South African diaries of the 1980s (1st volume)
A poem from Pietermaritzburg, from December 21, 1984
Where is freedom?
Did freedom ever exist?
Or was it just a trick, a strange, unknown promise
ready to break it at any time.
It's hot. Freedom melts in the crucible of power,
while the normal hero moves on, killing and laughing,
the South African people are awakening.
In the street, there is a dead man, a second bloody one next to him,
Flies swarm around the place without life,
this callous place,
Screaming and wailing, it was murder. It was murder!
The death of freedom goes around like a dark, unfathomable ghost,
is it the love of freedom that leads us to believe in it?
Marinella Charlotte van ten Haarlen
The "bogeyman" named Pieter Willem Botha
Kroonstad, Oranje Vrystaat, Republiek van Suid Afrika
Now I am sitting in this horrible hotel with thousands of mosquitoes on the road to Bloemfontein. Literally in the middle of nowhere. And I have to go further. The journey on the back of the pick-up yesterday was arduous.
I just called Harold at the office. Usually, the call went through the switchboard; probably the censor was listening. The line was cut several times. It's about 80 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
Harold told me to come right over. He can hardly believe I'm here. Harold's happy as a clam. If he even knows what a snow king is. Everyone speaks Afrikaans here; it's easy for me. Thank God, I learned. The coloureds speak isiXhosa, Bantu dialects and Fanagalo, which the whites here call KafferKitchen. That's pretty disrespectful. Subhuman is still the friendliest thing the hardliners here think and say about the majority of the population. Many locals seek shade under the trees along the road.
The Department van die Binnelandse Sake casts long shadows not only in the morning sun.
Moment of calm
I've never seen a breakfast like this morning in my life.
Must have been six eggs and a large sausage ring. It's called Boerewors. The meat was delicious, unlike in Europe. Better. Much better.
It was served with fried tomatoes, bacon, toast with salty butter, deliciously bitter jam, over which I drizzled a lime.
It can't be bitter enough.
The moon I saw last night is the same all over the world.
The black woman sat down with me, at the table by the kitchen. The black girl is alone; otherwise, it would not be possible. It is forbidden. Something like fraternizing, after the war. "Slegs vir Blanke!"
Because of Apartheid.
She comes from the town of Pietermaritzburg. In Natal on the Indian Ocean. The air conditioning hums and rattles. On the radio are ancient songs like Bert Lown - Loving You The Way I Do
It's like a colony here. A pretty lovely but evil settlement. A bad colony. White men in blue uniforms are everywhere with their yellow emergency vehicles. There was sometimes the riding-whip pulled, but not against horses, but the black passers-by on the road.
In the night tanks rolled past in front of the window. Army for hours in earth brown cars until the dawn over the Kalahari. I listened to the radio, music, Springbok radio.
The woman who spoke Afrikaans, sometimes whole sentences in Fanakalo, with me, of which I understood only half, meant something like this:
"If you want to start a new life, you have to be strong." I was somewhat ashamed to have the right skin colour for South Africa from fate. It is a lousy dictatorship; I realized that after a few hours.
I probably drank a litre of lychee juice for breakfast and a large cup of very bitter, but delicious coffee. And this incredibly beautiful music, which is like honey in my ears.
After my adventure yesterday, I was quite happy that I could listen to music in the morning. This music from Jack Denny never goes out of my ears.
Yesterday I was still in Johannesburg, Egoli, city built on gold. Burning barricades on the road to Vanderbijlpark. Men lying in the street, dead. They were dead. They couldn't have been more dead. Brains and blood everywhere. Bone fragments. The Hiace's windshield shot out. There was a lot of ammunition and casings in the street. Poor guys' bodies were so twisted you'd think rubber men were lying around. Death is omnipresent here.
The almost hour-long approach to Johannesburg, to Germiston (Jan Smuts Lughawe), was gigantic. One could see the spoil heaps. Huge mountains, white and they shone in the sunlight—rays in the middle of the red, very sandy earth of Africa.
Now I am here. The fan buzzed in the same deep sound as the tank engines. It's a frightening noise in the middle of the night.
It is a frightening sound amid the silence.
And the song is in my ears again.
Tea in the shadow of Steve Biko
The editor took his time. He tells about the 1950s when he travelled across Europe. It's almost noon, we eat sandwiches with mayonnaise-chicken and drink coffee, lemonade, with lychee juice, which cures everything here. Then rooibos tea with milk and sugar. Nobody in the newsroom trusts anybody.
There's something in the air.
He spoke to me for a long time and gave me a phone number. A black woman served us tea with lemon afterwards.
A serious man who thought I should arrive first. The mistrust is all about Muldergate. -I'm supposed to call him in the next few days. He invites me to a Braai. And the Boerendans.
The Boer is a chain smoker of the worst kind. He smoked Lexington, 30 cigarettes was enough for half a day.
They say he's not getting on with the government in Pretoria.
There's a climate of fear. It's deliberate.
Which sane person can get along with Nazis who made skin colour the criterion of their politics?
He was arrested several times. I was warned that at any moment a jamboree unit could descend on the newsroom. Some wacko kept coming forward.
My youthful recklessness amazes me. But it's an honour to fight against the Nazi edge.
SAP came and took away plenty of unpopular editors.
On the street, everything seems peaceful. SAP patrols.
Why not, thought the man with the riding-whip in his hand. The right hand was always sitting loosely on the holster of his pistol. Ever since the Potgieter Commission, the police's behaviour has been more like that of an informer.
"The murder of journalists is not unusual here when we think of Steven Biko."
I didn't know much about Biko. The editor gave me a folder with articles, Afrikaans and English.
Pieter Botha was like the bad man who came for you and nobody else.
I sit for hours at the Wawiel Bridge, reading, at the monument from the Anglo-Dutch Boer War.
There were concentration camps here that the British set up during the Boer War.
Here are still Nazis.
What do people do to themselves?
Living mummies are coming back from Angola. Soldiers who are only alive because they eat, breathe and drink and sleep, their eyes are blank. A few minutes ago, some of them passed me in a wheeled tank called "Casspir". Direction Welkom, Thabong, which sounds like a swearword to the soldiers.
It gets dark over the thorny bushes, which form the end of the Karoo at the edge of the city.