The Mirror at Midnight

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A “stunning blend of reportage, travelogue, history and meditation” by the New York Times–bestselling author of King Leopold’s Ghost (Publishers Weekly).

National Book Award finalist Adam Hochschild brings a lifetime’s familiarity with South Africa to bear in this eye-opening examination of a critical turning point in that nation’s history: the Great Trek of 1836–39, during which Dutch-speaking white settlers, known as Boers, journeyed deep into the country’s interior to escape the British colonial administration.
 
The mass migration culminated with the massacre of indigenous Zulus in the 1838 Battle of Blood River. Looking at the tensions of modern South Africa through the dramatic prism of the nineteenth century, Hochschild vividly recreates the battle—and its contentious commemoration by rival groups 150 years later. In his epilogue, Hochschild extends his view to the astonishing political changes that have occurred in the country in recent decades—and the changes yet to be made.
 
Hochschild’s incisive take on these events, noted Nadine Gordimer, “is far more than an outsider’s perception of the drama of our country. Read him, in particular, to understand the rise of white extremism which is threatening the democratic vision of the African National Congress and its allied progressive constituency among people of all colors.”
 
“A good book for anyone who wants a succinct and precise account of how this fascinating country has got where it is. . . . This is a book I recommend warmly.” —Archbishop Desmond Tutu
 
“One of the most illuminating books ever written on contemporary South Africa.” —Publishers Weekly
 
“Thoroughly researched, immensely readable . . . A work of vivid reportage and astute political analysis.” —San Francisco Chronicle

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Publié par
Date de parution 24 avril 2007
Nombre de visites sur la page 2
EAN13 9780547525228
Langue English

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Title Page Contents Front Matter Copyright Dedication Preface to the Mariner Edition Beginnings
P a r t O u e Summer Folk “Laugh Like We’ve Been Laughing” Place of Weeping Loyal Natives “A Balanced View” Journey to the North
P a r t T w o The Play Within the Play Johannesburg Notebook The Truth Room Survivors On Trek “The Light of Civilization” Velvet Glove, Iron Fist Stormtroopers Shell of the Old, Seed of the New A Carpet-Bombing The Mirror Midnight Journey’s End Epilogue: Old Bricks, New Building Bibliography and Acknowledgments About the Author Footnotes
First Mariner Books edition 2007 Copyright © 1990 by Adam Hochschild Map copyright © 1990 by Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc. All rights reserved For information about permission to reproduce selec tions from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.comor to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016. www.hmhco.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Hochschild, Adam. The mirror at midnight: a South African journey / A dam Hochschild. —1st Mariner Books ed. p. cm. Originally published: New York : Viking, 1990. With new preface and epilogue. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-618-75825-8 ISBN-10: 0-618-75825-9 1. Blood River, Battle of, South Africa, 1838—Anniv ersaries, etc. 2. Afrikaners—Race identity. 3. South Africa—Race relations—His-tory—20th century. 4. Hochschild, Adam—Travel—South Africa. 5. South Africa—Description and travel. 6. South Africa—Social con-ditions—1961–1994. 7. South Africa—Politics and gov ernment— 1989–1994. I. Title. DT2247.B56H63 2007 305.800968—dc22 2006103110 eISBN 978-0-547-52522-8 v2.1017 Portions of this book first appeared, in somewhat d ifferent form, inMother Jones, Harper’s,and theBoston Review. Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint the following copyrighted material: Lines from the poem “The Contraction and Enclosure of the Land” by St. J. Page Yako. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Perskor, fromThe Making of a Servant(Johannesburg, 1972), an anthology translated by P . Kavanaugh and Z. Qangule. The poem “In Detention” by Christopher Van Wyk. Reprinted by permission of the author. Lines from the poem “The Price of Freed om” by Mathews Phosa, as translated by William Mervin Gumede. Reprinted by p ermission of Struik Publishers, fromThabo Mbeki and the Battle forthe Soul of the ANC(Cape Town, 2005).
FOR DAVID AND GABRIEL ”Looking into South Africa is like looking into the mirror at midnight . . . A horrible face, but one’s own.” BREYTEN BREYTENBACH
Preface to the Mariner Edition
Few countries on earth have ever undergone as dramatic and hopeful a political sea change as South Africa did at the end of the twentieth century. At the close of the 1980s, it was one of the world’s most notorious police states, for decades the object of protest marches and demonstrations around the globe . Thousands of black political dissidents were in jail, torture was routine, and o nly the small percentage of the population that was white could, in any meaningful way, vote. Nelson Mandela and other top African National Congress leaders had bee n in prison for more than a quarter of a century. And to all who cared about this beautiful and long-suffering country, it looked as if they would be serving out their life s entences. But a mere few years later, in 1994, every adult So uth African could vote in the nation’s first democratic election. Mandela was ele cted President, and his coalition-government cabinet included people who had spent de cades in prison or exile—and the former head of the government that had once kep t him behind bars. Not only was the startling turnaround a peacefully negotiated one, it was one of history’s most unexpected. In 1988, when I made the journey described in these pages, there was not a single journalist or commentator an ywhere—nor, so far as we know, an intelligence agency of any government—predicting a democratic South Africa at any time soon. Every South African politician, activist, or academic I talked to believed that any real change was at least twenty or thirty years off, if then. The changes that astonished the world, the first free election campaign—which I witnessed—and some of the bumps in the road South A frica has encountered since then, I have described in a new Epilogue. However, I have left the rest of this book entirely unchanged; its present tense refers to 198 8, not to today. This, then, is a portrait of the country at the very peak of the sta te violence and repression that preceded one of the most remarkable transformations of our time. And, along the way, it is also a glance back at a crucial early episode of South African history. A. H.
Beginnings
Fooks as if wisps of fog hadrom a distance, Johannesburg’s Alexandra township l collected above it, despite the sun-scorched day. C oming closer, I see that it is not fog but dust, for most streets here, unlike those in th e white suburbs that surround Alexandra, are unpaved. This morning some fifty tho usand pairs of feet are kicking the dust aloft as they make a pilgrimage over the hills , in long streams that converge on one spot. Seventeen Alexandra youths, from age twelve up, will be buried here today. They are victims of police bullets during six days of recent fighting in this township, one of the bloodier battles in South Africa’s long civil war. It is March 5, 1986. I am heading toward the funera l with some white friends. They assure me we will be safe, but it is hard not to wo rry: our skin is the same color as those whose government shot the young men who are to be buried today. As white people on this emotion-laden day, won’t we be targe ts for community rage? Adding to my uneasiness is the fact that South Africa’s divis ion is one of class as well as race: the people I’m with are in a larger convoy of white supporters of the resistance movement, all of whom are in cars, some of them new Audis and Peugeots. This line of cars is entering an overcrowded township whose blac k citizens mostly must travel by foot, van, or bus. As we drive into Alexandra, we p ass its ramshackle bus station: cracked and battered open-air concrete platforms wi th destination signs whose very names—Rosebank, Ferndale, Parktown—speak of the leisured white suburbs of swimming pools, tree-shaded streets, and well-sprin kled lawns. These are the places Alexandra residents commute to each day, to work as cooks, maids, and gardeners. Through the open window of the car, I can smell the sewage ditches at the side of the road and hear the sound of dozens of small gasoline generators: in most of “Alex,” if you want electricity, you have to make your own. Go ats, chickens, and an occasional cow wander the streets. Small, tin-roofed homes are cramped together. Desperate for housing, some families have even moved into a row o f abandoned buses. Their wheels, stripped of tires, have sunk into the soil. Scattered about are reminders of recent street fighting: smashed windows, a few burn t-out cars. Astoundingly, as our white caravan jounces slowly o ver the rutted road toward the funeral, we are cheered. Older people clap from the roadside. Children smile and wave from doorways. Young men give the clenched-fist sal ute—right arm extended, thumb outside fist. I see the same spirit a few moments l ater, when we walk into the overflowing soccer stadium where the funeral is to take place. Just outside the stadium is a large warehouse under construction, a skeleton of bright yellow steel girders. Several dozen young black men have climbed high up and are sitting precariously astride this framework. Despite a police order forb idding them, they hold banners with slogans like FORWARD TO PEOPLE’S POWER! Two white university students approach the structure, carrying their own banner of support. It takes them ten minutes to clamber up the steel beams while holding their sign ; at every level, black hands reach down to help them up. Finally two Alexandra youths reach down from the topmost girder, take the students’ banner, and hold it aloft. The ceremony begins. Mourners have filled every sea t in the stadium and the entire dirt soccer field. The crowd rises and begins to sing, in spontaneous harmony, the stirring hymn that for three quarters of a century has been the freedom anthem of southern Africa:
Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika Maliphakamis’we ‘pondolwayo . . . (God bless Africa, Let our nation rise . . .) I feel humbled at the majesty of the singing and th e solemnity of the crowd, many of whom are weeping. Near a speaker’s platform at one end of the field, the seventeen coffins lie in a row; each is covered with banners in the black, green, and gold colors of the African National Congress. Mothers and other re latives sit next to each coffin. An honor guard of teenage boys in brown berets and red armbands stands at attention next to them. For four hours under a broiling sun, speaker after speaker comes to the rostrum. One is Albertina Sisulu, sixty-eight, whose husband , ANC leader Walter Sisulu, spent more than twenty-five years in prison. She and her children have been in and out of jail too many times to count. In 1956 she was one of the leaders of twenty thousand women who made a famous protest march to government buildings in Pretoria. She is introduced, to much cheering, as “our mother, Comra de Mrs. Sisulu.” “This country is governed by frightened cockroaches !” she shouts. The crowd responds with a distinctive cheer:“OOOOahhh!”There are more OOOOahhhsas she mentions Nelson Mandela and the other Afric an National Congress leaders. But in her talk, as in those of several other speak ers, there is an undertone of anxiety. Since South Africa’s latest wave of uprisings began in 1984, several hundred black collaborators, usually police informers, have been “necklaced”—burned to death with old gasoline-filled tires around their necks. Some of these revenge killings have been done by volatile, angry crowds of mourners at mass funerals just like this one. “Enough now!” Albertina Sisulu warns the young peop le. “There is no need for you to be fighting like dogs, man! The youth must be strong e nough to say NO when something is wrong.” Addressing the informers, she adds, “We will deal w ith you when we are free.” The speakers talk mostly in English, sometimes in o ne of the African languages. The organizers are clearly edgy. “Comrades!” a minister urges the crowd, “Please be disciplined.occer field is sitting”And disciplined they are. Almost everyone on the s cross-legged in the dirt. If more than four or five people in the same place get up, a half-dozen marshals in blue T-shirts that say ALEXANDRA MASSACRE rush to the spot to make sure no one is about to be necklaced. Wary marshals watch a small group of children, some not even teenagers, who are parading through the crowd single-file, holding up a hand-lettered sign: AWAY WITH MOTHIBE AND YOUR WIFE THERESA WE DON’T NEED YOU. Is this a threat to an informer? I can’t tell. Hidden deep in the mass of people, someone tosses a bunch of leaflets into the air; they are blown across the crowd by the wind. The le aflet is from an underground cell of the African National Congress: it lists the times a nd shortwave frequencies where you can hear Radio Freedom, the ANC program broadcast from outside South Africa. And it appeals to blacks in the police and army: “Brother soldier, policeman! Refuse to shoot your own people; point your guns at the enemies of freedom.” At the rostrum now is Mzwakhe Mbuli, a tall man with a powerful voice who is South Africa’s most popular composer of oral poetry, an a ncient art form recently reborn and politicized. Arrested and tortured several times, M buli has also been the target of assassination attempts. In ringing tones, he recite s verses beginning, “I have been to the mountaintop, and I have seen the dreams of Afri ca to come . . .”