Saturday, February 19, 2011

A lecture that wasn't and a South African murder that was

Every sturdy, pug-faced man looked like a proud Afrikaner made good, every tall, cool, fur-swathed blonde woman like a trophy wife out from her gated, electrified, alarmed Cape Town palace.

Except F.W. de Klerk's Philadelphia speech turned out to be scheduled for Monday and not tonight, as I had thought when I accepted the tickets from a colleague who couldn't use them, and the crowd was there to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra play Wagner, Beethoven and Prokofiev. There probably wasn't an Afrikaner, Zulu, Xhosa, Indian or Englishman in the place.

The evening was not a total loss from a crime perspective, though. I'd heard de Klerk speak before -- in 1993, with Nelson Mandela, when the two men received Philadelphia's Liberty Medal for engineering South Africa's transition from apartheid to democracy. But I didn't know until tonight that de Klerk's ex-wife had been murdered in 2001, in a crime that drew high-level outrage in South Africa. A young security guard received two life sentences for the killing and, as nearly as I can gather from my brief, casual research, thus ended the case.

But one can imagine what passion and paranoia the crime must have stirred even seven years after South Africa's first democratic elections. Who would want to kill the ex-wife of the country's last apartheid-era president? White nationalists enraged that de Klerk had given away the store? Black nationalists enraged by apartheid-era oppression?

Now, since my knowledge of the crime's history is approximately zero, everything in this post could be sheer nonsense. But the affair has me wondering how long it takes for a society shaken by revolution or war to become "normal" when it comes to crime. How long before the public stops seeing crimes as aftershocks of history and instead attributes them to "normal" causes like greed, lust and random violence?
***
I did buy a newish South African crime novel by an author whose work I have not read. More, possibly, to follow.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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43 Comments:

Blogger Mack said...

I'd love to hear de Klerk. I just finished a book that mentioned his role in the revelations about the death squads that operated up to the elections.

What's the book you picked up, Peter.

February 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's Malla Nunn's Let the Dead Lie. I'd wanted to read her previous novel before sampling this one. But my head was fuil of fantasies that I'd somehow have the chance to grill De Klerk about South African crime fiction, so I thought I'd go shead and buy her second book. Have you read it?

It's a funny thing. I heard De Klerk, Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton together on one bill, but what I remember most are the idiot Philadelphia news anchorman who was the day's master of ceremonies, and some of the day's moron protesters. I'd love to sit down with De Klerk and ask him what he thinks of James McClure.

February 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and what was the book that you just read?

February 20, 2011  
Blogger Mack said...

Peter, Roger Smith put me onto Jacques Pauw's Into the Heart of Darkness: Confessions of Apartheid's Assassins. I was able to get a copy through Abe Books. Pauw is a journalist who worked hard to expose the assassinations and destabilization efforts of the SA government in the 80s and leading up to the election that installed Mandela as president. Pauw took De Klerk to task for denying that the assassinations and torture were state sponsored despite the evidence to the contrary. It is pretty horrifying reading and seems almost the plot of a bad thriller. It made me appreciate how close South Africa came to destroying itself.

February 20, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Not sure what message that first paragraph sends.

February 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Mack. De Klerk must be a pretty interesting guy, or at least a hard-heared realist who knew exactly what had to be done when the game was up.

February 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., the message it sends is that I have an active imagination. The mere belief that the crowd was waiting to hear South Africa's former president was enough to make me conjure up romantic explanations for the properous appearance of some of my fellow lobby-minglers. The joke was that it was just the usual well-heeled orchestra crowd all along.

Why a blonde trophy wife and a gated Cape Town home? Such figures crop up in a number of South African crime novels.

February 20, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Yes, Peter. I've come across that sort of thing in the one South-African mystery I read. I didn't like it. I don't like bias of any kind. Villains exist in all walks of life and all races. You come across that sort of agenda from time to time. Dan Brown had it in THE DA VINCI CODE, directed at the Catholic church. Because it was a timely scapegoat.

February 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., your doubts and questions lie behind the question I raise here: When will South Africa become a "normal" country as far as crime is concerned? When will an author sit down and write a crime story not be haunted by apartheid's afterlife? (Of course, authors may have done so already without my knowing it.)

Never having been to South Africa, I don't know if the emphasis on heightened security and nervousness about crime is overstated or misplaced, but I have to figure it has some basis in truth for at least some of the population. It certainly is a motif in some (but not all) crime fiction coming out of the country.

February 20, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I'm sort of amazed, as I have no interest in hearing de Klerk's opinions. Now Mandela or any of his imprisoned colleagues is another thing altogether.

There was state-sponsored terrorism in apartheid South Africa without a doubt. Just read the journalist Donald Woods' books or see the movie based on his writings, "Cry Freedom," about the state's terror campaign against anti-apartheid activists, and particularly the courageous, brilliant Steven Biko, who was tortured and murdered by high-ups in the state apparatus. And he was only one of many martyrs.

Much of this was related by witnesses to the torture and by participants in the hearings of the so-called Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid fell.

"Let the Dead Lie," by Malla Nunn is an excellent book, well-written, very moving. Now I have to read her first book, which is on my TBR list for this year.

About crime, well, I'd say one thing: Until the great polarity that exists with economic resources and jobs, as well as other necessities, is resolved, there will be crime.

Abolishing political and social apartheid didn't fix the economic inequality that existed. Much still does exist. And, unfortunately, so does some of the apartheid-era thinking among some of those with economic power.

February 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I think the interest in hearing De Klerk would lie in what he would not say -- and the bitter realization that remaking a society may require contributions from the former bad guys.

One odd sidelight that many people probably know about about De Klerk but I did not until very recently: His brother was apparently a liberal journalist.

I suspect that humans will always find reasons to steal from and kill each other no matter what the economic conditions are. More to the point of this discussion: The scariest fact about apartheid to this ignorant outsider is how much damage it did in such a short time as official policy -- just since 1948. The notorious Cape Flats, for example, have been around only since the 1950s.

February 21, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I don't have a cynical view about human nature.

There are so many societies around the world historically and even that exist today where people are kind to each other, share and where crime is nearly unheard of.

But I just think of WWII and the good guys and women, where people sacrificed, hid women, men and children, shared what they had and helped, at risk to their lives and those of their children.

And people who shared what little food they had with others. Or helped the Resistance movement.

And in South Africa, among the anti-apartheid movement, which was aided by communities all around, at personal risk.

From what I have read, I don't think there's more crime there than in many other countries, including in Europe, and there is a lot in Eastern Europe. So I don't think it's fair to single out South Africa, which has a lot to overcome.

Where I live there is crime; I've had to deal with it 3 times over the years, and a few other times requiring alertness and neighborly help. It's worse in my area due to the Recession, where people are doing desperate things for funds, and I'm sure this is going on around the country.

February 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I should have mentioned Iceland, whose low crime write is the despair of crime writers.

I might be pertinent to mention amid this blog's discussion of South Africa and the Troubles in Northern Ireland that by some standards and compared to some countries, the United States is a violent place.

I have read that South Africa's murder rate is high -- and I read a reference, I think in one of James McClure's novels, to the rate having been high during the apartheid era as well. But a crime novelist writes not just about crime but about all sorts of ancillary phenomena. If people are buying security fences and living in fear, the whole private security industry becomes one more subject for South African crime writers. One looks forward to the day when people no longer think such precautions necessary and South African authors can regard them with amusement.

February 21, 2011  
Blogger Mack said...

I would have the same reason to listen to De Klerk as Peter. Does he still deny that assassinations and destabilization of neighboring countries was state sponsored terrorism.

Kathy D.: A big problem interpreting crime stats is deciding what to compare. If you just look at the number of homicides then SA might look comparable to the rest of the world but there would be a different analysis if you look at homicides as a percentage of the population.

Antony Altbeker's A Country at War with Itself is a fascinating look at South Africa's crime crises. It was published in 2007 but I haven't read anything that says that the crises has diminished.

February 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, I suspect that De Klerk would not so much deny accusations of state-sponsored killings and so on, but would rather steer the discussion to South Afrioca's present rather than its past.

February 21, 2011  
Blogger Mack said...

Your suspicion is probably right on, Peter. It's what I would want to know based on recent reading I've done. It would still be fascinating to hear what he says, how he spins things.

February 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I won't get to hear him unless someone records the speech because I'm working tonight. But yes, he'd doubtless bring a fascinating perspective to any number of South African questions. He has said that he is optimistic about the country's future, for instance.

February 21, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

There should be statistics on state-sponsored terror in South Africa as a result of the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings and investigations there.

I just worry about singling out this country which went through so much, when there is a lot of crime in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.

I couldn't take de Klerk's word for anything, given what he permitted to go on under his regime. And I wonder what his attitude is now, but I don't want to hear him. I absolutely do not care what he thinks, given the horrors during his government--and what it took to end it.

Mandela has a new book out, which I hope I can read soon.

February 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, at least some of the crime that happens now is a result of what went on then. If apartheid governments and their racial-separation laws were responsible for the Cape Flats, then to write adn talk about crime in the Flats now is not to absolve those governments of blame.

February 21, 2011  
Blogger Mack said...

Kathy d.
I'm curious, who do you see singling out South Africa? The books I read are by South Africans and they are the ones using the crises of violence in their stories. I'm a bit confused at the direction this discussion has taken.

February 21, 2011  
Blogger Mack said...

What Peter said.

Roger Smith (a South African author) has written two violent crime thrillers that brilliantly show the legacy of apartheid in Cape Flats.

February 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, I wish I could remember which McClure book cited South Africa's high murder rate during the apartheid era. That would help deflect allegations that citing high crime rates today is a slap at the post-apartheid society and government.

February 21, 2011  
Blogger Mack said...

Peter,
I have all seven of the Kramer/Zondi books and read them not that long ago. I'll take a stab at finding that cite. I also have several scholarly articles about Mcclure and perhaps they mention it. In fact, I'll start with the articles.

February 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hope I'm not sending you on a wild goose chase. In any case, I recall the reference as just a passing one. Perhaps, unless I'm misattributing the reference to McClure, it's in The Song Dog, which includes the amusing dismissive reference to some Xhosa lawyer named Nelson Mandela.

February 21, 2011  
Anonymous Graeme said...

The loose use of term 'apartheid era' seems to have convinced many people that racial segregation was invented by the Nationalist Party after its victory in 1948 and ended with the new constitution in 1993. In fact, formal and informal racial separation was the norm in South Africa from the arrival of the Dutch in the 17th century. Under the National Party, murder rates rose with industrialisation and the confining of black people to 'locations'. But it was black people killing black black people, and the whites didn't give a damn. They only started to talk about the murder and rape rates when whites became targets.

February 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, I didn't imagine that previously benevolent white people shunned their black neighbors with the stroke of a pen in 1948. But I don't know what institutional and official forms segregation took before 1948.

I'd also guess that South Africa industrialized rapidly after the Seocnd World War, bring increased labor demands in the cities -- and the impetus to further institutionalize segregation.

February 22, 2011  
Anonymous Graeme said...

See it as the South without a civil war and without even a veneer of gentility. No white in South Africa ever had a black neighbour. The nearest black person lived in a shack and got up before dawn to light the white family's fire. Black urbanisation in the interior came about because, in 1886, gold was found on the Witwatersrand.

Mandela himself comes from an area where all males were forced to travel five hundred miles and go down the mines to earn the money to pay a tax imposed on a cashless tribal society. Black miners died in their thousands, thousands of families were destroyed, their world changed utterly by the greed of white men.

Very few whites disagreed with the stage of legalisation and bureaucratisation of racial discrimination that began in 1948.

As for De Klerk, the United States pointed a gun at his brainless head and he took instructions. To see the blood-drenched opportunist in any other way is very silly.

February 22, 2011  
Blogger Mack said...

Is it irony that De Klerk shared the Noble Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela?

Peter: the last paragraphs of Song Dog still haunt me.
I do remember that McClure made frequent references to the executions in Pretoria.

February 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Graeme, one has to choose one's entry point into such a bloody history. Mine would be this question: What sparked the bureaucratization, legalization and official rationalization of segregation in 1948? I would work my way back from there.

February 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, that last page contained a haunting invocation of necklaces, all right. Now, from my remote vantage point, I'd say the transition to democracy in South Africa has gone fairly well. But that McClure could write such paragraphs in 1992, just two years before the first democratic elections, may show the precarious state South Africans thought their country was in.

February 22, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As for irony in De Klerk's having shared a Nobel Prize with Mandela (and a podium with him when I saw them in Philadelphia), it takes two sides to make peace, I guess.

February 22, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I agree with much of what Graeme said here, and Peter, too.

Mandela was a brilliant strategist. His goal was, as we know, to end apartheid. He knew his enemies. He knew what he and others in the anti-apartheid movement leadership had to do to end that heinous system.

He did what was needed. I'm sure he calculated every single move he and others had to make.

The fact that the post-apartheid government held a Truth and Reconciliation Commission where (in addition to survivors and witnesses) collaborators with and perpetrators of apartheid could confess to the worst crimes, and--in most cases--go free, show the difficulties that the government faced and had to deal with.

Compromises were necessary with the former opponents and oppressors, in order to move forward was the assessment of the post-apartheid government leadership.

Many around the world didn't necessarily agree, but supported them, given what they had all been through and the new society they had to build--and they knew what they had to do to build a new political system.

And they also had to rely on many of the wealthy to keep industry and financial institutions going, and many of those figures were pro-apartheid, so there were compromises and "pardons" and all kinds of arrangements and accommodations made to move on.

February 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, in Cairo today, there is disagreement among the successful revolutionaries over the presence of Mubarak holdovers in any successor government. I'd hesitate to pass judgment on such matters without being in the country or at least having a thorough knowledge of it.

February 23, 2011  
Anonymous Graeme said...

The Nationalist election victory in 1948 gave Afrikaners their first chance to ensure that their view of black people – as hewers of wood and drawers of water, untermenschen – found expression in total domination and exclusion from civil society of those they called 'non-Europeans'.

In 1959, this racial ideology found its fullest expression in the Bantustan policy aimed at expelling all blacks to areas designated as their 'homelands'. The dream was of a 'white' South Africa dotted with black labour camps. It should be said that many black Quislings, notable among them Mandela's repulsive fellow-Xhosa Kaiser Matanzima,took to the idea with alacrity.

February 23, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I'd say leave it up to the Egyptian people to figure it all out.

Those who were the leadership in Tahrir Square, and who were there last Friday are making demands of the military about the issues which ave not yet been resolved: releasing the thousands of political prisoners, ending the 20-year-old emergency laws, economic justice, etc.

The New York Times had a article recently describing the plight of brothers searching for other brothers who'd been missing for three weeks from Tahrir Square. One brother took a taxi 400 miles and found his relatives and hundreds of other detainees from the Square in a military prison.

They appeared to have been physically and psychologically abused.

So, the most astute are worried about the military. The top officers have many privileges and economic perks--businesses, etc.

But the people and leaders are sharp. If they have the opportunity without repression, they can figure it out.

February 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Graeme, I remember the last years of the bantustans, how much ridicule and revulsion the idea evoked.

February 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, one theme of the revolution's coverage has been that the population supported the army but hated the police. Later, I read an article or two that wondered how readily officers would give up perks. The country has never had a civilian ruler since the downfall of the monarchy, so this could be an especially momentous, precarious time -- continuation of a long-delayed revolution.

February 23, 2011  
Anonymous David said...

One in 40 Egyptians is either in the military or has a relative in the military – an astonishing proportion by world standards. And there there is the military's business empire. It owns enterprises of every kind, many in tourism, the country's cash machine.

The US will have breathed a deep sigh of relief to see the military come out of this turmoil with a clean slate. It means the tight relationship between the Egyptian, Israeli and American military establishments will continue.

February 23, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

The Egyptians in Tahrir Square were more hopeful about the military, especially the rank-and-file soldiers, whom they were trying--and in some cases, successfully--to win over. The military did not attack the people, as did the police, but it did not protect the people from Mubarak's thugs.

And, as it turns out, as the NY Times stated, the military detained hundreds in military prisons--and, it seems, many were abused in custody.

From what I've read in establishment media, the Egyptian protesters had mixed views of the military. Some were very skeptical about the military being in charge of the government, especially since it didn't lift the Emergency Law or free thousands of political prisoners.

And, as was said here, the officers have economic privileges, businesses, etc. They don't want to give these up.

February 23, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I hope everything I ever learn about revolutions I learn slowly and from a great distance. But one thing I learn gradually is that compromises happen. It could not have been easy for many in South Africa to stomach letting criminals go unpunished because they testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This probably says something about South African culture that we outsiders might find hard to fathom.

February 23, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

As I said before in this post, many people around the world who supported the anti-apartheid movement may not have agreed about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission letting torturers testify without punishing them, it was up to the South African people and their leaders to figure it out.

From afar, and not having lived under the horrific apartheid government, I have no judgments about what was decided. Those who lived it had to decide what to do in its aftermath.

I'm sure it was extremely hard for many people who'd witnessed the brutality, who'd survived it themselves or were related to or friends of survivors, to watch the commission's proceedings, hear of the accusations or confessions, and then let the perpetrators go unpunished.

I can't even imagine how hard that was or perhaps still is.

February 24, 2011  
Anonymous Graeme said...

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had nothing to do with the will of the people and everything to do with the terms under which the old order agreed to surrender power. After months of secret negotiations, De Klerk received a guarantee from Thabo Mbeki, leader of the African National Congress in exile, that there would be no retribution for white crimes.

Many in the ANC disagreed strenuously with this compromise, among them Jacob Zuma, who in time engineered Mbeki's downfall.

February 24, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

And I can well understand why Zuma and others disagreed with that compromise.

I cannot even imagine how survivors or relatives or friends of those who were tortured under apartheid felt about this.

I just read a piece about Gillian Slovo's facing the murderers of her mother, Ruth First--an anti-apartheid organizer and journalist, who was killed by a letter bomb in 1982 in Mozambique at the orders of the South African police authority. The killers had asked to go before the T&R Commission and have no reprisals.

I will read more about what she said about that. Slovo has written about it.

February 24, 2011  

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