Posted by: passedportsnyc | October 29, 2009

Novel Characters: P. from South Africa

At 39, mostly bald, with a large paunch, bottleglass-thick wire rims, a ruddy complexion and a nose that seemed to be growing independently from his body, P seemed worse for the wear. He struck up a conversation in the communal kitchen of the backpacker lodge as we waited for a burner for our noodles. It started with the usual battery of travelers’ questions – How long have you been here? Where did you come from? How long are you traveling? Where to next? – but after the first question he blazed his own trail.

“Are you traveling with a firearm?” he asked. We glanced at each other and issued an emphatic “NO” in unison. P raised his eyebrows, shook his head and grimaced, as if to say, “Hey man, to each his own, I’m just glad it’s your lives, not mine.”

He spent the next two hours reviling us with horror stories about South Africa, tales of murder, corruption, rape, blackmail, racial hate crime, and recreational violence. His stories were punctuated with remarks like, “But my father’s company had black employees, managers even, as far back as 1967. It’s a proven fact,” and “But it really is a lovely country though. Spectacular, really,” and, “But I went to school with blacks, in the same classroom, back in the late ’70’s, I can prove it.” He recited his tales with a smile on his face, seeking awe and wonder from his audience. But his constant joviality came across as forced and desperate.

P is a white South African from Capetown, in the process of relocating to Pretoria, and with plans to go into exile in a few years. Within minutes of making his acquaintance he predicted the implosion of his own country within the next five years. He also predicted a broader Africa revolution inside of 20 years, a violent pan-African uprising against the Western world. He has already put the wheels in motion to flee South Africa within five years, before the country implodes. He assures us that is what all reasonable white males are doing.

I don’t believe that P’s extreme paranoia and apocalyptic worldview are in any way exemplary of the country as a whole or of South Africa’s white population generally. More likely they are the result of a chemical imbalance. Perhaps it was the divorce, or the Apartheid years spent in the South African Defence Force quashing township uprisings, or the 16-year-old daughter who ran off to Australia, or the violent carjacking attack a few years back. Whatever it was, hopefully he is the exception not the norm, because if his views are exemplary of the white population as a whole, reconciliation and the “New South Africa” are nothing but a fantasy.

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