South Africa Through Old World, South-African Eyes

America,Democracy,History,Ilana Mercer,Race,South-Africa


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.

People like the brilliant commentator Dan Roodt, the famous musician and activist, Steve Hofmeyr, and patriot Cuan Elgin: These people know of what I speak. They understand the Old South Africa.

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.


6 thoughts on “South Africa Through Old World, South-African Eyes

  1. Kerry

    Great post.

    I’ve always been fascinated by South Africa, the “old” S.A. especially.

  2. Lawrence Bogner

    Ilana Mercer is never a disappointment. I had a term project in high school ( 52 years ago) which I chose to do on South Africa. I realize how much I have forgotten when I read Ilana’s work. Her work, with any luck, at all, will reduce the profound level of ignorance relative to the various major changes in SA over the last 50 years.

  3. Musil Protege

    “ I don’t mean this unkindly, but honestly, Americans don’t have a feel for the place as it was…”

    You can perhaps use this quote to sum up what the American people know about the rest of the world, hell, the rest of the country right outside their own neighborhood, and that includes the people in our State Department. That doesn’t stop us from butting in everywhere.

    I first learned there was this fascinating place at the tip of Africa in the late Sixties because I followed Formula One racing back then and for a long time thereafter (how much I wanted to go see my heroes run at Kyalami Ranch). Saw Jody Scheckter race in America. Gary Player was like one of the family to American sports fans. Later, I read James Michener’s middlebrow novel “The Source,” because my curiosity was piqued. I dare say most of my contemporaries knew nothing about SA until someone in college was handing them a protest sign, to “Divest Now.”

    It’s always good to see one of Ilana’s updates from SA, because, of course, she’s earned our trust. Love her personal touch. I think I recall her mentioning her favorite pizza joint in Capetown! Good to hear from good guy Dan Roodt too. I’m just wondering if you have anything new on the situation in Orania (I think that’s it). Read a fascinating article on it a few years back.

  4. Ilana Mercer Post author

    Kyalamai, for sure: our Formula One racing track.

    I was more a fan of Gerrie Coetzee, our heavy weight boxing champion, who won the world title. Remember going to a bar with friends to watch him … lose against the American. Sad. We so rooted for him.

  5. Cuan Elgin

    Thanks for the recognition, Ilana. Your voice is a precious one to us, here in South Africa. We do not forget our friends. Be blessed. Cuan Elgin.

  6. Ilana Mercer Post author

    Cuan: Would love to publish here on BAB interesting, historical, relatively short teasers from your books (with links to Amazon, of course). Do email me to talk. My best to you and your gorgeous wife.

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