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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Excerpt #2 - "Mukhabarat, Baby!" by Eric Burkhart

Link: Book Excerpt #1

(This second excerpt is pulled from the middle of a chapter about Africa; until the time is appropriate, I am obliged to share only excerpts that are not related to my CIA career.  Hope you enjoy.)

Southern Africa is dominated by the economic and political giant of the continent, The Republic of South Africa.  Since the removal of the Group Areas Act in 1989, the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, and the all-race elections of 1994 that brought the ANC to power, this country appears to be much different than the apartheid-era South Africa.  I lived in South Africa in 1989 and I remember apartheid quite clearly.  I was a young man then, and easily confused by prejudice and bigotry.  I lived in Natal on the east coast, and I remember vividly the signs above restroom entrances identifying "Blankes" (whites) and "Swartes" (blacks).  The huge, Victorian post office in Pietermaritzburg had separate sections for the races, and each bench in Durban had a particular designation.  And everywhere I went in Natal the designations were completely ignored.  The white population of Natal is of English heritage by a large percentage, and most English South Africans (certainly the ones that I knew) despised apartheid and the National Party government of P.W. Botha.  As for the post office, all windows on both sides were used by whites, blacks, Indians, and mixed-race folks; in other words, everyone.  But when I traveled northwest to the Orange Free State, or straight north to the province of the Transvaal, the racial designations were almost always observed.  I could not decide if the black South Africans in this part of the country just wanted to avoid trouble, or if they feared the repercussions of "pushing the envelope". 

I remember on one occasion in downtown Pretoria, very near the statue of former Transvaal President "Om Paul" Kruger, I watched an elderly black woman drink from a water fountain that was clearly labeled "blankes" (I do not remember seeing another water fountain anywhere on the square).  Almost immediately, a young white woman and her daughter (excuse the assumption on my part), who had been walking towards the water fountain, immediately changed direction.  Considering that I was making these observations on my first visit to the heart of "Afrikaner-dominated" South Africa (the former provinces of Transvaal and Orange Free State), I was having a hard time not developing a number of less-than kind opinions about Afrikaners (descendants of the original Dutch settlers who speak an indigenous language,  Afrikaans, which is similar to old Dutch). The next day, I visited the Voortrekker Monument, a giant structure built to recognize and praise the memory of the original Dutch settlers of South Africa.  Ironically enough, while waiting for my friends to meet me at the car, I watched an Afrikaner woman actually hold the handle of a water fountain, for a black woman with a baby.  The water fountain was labeled "blankes".  I must have followed the white woman around for fifteen minutes trying to confirm that she was an Afrikaner and not just a Dutch tourist.  This episode reminded me that not all people accept change according to the same schedule.  For some folks, change comes more slowly.  I have spent a number of years living in South Africa, and at two separate time periods.  I have made countless friends with a variety of ethnic backgrounds.  Interestingly enough, I have discovered that Texans and Afrikaners are quite similar.  Texans are admittedly religious (forgive the stereotyping) and lean towards all things "traditional".  Both Texans and Afrikaners have a natural love for farming and cattle/livestock raising.  I know Texans who don't feel at home unless they can smell the livestock.  Texas is also a huge Agricultural exporter, with farms dedicated to everything from cotton to cucumbers to cauliflower to corn.  The South African livestock and farming communities are dominated by Afrikaners, and they produce enough food to feed the entire continent.  These similarities still leave me shaking my head.  Afrikaners even have their own version of Country and Western music, although "Boere Musiek" will remind today's Country and Western music fan of Slim Whitman, Hank Williams, Sr., and Patsy Montana, as opposed to George Strait and Reba McEntire.  Afrikaners love beer and they love to dance, and they have dance halls specifically built for the purpose.  You will see waltzes, lots of square dancing, and a home-grown version of line dancing.  

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