Because trying to get anything published as a book is almost an impossible task, I have decided to put this thing I wrote in 2004 onto this blog, which is already buckling under the weight of the many words and images it is being forced to bear. For anyone who has delved into the stuff that has preceded this, I think this short autobiographical piece will help them understand where I am coming from.
LITTLE K AND THE BIG WORLD
Little K looks long and lovingly at the carpet of fluffy, yellow, day-old chickens on the Bonza Bay poultry farm.
The farmer’s wife, standing in gumboots among the brood, picks one up and lets him hold it. Oh! It’s so soft, so cuddly.
But Little K looks around at the other fowl runs and realises that before long all these little chicks will become pullets, and then battery hens, laying eggs madly. Or they’ll have their heads lopped off, their feathers plucked out, and will be sold for people to eat.
But at the moment they are chirpingly happy, or happily chirping, this mad mass of sweet, innocent chicks – not dissimilar, Little K notes, to the tiny chicks he finds attached to his Easter eggs each year.
Except these are warm and alive.
He hands the chick back to the woman, who returns it to a sea of yellow feathers, where it is immediately subsumed, its individual identity lost forever, unless . . .
Unless, by some miracle, it is again selected, out of hundreds, for special individual attention. Maybe it will be handled again, by a young, adoring girl.
Or maybe it will be inadvertently trampled underfoot by someone.
Little K has all these strange, strange thoughts there on the chicken farm, under the hot summer sun. He is surrounded by his manifold family, three brothers and a sister, and a hard-working mother. They have come to have tea with the farmer’s wife. It is a rare opportunity to investigate the poultry farm, and Little K laps it up. His world is growing. This is something fresh, a new experience to be left in his memory banks, packed away in abeyance, to be drawn upon when he needs again to think about soft, yellow baby chickens.
Peering into the absolute stillness of a warm summer’s evening, Little K strains his eyes to see them.
He’s at Blue Bend, near the mouth of the Nahoon River, beyond the poultry farm. The picnic has gone on into the evening. Now he, his siblings and his friends are away from the adults, among the bushes, near the tree-bedecked backs of the towering sand dunes. They are looking for fireflies. And yes, Little K and the others exclaim simultaneously as they spot the tiny cockpits of fire deeply embedded among the dense, indigenous foliage. They reach for the little pockets of light, but each time they approach an insect, it goes out. It extinguishes itself. It disappears. Very clever, really, since it would not want to be caught by a child, thinks Little K, sagely.
Down Forward Lane, then sharp left alongside the tall wire fence surrounding the somewhat buckled concrete tennis court. Little K has entered the grounds of the Bonza Bay Hotel. With his brother, Alistair, he passes the concrete table and bench under dense bush beside the court, then tentatively approaches the gate to the court. Yippee! It’s not locked.
Casting a quick glance towards the black staffs’ quarters nearby, and then down beneath the boughs of tall wild fig trees towards Neptune’s Cove, the hotel nightclub, he and Alistair decide the coast is clear. They dash onto the court where, thankfully, the net is up. One racquet length and the width of a head is the stipulated height of a net. Little K places his racquet vertically in the middle of the net and Alistair rests the head of his on top of it. No adjustment is required. They toss, Alistair wins, elects not to serve and dispatches Little K, two years his junior, to the other side.
Little K is playing into the sun, his pink-rimmed blue eyes battling to cope with the glare. But they change after the first game. This is serious stuff. Real Wimbledon rules apply. Change every odd, so the sun’s not such an advantage, one way or the other.
It’s a close match, a real ding-dong battle. Little K is determined not to be thrashed again. But he struggles to cope with Alistair’s first serve, which is low, flat and fast. Yet sometimes he flukes a cracking return, using the pace of the serve, and leaves Alistair fuming. The set goes well beyond the six-all, seven-all mark. This is the pre-tie-break era. Neither party gives an inch. Sweat pours from their shirtless bodies as the first set goes past 10-all, or 20 games. Suddenly, a problem. There she is. It’s the hotel owner’s wife. We cringe with embarrassment. We didn’t ask for permission. But she’s not angry with us. Says she likes to see people playing tennis. But would we mind finishing up, as some of her guests are arriving shortly for a game. Sure, we say and she leaves. But the match is ruined. We skulk off back up Forward Avenue, climb through the wire fence around our yard, and traipse across the terrace and through the large glass door into the lounge. Settling on the couch, we agree to resume the encounter later, once the intruders have left our court.
His name is Iain MacDonald, but everyone calls him Scotchie. He is, as far as Little K is concerned, a mixture of Donovan and Bob Dylan. He is playing his guitar for the summer holiday crowd, on the grass in the spacious grounds of the Bonza Bay Hotel.
Behind him, Little K is conscious of the row of rondavels overlooking the lawn, where black gardeners click their clippers as they trim edges dutifully. To his right, he is aware of the towering presence of a giant Norfolk pine. It’s the one he can see from his home. In front of him, behind garden shrubs, is the rest of the hotel. The games room is on the right. It is here that, during the holidays, he has played table tennis and deck-quoits with the guests. At night it becomes Neptune’s Cove, a nightclub with a bar, beside a pool. The epitome of adult entertainment. Cigarettes. Beautiful women. Dancing. Smooching. A band sometimes, or just music played through the hi-fi. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, the Troggs, even East London’s own Dealians. Their records and even, sometimes Little K and his brothers have noticed when they’ve peered through the windows at night, the Dealians live. In person. Also Padda Wilson, the big bassist, and his band.
But this is late afternoon. Little K’s eyes take in the covered walkway leading from the games room past the pool (a converted water storage tank) and up to the hotel proper, where, his mind enabling him to “see” through the walls, he places the passage leading to the bedrooms on the left, and another through a doorway into the reception area. Beside the reception, he envisions the public lounge, inside a wall of glass, with a view down the road to the white stones which mark the entrance to a path leading through thick bush to the beach. Inside of the lounge is the dining room, where he has only eaten once.
His parents gave the family a treat, and reserved a table in the dining room one night. Little K loved the array of knives and forks, shallow dessert spoon and deep soup spoon, butter knife and fish knife, crisp white serviette and table cloth, polite black waiters, small starter of fish, main course of roast beef, potatoes, vegetables and gravy. Ice-cream for dessert. Coffee. Silence. Or people talking in hushed tones. The occasional clatter of knife or fork on plate. The various characters, and strange family units. Little K took it all in.
Beyond the dining room was a smaller bar, and then the men’s pub. This is where his Dad would go most evenings. For drinks with his mates. Probably to get away from the five children for a while.
To Little K’s left is the trampoline, embedded in the ground. Dangerous if you jump too high and land with your leg plunging through one of those gaping holes between the springs. Leaden feeling coming off after jumping almost so high you can touch the leaves in the tree above.
Beyond the trampoline, an old Wendy house. And behind it: Lover’s Lane. Under shady indigenous trees, a leaf-covered lane wends its way to even thicker forest, where Little K and his brothers and friends have spent many hours climbing, trying to navigate a course along branches across the entire area without touching the ground. From tree to tree. Like Tarzan. Except they don’t use the monkey ropes and swing through the air. Too dangerous. No, climbing it is.
Little K watches as Scotchie entertains this group of 15 or so people, who hang onto his every word, his every note. He sings Catch the Wind, Colours, Hurdy Gurdy Man, then moves onto the Dylan classics: Blowin’ in the Wind, Mr Tambourine Man, My Back Pages. Each time he consults the back of his acoustic guitar, on which he has the names of his songs listed. Little K is so impressed he can hardly believe he is witnessing such mastery. The songs sound just like the records his elder brother has been getting them all into over the past few years. Little K wishes he could become a folk-singer one day. He’d sing Dylan and Donovan, Simon and Garfunkel, and the mournful songs of Leonard Cohen. Crowds would flock to see him. He would also compose his own songs, which would become world hits.
Little K dreams on.
Summer on the Bonza Bay Beach. Little K is under an umbrella with girls from upcountry and brothers and friends. Some are in the surf, some lying on the sand, soaking up the sun. Some in the shade of the brollies. Little K can’t believe his eyes. He catches a glimpse, just a glimpse mind you, of a girl’s pubescent breast, including the nipple, as she lays down her towel, and places her browned body on top of it. Her bikini top is somewhat loose and the breast lies tantalizingly within its cusp. Soon it is lost to view.
But everywhere near-naked young bodies lie flaunting their allurements at Little K. He is, of course, still too young to become physically aroused. But these images imprint themselves on his brain. He will, over the next few years and decades, be subjected to torture of this sort on a grand scale. The beach will become his home from home, and on it he will grow up alongside girls who will brown their bodies tantalisingly in the sun, then saunter down to the sea for a dip to cool off. Little K will enjoy those visions of Johanna and all the other fair maidens immensely.
It’s early evening in the lifesavers’s shack, on the esplanade beside the Bonza Bay River. The square, stone building Little K remembers as having long served as a kiosk. Old black men and women, including Lo Weeds, who’d sometimes arrive at 4am in summer to weed the family garden, came to the kiosk to buy their wares. Coins wrapped in a handkerchief, secreted somewhere within nondescript clothing. A pathetic collection of coppers. Each item bought separately. Then the money left over counted to see what remains for another purchase. The kiosk is also, Little K recalls, the place where he and his brothers and sister would go to buy sweets with their pennies, ha’pennies and farthings, their tickies and sixpences, occasionally their shillings and half crowns. Big dark toffees, or bright pink wads of Wicks king-sized bugglegum. Sweets with writing on them. Things like “I love you” and “Give me a kiss”. Innocent terms of affection and endearment.
But now Little K is witnessing something he does not think is quite so innocent. He has not yet reached puberty, although he does not actually even know the term. No-one has thought to explain the facts of life to him, to teach him about the birds and the bees. He doesn’t even know he doesn’t know. He is an observer of what the older boys do. And now they are looking at some Playboy magazines one of them has stolen from his dad and they are playing with their tollies until they fire off white fluid all over the place. Little K is outside the little stone room, which is filled with the jerking boys and with all sorts of lifeguard paraphernalia: paddle skis, a long roll of rope, flotation buoys. But the day’s lifesaving is over, the bodies are bronzed and fit, and the older lads are venting their spleen over the pictures of naked lassies in the banned magazines. Little K doesn’t know what to think. He wanders off, perplexed.
It’s after the summer holidays and Little K is on the beach by himself. With a plastic soccer ball. Perfect weather. The tide is out and there are acres of hard wet sand on which to play. He keeps the ball in the air. Ball control, like the real soccer players do. He can even put one over his head and hit it back with his heel. A hundred or more without letting the ball touch the ground. Little K is honing his skills and, he hopes, his body. He sees Andile approach and feels embarrassed. Andile knows him and comes over to chat. He is in awe of Andile because Andile is the Black Mister South Africa. His photograph has been in Indaba, the Xhosa supplement to the Daily Dispatch. He has even made it into the Daily Dispatch proper on occasion. Because of his body-building exploits. His national title was for the small man division. So he’s not a massive person, but still probably around six feet tall. His black body is perfectly toned, with narrow hips, muscular legs and an upper torso that simply ripples with power. Andile is also a lifeguard. He heads the Gompo Lifesaving Association, who do duty on the black section of the beach, off towards Nahoon. There, among the rocks. Where whites wouldn’t dream of swimming. But Andile doesn’t appear put out by this.
We are standing in the no-man’s land of the beach, somewhere between where the white bathing area ends and the black area begins. Little K asks Andile, naively, what he thinks of his, Little K’s, body. Can you believe it? Big Andile doesn’t scoff or laugh. Bodies are his thing. His fame has been built around his body, so any question regarding one’s physique is right in his sphere of interest. No, Andile tells Little K, your legs are strong, but you need to work on your upper body, to put on more muscle around the shoulders and chest. It is as Little K suspected. He is a spindly character, too weak in the upper body even to paddle a surfboard successfully, like his brothers and friends do. For hours he watches them out in the sea, paddling around like dolphins, seemingly untiringly. To compensate, Little K spends his time either kicking the ball about, or body-surfing. He thanks Andile for his time, tucks his soccer ball under his towel, and dives into the sea. Andile, meanwhile, has found his place beside his bit of sea.
The beach, it is, that troubles Little K most. Why can Andile and his black friends not swim where the whites swim?
Little K decides to put it down in writing. A letter to the editor of the Daily Dispatch. Attacking beach apartheid. He does a rough draft, then prints it out in capitals on a page in a writing pad. Mom provides a stamp and envelope and he drops the letter into the red post box on the corner of Lotus Avenue and Forward Lane. Then he waits. And waits. He estimates how long it will take the letter to reach its destination: the Dispatch office in Caxton Street in the city centre. Maybe a couple of days. Then they have to decide whether to use it, before placing it on the letters page. Maybe a week, all in all. And lo and behold, about a week later he sees his thoughts in print, with his initials and surname, and his family’s home address. He reads and rereads his letter. He can’t agree more with what he has written. Yes, he’s spot on. Beach apartheid must go. Makes no sense. An insult to black people. An affront to their dignity. He’s learnt how to oppose apartheid from Dispatch editor Donald Woods. He and his brothers admire Woods for his courage in the face of apartheid.
Little K becomes hooked on this kind of battle against apartheid. The pen, he believes, will be mightier than the sword. Words, logical, persuasive words, will prick the consciences of white voters. People will see the folly of apartheid and vote the National Party out of power. All it will take is a flood of letters to newspapers, and some good organisation of the electorate encouraging them to vote for the Progressive Party of Helen Suzman.
But all this is in Little K’s future. His initial letters are sporadic. He is testing the water, sharpening his skills for the war to come.
There is a phone call at Little K’s home. Someone passes him the phone. The house is its normal lively self. Lots of noise, comings and goings. The voice on the other end is unfamiliar. Little K, it says, we’re going to get you. Before Little K can ask who’s speaking or think of a reply, the caller puts down the phone. Little K’s little heart is thumping. He tells his brothers and sister. Yes, they agree, it was a threat, probably from the security police. Because of his letters. Then they continue what they were doing.
Little K wonders about his safety and that of his brothers and sisters, and widowed mother. There have been nasty instances of people’s homes being shot at in recent years. But he soon enough forgets about the call, and when the next apartheid issue spurs him into action, he dispatches his next letter. Then another, and another. Then another threatening call. Then another long pause.
Little K and his siblings are working in the evenings for the renamed Progressive Federal Party. They have been inspired by Frederik van Zyl Slabbert and Colin Eglin and Helen Suzman. All these bright people opposing the government. Surely the majority of white South Africans will see the light too, thinks Little K. Elections are held. Peep, peep, peep! Peep, peep, peep! Election result for the East London North constituency. Another crushing defeat for the PFP. Another win for the Nats. And so it goes around the country. But the PFP do secure some seats, and Little K feels there is hope. If only. If only.
It’s been a turbulent time. Soweto has risen, been suppressed, and subsided. Little K has been conscripted into the military, where he has spent the past two years. He is an unhappy little cat. The great big powerful state has forced him into the army and he has had to obey, or face prison. The apartheid state has fought as a proxy for the US in Angola, and almost secured Luanda against the MPLA. But then those pesky Cubans, backed by the monstrous USSR, spoilt the party. And they drove the South African boys out with their tails between their legs. But that was before Little K was conscripted. He’s now part of their war effort. He’s part of the Total Strategy implemented by President P W Botha to combat the communist threat: the Total Onslaught. White states have collapsed in Angola, Mozambique and, while he’s doing his two years, Rhodesia. South West Africa and South Africa are all that remain. The apartheid government wants every able-bodied white man to help it stay in power. To keep at bay the scourge of black nationalism, as embodied in the banned African National Congress and Pan Africanist Congress. And the Black People’s Convention and, from the early to mid-1980s, the United Democratic Front.
Little K is in Port Elizabeth now, working on the Evening Post as a reporter. His colleague, Jimmy Matyu, shows him the ropes. Teaches him who’s who in the townships of the country’s most politically aware city. The paper, the Post, is a mouthpiece, in a sense, for the anti-apartheid struggle. It’s Extra edition is its top seller. It carries all the political news about the struggle, about police oppression of activists. It’s City Late edition carries news more in tune with white sensibilities and sensitivities. As the uprising gets under way in earnest, the paper becomes a key sounding board for both sides. The police, even under successive states of emergency, court the paper, all the time trying to undermine the growing support which the UDF and its civic-association affiliates are enjoying. Even when the Cradock Four and Pebco (PE Black Civic Organisation) Three are brutally murdered. The hand of the security police or military intelligence is suspected.
Little K is enthralled by his luck at having landed a job on a paper that is so close to the key political struggle of the country. He attempts to voice his personal opinion on matters but is told by a deputy editor that as a reporter he must stick to reporting what others are saying. So he does just that, covering the gamut of the socio-political upheaval. Until the apartheid state finally starts to unwind in the late 1980s. And, with Little K securing a two-year stint in London as a correspondent for South African Morning Newspapers, the big change comes on February 2, 1990.
It’s as if the past never existed. That year, 1990, sees the end of the Cold War, as the Iron Curtain comes down across Eastern Europe. Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika had precipitated a velvet revolution which tore down the Berlin Wall and liberated Russia and its satellites from communist oppression.
Ensconced in London, Little K watches matters unfold with delight. And, on the morning President F W de Klerk announces the unbanning of the ANC, he dashes off to the SA Press Association office in Fleet Street. Sapa boss Mark van der Velden has his TV on Sky News. Little K cannot believe it. Is this the end of communism worldwide? he asks himself. But what of the SA Communist Party? It seems ironic to Little K that while communists are in retreat in most of the world, in South Africa they are in an alliance with the future rulers of the country, the ANC. But, he wonders, surely the ANC will ditch their socialist ideas and allies now that communism has been proved to be an absolute failure in Russia. Although, he hastens to remind himself, there is still a communist regime in China, an uprising in Tiananmen Square having been brutally crushed in 1989, and others in Cuba and North Korea. Africa, of course, is still littered with dictatorships.
Yet Little K is optimistic as he returns to the liberated new South Africa in late 1991.
With a new wife and eight-month old baby in tow.
Predictably, the ANC wins a landslide victory in April 1994. The Democratic Party, successor of the PFP, whom Little K worked for in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is almost decimated. And the saintly Nelson Mandela reiterates his commitment, as president, to national reconciliation. Even when the horrors of apartheid are exposed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he refuses to utter a word against the former white rulers. Indeed, he even has Mr De Klerk in his government of national unity, as a symbol of their partnership for the country’s reconstruction and a new rapprochement between the formerly oppressed and the former oppressors.
Little K has gone from reporting to sub-editing, now on the Eastern Province Herald, established in 1845 and the oldest daily newspaper in South Africa. It is a direct product of the arrival in 1820 of some 5000 British settlers in Algoa Bay. Initially placed in the Bathurst area as a buffer between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa tribes, the settlers had an impact on all facets of life, bringing with them, as they did, links with the imperial British, at the time the most powerful and influential nation in the world. Trade flourished and Port Elizabeth, the town which grew up around the 1799 Fort Frederick in Algoa Bay, became the colony’s leading port for a long period in the nineteenth century. But the collision of cultures in the Eastern Cape was to have long-term ramifications for everyone in the future South Africa. Black tribal Xhosas were eventually, after umpteen frontier wars, assimilated into the periphery of the first world economy, albeit that the voting franchise was only grudgingly granted on the basis of strict qualifications. Many of the Boer descendants of the original seventeenth and eighteenth century Dutch settlers, who had migrated east, decided to quit the Cape Colony, fed up with British rule and the imminent emancipation of their slaves. They trekked inland and set up republics in the Orange Free State and Transvaal.
Little K reflects on this history as he sees the regime of Robert Mugabe turn from one of relative stability and conciliation towards its white inhabitants, to a despotic dictatorship. This happens virtually overnight in early 2000. As Zanu-PF thugs steal thousands of white-owned farms and drive off their owners and farm workers, Little K looks into the future. He sees new President Thabo Mbeki, who does not issue a word of condemnation of this blatant disregard for the rule of law and human rights, as someone who sometime in the future may implement similar policies in South Africa.
He sees Zimbabwe as a litmus test. And when Mbeki continually hides behind a policy of “quiet diplomacy” as the situation deteriorates by the week, Little K feels compelled to take up the pen again, as he did against apartheid.
It is a tricky thing for Little K. Because he is accused of being a racist bent on a return to apartheid. Yet he knows he cannot keep quiet in the face of injustice, even if in his heart of heart he acknowledges that black people in Zimbabwe are indeed hungry for land. He knows they were dispossessed by the settlers 100 years ago. But he also knows there is no going back. That the Zimbabwean population has grown considerably and that there is no way black people can return to a medieval agrarian economy such as existed before the advent of the white man. So Little K writes, both articles in the Herald and letters to the editor of the Herald and the Sunday Times.
His old struggle friend, Mkhuseli “Khusta” Jack, who led the youth wing of the UDF in Port Elizabeth in the 1980s, is now a successful businessman, riding on the back of the ANC’s policy of black economic empowerment and affirmative action. Little K has attacked these policies as anti-white and racist. He has received flak from Jack and many others, but also, predictably, support from white people concerned at the way Mbeki has led the country in the new millennium.
But, Little K thinks, at least there is still freedom of expression. He still occasionally gets the powers that be on his newspaper to use his articles critical of the government, and his letters to the editor. They do stir up debate and elicit many letters in response. Little K feels their real importance lies in establishing a culture of tolerance of dissent. He hopes in vain to get the support of black people, but even without it, believes that in years to come, young black people will think back on how Little K voiced his opposition to things which were clearly wrong.
But one day Little K gets an e-mail from a deputy editor. While he is free to continue submitting articles, he is told, he and all other staff members are no longer allowed to have letters to the editor published. Little K senses a degree of outside interference in this decision. However, he has no alternative but to accept the ruling. But it does reduce the scope for his ideas to be aired. It does seem, to him, to be a form of censorship.
Still, he has had some success with his similarly politically incorrect letters being published in the national Sunday Times.
Until, one day, he gets a letter, forwarded by a deputy editor on the Sunday Times. It is from the SA Human Rights Commission. Little K shot off an article or two when the SAHRC conducted its probe into what it called “racism in the media”, but which Little K insisted on calling “alleged racism in the media” in the early 2000s. The probe, Little K believed, was an unsubtle attempt to cow the media into toeing the ANC line. It failed to find such racism, but set the agenda for the millennium, where the Mbeki regime would play the race card at every turn. But, as Little K was to observe, even the race card was useless in the face of growing government corruption and ineptitude. Little K believed it in the national interest to expose and oppose cases of government failure. He slammed the ANC on its Aids policy, believing Mbeki should be leading a national campaign to combat the scourge, not casting doubt on the very existence of the HI virus which causes it.
So now, as Little K holds the letter from the SAHRC in his hands, he wonders what they want. It is surely not a pat on the back from them. Or a letter inviting him to become a member of the commission. No, the letter is a warning. A threat. It accuses him of having written a piece, a year earlier in the Sunday Times, which painted black people as being inferior, and whites superior. It is a legal letter designed to intimidate.
Here is Little K’s letter, published under the headline “Don’t write off the whites” on August 24, 2003, which supposedly caused offence:
“Dali Mpofu’s citing of township entrepreneurship as a panacea for our job-creation woes (‘Moletsi Mbeki gives ammunition to the opponents of true change’, August 17) just won’t wash.
“The only example of such entrepreneurs having successfully created any significant number of jobs is the taxi industry, and what a shambles it is.
“Firstly, the industry has thrived because taxi owners have never had to pay taxes, while the taxis themselves are generally safety hazards due to poor maintenance and cavalier driving. Then there are ongoing wars between taxi associations.
“No developing country can achieve economic growth without the sort of entrepreneurship which white people introduced during the much-maligned colonial era.
“In Port Elizabeth, for instance, locals enticed both Ford and General Motors to set up plants, along with numerous related component industries, during the first half of the last century. Volkswagen followed.
“The same applied in the mining industry, and virtually throughout our formal economy. These partnerships with Western firms have proved virtually the only major creators of wealth and jobs, along with commercial agriculture.
“By undermining white people, who through generations of business connections can initiate such wealth-producing industries, is to shoot yourself in the foot. Yet that is what affirmative action, black economic empowerment and employment equity, along with crime, are doing.
“Until black people start establishing job- and wealth-creating businesses on a similar scale, they should focus primarily on skills development in order to benefit from globally competitive enterprises established by those capable of doing so. Heaven knows, we’d all love to see black people establish large new industries and enterprises. But will it ever happen?”
And here, verbatim, is the SAHRC’s letter, received by Little K in July, 2004:
“We have received a complaint from Mr E Mahlobo, who is one of the Sunday Times newspaper readers, about the article you wrote which was published in the Sunday Times newspaper of the 24 August 2003 wherein it is alleged that, you disseminated propaganda or idea (sic) which propounds the racial superiority of “Whites” and inferiority of “Blacks”.
“Kindly be advised that the South African Human Rights Commission is enjoined to investigate violations of human rights and from the abovementioned allegation and without your version there is prema facie (sic) violation of both section 9 of the RSA Constitution and section 7 (a) of the Equity Act.
“Kindly therefore favour us with your response to the abovementioned allegation within 14 days on (sic) receipt of this letter.
“Counting on your co-operation.
After taking advice from a long-term advocate friend, Little K responds with a letter to the SAHRC, saying:
“Dear Mr Zweni
“Your letter of July 13, 2004 (a photocopy of which was forwarded to me by the Sunday Times, to whom you faxed the original) concerning my Letter to the Editor, published in the Sunday Times of August 24, 2003, refers.
“My letter was written as a contribution to an ongoing debate.
“I regret if any offence has been taken, as none was intended.”
A few months later, Little K is interested to notice a press report stating that Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon, for the past decade the bete noir of the ANC, has been found not guilty by the SAHRC of hate speech, following some or other speech Leon has made.
It gets Little K thinking about his country and about how easily governments become despotic. Threats from statutory bodies like the SAHRC are the thin end of a Stalinist wedge, he now believes, as he weighs up his options and those of his family.
Will my country become another Zimbabwe, wonders Little K, or will common sense prevail and enable it to become the shining light of Africa. He says he’s not taking any bets on the latter option, but will keep on writing. Even if no-one wants to use his stuff.
It is, after all, he believes, the thoughts that count.
Or is it? What use, muses Little K, are powerful thoughts and ideas if they cannot be expressed and disseminated through the national media? Since the Sunday Times forwarded the HRC letter, their use of his writings has virtually dried up. Even on the Herald, the number of feature articles used has been reduced to less than a trickle. The pieces lie dormant before finally being totally overtaken by events.
Little K’s targets have, over the past five years, been the ANC government’s condoning of Mugabe’s reign of terror and destruction of his country, its (inexplicable to him) failure to deal with the Aids crisis which affects primarily black people, and the new racism of black empowerment legislation. Then there has been the growing incidence of corruption, nepotism and simply inept administration. Little K, like he did some 25 years ago, finds it hard not to put pen to paper. But he is frustrated. No more letters in the Herald. Very few if any in the Sunday Times. And his feature articles in the Herald are also being increasingly ignored.
He loses his cool. He is on his long weekend – four nights free from the mind- and soul-destroying night-shift duty he has been fulfilling for the past decade. He sends off another scathing article, laying the blame for his country’s woes primarily on two women: health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang for her advocacy of African potatoes, garlic, lemons, beetroot and condoms to combat Aids instead of antiretrovirals and abstinence; and foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, for her failure to act out of common decency on the Zimbabwe debacle, and for fraternising with the likes of Mugabe, Castro and Gaddafi. But he is also angry, because his previous three articles have been steadfastly ignored. He writes a note on top of the article before e-mailing it to the woman who lays out the leader pages, and sends a copy to the new editor, a former Zimbabwean who happens to be black. Little K has no problem with working under a black editor, so long as the ethics of journalism remain paramount. He even has to accept the glaring attempts at social engineering as people of colour are elevated at an early age to positions of power and influence around him. It is part of his penitence for being white in a time of transformation.
But what he is not prepared for is the response to his note, in which he asks – given the rejection of his previous articles – whether it is the policy of the paper not to publish anything critical of the ANC.
Oblivious to the ruckus his words have caused, Little K arrives his customary half hour early for his shift, only to be told by his chief sub that the editor wants to see him. The editor has always been friendly, with a broad smile. So Little K is somewhat taken aback to find him in a foul mood. Gone is the old camaraderie, the “ladies and gentlemen of the jury” bonhomie. Instead Little K finds himself under attack. It gets nasty, personal. Does Little K realise the pressure the editor is under from the ANC? And what about this attack, in the note, on his political correspondent for toeing the ANC line?
Little K, the editor says, you are from now onwards banned from writing anything in my paper.
Little K storms back to his desk, where his workload of laying out at least half a dozen news pages a night, which has been his lot for months on end, saps his strength. And he thinks about what will happen now. Can he actually be fired for simply sending through an article with a note to which the editor of the paper took exception? Is that fair? What about freedom of expression?
A few days later and it is his day off. He gets a phonecall at home from the arts page layout person. Did he know that two art crits he has written have been pulled from the page by the new (black) deputy editor? Did he not know that no more of his stuff will be published in the Herald?
The next day he returns for his evening shift, very troubled. He asks the deputy editor if can speak to him. He is feeling very humble now. Obsequious. In fact, he has psyched himself into a severe dose of humility. He is metaphorically on his knees as he speaks to the deputy. But he finds this works. The deputy says no, there’s probably been a mistake. Maybe the editor was just referring to his political articles, not his art crits and books reviews, which Little K knows bring in a little extra cash. So Little K plucks up the courage and enters the editor’s den. It seems like a den, a lion’s den, to Little K, who still has on the same supports he wore on his wrists the last time he saw the editor, when the great confrontation occurred. These supports are an attempt to keep at bay the tendonitis which has plagued him for the past eight or so years. They add to his sense of humility. He feels suitably inferior in the face of the besuited editor. He in his tattered old jeans and shoes, and cheap Mr Price checked shirt. No, the editor, a few years his junior, is all sweetness and light. He even apologises for his outburst. Sure, Little K can write his art crits and book reviews. Just no political articles for a while, hey? Let’s see how it goes. Little K recalls that the editor has commented favourably on other articles he did, such as when he wrote in support of such things as the more integrated nature of the evolving post-apartheid society. Positive things.
He likes positive things, Little K realises. But not negative articles, attacking the ANC.
So Little K decides that discretion is the better part of valour. He has swallowed his pride, and eaten humble pie. Now he will have to bite his lip. No more will he be able to contribute to the political debate to which he has devoted his life. It is, he reflects, a small price to pay, so long as he keeps his job and is able to feed, school and clothe his family.
Then Little K, who is nearly 50 years old, thinks back longingly to those cosy days when he cuddled day-old chicks and looked in awe at the magic and mystery of fireflies.
And he wishes he could be three or four again.
If only for a while.