A South African Odyssey

If Shooting really starts, whites aren't going to be there

Here, the homeland system was designed to create a South Africa where, on paper, whites would be in the majority. Give blacks bogus citizenship in a bogus, tiny, improvised piece of dirt. It's simple, you don't necessarily have to move anybody, in fact you don't have to do anything, just fill out paperwork and boom, magic, South Africa is a white country with a lot of foreigners living in it. Under this system, if these instant "foreigners" living around white cities start to get uppity, or if they can't find jobs, why, just round them up and dump them back in their own "countries." The policy creates an enormous pool of job seekers willing to work for absurd wages, because there is no work in homelands. And hey, no sense supplying social services, decent housing, because blacks are, after all, "transient foreign workers."

South Africa's government has recently said there will be no more forced removal of blacks to homelands. They have also said there will be one citizenship for all and have abandoned pass laws. They say a lot of things. The fact is, when the government repealed pass laws, blacks living in homelands weren't included. They remain foreigners.

Three of four so-called independent states are hacked up into noncontiguous fragments. Bophuthatswana lies in seven separate pieces spread over three provinces. Transkei has three unrelated appendages; Venda, two. Politically these Frankenstein states outdo even the South African government in repressing their citizens. In Ciskei, Lennox Sebe has proclaimed himself "Life President." In Venda we have "Life President" Patrick Mphephu. In Bophuthatswana it is an offense punishable by up to ten years imprisonment to violate the dignity of President Luca Mangope. In Transkei it is punishable by death to advocate that Transkei should be part of South Africa, or to refuse to recognize Transkei as an independent state.

Homelands enjoy the full run of South African security legislation, which includes authority to ban individuals and organizations, detain anyone without messy interference of courts or defense attorneys, curfews, wiretapping, mass arrests, and fraudulent elections. Typically, homelands' army and police are run by South African white officials who live in separate white compounds, frequently receive more compensation than black presidents.

About ten miles short of Umtata, Transkei's capital, I pick up a middle-age, black female hitchhiker. She's a schoolteacher returning from a long weekend visiting relatives. We chat about teaching. After a pause she says, "America must be a lousy place."

"Well, a lot of people think that."
"Transkei is nice, no apartheid here."
"That's good. Your government treats you okay?"
"Oh, yes. They are our people. The Boer doesn't tell us what to do here."

We enter Umtata, which has a small, semimodern downtown, maybe 20,000 people, something like Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. She points right. "Over here is new housing for blacks. It is nice, huh? There," she points across the street, "is the colored area."

We proceed into town.
"What's that?" I'm looking at what seems to be a high school soccer field.
"That is the stadium for whites. Whites live here."

South of Umtata is the University of Transkei, which has the look of a small, modern U.S. land-grant college. Opposite is a grand compound, running a mile by half-mile, all of it surrounded by a double row of twelve-foot security fences topped by coils of barbed wire. Its one entrance is manned by soldiers, automatic weapons. Within the compound are extravagant new houses, black Mercedes limousines.

I ask my guide, "What's going on in there?"
"Oh, that is where our government ministers live."
This schoolteacher proves to be one very shrewd hitchhiker. Her house is off the main road, down a series of progressively deteriorating dirt roads, then over a half-dozen open fields. She keeps assuring, "Not much farther, not much farther." Finally, after half an hour of cross-country driving, mercilessly beating the Golf's undercarriage, I stop the car, laugh. "I got to hand it to you, you got me. Not a lot of people do. But you got me fair and square. Forget about the not-much-further stuff. I'm your prisoner, I'll take you wherever you want."

Twenty minutes later, on her orders, I stop 50 yards from a solitary mud hut. She climbs out, walks away without a nod or a thank you, a seasoned pro to the

Back on the highway, turn south, pick up speed, wanting to get out of Transkei before tonight's curfew sets in. It's about 200 kilometers from Umtata to East London, which is on the coast and inside the Republic of South Africa. It's dark now, winds have picked up, gusting 60 mph, and it's raining like banshee hell.

Another hour, make a hard turn into a bend, and before me, semivisible in rain, is a border stop. Jesus, they've got a border gate here. This cretinous little homeland, Transkei, has got a checkpoint. South Africa and its creatures ban all sorts of T-shirts, music, movies, news, bumper stickers, and so on, but it's not a big jail deal. A big jail deal is possession of banned articles, which are considered to "further the aims of banned organizations" (read ANC). That's when they start counting off years. I've got an easy five sitting in the back seat. Two cartons of banned ANC literature that in a moment of delirium I had agreed to take from Durban to East London.

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