Tuesday, September 21, 2010

State of Emergency

In 1985, as a reporter on the Evening Post, I found myself in the midst of the last push by the United Democratic Front, which would last nearly a decade, to bring an end to apartheid. The uprising against apartheid occurred on numerous fronts, since every black person was at the receiving end of unjust laws and practices. The doodles below I kept because, as a trained artist, I thought they had some intrinsic artistic value. At no time did I keep these snippets for what might be written on them. It is only now, some 25 years later, that I discover the poignancy of what can be read alongside my drawings.

This may look like a typical Kin Bentley bit of fun drawn at the bottom of a page from either the Evening Post or the Eastern Province Herald in the mid-1980s. But if you read what's there, it is dynamite. Take the last paragraph: "Col Van Rooyen said Miss Cherry did not show any sign of mental confusion nor had she suffered any blackouts while in detention." Col Van Rooyen, as I recall, was a senior SA Police liaison officer. Janet Cherry was a UDF activist especially involved in the End Conscription Campaign. There was a state of emergency on for long periods from 1985, and it was often difficult to get any reliable information out of the authorities, so even getting Van Rooyen to discuss Janet Cherry's treatment in detention was probably a small coup. It means we had on record that she had been detained.

I kept this for the odd little drawing of a woman beside the first letter in the masthead of the EP Herald. But I did not know then that on the reverse side would be a reference to another prominent anti-apartheid activist, Molly Blackburn.

Molly Blackburn was the PFP Member of the Provincial Council for Walmer, and one of the most courageous allies of the anti-apartheid movement in the Eastern Cape at the time. A former colleague, Mziwakhe Hlangani, I notice, wrote about her appearance in court for "contravening Section 46 of the Internal Security Act". This is the nuts and bolts of apartheid oppression. Her "crime" was she "attended an illegal gathering at the Dan Qeqe Stadium in Zwide". Pity not more is available, including the date. But notice just alongside this report is another interesting snippet - about school boycotts.

I can't even properly read my own scrawl on this sheet, kept for the little multi-eyed character. But noticeable are the words, "as he got out of Caspir shot by". The Casspir is still with us today. Wikipedia informs us it is a landmine protected personnel carrier. What I didn't know was that the word Casspir is an anagram for the customer, South African Police, and the design company, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. These were the things the notorious South West African police unit Koevoet and their SA counterparts careened around in, happily knocking over shacks.

Politics was everywhere. Here I kept the "Irish demos" headline for the little dog I'd drawn, adding the letter "N" for good measure. But clearly this was about some or other anti-apartheid demonstration, probably against a Springbok rugby team.

This I kept for the surreal landscape, but the words show it is from some or other church leader who talks about "the extremely difficult and costly situation in which the Church is placed today".

Again, this was kept for the mask-like drawing at the bottom of the page, but that image takes on an altogether new dimension when seen alongside the text. I can't say who released this statement (clearly this is only a part of it), but it shows the sort of intelligent, assertive opposition which UDF affiliates brought to the struggle. Particularly poignant are the references to the murders of the Cradock Four and the "disappearance" - their murders were later also confirmed - of the Pebco Three.

Then the old enemy. I had spent most of my adult life opposing the National Party and its policies. Now, as a journalist, I had to play fair and give their spokesmen the right to an equal say in the paper. It's about retaining credibility. This would have been some or other statement sent to me personally. I would later have done that drawing totally unconsciously. But today it too seems packed with symbolism. Why the two long-nosed faces locked in combat?

The real reason I probably kept the envelope is also to be found on the back - this weird drawing of a man. There is also a reference to Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Pierre Cronje.

And now for something quite different. On the back of this self-portrait was a press release which, while obviously non-political, naturally reflects the race-based nature of society at the time (see below).

Where, I wonder, are the children listed as performing in this show in Grahamstown. They would now be in their late 30s.

I have just seen a great musical based on Dr Suess's books at the Collegiate Junior School, and this guy looks a bit Cat in a Hattish. I like his double ears, and can only think he's a trifle sloshed, having tapped into the contents of the bottle behind him. But what was on the back of the page? See below.

This is the top of an Evening Post letterhead. What's of interest is how to contact them. There is a telephone number, a telex number and a "cable" word. Today we'd have an e-mail address, fax number and possibly a website URL.

Again, an innocuous little drawing on an A4 page, except that the words above are significant, because they are telling me that Veronica at the ECDB will call back. And the East Cape Development Board was another arm of the apartheid machine - even if they did do some good work.

The scrawled notes on the back have no particular significance, until you fathom the third last paragraph, which reads: "Had 5 at New Brighton charged under emerg. regs for being on street between 10pm + 4am." Now suddenly we are talking emergency regulations - the Public Safety Act. The writing adds that "before prosecuting the people refer them to the Attorney General". It was a legal labyrinth reporting under state of emergency conditions.

Okay, the PE Chamber of Commerce had to be prodded - by successive consumer boycotts. But I do think there were sufficient members of that body with enough political nous to realise that enlightened business had a key role to play in helping facilitate dialogue between the forces of oppression and resistance. Tony Gilson, who tragically died some time ago in a car crash, I believe, was the PECC's director at the time, and their spokesman on the ongoing negotiations between the UDF and business. This envelope may well have come from him. I kept it for the drawing.

Finally, in this the first of several such postings, a few notes I probably made before interviewing PFP bigwigs on a proposed new delimitation. Again, I would have only kept this for the little drawing, but I rather like seeing it in the context of questions about probably the last bit of gerrymandering the Nats would have done before the first democratic elections in 1994.

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