Commentary Magazine


Before you land at the Johannesburg airport, you write out a brief confession on the questionnaire provided, making, besides a simple admission of guilt incident to their sumptuary laws, a clean breast of your origins. “Race,” the questionnaire demands, and with sinister implication in brackets, “State whether European, Hebrew, Asiatic, et cetera.” “European, Hebrew, Asiatic, et cetera,” I wrote with scrupulous accuracy. I have been through all the youthful stages of writing “Human,” “Undecided,” “Two-hundred-and-twenty yards flat,” and “Also ran.” For a long time now I have stopped answering at all. As soon as the wheels stop, two officers leap in to spray you with disinfectant before you get off. What they'd like to do is knock a nail in your throat and another in the diaphragm to stop whatever it is you've got from spreading, and with a kick in the backside to get your eyes unscrewed, start you moving into their nowhere.

I am looking for someone I might know, and until I see him I am not moving one inch, because I know where you want to get me, and I am not going in alone.

Some people eat the bread of experience, and some eat the biscuit. Every time you go to a cinema in South Africa they throw in a short which is straight propaganda for their side. It shows a young couple in a silk bedroom with a carpet instead of a floor, and she in whorls of nylon says, “Darling, how can you be so cheerful?”

“What's wrong, darling?” he says.

“I feel so ghastly,” she replies. “It must have been all that rich food we ate last night. It doesn't seem to have affected you.”

“Ah,” says he, “but I took my Eno's.” After which he brings a bubbling glass, and they exchange a smile of complicity.

Some people strip down to the bare forked animal, and some to the nylon and Eno's. I am looking for a bare forked animal carrying a briefcase for dignity's sake, who is the stranger within your gates, and the only familiar sight in all Africa.

I returned to my fourth year in South Africa, my mind filled with a ton of sour junket. I got back to the university to find it plastered with student posters exhorting us all to march the following week in public protest. The second reading of the Bill sealing the white universities for good and all from the black hordes was shortly going through the House of Assembly. There were slogans chalked on every door in every department, saying “Open Universities,” “Academic Freedom,” and “Democratic Education,” and an anomalous one on the lavatory door from an unidentifiable minority group boarding the Liberal bandwagon saying “Bread Not Stones.” None of which stirred my junket. Only two of the white universities will tolerate the presence of a black except as a menial, and even their openness doesn't amount to more than a crack under the door. School for non-whites is neither free nor compulsory, and school education for Africans has been by law so degraded that it is only a barely perceptible trickle that reaches a university. Voteless and impoverished parents don't make a habit of sending their children to institutions of higher learning anyway. The whole Liberal crusade for preserving the little democratic education we've got in this land of sunshine and segregation is feed for the privileged chickens, and the something-is-better-than-nothing persuasion they peddle, in their own good old interests naturally, belongs to a welfare-state working-class, not the looped and windowed blacks, who are now drawing a minimal line at full democratic rights, no less. If you throw in your mortarboard with the latter, you don't waste your shoe-leather marching in the cause of higher education for those who can afford it.

I sped across to the mausoleum which is named after an Englishman who speculated for the Empire in the Transvaal and started shuffling students into syllabuses until the principal came to address the freshmen. “The tree,” he said, “is known by its fruits. It is now your privilege to be the bearers of the torch of truth and knowledge which is the symbol of this the mother university of South Africa, and to embody, as I have the utmost faith that you will, those ideals of truth and justice which we seek to communicate to you. Henceforth, wherever you go, you will be regarded as the representatives of this university. In a sense, as we give our good name, we give ourselves into your charge. Do it honor as those before you have done. We are faced this year with a crisis in our history, Universities Apartheid. I ask you to conduct yourselves responsibly and decorously whatever stand you may take, mindful of the reputation of the university. Now Universities Apartheid is indeed a calamity, and this university will fight, as it has always fought, for academic freedom and the right to admit within our ranks those whom we choose as our best inheritors. But we must bear in mind that we are an academic not a political body. Our first business here is the pursuit of knowledge. You are the future, not the present leaders of South Africa. Our government is doing an uphill job in the best interests of the country as they sincerely see it. Those of you who find yourselves in disagreement with its policy in regard to the universities, as many of us here do, I would ask you while deploring the bad to consider carefully the good.”

I worked my way down the steps between Tancred, head of the department, and Berman, senior lecturer, a sweet, timid man, intermittently Jewish, whose security is in literature.

“I'm tired,” he said, “I've been reading Dostoevski all the vacation.”

I said, “Fathers and teachers, I ponder. What is hell?”

“Hell is other people,” said Tancred. He has a burst paper bag of a body, and a face like the picture of a weeping lemon in the London underground advertising lemon-squash. He perpetually wears shorts displaying his ancient knees horribly calloused by persistent Anglican genuflections. He lives with his wife in a thatched residence called “The Willows.” They embrace publicly at the gate at his coming hence and going thither, morning and noon, all weathers, and indulge in shameful dialogue in their drawing-room, such as:

Mrs. Tancred: O darling, there's a moth!

Tancred: A moth, darling? In “The Willows”?

Or worse:

Mrs. Tancred: Would you like tea, darling?

Tancred: Darling, would it be too much trouble if I asked for chocolate?

Mrs. Tancred: Of course not, darling. Too much trouble! You've got the Chair, dammit.

I said, “I maintain it is the suffering of being unable to love.” Tancred thought fast. “Love,” he pretended to ruminate. “Do you mean love X or just love?”

Stick to your Eno's, Lancelot.

“Exposed,” Berman and I shrieked gleefully when we were shot of him. Berman said it was such interludes that made life worth living. Between biscuits.


I waited in the corridor for Boris, who came lumbering out of African Studies as soon as he heard my cough. We greeted in Xhosa, clicking away like a couple of horse-drawn cabbies, I to hide my relief, he to show his. Then he edged me round the corner and rubbed his black moon-face against mine, which is illegal. For two years now I have listened in the university for his ponderous feet slapping the concrete; I have waited in the house for his wheeze and rumble over the telephone; and watched like a plainclothes speed-cop for that car swaying incautiously down the road dead-center. Though his shoulders are studiedly care-worn and though he walks as if it is always raining, and the tears pour alarmingly down his cheeks when he laughs, he is built for tranquillity and everything in moderation. Once he made a journey to Swaziland intent on research on the spring festival when warrior Swazis run in relays sea-ward to fetch the water back inland. “Unfortunately,” he said, “I arrived just a fortnight too late.” Just a fortnight, that's Boris. He wears his clothes in such a way that they do nothing to detract from the deep and vital strength of his chest and belly. On his head he carries a neat short mat of hair like burnt stubble, and on his face, like all African intellectuals who, once it is there, as any location dick will tell you, can by no means disguise it, he wears his education. You could sight a mile off, if you are black or have a trained eye, that Boris, even in the uniform rags of a migrant laborer (which God forbid) is, in the definition of the locations1 and lately social anthropology, Excuse-me class.2 What it is they can't conceal, the black intelligentsia, is authority in their countenances. Boris's countenance is also, which is not the exclusive preserve of the intelligentsia, one of sorrow.

“Have you had great griefs, Boris?”

“Of course.” He always says “of course” to questions touching on his humanity.

“What great griefs?”

A childhood of poverty and privation; ten years of his youth withered in the philistine backwaters of the Free State; ingratitude, abuse, and incessant criticism from his comrades in the Organization; fifteen years lecturing at the university and still no promotion. Nor hope of it.

“Losses.” And maintains on purpose, even while he warms the air around him, his compact detachment, while I bleed with love and envy.

I've had losses too, and if it hadn't been for you and your kind I might have been at home now, got away before South Africa ate to the bone. Now I can't live without it, my bread and the worm in it. After the revolution I'll be home like a shot, hell for leather to Europe, France, and England, London and Oxford. Hit Oxford in autumn ankle-deep in leaves, mist and apples in the air, and the ripe stone turned to honey and russet. Only I won't want to go then. I no longer want to go now.

Novelist, poet, and grammarian, Doctor Boris Crosby Duma, urbane and protected, Doctor of Philosophy, university lecturer, householder. He dines with his family at seven every evening seated at the head of the table, and he banks at the Standard Bank of South Africa. There remains, however, a peasant in his hands and a clodhopper in his big flat feet.

“What do you fear most, Boris?”

“I fear most that I might not live to see the great change. I mean not simply the change in South Africa, but the whole world.”

He is famed widely among the peasants north and south of the Kei river. He is recognized with honor as a leader in the struggle. He can give voice there with authority and eloquence because he knows their needs by heart, and in his revolutionary capacity he strives to answer them undividedly; because he won't make use of his education to escape to England or America; because he does not exhort them to spend their energies in futile and desperate acts of terrorism, and because for all his learning he has not forgotten his origins.


But his capacities are diverse, and mindfulness of his origins is, as well as a compulsory duty, useful. A fair Colored man playing white can enjoy uneasily a privileged existence never for a moment free from the sharp-eyed brown narks at the corner. The African intellectual has a far more brilliant world open to him than the disguised Colored can hope for. For it is not the competitive, and in many areas hard-up like any other, white South African world he enters; it is a rich, kind, and welcoming Liberal white world. Middle-class men, perceptive, cultured, and terrified, seeing in him a black man who doesn't embarrass them, whose way of life is in all its parts civilized, and whose signal merits justify their persistent attempts to establish harmonious race relations and relieve the suffering of the non-whites, press his hand. Their wives in the Black Sash entreat him to address their ranks. Duma's two thousand a year may imperil his commitment to twelve million defenseless clodhoppers, but it has also brought him among his equals. He is at ease there, educated and charming, his blackness a happy accident, his tribal background remote and interesting, his suffering admirable. Like greets like. Respectability shakes hands with respectability. Middle-class embraces middle-class.

What do you fear most, Doctor Duma? What do you fear most, free-holder, checkbook-holder?

That I'll lose my job, colleague. That they'll shift me to a location, privileged one. That they'll pack me back to the reserves, Englishwoman. That they'll wrest from me the exemptions I've won. That I'll be penniless again, without prestige, without dignity, nobody, nothing, just another native.

“Are you marching next week?” I asked in his car on the way home, knowing it was unthinkable, but resorting for small talk to a feeble pleasantry.

“Shouldn't I?” he said, eyeing me to the left as the car lurched sickeningly to the right. “Doesn't it concern me?”

“As the crumb does the vulture,” I said. “They're taking our number.”

“Take theirs,” said Boris. “Can't you ever use a crumb to good purpose?”

I rose obediently to the bait. “It's a filthy crumb, and you know too well you can't.” Then I looked at his face, and an old suppressed uneasiness stirred. “You're not serious?”

He said, teaching his pupil to think, and methodically, “Let me put it like this. What group will constitute the leadership of the revolution?”

O, Organization catechism. “The intelligentsia.”

“And from where will they get the education they must have to be an intelligentsia?”

I don't know. “From wherever they can get it without treachery, without political collaboration, that is.” But I know this. “No one who involves himself in a political demand for the benefits of less than enough is going to participate in the revolution. You betray, you destroy your ultimate purpose in the process.”

“So we're to have a semi-literate leadership?” said Boris.

“Even Bantu education provides literacy. You don't get educated for revolution in a university.”

“That's not the point.” We swung wide around the corner, and my forehead met the windshield. “All right?” asked Boris. “Of course you don't. But without formal training in logical thought your political theory has no secure foundation. You must have the basis of a trained mind to build on.”

“I don't recall,” I said truthfully, “getting any formal training in logical thought at Oxford.”

“So you say. If you hadn't been to Oxford, you wouldn't be in the Organization.”

“It's because I'm a Jew that I'm in the Organization.”

“An Oxford Jew,” said Boris.


* * *

“You'll be at the Staff Association meeting, of course,” said Miss Chichele, swilling out the teapot, tossing the water smartly over the balcony, and flashing me a conspiratorial smile all in a twinkling. She likes to think we're in the same righteous camp on the side of the big black brotherhood. I know Chichele's sort though. I lived in her house for a year while she was on long leave, and when she got back the peeping Thomas next door couldn't wait to tell her I'd had blacks using the bath. She'd spent hours heightening her visual acuity through the hedge and net curtains. Chichele made Edna scrub out the bath twice with dettol. Edna told me.

“She said you had natives getting bathed in the bath,” Edna said, outraged because she is attached to me. “I said you wouldn't ever do such a thing.”

Edna chars for select madams such as myself and Chichele. She has two illegitimate children, one white, one brown. They go to separate schools.

“Cut that out,” I said, “of course they used the bath.”

“I wouldn't go out with a native,” said Edna. She's a light-brown Colored herself. “I'd be frightened,” she said. “They're going to get rid of the white man.”

We've had this conversation numerous times before. It always goes the same way.

“Who says so?” I said. “Who says that? The whites.”

“I like white men,” said Edna.

“What's a white man got that a black hasn't?” I said.

“I'm scared of natives,” said Edna. “They'd do anything.”

“Such as what?” I said.

“They want to get rid of the whites,” she said. “They'd do anything.”

I said, “It's the whites who are going to do the killing.”

“Yes,” she said, “true. They'll do the killing.”

“You're a non-white too, Edna,” I said. “They might mop you up by mistake.”

“Yes,” she said, “some of them would do anything; and there's plenty of them no more white than I am.”

“Plenty of blacks no blacker than you are either,” I said.

“Yes,” said Edna, “we're all made alike. No difference.”

“The big difference,” I said, extracting a single bill for her wages from my wad, “is that some people have money and some haven't.”

Chichele has cooled toward me a bit since the bath incident, but she still thinks my heart's in the right place. “What the government's doing in the case of Universities Apartheid,” she said, “is sheer spite. There are so few non-whites here anyway.”

Hendrickse came in. He is a stocky Colored man who is junior lecturer to the department because he got firsts all the way through and we couldn't get anyone else.

“Are you going to the Staff Association this afternoon, Teddy?” I asked.

“O yes,” he said, “certainly.” Teddy would love to be a white man: he needs to be; but he's too black to pass as white, so he just acts white the whole time, and persistently avoids possible areas of conflict. I'm one of those areas. I frequently remind him of his origins; I make him nervous and compel him to lie. I knew he wouldn't go. It was black students, not lecturers, the bill affected. He wouldn't have gone even if it had affected him. He wouldn't have needed to: the white intelligentsia fights faithfully for the privileges of the privileged blacks.

The rest of us went though. We all piled in, breast-beaters, wise men of affairs, Black Sashers, Reds, spies, the lot. Boris lumbered in. He saw me, but pretended not to, so he wouldn't have to sit next to me and be embarrassed if I made a speech. He went to sit with Selkovitch who is a named man, a member of the outlawed Communist party, but a professor for all that, of powerful personality and widely popular. Boris admires Selkovitch and attaches justifiable value to their relationship. He loves to be a public man among men, and Selkovitch is the only big shot in the university who openly offers Boris this scope.


The chairman introduced the burning topic. He said the closing of this university to non-white students wasn't a political matter. We needn't be afraid we were involving ourselves in politics. Politics anyway wasn't our business. It was a matter of interference in university policy. It was simply a matter of protesting against interference in the business of what was traditionally held to be an independent institution.

Selkovitch spoke first. Straight Selkovitch. “We'd better get this clear from the start, Mr. Chairman. This is a political matter. It's a question of the right of qualified citizens to higher education. A bill to deprive certain citizens, on grounds of color, is to be debated tomorrow in the House of Assembly. Most of us here will protest in public tomorrow. Let's not be frightened of a word, Mr. Chairman. We mustn't deceive ourselves about the nature of our protest. We are being deprived of an individual democratic right. It amounts to this: certain citizens may no longer choose which university to send their children to; and we, the university, may no longer select our students on the basis of merit alone. This happened not so long ago in another country. If we don't want to repeat the mistake of the German universities we've got to be on the alert. If we want to maintain our honor we've got to oppose the government on their own ground. Mr. Chairman, that's political ground.”

Everyone clapped. We like his direct, honest, ruthless punches, even if we don't hold his views. He stands for hard-headed individual rebellion warmed by a familiar morality. We think of him as a full man, cool in the head, warm in the heart. His bonhomie is all-embracing, never mind what side you're on.

Webb got up, Cambridge man, moralist, and professor. The professors always speak first. “A protest march isn't enough, Mr. Chairman. We must make a public protest, obviously, and as impressively as possible. But we can't stop there. What if the bill goes through? We must start now making provision for that eventuality. I propose first on the list of suggestions, Mr. Secretary, that if Universities Apartheid becomes law, we close this university, if not indefinitely, then for a period of, say, two years.” Webb is new to South Africa, and still full of youthful Liberal fire.

Nutting is a mature Liberal. He spoke next. “In principle,” he said, “I agree with Professor Webb, and I fully endorse what Professor Selkovitch has said. But we, the mother university of South Africa, stand for something more than isolated protests. However much we may feel impelled to take drastic measures, and with those who do I most deeply sympathize, we must beware, I think, of any desperate action that might end in nothing more than handing over the power we have to the government. This university must go on, if for nothing else, because we must go on fighting. I propose then, Mr. Secretary, that we tabulate suggestions for a permanent protest. I myself tentatively suggest an annual demonstration to commemorate our loss of academic freedom and to keep the memory actively alive until such time as our rights are reinstated.”

Relieved applause. What, in heaven's name, does Webb think we're going to live on those two righteous years?

Professor Vaughan is a long, gaunt, beautiful, sad woman with her soul in her face, and the most reputable intellect in the university. I suspect her of real courage, but whenever I feel seriously threatened by her committedness, I remember that she's an heiress. “I too endorse what Professor Selkovitch has said. This is a political matter and a very serious one. We are indeed in grave danger of finding ourselves in the same position as the German universities in the fascist regime. We dare not isolate ourselves. I want to propose a wider basis to work on than the immediate problem presents. I would put this to the Association, that under the aegis of this university, a general conference be called representing all people of good will, of all groups and all colors, to work out a program for the future of this country, not solely the future of the universities, on a multi-racial basis and a basis of fairness to all.”

Fairness. An English public-school conference to establish national fairness. Apartheid isn't fair. Votelessness isn't fair. The Pass Laws aren't fair. The Group Areas Act isn't fair. We've got to be fair to the whites, though, too. The privileged are people too, you know. If you substitute a basis of political, economic, and social equality for a basis of fairness, that wouldn't be fair to us, would it? We've got to live too, you know. Our standards are different. We can't live like a raw native in a kraal on a sack of mealie-meal a month. They're two thousands years behind us. They're not ready yet. They've got to be educated first. You can't do it all at once. It's evolution, not revolution we need here. It takes time.

“I wonder,” said the vice-principal, “if we couldn't as a permanent memorial introduce a black motif into our coat-of-arms?”

“And perhaps a black border round our note-paper?” said Miss Chichele.

All suggestions tabulated for mature consideration.

Then Boris reared his ancient head. Everyone smiled expectantly. “I want to examine this business of Universities Apartheid radically,” he rumbled. “It all started a long time ago, much longer than this Association seems to be aware of. It began legally with the Bantu Education Act and is inseparable from it. If we are to oppose the government on grounds of academic freedom, we must first ascertain what academic freedom means. We talk about maintaining our right to select entrants to the university on the basis of merit alone, but three-quarters of the children of this country have no opportunity to reveal their merit. Nor should our protest be based on a desire to return to the state of the good old days before the National party came to power. The Bantu Education Act was the first legislative step to degrade non-white education, but schooling for non-whites has always been inferior. We cannot, Mr. Chairman, use a slogan like ‘University entrance on the basis of merit alone’ in a country where free and compulsory education for all children is not a law of the land.”

So far and no further. Democratic education, but not a democratic country. You can't push them too far. They're intelligent people. They'll be compelled to arrive at the conclusion ultimately that you must have a democratic state before you can entertain any idea of democratic education. Ultimately. Provided it's in their ultimate vested interests.

Finally we held over Professor Vaughan's proposal and elected an Academic Freedom Committee to protect our traditional independence from the government which one way or another, by omission or commission, we had brought into power.


“What did you think of my speech?” said Boris carefully afterward.

I said, “At this rate you'll get a Chair.” I said, “You thousand-tongued chimera! On an Organization platform only the other day you were preaching the indivisibility of democratic rights.”

“If they make an all-out stand for democratic education, do you think that can remain an isolated issue?” he said.

“Make an all-out stand,” I said, “an all-out stand to swamp the market with skilled labor, and town and country with dangerous ideas. Are you crazy? They'll be demanding what the whites have. All of it. And organizing themselves competently to get it.”

“Exactly,” said Boris. “What do you think I'm getting at? Why do we always assume that the Liberals can use us but we can't use the Liberals? Let them isolate a demand and try to fulfill it. We can use their work. Education is the first necessity for revolution.”

“You're ratting,” I said, and the fear rose. “They isolate a demand precisely in order to devitalize the whole gamut of our demands. They can maintain their security only at our expense. When haven't they done that? We have to do our work ourselves. They'll never do something for nothing. They are stronger than us; they're much more capable of using us. They've got massive power on their side, they've got all the money, all the education, all the leadership, and an old diplomatic imperial metropolitan country behind them, and a long long tradition of deflecting revolution. You want to be with them, so you pretend to yourself you can use them.”

He made a disgusted face. “I can understand others in the Organization talking like that,” he said, “they've had little education. They've had to learn their politics by heart. I expected more vision and independence from you.”

“I learned some of what I know from them,” I said, “but more from you. You've been my teacher.”

“The lesson has been distorted,” he said. “Well, goodbye.”

The next day he marched; in procession with the Liberals, in cap and gown. He lent his presence for all to see to a token gesture, saying with them: let segregation do its worst outside, but don't let the few of us inside suffer. I must accept my inferiority as a black man, but don't let it touch me as a professional.


There was uproar in the Organization. I went to see French that evening, deviously weaving my way, to avoid attention, through the network of tumbled streets thick with babies and small boys with no pants on, young hopeful brown madonnas in tight skirts, and their brutal broken parents, to the little careless cultured house he shares with Dija. The two of them were presiding on the sofa.

I have been a tacitly unacknowledged fellow-traveler in the African People's Federal Organization now for two years. Its name is legion: it is many; but it must be, according to official membership, the smallest political organization in South Africa. It is said by contemptuous critics to hold its meetings in a telephone booth. But its program is the only one in South Africa that fully answers the present needs of its people, and its methods are watertight: selective boycott and non-collaboration. This means never participating in any political action or associating with any political group which makes a bid for less than the whole program of rights, or identifying itself with any action which cannot be diverted to its own ends. For this reason it is the most difficult organization for a white to penetrate, or for any intellectual—such being, in French's definition, a person with, like any other, an eye for the main chance, but who, being educated, knows how to get it—to remain indefinitely inside. It is a hard, hard little organization, but it is the only one.

French is its founder and leader, though he holds no office. For many years now he has been banned from addressing any public gathering, which means any gathering anywhere of more than ten people, and forbidden to move beyond the suburbs of the city.

He is a fully-arrived man in his mid-fifties, five feet four inches high; square and agile. No man has ever worn his leadership with less pomposity or more warmth and grace, but his authority among us is traditional and never questioned. His head is perfectly round, face bespectacled, very black, forehead immensely broad, eyes sharp, cunning, full of smiles. Intellectually and culturally he is totally European. He has no regard whatever for tribal heritage and despises any black intellectual who has. He is devoid of sentimentality, utterly detached from his childhood roots, and intent on permeating his people with the same way of thought. He wants Africans to be a modern people, fully equipped with what the modern world calls human rights; but beyond that, French is prophet and seer of the permanent human revolution.

“So Boris marched,” said French.

“Did you know he was going to march? Did he tell you?” Dija demanded. She is a seasoned old warrior of about sixty, an ugly yellow woman born into a huge and illustrious Indian family, remarkable for its culture, wealth, and alcoholism, the last two of which have passed her by. She is always concealed behind a newspaper when I walk in, and as a rule she won't emerge for half an hour, but this time the newspaper had descended at once.

“When did you see him last?” she asked.


“What did he say?”

“There was a meeting of the Staff Association on Universities Apartheid,” I said.

For behold, not the brotherhood, but its hope. Which must acknowledge me, must give the outward and visible sign of my inward and invisible conviction, to justify my presence in South Africa, my being alive at all, my accidental survival, my intact skull. But they won't take me for nothing. Today the price is Boris, who has betrayed our principle of non-collaboration. So I produced my evidence.

“Have you read that book of his?” Dija continued.

About twenty-five years ago, Boris published a novel in the vernacular called The Generations. It has a rich archaic flavor even in translation, ballad-like, ominous, unsafe. It concerns a young educated tribal chief fresh from the university, abounding in advanced ideas which he passionately endeavors to convey to his tribesmen. Since the young chieftain is (from the reader's point of view, not the writer's), an insensitive half-wit, and the tribesmen cunning old mature politicians, the young fellow's life ends in howling catastrophe. What Boris set out to present was the problem of how to introduce modern civilization among a people armed with a barrage of tribal customs to which they are at least as deeply attached as the young graduate is to his modern education. As it turns out, although the writer clearly sought to give the modern set equal weight with the tribesmen, only the tribesmen are presented with artistic power. I reviewed the novel at Boris's behest. “The artist,” I wrote, “is betrayed by his art. Marlowe tries hard to indict Faustus, but he is obviously on Faustus's side. This writer is on the side of the tribesmen.”

“An artist doesn't take sides,” Boris said. The novel is one of very few in Xhosa: it has been a set work for years in the African Studies department. Boris invites the students to write long critical essays on its artistic virtues. One of them wrote a minor dissertation on it, likening the writer to Shakespeare. Boris thought he'd got his due for once.

I told Dija I had read the book and thought it remarkable.

“It's written by a man on the side of backwardness,” said French. “As for its artistic merit, he's simply copied Hardy's technique. Who reads it now anyway?”

Boys I know from the country have told me their parents read it to them when they were children. “It's read widely by literate peasants,” I said.

“Nonsense,” said French, “Boris told you that.”

“No, various boys from the country know it well,” I said.

“Their parents might know it,” French chuckled. “It doesn't speak to their children.”

“It's still a set book for African Studies,” I said.

“No!” French roared delightedly. “So Boris still makes sales. He's good, good.” He guffawed with real pleasure.


The front door rattled, and there were heavy rapid footsteps down the passage.

Ndondo came in. He greeted us all ceremoniously in order of seniority. Ndondo looks like a black rubber doll. He has a hole in his heart and maintains that he might drop dead any minute. Excitement is bad for him, but he is frequently beside himself for all that; I never met a man with a greater capacity for righteous fury. Otherwise he assumes the role of a slow, simple, and earnest peasant, which he is not.

French inquired after his heart with paternal solicitude.

“My health,” Ndondo replied in his toneless bark, “is not quite up-to-date.” And panted. “There is trouble in Kwezi,” he added ominously, “there are plenty of madmen there.”

“Are you straight from Kwezi?” French asked.

“I had to run out,” Ndondo said, slowly preparing us for the drama.

French knows you can't hurry Ndondo. “You had to run,” he repeated.

“I ran,” said Ndondo. “I had to run. What they would have done to me I don't know.”

“Who?” asked Dija. “Congress?”

“PAC,” said Ndondo. “I had to run, mind you.”

PAC is a splinter organization, seceded from Congress on a desperate unmet demand for action. Demand for action on the part of the self-styled leaders of black South Africa is a handy lever for the Liberals, as long as there's no future in it. Large gestures, a few deaths, righteous indignation stirred, a safety-valve for suppressed black steam, huge campaigns on a sectional basis for an isolated demand which can never advance us, defeat with honor, holidays of the soul, showing the government what the blacks can do when roused. There was a Defiance Campaign in 1952 against Group Areas3 which failed and was dropped; and today we all live in group areas. When the government prepared to extend the Pass Laws to include women, the Liberals organized a whole location in the north to burn their passes. Numbers of them, and several people over ninety, were jailed for months. They all carry passes now. There was a contrived strike in 1961 for two days as a non-white gesture against the declaration of the Republic. Whereupon many employers gave their men the two days holiday. These activists drop an occasional bomb in Johannesburg, and collect handfuls of Africans, no matter whom as long as they're black, to sit in white coffee-bars in Capetown, demanding the right of voteless penniless non-citizens to drink their coffee in white coffee-shops. As if they had, most of them, the wherewithal to pay for it. Ah, but the principle! In Liberal South Africa the blacks have principles for breakfast.

The front door shook and a measured tread followed.

“Roland,” said French.

“There isn't enough tea,” said Dija.

Roland appeared in the doorway, a handsome, vain, ambitious, intelligent Colored, full of shyness and egotism. “Good evening, French. Good evening everyone,” he smiled nervously because he knows nobody likes him. I would, but he owes me too much money. This has inhibited our friendship. “Apparently there's trouble in Kwezi.”

“Ndondo's here,” said Dija coldly. She knows Roland loves to be first with the news.

“I had to run from there,” said Ndondo.

“There was a meeting of PAC, you say,” French encouraged him gently, but invisible sparks flew out of him.

“They would have killed me,” said Ndondo. “This PAC leadership—better call them mad dogs—are making fools of the people. They're calling for a strike.”

There was the front door again and the passage filled with footsteps.

“They're calling a general strike,” said Freddy, who works in a dockyard and claims to be the only worker among all the intellectuals in the Organization. “There was talk at work today.”

“There'll be no general strike,” said French, “there'll be no general strike because there's been no organization for it. The Liberals are behind this. They're out to exhaust an unprepared people. On what demand will the people come out?”

“Pass Laws,” said Ndondo bitterly. “These boys,” he spat out the word, “ignoramuses from the university, are calling the people out on the Pass Laws. They'll do it. They'll do it, French. That hall was full, it was bursting. I had not half opened my mouth to tell them they were being betrayed, and some ruffian sticks his fist in.”


The Pass Laws are a foolproof method of keeping a legal finger on every African in the Republic. He carries his pass around like his skin. If he can't produce it immediately on demand by the police it means jail pronto. He carries it to prove he's not in the wrong place and that he's paid his tax and is employed. An exempted native like Boris carries an exemption certificate. Naturally these Pass Laws are something of a fly in the African's ointment, because they mean he can't slip out of such defaults as being in town looking for work when he ought to be in the country starving, or giving a false address when encountering a uniformed Republican, or having left the pass at home, or having failed to pay poll-tax. Coloreds and Indians don't carry passes yet, though they are non-citizens on most other scores. Repeal of the Pass Laws is an Africans-only demand: it divides the non-whites and emphasizes the differences in the categories of oppression.

“Who addressed the meeting?” French asked Ndondo.

“Sebeko, Kunene, Dlamini, small boys, babies, ruffians. I said they were deceiving the people. I had to run for my life.”

I know those three, campus idlers. They loll all day at Blackies' Corner, buttonholing tolerant white students. Sebeko claims to be provisional Minister of Culture in the PAC cabinet. He wears dark glasses and an insolent smile. He used to visit me occasionally in the days when I was a tolerant white and endured his patronage. “Africa for the Africans,” he would say; and once, glancing idly out of the window at a white child, said, “That baby will be spitted on a bayonet before he's much older.”

Slay the righteous with the wicked? Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? “There's no sin in being white,” I argued, mildly, because in those days I wasn't sure.

“The only whites we will spare,” said Sebeko, “are those who will be Africans.”

“But what kind of Africans? What does being an African mean?”

“You must throw in your lot with us.”

“Sticking bayonets into babies? All that means is being a barbarian.”

“You are the barbarians,” he said.

Then I discovered the Organization and stopped having to do with Sebeko.

Kunene is in quite a different category. He came to the university from a Transvaal location, a lost boy in smelly clothes, plainly displaying his inferiority in his shoulders and his anxious vacant soft face. He was a student of mine and, as is quite common among trainees under Bantu Education, seemed to be barely literate. Dlamini was once an Organization boy, but couldn't stand the inactivity. Congress appeared to be offering the excitement he wanted. When that wore out he went to PAC for further heroics.

The day after Ndondo brought us the news, the people of a hitherto unknown location in Johannesburg massed in front of the house of the location superintendent in, as planned, a peaceful protest. The police came and shot sixty-seven people, some in the back. The next day Kwezi came out.

Kwezi is the biggest location in our town. To the outsider it presents a uniform squalor or adequate shelter, according to what he has had his eye trained to look for; but to the location-dweller it presents a variety of areas each quite as individually characterized as the residential areas of any city to its inhabitants. The Excuseme's live in Kwezi proper; the migrant laborers in the celibate barracks; respectable but unskilled settlers on the outer fringe; the detribalized city-born roughs in the far end. From there, teeming with jobs and layabouts, came the PAC brigade. But many many others came out too, for hope.

Daily deliveries at the door stopped abruptly. Local secondary industry paled. But the wealth of South Africa is in the mines of the Transvaal and the Free State, and these were totally unaffected. You can only get to work on a mine-laborer before he leaves the country: in town he is sealed off in a compound. When it was all over we all saw there had been no need for national anxiety. It was just personal trouble for shopkeepers and their suppliers. There was a rush to buy firearms though. Our town sold out.

The police only shot three people in Kwezi; but this was what the whips wanted. There was a monster funeral, and immediately after that, Kunene, wearing blue shorts to emphasize the contrast of his youthful body beside the master-mind, led a mile-long procession to town. The university closed for the duration, to avoid danger, they said. What danger nobody could formulate. They were all saying how miraculous it was that this boy Kunene could so effortlessly control the thousands of Africans. What they expected, heaven knows. It is illegal for an African to carry a firearm, and the police had raided exhaustively for dangerous weapons such as cutlery and broomsticks. This peaceful black procession wound its way to town, and some of the Organization boys and girls joined it, and quite a number of Liberal white youngsters, and all were brothers for a few hours in a high if unspecified cause. When they reached town Kunene assured the Chief of Police that his people would do no violence, and asked for an audience with the Minister of the Interior. Then they all marched back. Kunene didn't meet the Minister, but he spoke with the Secretary who said henceforth natives need not carry passes. After which Kunene was arrested and put inside for three months. From the House of Assembly an edict came that natives need not carry passes for the next fortnight, and that the pinprick of this large unwieldy object would be removed and substituted by a neat folder called a reference book. Some burned their passes and were threatened with arrest later, so that the black market in Kwezi did a roaring sale in forged passes.

Still they didn't go back to work. The army was called in and Kwezi was sealed off to all outsiders but the Red Cross with sacks of mealie-meal and love. Some of the Organization boys secretly ran food in too: they said they couldn't let the people starve. But they were starving for nothing. White supremacy wouldn't collapse because a few thousand blacks stayed off work. But by the third week secondary industry was growing restive. Monday morning at the crack, police were on the streets assaulting every black they thought might be on strike, which means every black.

Boris goes to the bank on Monday morning. He came out with his wallet stuffed and his everlasting cigarette in his mouth.

“Where do you work?” demanded the cop in Afrikaans, which is a language of the folk and a very homespun tongue indeed.

“I'm a university lecturer,” said Boris stiffly in English.

“Take the cigarette out of your mouth when you speak to me,” the cop shouted, and knocked it out of his mouth and slapped his face.

Boris got into his car, drove straight to the university, informed the head of his department that he wouldn't be back till he had full assurance that he wouldn't be assaulted on the way, and went home for a week's holiday. He gave the press the story, and the next day it was headline news in the Opposition papers with an embarrassing photograph. In fact, every African in the public streets had been knocked about that day, but Boris is in a different class.

He is official translator for Organization publications in English into the vernacular. Our statement on the subject had been written when the wave first broke over Kwezi. Boris sat on it for ten days, then refused to translate it. French smelled a rat long before Boris came clean, but he always has the patience to wait until the suspect gives himself away. He came up to the university in his terrible little car as soon as he got Boris's note of refusal. Boris and French were at school together. Boris fears and venerates French: French understands Boris and loves him for his complexity, education, ponderousness, and intelligence.

He said, “Where's that pamphlet, Boris?” regarding Boris's vulnerable face intently out of his sharp little bright invulnerable eyes. “You agreed to translate it.”

“I've changed my mind,” said Boris levelly. “I agree with every word it says, but I don't think this is the time to distribute it. It can't at this moment be accepted or understood by the people.”

“That was for the executive to decide,” said French. “Why didn't you refer it to them?”

“The people are behind this strike, Boysana,” said Boris, lapsing into an older nickname to shield himself from the enveloping cold.

“The people! I don't think you know who the people are anymore,” French said, and filled the little room with his contempt.

Boris fought. “I think that's truer of you,” he said calmly.

“You're deserting us, Boris,” said French with momentary real grief.

“Never,” said Boris, who can use an emotional stimulus. “How could I desert you? Without you I would have been nothing. Surely you understand that? We've known each other all our lives.”

French can play on that wicket with much greater power, but only when it's productive. “I don't know you now,” he said. “Where are you now when ignorant boys are herding the people into death-traps?”

“I'm with the people, French. Where are you?”

French never stoops to defend himself. Moreover he had discovered from his intelligence officers that Boris had been involved in acts of mercy in Kwezi.

“You're with the Liberals. You collected food for the Liberals to take in under police escort. Who is prolonging a strike futile from the beginning and already exhausted? Who is encouraging a doomed strike?”

“The Red Cross took it in,” Boris corrected him.

“The international Liberals,” said French.


That was all I heard. I saw French leaving the university. The strike was in its third week, and every day now fresh convoys of soldiers were moving in by air and road from the north. The portion of the campus known variously as Blackies' Corner or Freedom Square was packed with knots of excited conspirators representing every shade of non-white political opinion from the Fourth International to the Liberal party. I caught him up at the steps. He looked terribly alive and very angry. Just as we moved on together I turned round. Boris was walking a few yards behind us. He made no sign of recognition. His face had died completely and his whole warm bulky body looked debased and furtive. I thought: he's done for now. And piously I reviled him.


1 The urban area demarcated by law for the habitation of Africans only—Ed.

2 The term commonly applied by the Africans of South Africa to the African bourgeoisie—Ed.

3 The Group Areas Act of 1950 restricts non-white habitation to certain proscribed areas, and provides for government control and acquisition of immovable non-white property and government occupation of non-white land and premises outside the proscribed areas—Ed.

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