in the Afrikaner tongue. Prime Minister Malan mirrored the people when he said, “Our history is the greatest masterpiece of the centuries. We hold this nationhood as our due, for it was given us by the Architect of the universe. His aim was the formation of a new nation among the nations of the world ... the last hundred years have witnessed a miracle behind which must lie a divine plan. Indeed, the history of the Afrikaner reveals a will and a determination which makes one feel that Afrikanerdom is not the work of men but the creation of God.”

Afrikaners and their history, however, are more complex than this assumption of the mantle of God. Everything about them is problematical.

On one hand, they are fierce individualists; at the same time they have always submitted to tribal authority. Both traits spring from the same instinct: the survival of the Volk, the Afrikaner nation, a nation and a language created almost by accident. It’s doubtful that they should have been there: being there, they should not have

survived. But the act of survival was an act of definition and creation—the creation of the Afrikaner who came to define himself in terms of fears and enemies overcome: the harsh terrain, the native peoples, British imperialism, capitalism, liberalism, Communism, bans, sanctions. It is possible that without its enemies the Afrikaner nation would never have survived.

South Africa is, on the whole, a vast arid and infertile soil, desperately short of water. The Afrikaner settlers, who now called themselves Boers, eked out only a meagre living by owning a lot of land and by having black labor. The Boer set himself apart from his black slaves by his uncompromising faith which told him the black tribes of Africa were the sons of Ham, condemned hewers of wood and drawers of water: “wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing,

and I will receive you.” Copulation with the Daughters of Ham was a sin and led to the defilement of white stock. The Boer, because he carried within him a “divine element.. . something . . . unique with its own reality and value, believed that God had brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness: and gave them the lands of the heathen; and they inherited the labor of the people.” Though the Boer fought the black man and captured the soil of Africa, he lives in dread that those same blacks will wrestle the land from him; this is the swart gevaar, the black peril.

The Boers had the blacks relatively in hand until 1806, when the British occupied the Cape. The liberal policy of the British toward the blacks seemed a provocation and a threat to the Afrikaners. The British employed black police and took away white guns, they set up a circuit court to hear Hottentot slave complaints against Afrikaner masters, they brought out Scottish ministers for the Dutch Reformed Church and Englishmen taught in the country schools. In 1815, when a number

of Boers rebelled, five men were hanged in front of their families, and when the gallows broke they were hung up again. It was the beginning of English and Afrikaner bad blood. In 1838, after the abolition of slavery led to ruined Boer farms, the Boers rose up and went out of the Cape and began the Great Trek into the wilderness. In their ox wagons, 2,000 Voortrekkers, with broad-brimmed hats and muskets, forded the Orange River. This was the beginning of their sacred history, socalled, their entering into a covenant with God. Pursued by the British (Pharoah), harassed by blacks (the Canaanites) they trekked east and north into Zulu lands. “The earth swarmed with thousands of enemies. No human help was possible ... the grass was matted with the noble blood of women, girls, and tiny babies. The wagons were smashed and burned ... vultures circled over the laager . . . Andries Pretorius arrived with his brave band to unite with them and they fought the memorable battle of Blood River on December 16, 1838, where the solemn oath was sworn to celebrate that day each year to the glory of the Lord if He would grant them victory.” Five hundred white men faced a Zulu army of 10,000. When the battle was over the Afrikaners had slain with cannon and musketry 3,000 warriors. They did not lose a single man. This could only be the hand of God. They built a church at Blood River.

Since then, the central image in the Afrikaner imagination has been the laager, the armed camp, the circle of covered wagons from within which they could defy any enemy, Kaffir hordes, British soldiers, Black Africa and, if necessary, the world— if only they remained true to God and the Volk. Not since then have the Boers been seriously threatened by the black peoples of Southern Africa. Free from the British, they founded the republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic, where they dealt with the blacks as they saw fit.

It has to be understood, though, that the differences between the Boers and British did not revolve solely around the blacks. The Boers were land people; the British were money people, tradesmen, shopkeepers; they dug for diamonds, lived off commerce, exchanged goods and services, all for money. The Boers needed only gunpowder, salt, sugar and coffee; and that they got by bartering sheep and produce. The Transvaal soil, however, contained the seeds of the Boer collapse—the richest gold deposit in the world, the Rand. The Boers had no interest in gold, and sold some of their land to English gold diggers and trekked on. But by the 1880s, they had nowhere to go. To the east lay Portuguese Mozambique; to the north, British Rhodesia; to the south, Natal, a Boer Republic annexed by the British; and to the west, the Cape Province that the Boers had left in the first place. They were boxed in, and they could either capitulate to the British

or fight. On October 11,1899, they chose to fight the foremost imperialist power in the world.

In the Boers, the British were fighting men who knew the terrain, had the support of the civilian population, were highly mobile, tough and resourceful. Against bands of commandos who probably totaled no more than 40,000 at any one time, the British sent over a quarter of a million troops who waged an incompetent and bungling campaign, stumbling their way to victory. Frustration at the success of the Boer guerrillas drove the British to burn the Boer farms, the source of food supply. They ¡= herded women and children into conceng tration camps. They destroyed the Boers’ o ability to continue fighting. To survive as a s people, they had to surrender. §

When peace came, 30,000 Boer farms lay in scorched ruins and half the sheep and cattle slaughtered. Only 5,000 men had died on the field, but 26,370 women and children had died in the concentration camps. The farm economy of the Boers was ruined, the independent republics were lost, and a huge class of Afrikaans-speaking poor whites was created. The bitterness that the Boers felt toward the British was bottomless. But the will to survive was made stronger, and out of this appalling defeat came the confirmation of Afrikaner nationalism: “We believe that the Afrikaner... will arise from the debris and ashes of his defeats, shake them off, overcome them and finally become a powerful and victorious people.” Boer oppression was understood as the seal of God’s convenant. Everything, therefore, which emphasized Afrikaner apartness—their language, their Calvinist faith, their customs, their dress—took on sacred significance. Anything threatening the Afrikaner uniqueness was liable to be demonic.

By 1938, when the Afrikaners celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the Great Trek, they had ceased to be an essentially pastoral people. They had all the getup of farmers—ox wagons, hats and heavy boots—but they’d become more pragmatic, more political, more city-Volk. There were secret societies and mass organizations like the Ossewa-Brandwag—the OB. Organized as paramilitary commandos who wore pioneer uniforms, 200,000 OB members were bound by a secret oath of obedience to a commandant-general, dedicated to totalitarian ethnic sovereignty under his leadership. Members of the movement were of Afrikaner blood only.

It was virulently anti-British, anti-Semitic and anti-Communist.

As Europe entered into the Second World War, South Africa was obviously divided—not only by the rift between white and non-white, but among the whites themselves: Afrikaners, English and a substantial Jewish minority. Shared loyalties were impossible, particularly as South Africa had a high proportion of Nazi sympathizers: Afrikaners believed in racial purity and superiority, but more to the

point, they supported any enemy of Britain. It was, therefore, a profound shock to the Afrikaners when parliament, by a small majority, voted to enter the war in support of England. Yet, this war, so bitterly opposed by Afrikaners, gave the final shaping thrust to Afrikaner nationalism. Industrialized to feed the Allies, and in a strategic position as a staging, repair and restocking post, the country went through a boom period, free, with her nose in the Indian ocean, from war’s devastation. There were thousands of jobs;there was a labor shortage, so blacks scuttled into the towns, taking jobs not previously open to them. Between 1936 and 1946, the number of blacks in urban areas increased by about 500,000, or almost 50%. By the end of the war town blacks and whites were about equal in number.

And many were about equal in ability. The white country boys, who had been driven into the towns by the after effects of the Boer war, drought and soil erosion, were badly educated and untrained. They were competing directly with blacks. As a result the National Party shaped its for-

mula for political victory in the first postwar election of 1948. “The policy of our country should encourage total apartheid as the ultimate goal of a national process of separate development ... to ensure the safety of the white race and of Christian civilization.”

Such racism has been constant in Afrikaner history, but in its operational character apartheid has never been satisfactorily resolved: there is a contradictory tension between an ideal and a reality. The ideal is segregation of the races, each free to follow its own cultural and political development in independent homelands; the reality is the white economic exploitation of black labor ghettos. This dichotomy is mirrored in Biblical imagery: the blacks are the Canaanites, the unclean who must be set apart in such places as Soweto; they are also the children of Ham doomed by the God to be drones, and therefore they must take the trains in and out of Jo-burg. Hence, the push-pull effect of apartheid in which only one factor remains constant: as the black in the Twist Street doorway said, the two races are bound together like copulating toads; the white man rides on top.

The theory of apartheid was developed in 1947 by professors at Stellenbosch University who favored the creation of independent non-white nations under Afrikaner tutelage. This meant the balkanization of southern Africa into Bantustans; the tribal groups, thus separated from each other, would be surrounded by white South Africa; they would be tiny, impotent nations never able to unite into any kind of force; they would function as unskilled labor depots, entirely dependent upon the white economy. To the laager of white Afrikaner voters, and enough English-speaking as well, apartheid was the final solution to the black peril, the only alternative to the overwhelming of the white race by black masses.

Prime Minister Strijdom, however, soon touched on a new issue: “South Africa can only remain a white country if we continue to see that the Europeans remain the dominant nation; we can only remain the dominant nation if we have the power to govern the country and if the Europeans, by

means of their efforts, remain the dominants.” The English-speaking Europeans, even if they were willing to partake of the fruits of apartheid, could not be counted on; they were not the Volk to whom God spoke. There were among them carpers, complainers, liberals, opportunists, the ill informed, the misguided, enemies.

The authoritarian closed fist of Afrikanerdom now emerged. The Minister of Justice, under the Suppression of Communism Act, and using Communism as a loose catchall, was given the power to act against persons or organizations deemed to be subversive. There were neither trials nor rights of appeal against his decisions. Journals were shut down and anyone whose words in favor of racial equality could be interpreted as a threat to security was banned—which meant he could be restricted to the locale in which he lived, he could lose the right to speak at public meetings or write for newspapers or publish anything; he could be prohibited from entering any building where educational material was being prepared, prohibited from entering any building where a trade union was registered, prohibited from entering any area prohibited to him, like an African township; in his own home, he could be prohibited from seeing more than one individual at a time; he was allowed to go to church but not to speak to more than one person at a time. And, anyone quoting the words of such a banned person could be guilty of a punishable offense.

In 1959, there were riots in five black African locations; and in 1960, in the town of Sharpeville, blacks protesting Pass Laws outside a police station were fired on. Sixty-nine were killed and about 200 wounded. One hundred and fifty-five were shot in the back while running away. Sharpeville was a shock, but for white South Africans, English and Afrikaner, the obsessive image was not whites shooting down unarmed blacks but stories of savagery from the Congo. The Congo had just become independent and the subsequent bloody struggle for power among different black factions was, for white South Africans, an object lesson in what would happen in South Africa if blacks ever achieved political power. They vowed it would never happen.

By 1961, when the Voortrekkers’ dream became a reality, when South Africa, abandoning the Commonwealth, became a Republic, the repressive laws were becoming a litany: The Unlawful Organizations Act, The Public Safety Act, The Criminal Procedure Act, The Criminal Law Amendment Act, The Immorality Act, The Immorality Amendment Act, The Abolition Of Passes Act, The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, The Population Registration .Act, The Separate Amenities Act, The Group Areas Act, The Bantu Authorities Act, The Suppression of Communism Act, The Sabotage Act, The Terrorism Act. The Official Secrets Act. The police could detain people suspected

of possession of information about subversion without trial for 180 days. Habeas corpus was suspended. The security police were given special powers of interrogation. The Prime Minister or his nominee was empowered (under the so-called Baas Law) to prevent the courts from considering any matter which in his opinion affected the interests of the state or public security. Excluding the court’s jurisdiction in this way was consistent with the consolidation of police power.

J. F. Marais, an Afrikaner judge of the Supreme Court and a member of the Oxwagon Sentinels who had been interned by the British during the war as a subversive, met with me one morning in his house.

You must have a very peculiar view of the law, sitting now in judgment of subversives.

“I suppose there is a sort of poetic irony involved in the matter.”

When you are confronted with a man who is charged under the Suppression of Communism Act and he is quite clearly not a Communist, how do you convict him?

“The anti-Communist legislation is not designed to fight any ideology, really. It is designed to fight subversion and acts that might endanger the safety of the state.”

But doesn’t the law, by its loose nature, become a form of intimidation?

“I think that is exactly what parliament

intended it to be.”

An act of intimidation?

“An act of intimidation, to scare away anybody who might toy with the idea of using Communist tactics to subvert the state.”

Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the laws are characterized by uncertainty?

“Oh yes, undoubtedly. Undoubtedly.”

This is very dangerous for the individual.

“The point is, you are inhibited from doing certain things because you don’t know the exact scope of your freedom.”

Herein lies the contradiction in the Afrikaners, the subversive authoritarian suffering from spiritual dyslexia; the idealist who cannot see that great crimes are committed, who believes the oppressed are content, and that even as Soweto erupts nothing is wrong, that what isn’t seen doesn’t exist.

When John Vorster became Prime Minister he turned the legal screw tighter, creating a body called the Bureau for State Security—boss—a secret organization responsible for coordinating security. Its finances are not open to public scrutiny. It is answerable only to the Prime Minister, who is entrusted with the security of the Republic, the safety of the sacred white tribe.Onone hand,he is able tospeak soothingly: “I say to the colored people, as well as to the Indians and the Bantu, that the policy of separate development is not a

policy which rests upon jealousy, fear or hatred. It is not a denial of the human dignity of anyone, nor is it so intended. On the contrary, it gives the opportunity to every individual, within his own sphere, not only to be a man or woman in every sense, but it also creates the opportunity for them to develop and advance without restriction or frustration as circumstances justify.’’And after two months of black upheaval in which 290 people have died, he can caution the Afrikaner people to “Carry on with your work, and there will be less time to see a crisis ... I have not lost faith. It has become more clear to me that our people are able to overcome their problems. We have an inexorable calling here, and our Almighty has called us here to fulfill it. No one can doubt that.”

Umtata is a scrub town. At the Imperial Hotel, Mr. Barnard of the government has left word: “There are no rooms but you’ll want to eat, so eat here.” The dining room is full of white-collar salesmen and middlemen (the collars are actually grey from soaking in too many hotel sinks). Mr. Barnard comes in time for coffee, putty colored, and asks whether the watery greens, boiled beef and sour bread are any good. “I’ve put you into the Savoy Hotel, just down the road.” On the dimly lit street a drunken black soldier, in a flapping great-coat and one sole slapping loose on his boot, whistles and hoots at passing cars.

At the Savoy Hotel, two white women are at the desk. One wears her hair in a bun to hold pencils. Both are brusque: “Coffee in the morning, six-thirty—room service quits at six-forty-five, you’re on your own after that.” There is a semi-spiral staircase to the musty corridor; doors are ajar with single men sitting back-to-the-wall staring out; my room has a steel frame single bed with wire springs and a thin mattress. 1 prop up two pillows to read a book. It’s about eleven o’clock. I hear footsteps and then the knock in the night!

Who’s that?

“The police, come to the door.”

Naked and cold (it’s early winter in South Africa) I open the door. Two men offer no identification. They are in their thirties and casually dressed. One, with a moustache and soft belly fat, hangs back, smiling as if his presence were a mistake. The other, self-assured, taut, wearing dustpink jeans, speaks as if his jaw were locked at the latch. There are no accusations or explanations, he only wants the passport and says, “We’ll be back.”

When they return I sit cross-legged on the bed, naked, waiting.

“You’re under arrest.”

You’re kidding.

“Get dressed, get your bags together.” What for?

“I just told you.”

You mean I’m going to jail?

“Yes.”

Why not leave the bags?

“Jail’s in East London.”

What?

“Get dressed.”

But I just came from there. That’s three hours. It’s midnight, for God’s sake.

“Get dressed.”

We could sleep here, at least...

“You wouldn’t sleep.”

After two hours on the road through the Kei Valley, he says, “You are a professor?” Yes.

“I study criminology by correspondence.”

Really.

The cell has two open windows. The cold seeps in. The walls are painted black. I lie down on the foam rubber on the concrete floor. At 6.30 a.m. a young cop with a line of little pimples along his left jaw comes and calls out, “Graze time...” and I ask “What’s that?” and he says, “You know, like animals, you graze ..He has put a tin plate of brown bread and a tin cup of thin coffee on the courtyard floor.

When will I see the Colonel?

“The Colonel isn’t here.”

What have I been charged with? “They’ll tell you.”

At noon, they wake me for interrogation. There are two men: one is about 65, sad-eyed, pasty, with a bemused smile. The other, the Colonel, is wearing smoked glasses. He has olive skin tight on the bone, like a polished gourd. He says, “Professor, you have the right to say nothing.”

What would you like to know?

“Tell us why you are here.”

The old man begins writing down what I say, nods, and then stops. The Colonel says, “Really,” as I explain that I have had meetings with a judge, the nation’s outstanding historian, political scientists and businessmen, ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church, all arranged by the government, and that as we had crossed the Kei river, the Captain in the pink pants had confessed watching the government official, Mr. Barnard, check me into the Savoy Hotel; he’d waited until he thought I was asleep and then had arrested me. The Colonel apologizes and I realize that he had no idea why I was in his prison, why I’d been arrested.

“Will you have tea?” asks the old man.

Yes, of course.

The Colonel extends his hand and the old man, wagging his head, leads me into another office, serves tea and biscuits, and while we talk about the best brands of South African brandy, he explains that he, too, has been in prison, in Italy and Nazi Germany. Alone for a while, I rifle through files stacked in the desk-top box; they are security reports: “Joseph Poni appears to have no political interests or involvements. We will therefore continue to keep him under surveillance.” Somewhere Solzhenitsyn says that governments at no time are moralists: they never imprison people for having done something; they imprison them to keep them from doing something.

Two hours later a tall man comes into the office. His skin is mottled, as if parts were painted with peroxide. The old man, mournful, has put on his tie and suiteoat. “Please sign this paper,” the mottled man says.

What is it?

“Sign please.”

Can I read it after I sign?

“Yes.”

Under Section 8 (2) of the Aliens Act No. 1 of 1937 and in terms of Section 5(1) of the said Act, I am required to leave the country within 24 hours.

At East London airport, before boarding for Jo-burg, the mottled man suddenly appears: “You have to understand, the laws have to be followed, no permit was given to you, they made an oversight perhaps ... you had to have the permit even if they were working with you. . .”1 understand you have clothes in the Cape, something can be done . . . The old man, his wife’s sick you know, a good man ... Problems, you know . . .

But what did I do?

“They will explain to you.”

On the plane, the steward gives me a brown paper bag. My name is scribbled on it. Inside is a bottle of the very best South African brandy, reserve stock.