Category Archives: Africa–South Africa


PUMLA’S BOOK: I’m writing this, sitting on Amtrak train 94, traveling from Washington DC to Philadelphia. Beforehand, on the connecting bus from Charlottesville up to DC, I read a most amazing book, that I want to write these notes on before I forget. Also, I’ll probably be giving my copy of it to my friend Emily Mnisi soon, before she returns to South Africa. I learned when I was there earlier this month that the book isn’t out there yet.
Well, the book is Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s book, “A Human Being Died that Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness.” I’ve been looking forward to reading it for quite a while. I’ve read a few of her shorter articles, and enjoyed them. But the book goes to a whole new level of insight and inspiration…
Dr. G-M is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Cape Town. (I tried to get hold of her when I was there, but was unable to.) Back in the apartheid days, she was occasionally called on to do psychological evaluations of youths being tried for various violent crimes. Then, with the transition to democracy, she joined one of the committees of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One of her tasks was to set up hearings and outreach programs for former victims of apartheid-era violence throughout the Western Cape region.
In September 1997, she was present in a TRC hearing where one of the most notoriously murederous apparatchiks of the apartheid repression apparatus, Eugene de Kock, was present at a hearing into an incident called the Motherwell incident in which five white security police men had been involved in killing three black policemen (and one passer-by). G-M doesn’t give many details about that incident except to suggest that the black policement needed to be “silenced” because they knew too much… Anyway, De Kock was there as the person who had given the five perpetrators the order to carry out their task.
Afterwards, he astonished G-M by asking to meet privately with the widows of the slain men. Two of them agreed. G-M doesn’t give us any details of what he said to them during that meeting (where his lawyer, and a lawyer supporting the two bereaved women were also present.) A few days later, G-M met the two women, Pearl Faku and Doreen Mgoduka:
“‘I was profoundly touched by him,’ Mrs. Faku said of her encounter with de Kock. Both women felt that de Kock had communicated to them something he felt deeply and had acknowledged their pain. ‘I couldn’t control my tears… I hope that when he sees our tears, he knows that they are not only tears for our husbands, but tears for him as well… I would like to hold him by the hand, and show him that there is a future, and that he can still change.'” (pp. 14-15)
That account from Mrs. Faku sent G-M off on a quest of her own. Using her own professional skills, she determined she’d try to contact de Kock and talk to him to try to understand him and his actions better.
At that time, de Kock’s nickname in the South African media was “Prime Evil”. In fact, he was already in jail, serving a sentence for other murderous “excesses” he’d committed while he was head of the notorious Volkplaas security compound, located on a farm of that name near Pretoria.
G-M must be a pretty good clinical interviewer. (How does a psychologists evaluatory/investigative interview differ from a journalist’s, I wonder? Or a historian’s? Or a police interrogator’s?) But evidently, from that very first, three-plus-hour encounter with him in his cell in “C-max” maximum-security prison, she knew how to draw him out, and get him to describe the explanatory and justificatory world he had lived in during the apartheid era. Some of what he told her rings incredubly true regarding the actions of the Israelis towards the Palestinians, today. Here is what I assume to be her paraphrasing of some of what he had told her:
“‘Preemptive killing’ at the time was designed to build strust among whte voters and to show apartheid politicians that the country’s security police were doing their job efficiently.
“‘We had to be seen to be on top of the ANC threat at all costs, de Kock explained. ‘If there was a lot of trouble in an area, I would send my men to contact sources to come over. We would start phoning, say, a chap, a source, back in Botswana. We would cover all bases in order to hit back hard. At the same time– you see, there had to be something happening.'” (p.30)
This idea of “pre-emptive killing” being carried out mainly to satisfy the (perceived or real) political demands of one’s own side– rather than necessarily serving any well-thoughout-out political-military strategy– is one that once you think about it, truly boggles the mind. People must DIE for that?? Well, I guess it’s bad enough that they die, that they ARE KILLED, anyway, for whatever reason… But somehow, what de Kock told G-M can easily be translated almost directly to the kinds of brutal policies that the Sharon government has been following. Policies that include, of course, what is called “targeted killing” (as though that gives ity some kind of pseudo-scientific justification– but that remains, like apartheid’s ‘preemptive killings’, just a policy of quite extrajudicial killings-in-cold-blood.
Well, moving right along here. G-M’s book is a profound reflection not just on what made Eugene de Kock into a cold-blooded murderer– in fact, she doesn’t go into that in anything like the depth I was expecting, at least, not at the level of his own individual biography, his history of abuse at the hands of his father when young, etc., etc. (I think her concern was much more with what it was in the kind of thinking that dominted Afrikaner culture and society during the apartheid years that had led to him being who he was, and acting as he did. To that extent, she seems to accept much of his own argument that, evil though he might have been, in fact he more like a ‘foot soldier’ who did those things under implicit or near-explicit orders from those higher in the government than he, than he was a ‘general’ in his owen right.)
But in addition to exploring that whole complex of issues, G-M is also prepared to go to more challenging, difficult places. She is not afraid to look at issues of violence committed by black South Africans, as well as violence committed by whites. With huge honesty, she describes (pp.10-11) her own role as a supportive bystander during an incident in 1990, in Umtata, the “capital” of the apartheid-engineered “bantustan” of Transkei, when an army officer alleged to be acting on behalf of Pretoris was thwarted by pro-ANC troops and activists from launching a pro-Pretoria coup there:
“Gunfire echoed in the streets and over our heads… Depite the fact that it was clear that people could be seriously injured, despite all of that, I was waiting for the moment when I would celebrate victory with those multitudes watching in the streets. The moment of victory did arriove. The officer who was leading the coup, Captain Craig Duli, was ‘captured’. There was jubilation throughout Umtata. My car was filled to the brim; soldiers perched wherever there was space, hoisting their R1 rifles in the air through the windows as I honked and drove in circles in a spirit of celebration…
“As the true nature of the events emerged, and we heard how the mutilated body of Captain Duli had been thrown into the trunk of any army vehiclke, and how he later either died of his wounds or was shot along with others who had sided with him, I realized that I had beern party to the killing of another human being. I had knowingly participated in an incident that would certainly result in the taking of a life. In my moind the point was not whether I could have done anything to stop it or not, but simply that I had been there, celebrating.”(p.11)
In this same spirit of relentless examination of both self and in-group, G-M explores the issue of ‘necklacing’, that is, the “punitive” action young black militants would take against suspected regime informers in the 1980s, when they would put a tire around thei suspect’s neck, fill it with gasoline, and then ignite it.
“In relation to the necklace murders, were black people who were bystanders to these gruesome human burnings really in a similar situation to that of the South African white community, who chose to believe official reports in the newspapers about the war that South Africa was fighting? Are the roles of perpetrator, victim, and bystander so mutually interchangeable?
“‘We failed our children,’ said oone [presumably black] woman during interviewsd I was conducting in Mlungisi, an Eastern Cape township once devastated by apartheid’s war and by necklace murders. ‘We failed to protect them, not just those who were burnt by the necklace, but those who did this terrible thing. We sat here and watched. We did or said nothing. The whole community. We sat here hoping somebody will do something to break this cycle of insanity. It has left us with this terrible unhealable scar, knowning that we could have, but we didn’t.'” (p.75)
… Anyway, this post comes to you from the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, where I’ll be for the rest of the weekend.


CAPE TOWN (CONTD.): I’m writing this Saturday afternoon, a couple of hours before Leila and I need to leave for the airport at the end of our time here. What a beautiful city! We figured out fairly well how to get around on the train system. Today, we took a long walk from the Observatory district, where we’re staying, over to the UCT campus in nearby Mowbray. But we couldn’t take the cable-car ride up Table Mountain, because of high winds.
Well, Thursday morning we took the Robben Island tour, as highly recommended by many friends.
We had two tour guides. The first, who led us on the bussed part of the tour, left us with a determinedly upbeat message that, “Things like this musrt never happen again”. The second guide, who took us on the inside part of the tour, was himself a former prisoner, and gave us a sober account of his time there. Afterewards, I was able to catch a few words alone with him, and got his view of the whole TRC and amnesty process.
In the afternoon, we met a guy called Roger Friedman who covered the TRC as a journalist and has since done a lot of media work with Archbishop Tutu.
Yesterday (Friday), we started off by going by train to Rondebosch, two stops along the line, and then walking to something called the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. I had had a longstanding appointment with its director, Charles Villa-Vincencio. But he was busy, so instead we met with his deputy, Fanie Du Toit. I was actually glad we could do that, as Fanie is himself a really interesting, thoughtful person. One of the things he talked about was coming of age as a young Afrikaaner, and how excited he’d been as a freshman at Stellenbosch university to be invited to join the Junior Broederbund; and some of the slightly glasnost-y things that were happening in the JB at that time (mid-1980s).
Then, we went to the Direct Action Center for Peace and Memory, where we had a quick meeting. Then we had a great lunch with Leslie Swartz, a professor of clinical psychology– currently at Stellenbosch, formerly at UCT– who has written a really intriguing book on “Culture and Mental Health.”
I had enjoyed Leslie’s book so much that I was afraid I’d be setting myself up for disappointment on meeting the actual person. But luckily, no! He talked really interestingly over a great, late lunch in a part of the city we hadn’t been to previously.
This morning, Hugo Van Der Merwe, who works here for the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, came over to our B&B and we had a good final discussion with him.
The notebooks are full! I got so much great material– notes that (mainly) Leila took from our meetings, documentary materials that I gathered here, general impressions and ideas for how to push the project further forward. Now, I certainly have more than enough material from the three countries I’ve been to on this trip– as well as from my 2001 trips to Brussels, The Hague, Jo’burg and Maputo, and from last year’s trip to rwanda– that I certainly can start writing the “Violence and its Legacies” book once I get myself organized to do so.
Anyway– the next post on here will be from good old Charlottesville, Virginia. That’s where I’m headed now.


ALBIE SACHS AND OTHERS IN CAPE TOWN: Our first day in Cape Town was really productive and full. I’d been in touch for a while with the office of Albie Sachs, the long-time ANC leader who was the target of a car bomb in Maputo in the 1980s, and who now sits on South Africa’s Constitutional Court. On Tuesday, I finally got to speak to Albie himself, and he said there might be a chance we could meet yesterday (Wed.), at his beach-side place in/near Cape Town– provided I could get there early in the morning. Plus he could only give me 30 minutes…
Well, we got there– Leila and I– to the bus-stop in Clifton that he had designated. I called him from the cell. He said we should wait right there while he came up to fetch us. The housing on that cliffside above Clifton’s beaches is a confusing rabbit-warren, laced through with tiny well-concreted paths and steps. I don’t know how anyone moves furniture or building materials in or out! After we’d waited a few minutes, he emerged from one of the paths and led us down to his place.
When you meet Albie Sachs he holds out his left hand to greet you. The stump of his right arm hangs inside a shirt sleeve from his shoulder. That–and some other injuries– is what the car-bomb did to him. He has a crinkly though tired-looking smile. He took us down to his place, and we sat there, with him framed against stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean as I fired off my questions and he gave reflective, well-argued answers. He gave us considerably more than 30 mins. At the end, I asked if we could take photos. He was terrifically gracious and helpful about this, leading us out into a tiny courtyard to use the boldly painted mural out there as a ‘backdrop’ for the pictures.
As we left, I asked him if he could have ever imagined, back in the 1970s, say, that he would be occupying his present position and that the ANC would have won so much of what it wanted. He recalled that he had joined the movement back in the 1950s, and that the ANC at that time had been espousing a nonracial order in South Africa and had seemed to be making some progress… But then came the Sharpeville massacre of 1961 and the decades of harsh repression that followed it– years when he himself had had to go into exile and when many of his comrades were killed.
“But we always knew we would win,” he said with a quiet smile. “And then, at the beginning of the 1990s, our movement more or less picked up where we had left off in 1961. So yes, we lost three decades there. But we always knew we would win.”
… Leila and I walked back up to the road, still mulling over our incredible good fortune in having been able to meet such an inspiring and historic figure.
The taxi driver who had taken us there was still waiting. He then drove us along a seafront route to the District Six Museum near the center of town.
District Six was a near-in neighborhood of the city that until the late 1960s was a racially mixed neighborhood. In fact, our driver himself, Isgaak, had grown up there. He’s a Muslim of Malaysian origin, as many D6 residents were– but there were also numerous residents who under apartheid’s bizarre system of racial ordering were classified as ‘whites’, ‘blacks’, or ‘coloreds’.
One day in the late 1960s, the government issued an order that D6 was to be abolished, and all its residents dispersed to mono-racial residential districts– many of them very far from the city. The actual destruction of the district took place a few years later. Nearly every structure inside it was bulldozed. A small portion of the area was used to build a technical college, and the rest remained as a grassy inner-city wasteland. Former residents now had to commute many miles from their new homes to the jobs in the city center. More importantly, their historic and multicultural community had been disbanded.
In the early 1990s– after those three “wasted decades”– a Methodist church near D6 donated its premises to a group of former D6 residents who wanted to create the D6 Museum. It is a most amazing place that has become a focus for guarding the history of D6 as well as of the enormity of the forces that broke it up. It has also, evidently, served as a new community center for many of the former D6 residents, who are happy to gather in the museum to work there, to plan for new exhibits, or simply to get together and reminisce. (Some of that was going on in the coffee shop there as I sat there going over my notes.)
The main floor of the former church is now covered with a detailed street map of what D6 formerly was, with even the names of individual families marked in. Hanging from high up in the vaulted ceiling are huge cloth “scrolls” with embroidered on them representations of different aspects of the community’s former life. One such scroll simply has embroidered on to it messages that had previously been written on it in marker by former residents and some of the museum’s earlier visitors.
The museum uses many artefacts from the old district that have found their way here. Such as, many of the original street-name signs, now slightly rusted and chipped. Many of them have been incorporated into a tall virtual “tower” at one end of the church’s former worship space. Around the edge of the worship space, and along the galeries that run up above it are numerous small exhibits representing the lives of individuals and families, and the activities of community groups and well-loved community institutions.
Of course, I could not help thinking how wonderful it would be if Palestinians and Jews inside Israel could create such museums to mark the existence of some of the Palestinian towns, neighborhoods, and other communities that were wiped off the face of the earth– and their residents scattered– in 1948. Walid Khalidi and others have done something to preserve memories of those communities through the publication of books or other documenation. But a museum is so much more “living” as a way to preserve, reinterpret, and present such histories.
When we were there, there were constant groups of visitors coming in. Including at least one school group– youngsters in their early teens, mainly “black” but with many Indian-looking kids– girls and boys in neat uniforms who rushed around filling out worksheets and animatedly discussing the exhibits with each other.
I tagged onto the end of a tour group that was being shown round by museum “fixture” Noor Ibrahim, a former D6 resident who had contributed a lot–icluding many photos– to the collection with which the museum had started out. Most of the participants in the tour seemed to be white toursists.
What struck me most about Mr. Ibrahim’s presentation was the gentle but devastatingly “amazed” way in which he referred to the idiocies and brutalities of apartehid’s practicioners. His tome was often one of amazement and mockery…. “Yes, they divided people up into all these different groups. And everyone had to have identity cards which marked which of these groups they eblonged to… Can you believe this, ladies and gentlemen? And then look, here are pictures of the cards everyone had to have, with their racial group clearly marked on it… But only the blacks had to carry their passes all the time, 24 hours a day. And the black passes were called ‘dom-pass’– can you believe that? That means ‘a pass for a dumb person’. Can you believe they called them that?”
One of the most devastating things Mr. Ibrahim showed us was a large panel which swiveled around a vertical pole going down its middle. On one side was a large black and white picture of Richmond Street in D6, as it had appeared at the end of the 1960s. Mr. Ibrahim then slowly swivelled it arund to show a full-color picture of the exact same view, from the same spot, today. Where shops and houses had stood in the earlier photo, now only grass bew in the wind. All traces of the homes were gone.
Just before I left the tour-group, Mr. Ibrahim was telling them about the plans the government has been making to re-gather all D6s former residents and their descednants back into a rebuilt version of the community. “I am very excited!” he said “Very, very excited at the thought of coming back.”
Earlier, our driver, Isgaak, had said that his family, too, had discussed the prospect of him moving back to the rebuilt D6. “But my kids persuaded me not to go ahead with it,” he said. “They said that I would just be living in the past if I went back there. They said that they had grown up in our new neighborhood and have little interest in moving back. So I guess we won’t be going.”
… Well, that was District Six. Leila and I then spent a little more time looking around downtown Cape Town before we went for a late-lunch meeting with Mxolisi (‘Ace’) Mgxashe. Ace had been a reporter on the ‘Cape Argus’ before, in 1995, he took up a job in the research department of the TRC. A longtime supporter of the Pan-Africanist Congress, one of his first jobs was to investigate and draft the part of the TRC report that would deal with excesses committed by the PAC during the struggle years…
We had an interesting discussion, which I don’t have time to recap here. Afterwards, Ace took us walking through the huge ‘Golden Acres’ development around the city’s central train station and up to the rooftop central depot for the citys extensive system of minivan (combi) taxis. He found us the right combi to get in for Mowbray, the suburb that was our next destination. The combi had its full complement of 14 or 15 passengers, and it soon set off.
As we approached Mowbray, we asked the “conductor” who sits by the passenger door handling the 3-rand fares and drumming up business from the street if we could get off near the Maternity Hospital. There was some discussion among the passengers over the best place to do this, but one young woman took us in hand and told us with some detail how to get there. Where we were going was the Quaker Peace Center which is not far from the hospital. We arrived there only a little late for our meeting with its director, Jeremy Routledge.
No time to write much about that meeting, either. But afterwards, Jeremy did invite us to go to his home for dinner. We accepted. o as the meeting ended we climbed into his very small car; he stopped at a supermarket to pick up a few groceries; and in short order we were at his home.
Jeremy’s wife Nozizwe is a longtime ANC activist, now not only a parliamentarian but also South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Defense. (And a Quaker, too.) She has been in Pertoria most of this week– where they also have a flat. So I haven’t met her yet, and most likely won’t get to on this trip. But because of her position she alsdo gets allocated a government house in Cape Town, for her family to stay in, and for her to use when the parliament is in session here and all the government ministers have to be in Cape Town, not Pretoria. So that was the house we drove to. It was a large Cape Dutch-style house set in a lovely lawned garden guarded by a high wall and SAPS guards at the gate.
That evening we helped Jeremy cook dinner (well, Leila helped a lot more than I did); and then we ate it with Jeremy and his two sons in the dining-room of the house that was formerly home to apartheid-era Defense Minister P.W. Botha, among other famous and infamous former residents…


SOWETO AGAIN AND CAPE TOWN: Actually, I think I’ve got it about Soweto. It’s not so much a set of disadvantaged suburbs of Johannesburg. It’s not so much an entire sister city. It’s more like a whole parallel universe out there.
Today we went back to the edge of Soweto once again. This time we were visiting “17 Shaft”, a project run by a former MK (ANC military) leader called Steve Corry– well that’s his present name, not his nom-de-guerre. The project provides skills training to former MK fighters and family members thereof. Steve himself wasn’t there, but we sat in his amazing office with one of his assistants who told us about the project and brought in an interesting ex-combatant to talk to us.
Steve Corry is white.
Anyway, 17 Shaft is located between three of Johannesburg’s enormous great goldmine slag heaps. Nicky, the woman who showed us round a bit, did say that when the wind blows the dust comes off them pretty badly…
We had also had a good meeting this morning with a political science professor who gave a very well-authenticated account of how the TRC’s failure to deal with issues in particular of violence between the ANC and Inkatha, in Kwa-Zulu-Natal, had left a nasty legacy of ANC-IFP violence in that province which has claimed >2,000 lives since 1994.
That’s an angle of the story here that is really of interest to my project.
We also had an interesting lunch today with our host here, Shirley Pendlebury, her colleague in the Wits Education School Penny Enslin, and our friend and colleague Peter Maselwa, who has been amazingly helpful during pur time in South Africa…
Anyway, this is a little random as a list. But the day has been full, and now we’re in Cape Town. The sea air smells great but we arrived when it was already dark. No idea where Table Mountain is in relation to us.


MORE ON SOWETO: Yesterday I didn’t get to finish writing my account of our Sunday visit to and around Soweto with Emily Mnisi. Now, I’m in a hurry, but I want to bring this as up-to-date as possible. On Sunday, we had a traditional African lunch with Emily’s friends Ria and Charles. Then we went to drive around Soweto some with Emily, Ria, and Ria’s daughter Rudo. We went to Vilakasie Street– the only street in the world that is home (or former home) to two Nobel Peace Prize winners! We took a couple of quick pictures at Nelson Mandela’s home, which is now run as a museum by Winnie Mandela-Madikazela. (Desmond Tutu still lives in his house just down the street.)
We also tried to visit the Hector Pieterson Museum, which is at the site where 13-year-old Hector Pieterson was killed, on June 16 1976, at the beginning of the Soweto uprisings which soon spread like wildfire throughout the country and signaled the beginning of the end for the apartheid regime. But it was closed…
So yesterday, we had some time free in the afternoon and went back to the HPM. It was truly worth a visit. It only opened last year. It’s situated on a little knoll right in the middle of the Soweto neighborhood of Orlando West, and has many great presentations about the struggle for democracy here…. No time to write more…
We also had a really serendipitous meeting yesterday morning with Khoisan X (the former Benny Alexander, who under that earlier name was Secretary-General of the Pan-Africanist Congress during the crucial period of the negotiations that ended apartheid.) Luckily, he had some spare time right when we met him. My friend and driver Peter Maselwa had recognized Khoisan and asked if we could sit and do an interview for the project, and Khoisan agreed. So while he ate breakfast in a cafe in a shopping mall here, he gave us all these really interesting and helpful recollections about how the different parties had addressed the issue of amnesty during the ll-party negotiations– a crucial part of what I need to learn for my project.
Sitting in a shopping mall in the blazing sun. Amazing.
Today we have a few really interesting things to do here, then this evening we’re flying to Cape Town.
Last night I quickly wrote a column for the CSM about Mozambique. It should run Thursday. Did I tell you that Saturday or so I wrote a column for Al-Hayat? Sometimes the pace and the sheer variety of different issues I’m dealing with seem a little hectic. But it’s all one big project, I keep telling myself, the true nature of which will become clearer to me over time.


SOWETO AND JOHANNESBURG: We had a busy and informative weekend. On Saturday we had lunch with Emily Mnisi, a Quaker woman from near Jo’burg whom I had gotten to know last year when we were both on an international Quaker fact-finding mission in Israel and Palestine. Emily is a special-education specialist who currently trains and supervises the house-parents at a residential farm for some 70 people with mental handicaps, half an hour out of Jo’burg.
Then I had a long conversation/interview with Dr. Mongezi Guma, who is Executive Director of the Ecumenical Service for Socio-economic Transformation. He talked mainly about the topic I first asked him about: the effectiveness or otherwise– as viewed today– of the TRC process whose open hearings were such a prominent feature of South African public life in the 1995-98 period.
The TRC has only now been winding up its final work. On April 15, it presented its final report– including recommendations on reparations to victims of serious abuses under apartheid and on amnesties for perpetrators who confessed–to President Mbeki. He then requested parliament to pass bills funding the reparations. And I think– though I’m not quite clear on this– that parliament is now working its way through this process. So I need to nail down those facts a little better.
Anyway, Dr. Guma was really interesting about the TRC– and he also talked a little about what he did as a church-based social activist during the dark days of apartheid. One of the things he was working on was church-based support for the families of political prisoners.
Yesterday Morning, Leila and I went to the 9:30 worship session of Johannesburg Quaker Meeting. I’d worshiped there before, when I came here in August 2001; and this time they had asked me to stay afterwards and talk a little about the present US-Iraq war. Well, it was a little challenging to get my head around that, so I gave some personal reflections on what I saw as the motivations of the warmongers in Washington– and also on the potential strength of the movement for peace and justice there.
It really has been quite interesting, over this past month, following the news of the US-Iraq war FROM AFRICA. I mean, using force to impose your will on distant lands; doing so in the name of some attractive, “modernizing” ideal; and doing it also with a firm eye on control of natural resources– all these things are very familiar to people in Africa. And they seem SO VERY NINETEEENTH CENTURY….
Well, Emily Mnsisi had been at the Quaker sessions yesterday, and afterwards she had promised to take us on a visit to Soweto. On our way there, we stopped to get something to drink at Gold Reef City, the amazingly kitsch amusement park where on Firday we had gone down the unused gold mine. But yesterday, we went into the casino which is part of the park, as Emil had heard of a nice restaurant inside there.
Well, there we were three Quakers in a casino on a Sunday morning… (Not sure if Leila describes herself as a Q these days; but you get the drift.) For Leila and me, it was our first visit inside one of these huge, ugly, money-gobbling behemoths. People inside there looked so sad in the gloomy light, with their faces lit mainly by the strange flashing tones of the slot machines into which they stared, likes zombies.
That was quite a strange thing to be doing on our way to visit Soweto.
So then, on we drove. And drove and drove and drove. The first stop Emily had planned to go have lunch with an old college friend of hers called Ria, a special-ed specialist who runs programs for the provinicial government here in Gauteng Province. Ria and her family live in Protea, which is in a far-out part of Soweto, so we drove for many miles along a sort of perimeter highway before we got there.
I’ve had Soweto in my mind since 1976 or before. That was the year the schoolkids there all walked out of school on June 16 to protest new requirements that would force them to pass exams in some subjects in Afrikaans, not in English or a native language. The police met the walkout with violence, killing two that first day and many hundreds more over the half-year of insurrection that followed.
The uprising that the Soweto schoolkids started that year spread to all the major South African urban areas (except, apparently, Durban). It did not immediately lead to the victory of the African nationalist/liberationist movement. But it did dent the self-confidence of the apartheid bosses considerable, and it started a longterm process whereby black resistance made the apartheid system fundamentally unworkable and thus forced the National Party to the negotiating table. The economic sanctions imposed on the regime by all major outside powers (except Israel… ) also helped to bring this about.
Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we could see the same support from outside powers for the movement for equality, peace and justice in Israel/Palestine???
But anyway. So, I had known and thought a lot about Soweto since 1976. But I’d never visited it at all till 2001, when Harold Annegaarn took Bill and me on a quick visit by car to some parts of it. On that occasion, I gathered that Soweto is large– but yesterday, I really got a better feel for its true enormity. It is like a huge sister-city to Johannesburg, spread out to the southwest and separated from Jo’burg by the massive, rhomboidal slag heaps produced by the gold mines all round here…. (more to come, later)

FROM NEW YORK, Valentine’s Day

I’ve had a busy couple of days of work here, talking to some really interesting folks about my ‘Violence and its Legacies’ project, and starting to make plans for the research trip I’m planning to Africa in April, as part of the project.
From time to time, the idea of going to Africa in April seems weird. Shouldn’t I be concentrating more on this terrible Bush War in (and around) Iraq??
But I think its important not to become too, too distracted by the Bush War. Other parts of the world do still matter– a lot. And this project I’m working on, which looks at how effective three countries in Africa–Mozambique, South Africa, and Rwanda–ended up being when they sought, eight to ten years ago, to deal with legacies of atrocious violence, is certainly one with lessons that will have relevance everywhere. Including Iraq.
Yesterday, I talked to Alex Boraine, who worked with Archbishop Tutu as Executive Director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. He’s now head of an organization called the International Center for Transitional Justice, that seeks to advise countries in transition on setting up their own TRCs.  Well, since I was focusing on my African research, we didn’t specifically talk about the idea of a TRC for Iraq.  But it’s not a bad idea.
What the S. African TRC did was significant because it helped to allow the white-minority regime to give up power to the democratic will of the (non-white) majority–and to be reintegrated into the new S. Africa as part of Mandela’s new ‘Rainbow Nation’.
In Iraq and in Syria, we also have the problem of minority-based regimes hanging onto power– with one great motivation for them to do so being their fear of how the majority might treat them if the majority were given a democratic order.
In South Africa, the TRC, and the broader black-white negotiation of which it was a part, allowed the white South Africans to cede power to the majority without fear of bloody retribution…
Wednesday, I talked for the first time to Andrea Bartolli, an Italian national now at Columbia who first came to NYC in the 1980s as the representative at the UN for a Catholic lay-based social-justice organization called Sant’ Egidio.  In that role, Bartolli played a significant behind-the scenes role with the rest of the Sant’ Egidio team who were helping to bring an end to Mozambique’s long-running civil war.  They succeeded in 1992.
Talking to Bartolli was fascinating.  One of the key factors he mentioned that allowed the negotiations between the two sides to the Mozambique war to succeed was the fact that they proceeded largely out of the public eyeof the world’s media, big governments, etc.  Another factor was that at that time, “No-one was even thinking that criminal prosecutions for past atrocities should be part of a peace negotiation– unlike today.”
So instead of criminal prosecutions etc (which became the international flavor-of-the-decade just a few months after Mozambique’s October 1992 agreement), what the Mozambicans did at both the national and local levels, was to state clearly that “the era of war and violence is past”, and to get on with the job of healing and rebuilding.
Bartolli told me he thought it was really important to have a consciously transformative event like the one where the leaders of the two sides there made a joint announcement that the war had ended.  He also noted that while most Westerners have a view of war that is purely instrumental– that “man uses war for his own purposes, a la Clausewitz”– in Mozambique the most common view is that war and violence are forces that themselves take hold of and use people.
Hey, George W, are you listening??
* * *
UNCLE VANYA:  We went to a great production of Brian Friel’s version of the play last night at BAM’s Harvey Lichtenstein Theater.  It seemed as though friel had cut/adapted the play well.  It moved right along.  A wrenching performance by Emily Watson as Sonya; and both Friel and Sam Mendes, who directed, had really succeeded in keeping/capturing Chekhov’s general gestalt of inescapable social decline.
Of course, New York is exhilarating and fun!!!  I guess the anti-war gathering tomorrow is not getting a permit to move, so we’ll be standing around freezingat the rally, listening to Tutu and others speak.
Yesterday, walking around the financial district, we passed a vast, slowly-moving convoy of fully-filled police vans.  The police presence on the subways was not as heavy as the NYT seemed to have portrayed.  In general, the security measures around the city seem to have settled back somewhat from when I was doing similar kinds of meetings here in March ’02.
* * *
NOTES OF 2/13 (but posted a day late):  In New York.  Front pages of most tabloids screaming about Bin Laden’s latest tape.  Audio-tape, that is.  Then, there’s the issue of duct tape: photos of people cleaning out the store shelves of this item which will– Tom Ridge assures us– save our lives in the event of chemical attack.
Mainly, though, New Yorkers seem to be stayng indoors because of the icy grip of winter here.
Today, my latest column in The Christian Science Monitor.  A challenging one indeed.  I wrote it Monday, seeing as how Tuesday I would be driving here to NYC.  The main argument I was making was that in his Feb 5 speech to the UN Colin Powell definitely did NOT establish w/ any credibility that there is a ‘nexus’ between OBL and Saddam (see my previous musings on this, below.)
So the drive here from Virginia was a toughie: swirling snows etc etc.  I heard a few scattered news reports on the car radio, but mainly listened to some Hemingway stories on CD.  I was focusing 100% on driving safely.  Got in maybe 10:30 p.m.
Wed. morning my editor at the CSM calls early, in a panic about the piece. She was right, my careful argumentation did look a little OBE (overtaken by events) in light of the new Osama tape, and the use Colin and his friends were making of it.  (Did you see Maureen Dowd’s great column on that in Wednesday’s NYT? Fabulous!)
So I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and tried to write a new head-and-foot for the piece.  It probaby wasn’t the greatest piece of work I’ve ever done.  But I was under a very tough deadline at that point
The arguments I was making in the piece are little complex.  But duh!  The world is complex!  It cannot be reduced to the war hawks’ simple Manichean view of things.  Jerking the American public into this quite avoidable war on the basis of the administration’s phony argumentation about an OBL-Saddam nexus is still
a really dangerous path to follow.
Plus, as I wrote in the column, by talking up the alleged OBL-Saddam nexus so much, the Bushies seem to have ended up virtually daring OBL to try to make it a reality. A challenge which– surprise, surprise– he seemed eager to take up.
Except he never shook his utter distaste for Saddam and Baathist socialism…