South africa

Beware South Africa’s rising star

Cape Town ‘Shoot to kill! Kill the Boer, the farmer! Kill the Boer, the farmer! Brrrr! Pah! Pah!’ These were the words chanted in fine voice by Julius Malema to a rapturous crowd of 100,000 at South Africa’s biggest stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday 29 July. Malema was celebrating the tenth birthday of the EFF, the political party he founded and leads. EFF stands for Economic Freedom Fighters. It is dedicated to fighting economic slavery. It declares itself Leninist–Marxist, wants to seize private property (as Malema’s hero Robert Mugabe did in Zimbabwe), plans to nationalise the banks and the mines and enforce total state control. The EFF is the fastest-growing political

From she-devil to heroine – Winnie Mandela’s surprising metamorphosis

Apartheid South Africa created many heroes and villains, and in the heat of battle for the soul of that country it was sometimes difficult to tell which was which. For decades, Nelson Mandela represented righteous liberation for a society enchained by the grim political philosophy of apartheid. Throughout most of this time, his wife Winnie embodied fearless defiance and radical resistance to the system, a charismatic beauty who howled with rage: according to Lord Hain, ‘a quasi-revolutionary to Mandela’s reformism’. A complex Shakespearian tale unfolds of two charismatic figures thrown together by apartheid Today, as South Africa lurches from one crisis to the next, the legacy of the Mandelas is

How to escape the cold without jet lag

My mum yelped. The kayak bucked back and forth as we both mouthed: ‘Dolphins!’ The pair zigzagged around us while we tried to paddle after them. Afterwards, we were paddling back towards land for a busy afternoon of exploring coffee shops and wine bars when a penguin bobbed its head up from the water. In moments like these it’s hard to believe you’re in a city – but there was Cape Town spread out on the shore ahead of us. The taxi driver who met us at the airport had summed it up: ‘In Cape Town, you can do everything.’ There’s nature in spades (from antelope to whales), incredible food, culture,

The Zulu’s new king brings peace, for a moment

A new king of the Zulu was crowned at the weekend. Thousands in South Africa went to Durban to watch the coronation of Misuzulu kaZwelithini. The city was sunny, which meant the Zulu ancestors were happy. The coronation, held at the Moses Mabhida stadium, was a celebration of Zulu tribal dominance. While South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who handed over the certificate recognising Misuzulu as the Zulu monarch, was booed by the audience, his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, was cheered. Ramaphosa comes from the tiny Venda tribe, on the border with Zimbabwe. Zuma is a Zulu. Zulus don’t care much about the accusations against their former president. His opponents say he’s

Brilliant and distinctive but also relentless: William Kentridge, at the RA, reviewed

William Kentridge’s work has a way of sticking in the mind. I can remember all my brief encounters with it, from my first delighted sight of one of his charcoal-drawn animations, ‘Monument’ (1990), in the Whitechapel’s 2004 exhibition Faces in the Crowd to my awestruck confrontation with his eight-channel video installation I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008) in Tate Modern’s Tanks in 2012. That marked a high point for the Tanks, since when they’ve tanked. Kentridge’s is a face you don’t forget, partly because it often appears in his own animations in the guise of his beaky alter ego Soho Eckstein, partly because of the trademark

Homage to Sydney Kentridge, South Africa’s courtroom giant

Sydney Kentridge, the protagonist of Thomas Grant’s superb legal saga The Mandela Brief, is that trickiest of biographical subjects: a great man. Grant acknowledges ‘it is rare that, on closer acquaintance, a person touted as a “great” man or woman conforms to the initial description’, but the South African lawyer has been described by countless barristers as the greatest courtroom advocate they had ever seen. Notable for the apartheid cases he conducted as a defence lawyer of especial distinction and passion, Kentridge has also been admired for his calm and assured bearing in court. The Observer praised him in 1968 as having ‘the face and bearing of an upper-class Regency

The lost world of the Karoo

Julia Blackburn’s Dreaming the Karoo is the diary of a very bad year: from March 2020, when a research trip to South Africa was cut short by the sudden emergence of Covid, to March last year. Blackburn had gone to Cape Town, and then into the dry interior, the Karoo, to explore the lost world she had found in an obscure volume that she had once chanced upon in the London Library. Specimens of Bushman Folklore, by the linguists Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd, published in 1911, contains the texts – life stories, origin myths, tales about animals, accounts of murders of women and children by the encroaching colonists –

A belter of a podcast, featuring a mad South African: Smoke Screen reviewed

I go back and forth on tobacco companies. On the one hand, they are merchants of death. On the other, cigarettes are fun and delicious. On the one hand, they push cigarettes on children, which is unconscionable. And on the other, I remember how I would gather in the park with other children to collectively venerate a ten-pack of Marlboro Lights, our soft, pink fingers shivering and struggling with the lighter mechanism, our untutored lips puffing ineffectually at the speckled filter, all of us beginning to grow woozy from the acrid smoke filling our virgin lungs as we stood there and thought: this is the life. Luckily, Smoke Screen sidesteps

Why I was almost thrown out of South Africa

On my 2 p.m. arrival for a week-long work trip to South Africa a fortnight ago, an immigration agent flapped my passport while inquiring as to the purpose of my visit. ‘To appear in the Franschhoek Literary Festival’ clearly meant nothing to this woman, but hey, lit fests aren’t exactly Glastonbury. I only grew, shall we say, concerned when she announced that because my passport lacked two sequential completely clean pages, she was denying me entry to the country. ‘You’re kidding me,’ I said – quietly; I didn’t shout. Yet this reflex expression of disbelief was all it would take for the entire team of Cape Town’s gatekeepers to blackball

Is Omicron now falling in South Africa?

Man makes Covid predictions and God laughs. Yet with the stakes this high in Britain, every bit of real-world data is useful. That’s why South Africa is so important: it’s a country with a well-digitised healthcare sector that we have to thank for sequencing the Omicron variant, and has been first to experience the impact. That’s why its figures, released daily, are being watched so eagerly world over. Right now, there are two questions: is Omicron now falling? And if so, what conclusions can we draw? The epicentre is Gauteng province: home to Johannesburg, Pretoria and about a quarter of South Africans. The below chart adjusts for population and shows that

The promise of South Africa

‘Earth has not anything to show more fair.’ One can admire the view from Westminster Bridge and feel near the epicentre of a great civilisation, but still believe that Wordsworth was exaggerating. His line came to mind when I was thinking about Christmases past, two of which I was fortunate enough to spend in the Cape. That scenery really is hard to rival. In the 1980s, the Cape offered five of life’s greatest pleasures. Landscape, politics, shooting, wine — and about 120 miles from Cape Town, there is an enchanting village called Arniston, or Waenhuiskrans, not far from Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa. Its inhabitants are Cape Coloured

How 19th-century gold rushes led to a distrust of China

For a brief moment three summers ago it seemed that the clear Idaho air wafting through the Sun Valley Literary Festival had become tainted with the smoke and soot of Nuremberg. Here was Thomas Friedman, bloviator-in-chief to America’s chattering classes, standing before a rally of thousands, delivering a powerful philippic about the ascent of the Asiatic East. As he warmed to his theme, he decided for some messianic reason to demand that his audience chant the phrase that he suggested now dominated the American economic landscape. Come on, he urged like a latter-day Elmer Gantry, yell out with me the words: ‘Everything. Is. Made. In. CHINA!’ And, as one, the

Letters: Why aren’t Italians fighting for their liberty?

Wage concern Sir: Martin Vander Weyer’s call for higher wages to end the shortage of British HGV drivers (‘Your country needs you at the wheel of a lorry’, 7 August) should be extended to other hard-pressed economic areas which have lost cheap labour from the poorer EU countries. For far too long, farming, hospitality, construction, care homes and other vital services have failed to recruit and train local staff or pay a decent wage. Low wages at the bottom of the economy increase the cost of social welfare benefits, bring in less or no money from income tax and VAT and thus adversely affect the whole economy. David Thompson Capel

Letters: The problem with the ‘alpha migrants’

Here illegally Sir: Unfortunately, Charlotte Eagar misses the point (‘The alpha migrants’, 31 July). The Channel migrants may be ‘bright and brave’, and may repay what they gain from the benefit system. But they are here illegally, thus riding roughshod over the immigration system and those who are still waiting to have their asylum applications processed lawfully. This farce must not be allowed to continue as a taxpayer-funded taxi service for people-trafficking gangs. Victoria Baillon Hornblotton, Somerset On liberty Sir: Michael Cullup (Letters, 31 July) bemoans that ‘The Spectator these days seems obsessed with the idea of freedom’ and that his youth of boarding school, blackouts, rationing and the Royal

The case for travelling abroad

I’m off. In the week when you may read this, my partner and I will be winging our way to the European mainland, exploring, visiting friends, and immersing ourselves in new places, among new people who speak languages other than our own. Even as I write this, I can anticipate a sour response from some who read it. Over the past year I’ve learned that any mention of travelling abroad draws from certain quarters three types of disgruntlement. Three, in fact, of the Seven Deadly Sins. The first is Envy. ‘Oh, bully for you!’, ‘It’s all right for some’, etc. This I disregard. Between youth and old age I’ve made

The real reasons for South Africa’s riots

Sixty-eight years ago, when I was four, my Scottish father and English mother took me from London to South Africa, to a seaside town 20 miles south of Cape Town in the Western Cape. This is Fish Hoek (pronounced ‘fishhook’). I was brought up here, and after working in England and elsewhere in South Africa, I have returned. I have lived through the rise and fall of apartheid, and the 27-year rule of the ANC. I watched the terrible recent events, which seem to have subsided. We are sifting through the ruins and wondering what happened, and why. South Africa has nine provinces. Two of them, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN, formerly Natal)

Death and dishonour: The Promise, by Damon Galgut, reviewed

If death is not an event in life, as Wittgenstein observed, it’s a curious way to structure a novel. But since death is certainly an event in other people’s lives, Damon Galgut’s family saga, shrunk to the moments of passing, is ingenious. That the narrative takes great leaps over time yet also gives a firm sense of continuity is impressive. The various deaths in the Swart family take place over decades of political change in South Africa, which they barely register on their remote farm. Theirs is a mostly unexamined life, with white rule a given, practically ordained by God. The first death, that of Rachel, or ‘Ma’, is not

What’s behind the South African riots?

South Africa is ablaze once more. In the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal (formerly Natal) and Gauteng (which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria), the cities are burning. Shops and businesses have been turned to ashes; trucks are on fire; mobs of excited young men are smashing and looting; a Durban ambulance, trying to take a critically ill patient to hospital, was attacked; in the middle of a crippling Covid-19 lockdown, pharmacies have been plundered and vaccination sites have been suspended; motorways have been closed; over 70 people have been killed. The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has called out the army. These rioting young men lead wretched lives, mainly because of the ANC

Memories of Stellenbosch and South Africa’s finest wines

Lockdown provides time to think, and to reminisce. A South African friend, trapped in Amsterdam, phoned the other day. Had I written about the David and Nadia wines from Swartland we had tasted at the end of last year? Not yet: I was awaiting further particulars, which may have been remiss of me. Justerini and Brooks is a major stockist and they are some of the best wines coming out of South Africa, which is saying a lot. Wines have been produced in South Africa since the Huguenots settled in vine-friendly lands not far from Cape Town. Stellenbosch, Paarl and the aptly named Franschhoek are well known. Swartland is catching

What we know about the Brazilian Covid variant

The World Health Organisation’s appeal to stop naming variants of Covid-19 after geographical locations evidently cut no ice with the Prime Minister, who warned MPs yesterday about a new Brazilian mutation of the Sars-Cov2-virus. Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance later suggested to ITV News that the changes identified in the new variant ‘might make a change to the way the immune system recognises it but we don’t know. Those experiments are underway.’ According to Pfizer last week, its vaccine still offers protection against the newly-identified Kent and South African variants of the Sars-CoV-2 virus. But should we now be worrying that the Brazilian variant will creep through our defences?