Friday, February 12, 2010

Excerpt: "Ah, but your land is beautiful" - by Alan Paton

Excerpt taken from the brilliant "Ah, but your land is beautiful" by Alan Paton. The book is about real people and real events which occured in South Africa during the 1950s, just as Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd was laying the foundations of his plan for total segregation of the races. This particular piece gives the reader a vivid and frightening look into the tactics of the Security Police during this time.

- I understand what you are doing, Robert, and I admire you for it, but I am desolated all the same. You know it is my weakness to lean on you, and whom shall I lean on now?

- I thought of you a great deal before I did it. I had to ask myself which was more important. You and I have tried to bring our schools and our children closer together, but now our attempts have been forbidden by both our departments. What was more important, for me to stay here to comfort you, or to go out and fight on a national platform for the things we believe in?

- You don't need to explain it to me, Robert. But Elizabeth and I are going to miss you and Naomi... sorely.

- But at least you haven't got Dlamini to contend with. Tell me, why did he resign?

- He didn't tell me, but I assume it was because he refused to teach under Bantu Education. The Security Police wanted to know, too.

- So they've been to see you.

- For two days running. They searched Dlamini's house from top to bottom. They asked me why he resigned. I said I had heard that he had been offered a job as an industrial chemist in Durban. But they didn't believe me. They asked me his views of Bantu Education, and what he thought of Dr. Hendrik. I told them that he didn't approve of Bantu Education, but that I had never heard him speak of Dr. Hendrik. Then they wanted to know why he disapproved of Bantu Education, and I said that it was his opinion that it was an inferior education, and furthermore that the insistence on home language as the medium of instruction up to Standard Six simply meant that no black child could ever become a scientist or a mathematician. Then they asked me if I agreed with him, and I said that this was the opinion of the majority of black teachers of Science and Mathematics, and that I agreed with them. Then the black man took over, Sergeant Magwaza was his name, and asked if I was ashamed of the Zulu language. Robert, I nearly laughed, but I decided not to. I said no, I was very proud of it, and I wanted all my pupils to speak it well and to write poems and stories in it, but it was not the language of Science and Mathematics, no more than English is the language of cattle and grass and herbs. Then this black fellow asked me what I thought of Dr. Hendrik and I told him that my opinion was my own, and that in any case I was not a great talker about other people.

- Good for you, Wilberforce. How did they take that?

- Not well at all. The white fellow said to me that where the security of the State was concerned, no-one's opinions belonged to himself, and that it was the duty of the Security Police to know everyone's opinions, and that it was the duty of everyone to let the S.P. know what his opinions were. I wanted to say that he was talking rubbish, but I thought I had better not. I just said I did not believe that. I believed that every man and woman had a right to privacy, just so long as they were not using their privacy to break the law. This white fellow said to me that a court of law might decide that my views were subversive, and that I had better be careful. I said the big trouble was that the court of law was no longer allowed to judge such matters. It was decided by the Minister of Justice acting on the advice of the S.P. The white fellow was now getting angry, and he asked me whether Dlamini and a number of staff members had celebrated the election of Luthuli as national president of the Congress. I said they had had a party, yes, but I was not invited so I did not know what they were celebrating. Then Sergeant Magwaza said they had proof that I knew perfectly well what they were celebrating. I thought to myself, only my wife and my vice-principal could have given them proof, and neither of them would. But then I thought of someone else. That's what happens, Robert, you begin to trust nobody. I remembered that on his way to report to me about the hostels, Koza had met Mbele coming the other way early from the party, and Mbele had told him that the staff was sending a deputation to me the next day to ask me to change the name of the school. Koza and I have always regarded Mbele as on our side, but then one begins to doubt. So I said to Magwaza, What is your proof? He said it was not their custom to bring proof, and that made me think again of Mbele. The white fellow asked me if I had announced to the school that Luthuli had been elected and I said yes. I had done it because the school was restless. He wanted to know if I had called him Chief Luthuli and I said yes. He asked if I knew that he was no longer a chief and I said yes. Why then did I call him a chief? Was I trying to belittle Dr. Hendrik in the eyes of the school? Had some of the boys and girls called out Mayibuye? Yes. Did I know what this meant? Yes. I was now almost at the end of my patience. You have never had this experience, Robert, of being interrogated by two hard and determined and limited men, who have sold themselves body and soul to this terrible machine that has no mercy. I regard these men as my inferiors, but I must sit for hours and be questioned by them. The white fellow I understand. He is defending his people and his language and his power and his children. The black one I do not understand at all. I want to say to him, Come and see me one day because I want to understand why you take a job like this. Then they get up to go, and the white man says to me, Nhlapo - not Mr. Nhlapo, not Headmaster, just Nhlapo - watch your step, we know everything that goes on here. Then they drive away and I think immediately of Dlamini, and I feel pity for him, because they'll get him one day, that's for sure.

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