Saturday, October 12, 2013

Red October Day, or Notes for a Novel #4: The Elephant

Mrs Kaartman and I moved to Plumfoot in 1977, more or less on the 60th anniversary of Red October Day [October 17th 1917], which in the light of recent events makes this an appropriate moment to winkle out the Elephant in the Room, the one hiding in the dusty shadows in that corner over there, behind the easy chair and wedged in between the sideboard and the broom cupboard, in my rather disjointed tale of Plumfoot.
There are two reasons for this, but the most important is that the rural child is still struggling to climb through the muddy footprints and the monumental turds that that great grey beast has left behind. Perhaps the less important reason is the denial, the frequent denial that the Elephant even existed at all or, if it did exist, it was really a rather benign uncle intent on good things but occasionally squashing something under its great feet, usually by mistake.
Ex-pres FW de Klerk recently found himself in trouble for daring to suggest that apartheid was not all bad. Our Xhosa-speaking one-day-a-week char looked at me in the eye after a recent spate of Khayelitsha stone-throwing and even more horrible things and said, “We need de Klerk back, things were much better then.” Every day on the Redi Tlabi or the John Maytham shows I hear someone calling in and saying, “Can’t we move one? Isn’t it time to stop blaming everything on apartheid and to address the future instead?”
Sadly, no. In this I find myself astonishingly enough in full agreement with that repository of corruption, hedonism and incompetence, that political pigsty, that South African disaster, the African National Congress. No, we cannot stop blaming apartheid any more than the world can forgive Nazism, and I have outlined my reasons below. First, however, we cannot simply let the ANC go scotfree, either.
In 1945 the world was confronted with the full horror, the destruction, the mass inhumanity of Nazism. I am not saying that Nazism was a greater Crime against Humanity than apartheid – can there be degrees of such a crime? – but it was certainly much more physically destructive and infinitely more murderous. Yet eighteen years on from 1945 (we are, as I write, supposedly eighteen years on from the death of apartheid) Germany in 1963 – both its Eastern and Western halves – had pretty much overcome the effects of Nazism. Not the memories, not the tragedies, not the irreplaceable loss of life, but there were few if no contemporary Germans still living under the yoke, the oppressive psychosis of Nazism in the 60s. Germany’s reconstructive success story highlights the ultimate failure of the ANC – for even though there have been great successes in the fields of housing, black economic advancement for some, etc etc etc, there has been a complete failure to address and overcome the fact that millions of South Africans, including especially the rural woman and child, live lives that are no better than they were before. The psychosis and the effects of apartheid loom everywhere large and pretty much unchanged.
“You can’t undo the legacy of hundreds of years of oppressive colonialism in two decades,” froth the ANC’s prime idiots as they hop into their luxury cars and bee-baa off to another function. What crap. Two millennia of anti-Semitism evaporated very fast in central Europe ...
One last matter to address before looking at some factual stuff. It’s often said that after WWII there were no more Nazis, just as after 1994 there were no more apartheid believers. So consider this: in 1981 82% of the voting White electorate voted for the National Party or parties to the right of it. That means that if every Afrikaner voted for apartheid (not proven), more that 50% of white English speakers voted that way too. Lots of those voters were between 18 and, say, 44 years old in 1981. Those are people who are 50 to 75 years old today. Are you telling me they’ve all died, emigrated or flown away? Yes, many if not most have had their own private Damascus Roads and do acknowledge how terribly wrong that all was – but nevertheless, there are few real innocents in this tale!
So, for the apartheid denialists, here are the facts about Plumfoot. I have taken Plumfoot as it was in 1983, on the eve of the tricameral constitution, an immoral mishmash that PW Botha tried to impose to entrench apartheid as a permanent feature of our country’s landscape. These are facts and you’re welcome to quote them next time one of those 50 to 75s suggests that apartheid was not all bad, or that it has gone away.

1. In 1983 the area of Plumfoot available for residential purposes was about 112 hectares in extent; the total permanent population was about 2450 persons. The White group area comprised 103 hectares and the permanent pop was approx 1100 persons. The Coloured (mixed race) group area was 9 hectares in size and housed approx 1350 persons. It’s worth noting that in that year the area allocated to Coloured persons had been increased from 6 to 9 hectares, and before 1994 it would be increased to approx 15 hectares. At best the Whites had about 0.1ha per person to live on – that’s about 1000 square metres, while the Coloureds had about a tenth of that – about 100 square metres and shrinking as their mainly-young population was growing rapidly.

2. In 1983 there were approx 1700 homes in the White group area; these included the part-time homes of holiday makers. All these homes had electricity and running water with flush toilets, at that time mostly using the septic tank and soak-away methods. Plot sizes varied from a small 300 sqm to acre-sized lots. About 95% of the streets were tarred. In the Coloured area, three streets out of twelve were tarred, two of the 212 houses had electricity, and eighty had flush toilets and running water. 210 houses had no electricity and 132 were on the bucket-toilet [night soil] system, with water available from a standpipe in the street.

3. Forty-eight White children attended the Plumfoot Junior School, which was situated on six hectares of land and included two playing fields and a school hall, and with a staff of five teachers [1:10 teacher/pupil ratio]. Four hundred and fifty Coloured children attended the Plumfoot Primary School, situated on four hectares of land with no playing field or hall, with a staff of nine teachers [1:50 teacher/pupil ratio]. In 1982 the PPS formally applied to the School Board of the PJS for permission to use one of their playing fields for a school athletics event. A vacant piece of land formerly used by the PPS had been built upon and so was not available. Councillor J.J. Roux [yes, I’ll name him, but I can’t shame him, he’s dead now] formally replied for the PJS that “the Coloured community have their own sports facilities” ... which was a blatant, bare-faced lie.

4. Although the Municipality provided health services to the whole community, the Municipal clinic was situated in the White area, five kilometres from the Coloured area where hardly anyone in that community owned a car. The clinic building provided separate but equal space for the two communities, which meant that the Coloured clinic was always slam-jam full of people and the White clinic was almost empty.

5. The Municipal Library was for the exclusive use of White persons and the Municipal Hall would only be hired to Coloured persons provided that only Coloured persons could attend the planned function, and no alcohol would be served.

6. Geography provided Plumfoot with two river estuaries and two beaches. All of these, including all Municipal camping and picnicking facilities within them, were reserved for the exclusive use of White persons ...

One could go on, but what’s the point? Apartheid wasn’t all bad, President de Klerk? Apartheid, sir, was nauseating, hateful, disgusting, dehumanizing, degrading, deplorable and a monstrous Crime against Humanity. And that’s a fact.

Kaartman, nearly Red October Day [the real one], 2013

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