Synopsis: In his first article upon arriving in South Africa, Scott writes on the jarring segregation of "Europeans" from "non-Europeans". With haunting imagery he describes the all-pervasive dehumanization of the black and "coloured" populations by the whites under apartheid, a theme that he will expand upon and vocally criticize throughout his incredible and eye-opening series.
You're Black, or You're White, in Africa
Jack Scott, Vancouver Sun columnist, is in South Africa to tell Sun readers first-hand about the bitter race struggle there. His articles will continue until after the crucial South African election April 15.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – You make your choice, such as it is, at three o'clock in the morning.
You've arrived in Johannesburg at that ungodly hour, eight hours late because of a defect in a tail-heater of your Pan-American Clipper way back there somewhere over the North Atlantic. Was it two days ago or two months ago?
The form that the weary immigration officials hands to you gives you two choices. You are required to make a cross beside one of them.
You are either "European" or you are "non-European." From now on it matters little if you are Canadian or American or Eskimo. You are either black or you are white.
It is that simple and that tragic.
Having committed yourself to being a member of the master race, the formalities of inspection are brief and perfunctory. The customs official, unable to locate a number on your typewriter, grins and yawns and marks down the only numbers he can find–6,5,4,3,2, which are there on all typewriters to adjust the pressure of the keys. You wonder what he would do if you did not have this privileged complexion.
You walk into the main lounge of the airport to await the bus that will take you into the city. It is a large lounge with cane chairs and low tables. A "non-European" steward (for you have begun to think this way) brings you tea. Leading off the lounge is a small fly-specked room perhaps ten feet square. There is a sign over the door: "Nie Blanke Sitkamer." That is the lounge for the non-European.
It is the first of the ten thousand signs you will see with those words, "Nie Blanke." Not-white.
From now on you will drink your tea and wash your hands and eat your food and use the toilets and drink the water and use the entrances that are there for you, the European.
You are in South Africa
In the morning you are awakened in your hotel room at seven, and startled into springing erect by a motherly-looking woman who is pouring your tea. You will get to know this dear creature rather well, for when the colonial brings his tradition and his way of life to the far corners of the globe, he brings it with a vengeance.
The chambermaid will cart away your oxfords in the morning and return them honed to a gloss they never knew, bringing you the paper (oblivious to the fact that you are sleeping in the raw), open the drapes across your window and draw them at night, find your pyjamas, which you thought were lost forever, in your bag, and lay them neatly on your bed with the covers impeccably folded back, bundle your dirty laundry and pop her head in every so often so see if there's anything she forgot.
In 12 hours you will wonder how you ever lived without her.
You go down to the dining room where the waiters are East Indian–that, of course, is "Nie Blanke"–and while you ponder the menu you listen to the two people at the adjoining table. There is a woman and a man. The woman is the wreckage of all that a once-proud Empire held dear, complete with lorgnette. She does the talking. The little man beside her studies his nails from under the hoods of his eyelids.
"The mawster will have tomawto juice," she tells the East Indian who smiles and nods. "And let me see – ah, yes, the master would like the kippers..."
And you sip your tepid tomato juice, for here there is even a greater scorn of refrigeration than in England, and you catch the East Indian staring discreetly but contemplatively at the master and his good lady.
You have an air mail letter to be sent off and, having finished your cold toast, you walk out to the Enquiry desk.
The man behind the desk, as you can tell by his accent, is of Dutch descent. He would doubtless be more at home speaking Afrikaans, which is to the true Dutch tongue what French Canadian is to pure French.
He wears an ornate, moss-coloured uniform with gold epaulets and gold chevrons on the sleeves. He is extraordinarily obsequious and so it surprises you when his manner changes and he turns to a black man, also in moss-green but without epaulets or chevrons.
"Weigh this, Jim," he says curtly.
"Yes, sir," says Jim. He puts the letter upon the small postage scales.
"Weighs less than half an ounce, sir," he says.
The white man wheels on him with such rage that it astonishes you. "Damn it, Jim," he says, "I've told you before there's no postage rate for anything under half an ounce. Why tell me it's UNDER half an ounce, man? How many times must I tell you that?"
"I should have remembered that," the black man says, shaking his head.
The white man sighs extravagantly and turns to you with a smile you are intended to share. "They can't seem to learn anything," he says.
You look at him coldly, bewildered by the non sequitur of his diatribe and embarrassed for the coloured man.
"Traveller, are you, sir?" Says the white man, all smiles and cordiality. "We certainly hope you will take to South Africa."