Tuesday, 21 April 2009

South African Election: Thoughts From Abroad

It is with mixed feelings that I sit far away from my homeland on the eve of what is going to be the fourth free and fair democratic elections in South Africa.

Mixed feelings as I had a sense of doom these past few months as the inevitability of the outcome of these elections loomed so large. And depression, yes, that the wonderful dream we had for the new South Africa 15 years ago, has turned into a favours and crime orgy.

There is still a glimmer of hope for the country, as long as a person of the stature of the Arch - Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu - openly speaks out against what he sees as injustice in our country. In an interview he said that he will be ashamed to call Zuma his president as long as the US has Obama. And that is the great tragedy, there are such capable and strong leaders in South Africa. Yet they were side-lined after 1994, when the former ANC exiles and their tightly knit old boys’ (nad old girls') network took over the reins of the ANC.

Many of those capable leaders from the old United Democratic Front have now been brave enough to form COPE, but whether that will bear fruit we can only really see at the next elections. IF there are going to be free and fair next elections. Zuma growling at the Constitutional Court is not exactly beaming a message of democratic hope to South Africans and the world at large.

And I think back of that night now more than 15 years ago when months of negotiations finally bore fruit. In 1993, I was the Reuters night-watch at those multi-party talks. Day in, day out, and evening and often night after night, I kept a watch. Only when there was big action – like signing agreements, did the Reuters big wigs come in to report and postulate. I could file copy and landline video, from our interim offices of the World Trade Centre near the airport, where the talks were held. Our Johannesburg offices were near the SABC and in those days’ we had to then go up to the SABC and send our video stories by satellite to London.

It was in the early hours of the 18th of November when all the parties reached an agreement. Our Reuters office in Milpark was still open and filing story after story. I dutifully, high on adrenalin, filed some pictures to go out on the satellite before driving the half-an-hour back to the offices to drop the original tapes for the early morning feeds. That drive from the airport to our offices in the quiet dark of night - up and down the hilly roads of Observatory, and Yeoville, - I was in an buoyant mood. Mango Groove was playing from my cassette deck “Another country”

For us who had followed those talks at close quarters and spoke to the politicians on a daily, informal basis, there were also many times we doubted that any agreement would ever be reached. We had reason to believe this as negotiations had once already broken down. And now driving through the sleeping suburbs of Johannesburg, I knew what most South Africans would only find out when they woke up – we had averted a civil war and there were to be free and fair elections.

When I got to the offices at about four that morning, my television colleagues, much to my surprise, were waiting for me and celebrating – most of them were South Africans or Zimbabweans. Geoff Chilton, the Reuters Television head hugged me as I walked in and handed me a glass of champagne. Everyone looked tired but happy. All of us have in some ways covered this story for years – whether it was the township unrest, demonstrations against the apartheid Government that turned violent. Government and Mandela press conferences. Or like me sitting for days and nights on end while politicians filibustered their way to an interim Constitution. And let us not forget one of the keys to that Interim Constitution was a Constitutional Court.

Despite most of us having worked for nearly 20 hours by then, we were toasting each other in our disbelief that this day had finally come. It was as if a big burden fell off our shoulders.

Afterwards I drove the short distance home - around the kopjes of Melville and along the Greenside Golf Course. An orange-red bright African dawn was breaking over Johannesburg, and over the country: a new dawn, a new era. Apartheid was truly dead and the new day breaking was bringing a fresh beginning. Today, 15 years later, the euphoria of that early morning of 18 November 1993, is still so vivid in my mind. But then I was also not there post-1994 to see the delusion set in.

Despite my current pessimism about these elections and whether those about to be elected really intend to uphold that Constitution: let us not forget the vast potential that South Africa and its people have. Let us not forget what can be possible! Don’t let Zuma and his cronies ruin that!

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Things I Miss About South Africa #2

April has turned wet and cold and the rainworms are having a field day on our lawn. And on grey days like these I miss our Highveld kikuyu lawn in Johannesburg. I wrote about it in Chapter 1 of From Rock to Kraut and this week again wrote a few lines on kikuyu grass in my new manuscript. Here's the extract from my book:

"As I waited there on the dirty veranda, freezing physically and emotionally, I was in turmoil, but felt absent. Fifteen hours before, we had still been in the South African summer and now Cape Town and Table Mountain and Camps Bay and Glen Beach, where I lived as a kid and where we had been at the beginning of that week, seemed a lifetime away."

"The contrast to my parents’ 1920’s Herbert Baker designed, colonial-style double-storey house, across from the Golf Course in Greenside, with its lush, dark-green kikuyu lawn and well-cared for garden in full summer bloom, could not have been greater. Herbert Baker was the eminent colonial architect, responsible for the Union Building in Pretoria and the Government Buildings in Delhi."

"In the years to come, I would often yearn for the strong smell of a freshly mowed kikuyu lawn, late on a summer afternoon, after it had been watered, mixed with the dizzyingly sweet smell of katjiepiering (gardenia) and yesterday-today-and-tomorrow shrubs in bloom. That smell accompanied my childhood and student years and reminds me of that wonderful time we spent outside in the garden in summer just before an early dusk, before it cooled down and we had to return to our desks for homework or assignments. The hot exam months I associate with the jacaranda trees in full purple bloom."

"Having moved countries and continents, Louise and I were about to start a very different kind of life from our previous one."

(c) Anli Serfontein - From Rock to Kraut 2008

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Things I Miss About South Africa # 1

Easter in Germany! Despite having an awesome amount of chocolate Easter eggs to pick and choose from, what do I miss? Marshmallow Easter eggs in their colourful wrappers.

The Easter decorations and chocolate Easter eggs that one finds in Europe are so much more classy. But I am boorish and miss my marshmallow eggs!

In The Netherlands I once bought some pottery Easter bunnies - classy - still have them. But I only want my marshmallow Easter eggs.

France has the most class when it comes to Easter eggs and I have over the years spent three Easters in Paris. The perfectly copied face of Mona Lisa on a huge Easter egg remains vivid. Yet those Easter eggs offers something for the eye of the beholder, but me: I want to pig out on my marshmallow Easter eggs.

One Easter in Vienna we visited their colourful Easter market with their hand-painted eggs! Artistic! And what did I want? Marshmallow Easter eggs!

In Germany we have to decorate our houses in the weeks before Easter with mostly yellow and green decorations. Brightly coloured eggs, wooden bunnies, and then in my case fresh daffodils from my spring garden. Spring is in the air! Easter is here too!

Yet no amount of chocolate Easter eggs can keep this chocoholic happy. I yearns for a box of soft marshmallow Easter eggs so that I can sit and stuff my face. I am jealous of anyone today eating marshmallow Easter eggs and will happily swop my Lindt Easter eggs for them. A fair swop?

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Zuma and the Afrikaner-loving muti drink

Was this the braai that set off the smooching between Zuma and Afrikaners? Makes one wonder whether they spiked his drinks with some special "Afrikaner-loving" muti.

His (unexpected) declarations of love for Afrikaners came very soon after this.

It smacks of election opportunism. And rightly insulted other groups in South Africa, as one can see from the debates in online-forums this week.

Just wondering how long the muti will last. Only until the 22nd of April?