Commentary Magazine


In the Fiery Continent, by Tom Hopkinson; and Into Exile, by Ronald Segal

Reports from South Africa

In the Fiery Continent.
by Tom Hopkinson.
Doubleday. 348 pp. $4.95.

Into Exile.
by Ronald Segal.
McGraw-Hill. 319 pp. $5.95.

For fifteen years the Nationalist government of South Africa has been stamping heavily and clumsily down the road to hell. Dr. Verwoerd has always announced his intentions by word and deed as clearly as did his idol, Hitler. He has pushed the twelve million non-whites of his country steadily backward from bad to worse, taking from them their old rights to share, if they could, in the benefits of urban life, in government, marriage, church, school. Each step toward total apartheid has been protested by the opposition: the English-language newspapers, the white Liberal parties, the multiracial groups, the African National Congress. Those protests are nearly done with now, as the “final solution” draws near. The story of the last few unavailing years is told in these two books by men who were there, and who did their best.

Ronald Segal is the young scion of a rich Cape Town Jewish family. In 1956, he founded Africa South, the bold and vivid magazine that published much of the important journalism, scholarship, and propaganda of all southern Africa. During the years of the Treason Trial, which was probably the last attempt by the Nationalists to use legal forms against their enemies, and surely the last successful attempt of the opposition at legal resistance, Segal fought on despite the harassment and intimidation of the Afrikaaners, and the nervousness or indifference of the Jewish community. He believed that if the truth were told it must somehow count; he, and others like him, believed that even the government might listen. He worked at it for four years.

Tom Hopkinson went out to South Africa from London in 1958 to edit Drum. He was famous as the man who had run Picture Post; he wanted another magazine, and was willing to tackle this lively hodgepodge monthly for Africans, published in Johannesburg and also, by very remote control, in Accra and in Lagos. Hopkinson found a strange and wonderful crew of young reporters and photographers, a difficult management, a country nearing the end of its tether. Against the Nationalists he scored one beat after another. Against the charm and wayward habits of his reporters, he held to his conviction that he himself must remain an Englishman: “If you want a hundred-per-cent all-for-the-poor-African man, you’ve come to the wrong shop. . . . I came here to work with you, not to be you.” He had something over two years to work with them.

On March 21, 1960, a few months after Macmillan’s “wind of change” speech, South Africa came to the end of the road. In the town of Sharpeville a crowd had gathered to protest against the pass law. Without provocation or warning, the police opened fire with automatic weapons from armored cars. They killed or wounded 268 men, women, and children. Three out of four were shot in the back. A state of emergency was declared.

Segal got out, one jump ahead of a warrant. Hopkinson, although he had the news and picture scoop on Sharpeville, could not publish it. And he found his management wanted more crime and cheesecake, less offense to the government. He and Segal must have got to London about the same time.

These two in their different ways fought the black man’s fight as best they could; neither pretends to be anything but a white man. There is no picture of the life of Africans in either book; neither man would claim he knew at all what it was. They had their own lives, determined for them in these years largely by the actions of the South African government. Segal, jaunty, brash, disarmingly insistent on the sources within his own impetuous character of his politics and his actions, tells how he went looking for trouble and found it. Hopkinson is contained, shrewd, quiet, and had trouble because he wanted to do his job. Neither of them is given to agonizing over himself. Both give rather detailed records of the good scores they habitually make in disputes. Both did much with their magazines and do much with these books to bring the facts about the South African situation before the world.

Sharpeville finished liberal South Africa. The Death for Sabotage Act of 1962, and the Publications and Entertainments Bill of 1963, put the seal on it; oddly enough, there was no internal censorship before. There is still no ban on sending manuscripts outside the country for publication. And it is still possible to go into exile, like Adam, like Dr. Mirò Cardona, like many good South Africans, black, white, and “colored.” But the road of the future is probably now the underground route to the “final solution.” It cannot be a short way to go. True, South Africans are now in Algeria studying the lessons to be learned there; and in the one month of November 1962, there were nineteen acts of sabotage by fire and dynamite. Meanwhile, rich from its exports of gold, the South African government is buying armored cars and tanks and jet planes, and stocking up oil.

We may wonder why, when surely the governments of the world are watching and waiting, we must always wait for the worst to happen. This has always been a hard lesson for exiles. Exiles have their stories to tell, and the world may listen; but power, in this world, replies only to power.

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