Tag Archives: racism

On Political Correctness, Racial Awareness and Honesty.

IMG_4985 copy“So the Emperor displayed his new clothes for all to see.” Servaas tosses the newspaper aside and signals for a drink. “Not that there was much to hear.”

“On the contrary,” Boggel smiles, “never in my entire life have I seen an obese parade with so much evidence of affluence. Did you see the size of some of them? My gosh! Our trade deficit must be huge – as a result of the yards and yards of material necessary to cover up the wobbly backsides. Maybe that’s why the prez is cutting down on catering – the cost of installing extra-outsize chairs in parliament would finally convince the rating companies that our economy deserves junk status.”

“That,” Gertruida scowls, pointing a finger at the little barman, “is not politically correct. You are in fact insinuating that some of the ladies and gentlemen in our government are fat. Now…’fat’ isn’t a word to use when describing somebody. That’s insensitive and uncalled for. It’s as bad as saying we are optically  challenged to observe the extent of their circumferences. No, it’s unkind, to say the least.”

“Like calling somebody ‘white’ or ‘black’?” The smile on Servaas’ face is without humor. “Come on, Gertruida – when something is obvious for all to see, why play the Elephant-in-the Room game? Should we now be so sensitive that we are forced into denial?”

“That’d be following the government’s footsteps, Servaas..” Boggel sighs. “They insist we’re a non-sexist, non-racial society with equal opportunities for all. The way I see it, is that they’re fooling nobody. Black empowerment isn’t an equal opportunity policy. Enrolling in an university is far more difficult for white kids than others. The only situation where the prez favours whites, is when he has to defend himself in court – then the advocate is white. Why?”

“That would be horribly politically incorrect to speculate about that, Boggel. You’re at rsik of being labeled a racist.”

“But being racially aware, doesn’t make me a racist, Gertruida! Are you suggesting that I should renounce my heritage? Of course I’m what is called European, or white, or whatever. But I was born in Africa and I have the right to be called an African.” He arches an eyebrow. “Am I American? No! Spanish, French or German? No! I am a proud citizen of South Africa and that’s who I am. I happen to have a different skin colour than the majority of the inhabitants down here, but why does that put me at a disadvantage? Because of a history I had no control over?” He lets the question hang in the silence. “And what about the rest of the world? Their histories are even more tainted by oppression, extermination and xenophobia. South Africa has had her share of these horrible things, but nowadays it is used to sway the mood of society to pro-black and anti-white. I am forced to acknowledge the fact that I am currently disadvantaged and they hold me hostage to what has happened generations ago – the government rubs my lilly-white face in it every day. Am I happy about it? No! But I have to live with it – in shame, if the ruling powers had any say in t. The very government who claims to be non-racist, is using racism to deny me equal opportunities based on performance. If I open my mouth about this, a chorus shouts:’ Racist!’, simply because of my skin colour..”

Boggel shrugs. “The government is only trying to retain their voter base, Servaas. They cannot very well say they have ruled fairly and justly over the last 20 years, can they? They have to play the race card to keep their support secure. With so many state-owned enterprises in trouble and service delivery as bad as the corruption we read about every day, they have no choice but to unite the majority of voters by emphasising race. It may not be politically correct, but it is politics. United we stand, divided we fall, remember?”

“So ‘Black’ – the word – is given special  significance? If you say something about black – like it’s a Black Friday, or black magic, or blackmail, black market, blackout,  black box, black eye – then the first thing we must think about, is race? How absurd is that? Anyway, who started calling people ‘Black’? Nobody’s ‘black’ – we’re all shades of brown and beige and cream.Moreover, we are suddenly  so sensitive about the blackface phenomenon that students get expelled for having purple faces  when they portray aliens?

“No, being proud of who you are, doesn’t make you a racist. It simply means you identify with your individuality, your identity and your culture. You’re a racist only when you put these attributes above all others. If I think white is superior to black, then, sure, I deserve the label. But if I respect somebody else’s right to be who he or she was born to be, that makes me a humanist. Racism in South Africa would have died a long time ago if the government hadn’t insisted on reviving it all the time.” Vetfaan shakes his head – it’s all so horribly wrong!

“I still think there are too many heavyweights in the parliament,” Servaas tries  to change the subject to something more humourous.

“You’re a racist, Servaas.”

They all laugh at Gertruida’s remark, but it’s the type of laugh you laugh when you get your tax assessment in the post – a despairingly sad laugh, without real humour and tinged with a dose of sadness.

“Being politically correct means you insist on living in a bubble, with no own opinion and certainly no insight. That’s the thing, isn’t it? You may think something, but saying it is wrong. That means you have to pretend all the time and you end up fooling everybody except yourself. What that means, is: you constantly have to put the sensitivities and preferences of others higher than your own. In other words, you have to view yourself as inferior to others.” Boggel spreads his arms wide. “Now that, my friends, is as bad as racism where you think you are superior to others. Thinking yourself to be inferior, is just as bad.

“Which brings me to justified reverse apartheid. The very words imply that only whites can be racists..which is certainly not the case.

“Why can’t we just be people – whether white or green or yellow or the B-word – and get on with the joy of living together? The longer we insist on pigment – or the lack thereof –  defining ability, efficiency and opportunity, the worse our society will fare. And, mark my words, pigment maketh not the man – what is needed is a deep-seated desire to contribute and build.”

Gertruida nods slowly. “You better keep that talk right here, in the bar in Rolbos, Boggel. If you dare say things like that in bigger places like Prieska or Springbok, you’ll have to see a lawyer.”

“Okay then, Gertruida. Like the rest of the country, I shall say nothing about the elephant in the room. It doesn’t exist, does it? Just a figure of speech…like ‘efficient government’ or ‘united nation’.”

Calculating Racism

wpid-1177012_977770“If I’m proud of who I am, does that make me a racist?” Vetfaan folds the newspaper to show the others the front page.  The headlines contain the usual mix of politics, murders and price increases. “I mean, it’s as if the country just can’t let go of the past – it’s all about black and white. Still, I am who I am. My family is my family.But whenever the politicians rant about Apartheid and how the whites stole the land from the blacks, I can’t help feeling angry.”

“It’s a difficult one, Vetfaan.” Gertruida pushes the newspaper away with a dismissive gesture. “Unless you start reading up on mathematics. That’s the only way. As long as we insist on dividing the nation – or the world – up according to the amount of pigment in your skin, we’re lost. Of course, history is important; it shows us what not to do. But we never learn, do we?”

Gertruida is fond of making statements like this. She’ll mix theory, history and current affairs in a few sentences, and then sit back and watch the others trying to digest what she has just said.

“Huh?” Servaas shakes his head. “You’ve lost me again, Gertruida.”

Gertruida smiles triumphantly and starts explaining. “Look, a certain German mathematician had the same problems with the issues of the day, way back in the seventeenth century. His name was Leibnitz, and he wanted to create an encyclopedia in which everything was awarded a set of numbers. Everything – from fruit to religion – would be represented by a number and that would define the exact nature of the subject under scrutiny. Bertrand Russell wrote about it in 1807, and I’ll try to quote from memory: ‘If controversies arise, there would be no more need of disputation between two philosophers than two accountants. For it would be suffice to take their pens in their hands, to sit down to their desks and say to each other : Let us calculate.'”

“But that’s impossible, Gertruida! You can’t assign a figure to everything? Who decides a goat is number 265 and a car is 1098? Can you imagine if an American gets only number 105, while a Russian gets – say – 1098765? There’ll be endless arguments about getting into the top 100.”

“No Servaas, not like that. The number isn’t of any numerical value – it’s a tag. That tag will take into account what the object is, what it does and how it lives. So hypothetically,  no matter whether you’re German of Japanese, if you write down 158730, everyone will know it’s an adult female elephant with a six-month-old calf, grazing on the grass in central Zambia. The number, according to Leibnitz, will define exactly what is being spoken about.”

Servaas scowls, thinking that this will mean an endless dictionary of numbers. “I still say it’s too far-fetched to be practical. If everybody spoke this mathematical language, nobody will understand what is being said…”

_84018027_binary_code_thinkstock“Unless you’re a machine, Servaas.” Gertruida interrupts the old man gently. “A machine, programmed to think in numbers – and only two of them. Zero and one; the binary language of computers.

“You see, Leibnitz didn’t know it, but he was one of the mathematicians who started the quest for artificial intelligence. His idea might have taken a few hundred years to mature and become practical, but his basic argument was right.”

“Now, how does this solve racism? Surely the problem is more complex than a set of ones and zeroes? And moreover, you can’t expect a computer to solve personal issues like these? Machines have no emotion!”

“Bingo, Servaas! I’m glad you finally understand the basic fault of being human. We attach emotion to everything – not a number. So we seek out people, places and events that make us feel happy and secure – while we avoid those that make us uncomfortable. In fact, we simply hate discomfort. We react with our emotions while we seek fulfillment. Humans, my friend, are wired to avoid situations that rattle the bars around our comfort zones. We get angry when it happens. We rage against the misfortunes of life. And we end up hating those that threaten our existence.”

“Sooo…”

“So politicians rely on fear and hate to keep them in power. As long as they can generate enough unease about the present and the future, voters will go for the easiest road back to their isolated cocoons of comfort. But…to do that, the government needs the past – desperately. They’ll keep on pointing fingers while diligently avoiding some thorny questions. For instance: this country didn’t belong to any specific black nation in the past. The blacks came down from the north, and stole territory from the San and Khoi people. The original hunter-gatherers were hunted down and destroyed.  And tell me: have you ever heard about restitution for these people? No – the government blames the whites and that’s the end of the argument.”

“But that’s the story of the Aborigines and the American Indians, not forgetting the Incas and a whole history book full of other examples – like England and a number of European countries.”

“That’s true, Servaas. But mostly – not in all cases, though – those countries have moved on – or are moving on. For them, the past is the past. They have accepted that no war in the past has been without casualties, but that constantly creating fear and guilt won’t help building a better future. In an advanced society, history serves as a guide – not as a whip.”

“So, am I a racist for clinging to my identity?” Vetfaan still hasn’t heard the answer to his question.

“No, you’re normal.” Gertruida reaches over to tap him on the shoulder. “Without knowing who you are, which culture you belong to and what you believe in, you might as well be a frog. The proviso is, of course, that you cannot deny anybody else the right to his or her identities. Once you get to that point, racism disappears and hope starts blooming.”

“It’ll take a long time…” Servaas muses.

“Indeed, Servaas. Remember Apartheid? They used laws to force down an inhuman policy, based on race. History is simply repeating itself in the country. You can’t use laws to change people’s opinions. That’s a heart-thing – it happens in here.” She taps her ample chest. “That happens when we leave emotion out of the equation, look at the issues objectively, and start calculating. Leibnitz was right.”

“Are you saying I should be allowed to be a proud Afrikaner – despite the government’s rhetoric?”

“Yip, you should. But only if you grant the same for those around you.”

“And that’ll make us the Rainbow Nation?”

“Rainbows only appear after the storm has passed, Verfaan. As long as the clouds are building up and the wind is howling, you won’t see a rainbow. Not in nature, and not in society. One day, we’ll start calculating – and hopefully get to the right answer at last.”

The Symbolism behind “Fly Away”.

800px-South_African_Defence_Force_Memorial001Writers live in an isolated cell with high walls and a very small window. From there, they take a seemingly insignificant situation, throw in a bit of conflict and allow the characters of the story to interact with unfolding events. Nothing, like we all know, ever remains constant and therefore the characters have to adapt to create – in the end – the plot.

But where do the stories come from? It varies from writer to writer. It’s safe to say that there is always at least a smidgin of truth behind each story. It may be much, much more. And then there’s the imagination (or the Muse, if you prefer) to fill in the gaps.

Fly Away is such a story. It also contains – on purpose at times, at others, it was impossible not to submit to the natural progression of the story – a symbolism which forms the backdrop to the stage of South African society.

***

Annatjie is the stereotype of the Afrikaner women who’ve lost so much during the war years. Their husbands came back (if at all) very often as changed men. The trauma of war never leaves the soldier and although he might act just the way he did before being shot at, there are many (if subtle) changes in the way he considers life, the objectivity with which he views politics and even in the way he expresses love. Too many Annatjies had to adapt to too many silences. Too many couples struggled through the aftermath of the war without proper debriefing. Too many women, even today, wonder what – exactly – happened in the bush. Like Annatjie, many women responded to these issues, trying to limit the damage. And many of them retreated from reality to create a space to survive in.

***

Hendrik Meintjies? Well, there can be very few soldiers who didn’t question the purpose of the Border War at some or other stage. The White young men were told what to think and how to think. They were moulded into a super-efficient fighting force where discipline was absolute. This is quite obviously the purpose – the goal – of every army in every war ever fought. It did, however, come at a cost. (Think of Vietnam or Desert Storm and the way it affected those young men – especially afterwards.)

In South Africa, back then, young White men didn’t dare question the ideology the Church, the State and the media propagated in every conceivable way. It was the way they were brought up. Their parents were – in this regard – as effective as the government. Discipline used to be strict in schools as well as in families. That’s why, when the draft papers arrived, thousands of youths reported for duty, believing they were serving God and country in the fight against communism. There was no Je Suis Charlie back then.

Also: there never was a proper program to help the soldiers after the war. No psychological support. No post-traumatic sessions. In the end too many soldiers came home with too many memories of what they had seen and done. Many of those who didn’t die on the battlefield, had difficulty in living in suburbia afterwards.

Like Hendrik Meintjies, there were many boys with their fingers on triggers, wishing they could have done something to stop the madness. Does this make them traitors? Not at all. It is, after all, completely normal to pray for survival when the enemy is throwing bullets, bombs and mortars at you in the middle of the night. No matter how brave the youth – they all felt the cold finger of fear running down their spines.

The other aspect of Hendrik Meintjies’s life the story tells about, is the way his father viewed other races, other cultures and other policies. There was – in the 50’s and 60’s – a groundswell of Nationalism. South Africa – just like America – was grappling with the concept of the racial identity (and differences) that existed at the time. This wasn’t something that happened in 1948 when the Nationalists came to power. Racial segregation was the norm in the world during the 1800’s and the early 1900’s – and, indeed, was established here during the governance of the region by England and the Netherlands long before the Union of South Africa was established in 1910. So, old Mister Meintjies must be seen as a product of his time. While there may be no excuse for discrimination, the reality of South Africa’s development towards equal rights for all is not so dissimilar to the history of Alabama and the southern states of America. The fate of indigenous peoples in America, Africa, and Australia in the previous centuries underscores a history of discrimination that most commentators try to ignore when they report on South Africa.

***

Then: the mission to Luanda. It is wrong to label all White South Africans as conservative, bigoted supporters of Apartheid. One must remember that Black people in America only received equal citizenship in America in 1966. Separatism was – and sadly still is – universal; if not in name, then in more subtle ways. (When 17 people die in Paris, the world’s outrage is without limits. The massacres in Nigeria should have had the same – if not more pronounced – effect.) The world’s history is riddled with racism, whether we want to acknowledge that today or not. South Africans didn’t invent slavery. Neither did they invade Khartoum or India to subject the ‘natives’ or claim the natural resources as their own.

No, South Africa’s history isn’t without blame.  All the races in the country were guilty of varying degrees of atrocities in the past. We have to live with that and build a better future. It is, however, a terrible mistake to allow the past to dictate the future. It is the present – the here and now – that affords us a chance to plan for a better tomorrow.

There are in South Africa (as everywhere else) members of society whose names will never appear in history books. Ever since the first Europeans set foot on our beautiful shores, there have been men and women who advocated peace and stability. These were often common folk, living in the far-flung rural areas and on farms. They were quiet, God-fearing people who preached justice – people like Hendrik Meintjies who rebelled against the destructive policies of the day. Sadly, history prefers to forget these men and women; they rate too low on the Sensation Scale.

But the Afrikaner is also fiercely independent. He’ll die for his cause and many of them did. It is one of those monumental coincidences in history that the National Party and the Berlin Wall crumbled within months of each other. If communism were allowed to cry Uhuru! in South Africa in the 60’s, the very real fear existed that the resultant bloodshed would have been worse than the massacres in Kenya and the Congo combined.

Hendrik Meintjies was a soldier and a rebel, which tells us something else about Afrikaners. They are a stubborn nation. They fought – and won – a war against the mighty power of England. The Republic was established despite the world’s opposition. Once the course is set, it takes a storm to divert the route. And in the period between the 60’s and the 90’s, they were buffeted by a political cyclone of an immense magnitude. Some remained loyal to the cause. Some stubbornly considered the alternatives.

***

The sealed letter.  Annatjie didn’t open it in the end. She tried to keep Hennie alive by not reading his words. She didn’t want to acknowledge the reality of the past. This is true for South Africa in so many spheres. The Whites want to forget about Apartheid, but the ruling party continues to use it as a political tool. Many individuals – with some justification – look back at the time when South Africa experienced the world’s best economic growth and had a reliable rail and postal service. They remember the time when crime and murder occurred rarely and rape was unheard of. In that closed envelope, they live in denial of the reality. Time has moved on. The past, is past. Despite the horror of the current reality, this is where we have to live.

The result of Annatjie’s denial was the years she wasted in demented isolation. She tried to justify her jumbled reasoning by remembering other aircraft crashes that claimed other (famous) people. This symbolism can be applied to both Black and White people in the country (and probably in various other places around the world). In some ways, there are people who want to justify their actions, based on out-dated ideas. To scrutinise those ideas – and their origins – can be a very painful process. To them, it is better to keep the envelope closed.

***

downloadRacial identity is too often based on prejudice. (This may very well apply to religious identity as well. The events in Europe may be an example). This prejudice leads to isolation, which in turn may fester into fanaticism. Denial, one of the main themes of Fly Away, can never contribute to a better future. Breaking out of denial, facing reality, is the only way ahead. That reality challenges each of us to acknowledge that we share space with others who may look and think different to us – and that it’s okay to celebrate that diversity. The old South Africa had a slogan: Ex Unitate Vires. Sadly, it seems as if our current government seems unwilling to embrace such an outlandish concept.

***

So, in a few simplistic ways, Fly Away tells the story of a  nation struggling to come to terms with the past. The story may be of little literary merit, and I accept the blame for that. But, although never intended to coincide with the attack on Charlie Hebdo, Fly Away does echo with the desire to improve the world we live in by having a critical look at our society, our past and our hopes for a better future.. After all, if nothing changes, everything remains the same. Then the promise of a better tomorrow might as well fly away on a doomed aircraft…

We’re not going to do that. Je Suis Charlie is alive and well and living in Rolbos, too. Behind the message of kindness and the occasional humour, the patrons in Boggel’s Place simply can’t shy away from addressing the very real issues confronting us every day. Neither should you…

After careful consideration, it seems appropriate to conclude the story of Annatjie and Hendrik with a special recording – and a message – by the inimitable John Denver…

The Last of the True Afrikaners

IMG_2534Driving from Grootdrink, a veritable bustling metropolis in comparison with Rolbos, you cross the Orange River before passing the little collection of huts where the Geel family stays. Not everybody knows that the Geels and the Kruipers are closely related, and therefore of royal blood – in the Africa sense of the word. Regop Geel, the oldest man in the family, is well known in these parts for his uncanny ability to recite, word for word, the proud history of the San people – exactly as his grandfather had told him.

About ten kilometres farther along the twisting and sandy track, one passes the locked-up homestead of Lothar de Wit, the once-wealthy farmer who – according to Gertruida – couldn’t  live with the past. Perhaps it is true to say that Lothar made his own bed, only to find it extremely uncomfortable; but that would be unkind and even rude in the modern society we live in.

Few people – according to Gertruida, at least – knew the stoic Lothar. Oh, he was a popular figure in the 80’s, being the politician he used to be. But, despite being a well recognised person, he really had no true friends. He was too superior, too supercilious and far too pretentious to bend down to the level of the common folk of the district. Lothar’s sheep were always the fattest, his car the newest and his suits cut according to the latest fashion. He also had a wonderful way with words, which was why he represented the district in  parliament as a respected and convincing orator.

But…like so often happens, he was the architect of his own little disaster, poor man. And that’s a story everybody knows…

***

“Trees,” Gertruida says, “shouldn’t grow high if they can’t stand the wind.”

“A tall tree without proper roots will topple over,” Servaas nods his agreement, “just like old Ben Bitterbrak when he has had too much. I’ve told him to get heavier boots, but he just won’t listen.”

“You can weigh that man’s feet down as much as you like, Servaas, but it won’t help. He collapses from the head downwards – his feet are on the ground already.”

“Ja, just like old Lotta.”

This remark by Kleinpiet stops the conversation. Somehow the subject of Lothar de Wit is one they avoid, simply because his fall from grace had been such a painful one. Even after all these years, Lothar – who was called Lotta behind his back – remains an uncomfortable reminder of who they don’t want to be. Lotta? Last of the True Afrikaners, according to the tongue-in-the-cheek local gossip.

“Listen, we’re all Afrikaners, man! We make mistakes just like everybody else. We live, we love, we hurt, we hope…just like anybody else. We shouldn’t joke about Lothar de Wit.”

Tuynhuys, Cape Town

Tuynhuys, Cape Town

“Shame, you’re right, Precilla. That poor man had the world at his feet, but he believed one stupid thing. I mean, he was a member of the Broederbond, represented the National Party and had a Mercedes Benz. That was as far as you could go in those days. But there was more: he had dinner with PW Botha in Tuynhuys, was an elder in the church and  had season tickets for the Blue Bulls’ games at Loftus.

“Thoroughly respected, he was. Then he started with that True Afrikaner story. Pure blood, he said, was they key to leadership. He reckoned that once you were of mixed origins, you couldn’t claim to be an Afrikaner and therefore would be unfit to lead.. He shouldn’t have said that.”

“Ja, it’s much like the ANC has this obsession about being black. It’s exactly the same mistake. If you are Pure Black, you’re seen in a different way than when you are called Coloured, or Indian, or White. I mean, Hitler proved, in the most terrifying way, that you cannot talk like that. So did the Nationalists, for that matter.” Vetfaan stares at the heatwaves shimmering on the horizon. It’s difficult to see where heaven stopped and earth began. “I don’t understand this absolute emphasis on race. And…surely: can one still claim to be of ‘pure’ blood these days? Aren’t we all carrying genes of mixed origin?”

Kleinpiet shrugs. “I met a man in Rehoboth with the same names as I have. We compared notes and found he’s a distant cousin of sorts. That makes me a Coloured, I suppose. And let me tell you: if ever they start testing the nation’s DNA, we won’t be able to talk about Whites and Blacks any longer. I think we’re all related to one another in some way.”

“Of course. Read your Bible. First Adam, then Noah – that’s where we all come from. Or, if you insist on being scientific, read up on the Origins of Man. It’s obvious either way: somewhere in the distant past we all had common ancestors.” Oudoom looks down at his hands, smiling. “We all share many features, but the opposing thumb – and the soul – separate us as unique in the animal kingdom.”

“Not so, Oudoom. There are apes with opposing thumbs, too. That, according to you, only leaves one singular characteristic for humans: we have souls. That’s all that counts.” Gertruida sits back with a knowing smile. She likes arguing with Oudoom about evolution.

“That’s the point Lothar missed – like the current government, he tried to believe that race is a defining characteristic. That’s all a bit short-sighted. Culture defines you, not colour.”

***

If you should unlock the door to Lothar de Wit’s house on the deserted farm, you’ll find nothing much of interest. A thick layer of dust covers the yellow wood floors that once were polished to a brilliant shine. The tattered curtains are still there, but that’s about all. In the porch, the wall retains the unbleached square where the framed collection of pictures of the De Wit forebears once hung. For years important visitors had to pause at  yellowed photos of the line of ancestors stretching back to Andries Pretorius, the Voortrekker leader. Of this, Lothar was particularly proud and he made a point of making his guests aware of this noble ancestry.

That is, until Regop Geel came to see the politician to discuss  independence for the San people. As can be expected of the Nationalist politician, he listened with apparent interest, promised to look into the matter, and promptly put the matter out of his mind. However, still intent on impressing his visitor, he pointed out his heritage when they passed the photos.

“Andries Pretorius? He’s your great-great-great grandfather?”

Lothar nodded proudly.

“Yes, I have some of that family’s blood too.” Regop Geel stood on tiptoe to peer at the pictures. “Catharina van Bengale, a freed slave girl, way back in the 1600’s. According to my grandfather, one of her sons became a guide to some travellers, which is how the van Bengales got taken up by our family. But that woman, Catharina…she was the great grandmother of Andries Pretorius. That, I think, makes us family.”

Ai Mieta, who worked in the kitchen at the time, overheard the conversation. She, naturally, couldn’t wait to spread the story.

***

“Poor chap. He simply packed up and left. I heard he’s farming in the Karoo now – changed his name and everything – because of the shame of having mixed blood.”

“No, Servaas. It’s no shame to have mixed blood at all. It is, however, unacceptable to proclaim your superiority on the basis of the amount of pigment in your skin. Lothar’s political demise was the direct result of his misplaced belief that purity of race should imply certain privileges. The shame of it all lies in the fact that Lothar was a symptom of a far-reaching, serious disease. It’s endemic to our society – and many societies in Africa and elsewhere. And until we stop thinking that race can – in this day and age – still be pure, we’ll continue to view people of different hues of pigmentation as different to ourselves.”

***

Before you drive past the Geel village, you might want to stop and have a chat with the wizened old man sitting under the lone tree in the clearing that serves as a square for the villagers. Here you’ll be able to hear one of the last oral historians tell you about the Bushman, the San and the Khoikhoi cultures. Be prepared to be patient while he elaborates on the difficult and convoluted history of their struggles for survival. And, if you were to ask, he’ll take you to his humble hut, where a large, square frame filled with old photographs hangs. Then he’ll tell you about Catharina van Bengale and how her offspring influenced events over the centuries.

( Read also about Angela van Bengale, the other slave girl who helped establish wine making in the Cape)