Going Solo Tales
that ethnic feelings go very deep in South Africa, not only between whites and blacks, but also between whites and “coloreds,” coloreds and blacks, and between blacks and blacks.
Though I never saw a single incidence of trouble myself, newspapers were full of township
hooliganism, horrendous “necklace” trials, and riots at miners’ hostels.
White society lamented the state of things and what they feared would be the loss of “their beautiful” South Africa, a country not only bountiful in resources, scenically diverse, and blessed with an extraordinary cultural heritage, but also functional to European standards.
By the time I had been in the country six weeks, a vague but growing sense of discontent began to
darken my mood. Why? The weather was great, the living cheap. I could afford clean, pleasant lodgings, and the food was comfortingly familiar. Something difficult to define gnawed at me, but
what? The answer dawned while riding a segregated bus – one of only two I encountered. I was traveling along the “Garden Route,” that spectacular stretch of mountainous terrain bordering the southern coastline of the continent. A sheet of metal walled off a few “white” designated seats from the rest of the bus, but I figured the black African passengers had a better time of it than I and two other white tourists, because we had to tolerate the driver’s non-stop musical renditions of his American country western favorites delivered with a South African twang.
Out the window I could see passengers embarking and disembarking at the back as we stopped at every little burg between George and Knysna. That’s when it occurred to me that my South African experience had so far been shallow and relegated to a superficial “white” viewpoint. I had seen but not associated with even one black South African, except for hotel servants.
In Knysna, a pretty little resort town, I wanted to stay by the seaside away from town center, but without a car I would be isolated out there, the only transport being a “colored” bus. There was no law against my taking it, but as I was told, “It just isn’t done, too dangerous, you being white.” I could have but didn’t argue. Instead, being lily-livered, I gave up the chance for a restful seaside retreat.
Apartheid had succeeded in stirring up fear in me. Disgruntled, I moved on with a feeling of oppression weighing on my mind. In Port Elizabeth I stopped over in a good quality three-star hotel. The city was rife with political argument. A black man had challenged the “whites only” law at a local beach. An international team of diplomats had arrived to impress world opinion upon city officials. Tension was palpable. Although it was an extremely fascinating time to be there, I felt low in spirit. Next came nausea, then stomach cramps, then for two miserable days I was very ill, managing only to stagger between bed and bathroom.