When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: South Africa

Tidying Things Up

1982: South Africa’s segregated prisons were harsh institutions; Barberton prison farm, in the eastern Transvaal, was reputedly the harshest of all. While Simon Mpungose was incarcerated there, he once saw warders ironing the corpse of a black prisoner. The warders had beaten him to death and, to avoid awkward questions, they were literally ironing the dead body to try to erase the welts.

Source: Rian Malan, My Traitor’s Heart: Blood and Bad Dreams: A South African Explores the Madness in His Country, His Tribe and Himself (1991), pp. 196–7

Young Racist

1968: The only black people on the whites-only Orient Beach at East London, in South Africa, were a sad-looking cleaner in blue overalls, and a girl who sold ice creams, whose black feet left footprints in the wet sand. Seven-year-old Don McRae wasn’t sure she should be allowed on the beach barefoot. Whenever he visited the beach, he made sure his small, white, prejudiced feet “stepped over her black footsteps”.

Source: Donald McRae, Under Our Skin: A White Family’s Journey through South Africa’s Darkest Years (2012), p. 46

Tapeworm Blamed

1966: On the afternoon of 6 September, a parliamentary messenger named Demetrio Tsafendas stabbed and killed Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd in the chamber of South Africa’s House of Assembly. Tsafendas was quickly labelled a “crank” and a “madman”: he had a history of mental illness, he had been detained in institutions in several countries, and he was obsessed with, and his actions driven by, an illusory tapeworm in his stomach.

Source: Tiffany Fawn Jones, Psychiatry, Mental Institutions, and the Mad in Apartheid South Africa (2012), pp. 86–92

Electoral Anomaly

1948: The Nationalist triumph in South Africa’s general election was an anomaly. General Smuts’s United Party and allies won 50.9 per cent of the total vote; D.F. Malan’s Herenigde Nasionale Party and allies managed only 41.2 per cent. The United Party, however, squandered too many votes on thumping majorities in urban constituencies, while the Nationalists performed strongly in rural seats whose smaller electorates required fewer votes to secure victory. When parliament reconvened, Smuts controlled 71 seats, but Malan controlled 79, sufficient for the Nationalists to usher in their policy of apartheid.

Source: Kenneth A. Heard, General Elections in South Africa 1943–1970 (1974), chap. 3

Nasty New Meaning

1985: In South African townships, the word “necklace” took on a nasty new meaning. No longer referring exclusively to an item of women’s jewellery, from 1985 onwards it also began to mean a rubber tyre forced over the head and shoulders of a collaborator, an informer or a policeman, doused in petrol, and set on fire, resulting in a slow and painful death.

Source: Violence in South Africa: A Variety of Perspectives, ed. Elirea Bornman, René van Eeden and Marie Wentzel (1998), chap. 6

In Hot Water

1900: “Old Warren is a duffer,” was General Redvers Buller’s verdict on his second-in-command after the carnage at Spion Kop. Buller’s assessment wasn’t altered at Hussar Hill, a few weeks later, when he found General Charles Warren splashing about in a bathtub on the battlefield instead of fighting the Boers.

Source: Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War (1979), pp. 322, 365–6

Colour Prejudice

1973: In extreme cases, Cushing’s syndrome, caused by hyperactive adrenal glands, can be treated by removal of the glands. Surgery is seldom performed, however, since removal of the glands may in turn cause Nelson’s syndrome, a disorder characterised by darkening of the skin.

When Rita Hoefling, a white woman from Cape Town, began to suffer from Nelson’s syndrome, she became the hapless victim of South Africa’s apartheid system. She was shunned by the white community and even by her own family. After her father died, her mother refused to allow her to attend the funeral: “I do not want to be embarrassed by your black body at Daddy’s grave.”

Source: Armand Marie Leroi, Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body (2003), pp. 263–5

“Wind Of Change”

1960: “The wind of change is blowing through this continent,” British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told South Africa’s white lawmakers. Belgium relinquished control of the Belgian Congo; in West Africa, a swathe of French colonies gained independence; Britain pulled out of Nigeria. In a single year, Macmillan’s “wind of change” gusted through 17 African nations.

Source: www.france24.com/en/
20100214-1960-year-independence

Speech Impediment

Winston Churchill in 1900

1900: Newspaper correspondent Winston Churchill began the year in high spirits, having escaped from Boer captivity only days before. A wanted poster issued on 18 December 1899 had offered a reward of £25 for his recapture, dead or alive. The poster had described him as about 5 feet 8 inches tall, of medium build, and had noted that he walked with a stooping gait, spoke through his nose and couldn’t properly pronounce the letter “s”.

Source: Celia Sandys, Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive (1999), p. 103