August, 2008




























































Since we came to live here, exactly nine years ago this month, I have been reasonably optimistic about South Africa. I am now not so sanguine about the future, but at my age I have no intention of leaving,. Some close friends are considering “Plan Bs”, just in case they feel obliged to leave, which is depressing.

I agree with Andre Brink, who , when asked if he would think of emigrating – as his fellow well-known South African author J M Coetzee did - wrote that, despite the callous murder, during a robbery, of his loveable great-nephew, he would stay : There is no society in the world without challenges, trouble or danger, but there is an urgency and an immediacy about living in South Africa that lends it a sense of involvement and relevance and significance I cannot readily imagine elsewhere .

Apart from factors which I have mentioned previously – Mbeki’s positions on Zimbabwe, and on AIDS - there are many other threats.:
-The frightening increase in violent crime;
-An inefficient judicial system , with few convictions;
-Attacks on the judiciary, and by implication, on the Constitution;
-Widespread corruption, nepotism and gross inefficency;
-Extreme application of affirmative action;
-The prospect of Jacob Zuma, presently president of the ANC, becoming president of South Africa;
-The worrying and widening gulf between rich and poor;
-Dysfunctional health and education systems;
-Failure to deal with the millions (exact numbers are unknown) of migrants, both legal and many illegal –and the recent  zenophobic attacks.
-The inability to tackle the “land question”.
-The bitter in-fighting in theANC, and the unseemly struggle “to get at the trough”. (Brink wrote that the myopia and greed of the  country’s new regime of rats have eroded my faith in the future.)

Max Price, at his installation this month as Vice-Chancellor of UCT ( the University of Cape Town), said that he feared for the increasing fragility of our fledging democracy…….free speech, free press, judicial independence and socio-economic rights are increasingly under threat. Debates on race and transformation are often the camouflage for these attacks.

Here are two items to supplement my summary above:
The vague and ominous draft Expropriation Bill gives the Minister of Land Affairs power to expropriate (land, and other property) if it is deemed to be “ in the public interest”.
Judge Hlophe, the Judge-President of the Western Cape Division, is alleged to have tried to persuade two judges on the Constitutional Court to decide that Jacob Zuma’s trial for corruption should be dismissed because it is politically motivated - by Mbeki’s faction in the ANC, which is trying to block Zuma becoming president. If true, this is a serious ethical lapse.

Given the prevailing uncertainty about the next few years, please excuse this fragmentary and muddled report.


After several humiliating defeats by Australia and New Zealand in tri-nations rugby, the media seized on (An Olympic Silver Lining) South Africa’s only medal in the 2008 OlympicGames – Khotso Mokoena’s silver in the men’s long jump. Our swimmers failed to do as well as they did at Athens in 2004.

School rugby
Bernard’s niece Chris and I watched a “social” rugby game, a team of Rondebosch Boys School Old Boys vs the School 2nd XV. Two points interested me: first, Chris’ husband, Dave (at age 58 he was on the field briefly) and their eldest son, James, both played for the Old Boys, and their younger son, Andrew, was in the school team. Near us on the stands were the schoolboys, including many boys of colour. ( I know that the phrase “of colour” is clumsy, but in this case it includes African, coloured and Indian boys). In contrast to UCT, where there seems to be still a social segregation based on race, the boys seemed to be well integrated, teasing and joking with each other. Boys of colour resembled the white boys in being shambling, untidy, loud adolescents – which, I suppose, is a welcome indicator of integration. At UCT, African students are neater in appearance , and less boisterous in behaviour, than their white counterparts – or so it seems to me, on my infrequent visits to UCT.


Roadside hawkers.
When I drive to the Overberg, to Appelsdrift Farm, I pass through the town of Somerset West, where (like Santa Barbara, until recently) several sets of traffic lights (robots in South Africa) delay vehicles on N2, the national road. Hawkers offer items for sale at the first lights; each time I pass , one set of items is on sale, this changes regularly. Last week five items were offered by about 20 young African men : oranges; catapults; Rubik cubes; world maps; Springbok rugby sweaters. “End of interesting fact”, to quote Bernard.

Symphony concerts.
I now go to the rehearsals in the mornings, instead of the concerts at night, and I have enjoyed observing the relationship between the various conductors and the orchestra. Last week, a talented female Hungarian pianist and an Ukrainian conductor were the principals, in a rewarding programme. This enables me to avoid night driving, and is cheaper (Rand 20 vs Rand 150). With diesel now costing Rand 11.60/litre (80P/litre, or $5.70/US gallon) I will go by train in future, the main Cape Town station being only a short distance from the grand Edwardian City Hall.

Old friends.
I was delighted to receive an email recently from Christopher Ireri, who as a schoolboy had helped Bernard and me in our fieldwork in Kenya, in the early 1970s. Robert Chambers, the political scientist/development expert, had been in Kenya last month, and had visited “the Ena House”, the grand former residence of the local manager of the British-American Tobacco company , where we had lived for several periods, and where Robert and his wife had followed us. Robert found Christopher (now teaching at the local primary school) and his family in occupation, and gave C my e-mail address. C. wrote : I am sorry to learn that Bernard died and left you so lonely…….Some 33 years ago I participated in some of your assignments, which made me happy and I seriously worked for their perfection…this opened my mind beyond what we were doing in school then. I remember Christopher clearly, as a bright, efficient and always cheerful 16 year-old, and this despite his coming from a poor family, with a hopeless alcoholic father.

Other voices from the past have called out – Anne Fleuret, my first Ph.D student at UCSB, 40 years ago, is now on her last posting for USAID, at Abuja, Nigeria.; Frank de Caires, whom we met 20 years ago when he was working as a VSO (volunteer) in Togo, is now, with Chitra, his wife, running an NGO in New Delhi.

Mandela Stamps.
The commemorative stamps that were issued in July for Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday sold out immediately (though more were printed). I took this as a good sign, because most of the buyers would have been whites, confirming that Mr.Mandela remains our primary icon, and our most popular figure.

At the annual Cape Town International Book Fair, I noticed the abundance of Afrikaans titles, in all genres, including children , religion, gay, DIY, self-help, guidebooks and travel….

I had a splendid trip to UK and “the continent”, from late March until early June. An illustrated report is available on my website at :
This has whetted my appetite for travel, and I am planning to make another Round the World journey, starting in July 2009, visiting the Shetlands (staying in Agnes Klingshirn’s cottage); Caithness; Manchester; most of August in the Bachmuths’ Kennington flat; Florida to see my niece Robin and her family, other locations in the U.S; New Zealand, where I have several friends; possibly Hong Kong and New Delhi, and home. It is good for me to have something so wonderful to look forward to.
In the meantime, I anticipate, with much pleasure, a series of visitors , some of whom will be on their first visit to South Africa, so I will have the pleasure of introducing them to my troubled but beautiful and rewarding country.

Brokie’s Way.
At last I have found a distributor who will help me to sell my stock of 700 books. I will not be making much money, but I look forward to finding more readers. The whole book is online at : .
I was greatly encouraged at the Wordfest at the National Arts Festival, in Grahamstown, in early July, when a Rhodes University anthropologist ( whom I do not know) wrote a marvelous review. I treasure especially this sentence: the narrative provides insights into the life of an ordinary homosexual couple of their generation that, in their dignified way, would do more for the recognition of gay rights among the likely readers of this book than a hundred gay pride marches. And his conclusion :
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys biography, but is also looking for something out of the ordinary.

DWB August, 2008.

NB. The next series of Notes dated April 2009 are accessible by clicking here.



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to access the personal writings of David Brokensha please click on one of the above links. DWBrokensha 2005-8