How much of an old-school South African is this writer?
Consider the image appended to this short, lyrical post. It is a rare picture of P.W. Botha, South African prime minister, later president, with his second wife, Barbara Botha (nee Robertson), also the person who sent me this image.
This dear lady contacted me after the publication, in 2011, of Into The Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons For America From Post-Apartheid South Africa. We corresponded. I felt we spoke the same language.
Yes, Americans rabbit on about the “Boers, Boers, Boers,” but in truth, it was the Boers, the Brits and the Bantu, in South Africa, locked in a struggle, as Into The Cannibal’s Pot honestly chronicles.
South Africa, it seems to me, is only ever refracted thorough uniquely, New World, American lenses. To me, most young South Africans sound as though they have no connection to the old South Africa in any real sense. And why would they? As detailed in Into The Cannibal’s Pot, the country’s history has been expunged or rewritten:
… landmarks in the country’s founding history are slowly being erased, as demonstrated by the ANC’s decision to give an African name to Potchefstroom, a town founded in 1838 by the Voortrekkers. Pretoria is now officially called Tshwane. Nelspruit, founded by the Nel Family (they were not Xhosa), and once the seat of the South African Republic’s government during the Boer War, has been renamed Mbombela. Polokwane was formerly Pietersburg. Durban’s Moore Road (after Sir John Moore, the hero of the Battle of Corunna, fought in 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars) is Che Guevara Road …. (p. 80)
It’s a strange thing to say, but, again, to me, young South Africans sound more American. They sound like they are more likely to know Candice Owens than to have heard of Gatsha Buthelezi.
I am a South African by birth. The sources I used in Into The Cannibal’s Pot reflect my being an older South African, who had been steeped in the place prior to democracy; having known South Africa and the characters at play on the political stage well before democracy.
I don’t mean this unkindly, but honestly, Americans don’t have a feel for the place as it was—yet so many South Africans look to American writing about South Africa to set the tone of the narrative about the region.
And they seem to have no value for an older generation of their own sons and daughter who did know the old South Africa.