lördag 15 augusti 2009

Should I stay or should I go - now in English


Upptäckte just att någon har översatt min artikel om segregeringen och brottsligheten i Sydafrika till engelska. Artikeln publicerades i Aftonbladet den 31 juli, men läs hellre min ursprungliga version, som är lite fylligare. Översättningen ligger på bloggen Book SA. Jag tar mig friheten att klistra in den här, och lägger till några detaljer och nyanser som den okände översättaren har förbisett (markeras med klamrar).

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

a translation of Tor Billgren’s original article

During the past year I have advertised two flats for subletting, one in Malmö and one in Stellenbosch, South Africa. There are two big differences in how the answers are formulated in the respective countries. The first one is that ninety per cent of those who responded to the South African advertisement were desperately wondering if the flat is available during the soccer World Cup next year. The other is that the usual adjectives “smoke-free“ and “well-mannered” were complemented with the word “white”.

That an almost total segregation prevails in South Africa, fifteen years after the first democratic election and fifteen years into ANC rule, is of course not new: it is the first thing that strikes one upon arrival. The main reason is the enormous lack of education among the coloured and black populations – something that is not just a backlash from the worthless “Bantu education” of the apartheid days, but also a result of 300 years of racist rule by the Dutch and British. From that perspective, it is naïve to have big expectations after only fifteen years political reform work.

The complexity of South African society makes the need to analyse the state of the country a substantial one. One of the latest additions to the constant stream of books which try to evaluate the situation is Ways of Staying by journalist Kevin Bloom, which above all focuses on crime – an inescapable consequence of a segregated society.

“We like to say that it is about class,” he exclaims in the book, “but we are still completely obsessed by race”.

The spark that led to the book was a brutal robbery and murder of his cousin and their friend in 2006. From this he unwinds through some of the past few years’ violent events, among others the murder of historian David Rattray, and the xenophobic wave of violence which went through the black shantytowns in May last year. Around 70 citizens from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and elsewhere were lynched by furious masses who wanted to drive out the foreigners who took jobs from honest South Africans – and furthermore demanded lower wages.

Bloom describes a South Africa where those who can afford it isolate themselves in gated suburbs and are protected by security companies who resemble private armies of veterans from the civil war in Angola. He gets under the skin of those he interviews by being observant of the subtle details – the glances, formulations, and slips of the tongue. It is a very successful method, since it is not the grand statements which count in the end, but the de facto actions. He notes how a female member of the ANC-elite hides her Louis Vuitton bag in a neutral bag when she is out in public. He describes how the grips tighten around the weapons of the beefy guards in the extravagant Johannesburg suburb of Glenhazel when they see a run-down Toyota with black passengers. And how he himself exchanges his car, from a luxurious Alfa Romeo to a more anonymous Golf, to avoid unnecessary attention.

The aim of the book is to try to find the answer to the question which Bloom and an increasing number of well-educated, mostly white South Africans ask themselves: Should I stay or should I go?

Many come to the conclusion that the situation is untenable and emigrate, thereby adding to the loss of competence which causes the country’s big problem, not least within healthcare. Bloom interviews “South Africa’s [last] liver expert” as he is about to move to England, after the family is attacked in their home and the daughter is raped. It is hard to protest against their decision. At the same time you have to ask yourself why they think they would be immune to crime in England.

There are many who have had enough. Andre Brink, the author who published his memoirs in the spring, A Fork in the Road, has admittedly stayed, but the last chapter is an exasperated confrontation with the country’s development since 1994. “South Africa is in trouble. And the old problems between black and white are still the source of it,” he writes, disappointed about how the ANC has squandered its years in power. The final straw was when his daughter was robbed some years ago and became one of the 127 000 cases of robbery each year. Rapes are at about 52 000, murders are at 19 000; that is 50 a day.

While the figures do not lie, the conversation concerning criminality in South Africa is very special. To sit around the dinner table with South Africans reminds me of the Monty Python sketch where a group of men are trying to out-do each other in how terrible their childhoods were. Kevin Bloom writes about a similar situation in Ways of Staying. He is in a car with colleagues who, to make the time pass by taking it in turns to recite the newspapers’ murder stories, “your turn…” [And] in Stranger Shores (2002) the Nobel Prize winner, J. M. Coetzee speaks of the circulation of horror stories as the driving force behind the white paranoia. One cultivates each others’ fears, which in turn breeds more violence.

During a seminar about crime and identity at [Cape Town Book Fair] last month, with among others Kevin Bloom and Andre Brink, the journalist Max du Preez made fun of these fears and the image which is so common among white South Africans – that they are chosen victims, that “Africa doesn’t love them anymore”. He looked at his watch in an artistic pause and continued: “What do the four women who have been raped [in the townships] in the past five minutes say? That Africa doesn’t love them?”

The bitter reality is that the black and coloured are the main victims. The crimes take place in the shantytowns – not in the affluent suburbs. Obviously, that does not make the problem any less serious. But it should put the fear into more reasonable proportions.

However difficult it can be in South Africa today, it is not worse than during apartheid. Work of reparation has only just begun and much has gone well. There are dark clouds and negative tendencies, but the pros outweigh the cons. Kevin Bloom also decides to stay in the country. It is only on location that you can make change. Maybe the most important work is to liberate yourself and your surroundings from the obsession by race, which he speaks of in his book. Segregation begins in the mind and is reinforced in every choice of words – like the national program, “BLACK Economic Empowerment”. It is reinforced ever time you cast a suspicious glance, every time you give a black parking attendant pennies for tips while a white waiter gets notes. [And every time someone emphazises their skin colour as a merit in an application.]

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