Thursday, November 02, 2006

P.W. Botha, the former South African president, died on Tuesday night. M&G news reports here and here.

This may make me sound like an awful person, but all I thought when I heard the news was "thank God," with a smile of relief. Nothing good came from that man. He subjected millions of South Africans to lives of abject poverty and misery. I suspect we will never be able to count the true cost of the damage caused by his time in office. Just as I do not mourn the passing of numerous other dictators and autocrats around the world, so I do not mourn him. And yes, it is very, very personal. He had a deliberate, precise, direct impact on my family, with terrible results.

Sometimes things sneak up on you unawares. One minute everything is fine and you are going about your daily life, the next everything has changed, becoming a place you have no concept of. Botha had that effect on me. This poem from a book I am currently reading struck me as perfectly accurate at capturing this feeling of a sea change; you are quietly going about your own business, and the world around you changes violently beyond all recognition:

THE DOORBELL - Adrian Mitchell

I was in bed, the silvery light of dawn
blessing our quiet suburban street,
when the window darkened,
and the doorbell rang.

Pushed my face deep in the pillow,
but the doorbell kept ringing
and there was another sound,
like the crying of a siren,
so I slopped downstairs
unbolted, unlocked, unchained
and opened the front door.

There, on the doorstep, stood the War.
It filled my front garden,
filled the entire street
and blotted out the sky.
It was human and monstrous,
shapeless, enormous,
with torn and poisoned skin which bled
streams of yellow, red and black.

The War had many millions of heads
both dead and half-alive,
some moaning, some screaming,
some whispering,
in every language known on earth,
goodbye, my love.

The War had many millions of eyes
and all wept tears of molten steel.
Then the War spoke to me
in a voice of bombs and gunfire:
I am your War.
Can I come in?
from LEBANON, LEBANON edited by Anna Wilson.



Anonymous Ann said...

It's funny how things come back to mind. I remembering hearing about the assassination attempt on Vervowd (sp?) while I was at the Scarborough Cricket Ground. There were South Africans playing and it clearly affected them in a way that I couldn't have imagined UK sportsmen being affected by similar news. In England, we don't live with the effects of politics on such a daily and personal basis, I think.

12:23 pm  
Anonymous James said...

I had a similar reaction to the news, although at about the same moment I thought, 'Well, who cares now?' Talk about spent power.

What I find interesting is that someone who exerted the kind of direct destruction that he did could then be so quiet and marginalised (hooray) for 17 years. You'd think a lightning bolt would have blasted him down there in Wilderness, but it never did.

3:04 pm  
Blogger Debi said...

Ah, the banality of evil ...

No tears for his passing ...

12:20 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Ann - thanks for your sharing your memory, always interesting to hear how people outside the country experienced things at the time. I suspect we do live with the same daily effect of the political world on our lives, just that here the effects at the moment are less stark and extreme, so easier to accept!

James - isn't it so odd how someone that can exert such force and power to terrify, can also fizzle away to nothing. He was human after all, I suppose. Look at the kind of hold Saddan Hussein has had in Iraq...

Debi - see point to James above. Seems a bit of an anticlimax really. Especially as he was never held to account, nor did he appear to experience any remorse or regret. C'est la vie.

9:47 am  

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