ness African life for three centuries, when the Nats came to power in 1948 racism was not merely authorized but actually commanded by legislation. Year by year, as black nationalism swept south toward what is now the only white-ruled country in Africa, the Nats tightened their stranglehold on political dissent; most legal opposition now has been effectively silenced. One of the few voices the Nats still tolerate is that of the Progressive Federal Party. The Progs are an introspective clique brought together by outrage and circumstance, whites who, in a country where politics is fate, are caught in the frustrating bind of political irrelevance. Almost all are wealthy or at least very well off, and despite their outrage are terribly wellmannered. Among them is a lawyer I wish my Dallas friend would look up should he opt for the “deluxe South African adventure.” This woman I’ll call her Maria could fill him in on the workings of Nat machinery. She could also tell him what’s become, since 1948, of some of South Africa’s most able lawyers: Bram Fischer, Communist Party leader and the model for Lionel Burger of Nadine Gordimer’s Burger’s Daughter \(died in organization, the African National Congress \(serving his sevknown. But most shocking because most immediate, Maria could describe what’s happened not only to her own career at the bar but also to what you might call her soul. In short, she could show him South Africa “democracy” without the spit and polish something the touring Texans, alas, aren’t likely to see. Maria If their bona fides look good, American journalists can travel the Prog circuit and never want for a place to stay. Names and phone calls in Jo’burg will get them bed and board in Natal, and they can count on the Durban Progs to set them up with those in the Cape. I first heard of Maria at a Prog dinner party near Pietermaritzburg. Someone mentioned that a young feminist attorney in the Cape had been asked to stand for Parliament. That was all until, over liqueurs, the lady to my left asked the gentleman to my right if he thought the feminist attorney would accept. “She hasn’t made up her mind. I’m afraid she’s a bit cynical.” “Well, after what she went through,” the lady said and downed a shot of brandy. I asked for details and my table partners offered to make a call. “You’ll be in the Cape,” they said. “You ought to stay with her.” One grey afternoon several weeks later I drove into a port city, bought a map and made my way to Marja’s house. I was on a rise overlooking the Indian Ocean, where the streets, at first sight, reminded me of Russian Hill. The newly gentrified houses had their Cape Dutch gingerbread restored, and the stucco facades wore fresh pastels. Marja’s was the odd white house on a block of pinks and blues. For fifteen minutes I sipped tea in her living room, surrounded by dark wood and a store of private treasures: intaglios of Blackstone and Lord Coke, a bust of Louis Botha, shells that caught the light. Marja came in and out, bringing fruit and sandwiches, while four small dogs eyed me from underneath the buffet. Finally she sat down, started a cigarette, and replaced the teapot with a decanter; it was going to storm, she said, and didn’t the wind make me nervous? She was curled into an overstuffed chair, a long-legged, dark-haired, overly made-up woman who could have been thirty-five but was, I knew, twenty-eight. She was also very beautiful. No, the wind didn’t make me nervous. “Everything makes me nervous,” she said. “I’m better than I used to be at least now I can sleep. But I still wake up with headaches, and sometimes I have nightmares . . . . And there’s the fear and self-censorship one learns to live with. For instance, speaking to you now in my own living room I feel so paranoid . . . . Really, how do I know BOSS isn’t listening behind the walls?” BOSS is the Bureau for State Security, the strong arm of the Nat regime. It was created in 1969 to oversee South African military intelligence and the activities of the national police forces’s security branch. BOSS’s powers, both de jure and de facto, are notoriously far-reaching. Although under South African common law an individual is entitled to all freedoms not denied him by statute, the statutes encroaching on civil rights are many and detailed. The right to a secure home, for example, is undermined by the Criminal Procedure Act, which allows any security agent to enter any premises at any time without a warrant Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure protections are nonexistent. “And yet what threat am I to the internal security of the republic? I don’t do anything but make money and spend it. Oh, I work for women’s rights, but women’s rights doesn’t count for much in a country where the only game is human rights. And I stopped playing the game four years ago.” She snuffed out her cigarette between the polished lips of a conch. Then she took two sandwich halves and divided them evenly; the dogs, all four of therri, had climbed into the chair. “You don’t have to tell me I’m a cynic I know it. But how much could I take? They detained my husband. They harassed me throughout my pregnancy. They’re even I know I sound like a nut trying to drive me insane . . . .” She lit another cigarette, Suddenly she got up, spilling the dogs onto the rug. “Do you like gramophones? I bought a super gramophone in Kingwilliamstown for three hundred rand. Old records, too ” Maria went over to the corner, cranked the thing to life and we heard “Yes, I Have No Bananas” all the way through, three times. Then she put on “St. Louis Blues.” The machine ran down in mid-song. She shrugged. The wind had started up. “The country is diseased, you know. Alcoholism, heart attacks, divorces, fatal motor crashes our per capita rates are the highest in the world. We also lead the world in executions ten or eleven people are hanged each month, most of them black, of course. And you can trace the degeneration of South Africa to the degeneration of its legal order. We inherited the English and the Roman-Dutch law, but everything those systems stand for has gone by the board: habeas corpus, the rule against hearsay evidence, the right to counsel immediately on arrest, the rules restricting arrest without warrant, the right to silence . . . . Oh, Christ, you name it, it’s gone. It’s all been sacrificed to the law of apartheid.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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