Where I Stand 11/03/16

On reading about Camus’s pre-war support for the limited enfranchisement of a small proportion of Arab voters in Algeria I recalled the following:

I remember there was a gathering in the house in Worldsview Pietermaritzburg in 1983.  Back then the area was just really a scattering of houses along a few roads some of them still simply of made of a reddish clay.  The area was largely forested with wattles, gums and next to us was a small plot of pine trees.  I know that I had just turned eight at the time and we must have been preparing to move down to Cape Town.  It truly was a perfect setting for a childhood and it is hard not to look back on it without both a sense of deep nostalgia as well as longing.

At the gathering that day there was perhaps one of the few intrusions of Apartheid into my childhood consciousness.  There was a discussion amongst the adults. I am not sure how I understood what was going on, I can only assume that my parents must have explained it to me at some point.

I remember there was the economist and his wife (whose child was my closest friend) present – as for the rest of them I could not say now who they were, no doubt academics and perhaps some of the other neighbours.  What I did know was that a referendum was about to take place in order to bring into being what became known as the Tricameral Parliamentary System – which would mean that the Coloureds and Indians would receive partial representation.  My father I know had been ambivalent towards the yes/no vote.  He had, I remember, expressed the idea that perhaps voting ‘yes’ might actually be the right vote, despite the fact that it meant voting for the apartheid National Party.  The Progressive Federal Party (the Progs) and the Conservatives (KP) were both running ‘no’ campaigns, both for very different reasons – the PFP saying that it was all or nothing, the KP saying that it was a movement to accepting that hated and feared notion of majority rule.  Strangely my father and some of the people there thought that perhaps the KP were right and that that would mean that the government was at least heading in the right direction.

I remember my mother was against my father’s idea – she was PFP through and through I think in fact she may have even had a little bit of a crush on van Zyl Slubbert who I think she thought cut quite a dashing figure.  There were several people in that gathering that were against that idea and I remember being picked up and taken to school by the next-door neighbour and being playfully mocked that my father supported the National Party.  I remember feeling slightly ashamed although I cannot tell you how exactly I could have been that politically aware at the time.  I knew that the National Party was bad and that my father used to refer to the toilet as ‘the Dr Malan’ which was somehow a reference to these ‘terrible people’ but just how much I actually understood is now impossible to say.

All I remember was that it was with great relief that my father arrived back home and confessed to my mother that he had got into the voting booth and realised just who he would be voting for if he put a cross next to ‘Yes’. ‘I just couldn’t do it,’ he said. He voted ‘No’.  The image that I have in my memory is of my mother smiling back at him.

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