Notes from Underground


Farm attacks and World Cups
A South African diptych



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Contemporary post-apartheid South Africa holds a unique place in the modern liberal's heart. Indeed, the so-called Rainbow Nation inspires the same blindly protective loyalty from liberals today that the USSR did from the 1920s through the time of the Good, Big War. It is as dear to the kind of multiculturalist lefty who haunts the "Stuff White People Like" site as the state of Israel is to neocon Jews and their evangelical goy fellow-travelers. The World Cup has long been an SWPL fixture — soccer being idolized by such folk as a cool, trendy, cosmopolitan, Euro-chic alternative to "gauche" and "tacky" native American sports such as NFL football and NASCAR — and this year's event has taken on a special significance to many, being set in the hallowed land itself.

Ideologues with an adopted mascot country are a determinedly tribal and myopic bunch. They are forever circling the wagons to combat what they view as a standing insidious threat to the treasured reputation of their promised land. These people are not entirely unlike over-protective and hyper-defensive parents: their "children" are never wrong, just misunderstood.

Thus, as ANC-led South Africa slides into an ever-deepening pit of crime and terror — particularly for Afrikaner farmers, who are being victimized atrociously in various unspeakable ways — the defenders of the country tirelessly, and simultaneously, maintain two contradictory lines:

1) The burglaries, arsons, rapes, and murders aren't really as rampant as those nasty detractors with white-nationalist sympathies allege. (South Africa's critics are always construed as racist rabble-rousing rubes, just as Israel's critics are always depicted as rapacious anti-Semites.)

2) Even if there is a rather significant problem with violent crime in the new South Africa, it results from the legacy of white colonialism and its baleful influence, just as pathologies common among American blacks can simply be ascribed to the trauma of Negro slavery reverberating through generation after generation of slave-descendants.

However, one can repeat such a party line only so many times before it starts to ring hollow, even among those who would most like to believe it. And by now, just about everyone knows that all is not well in the nation of rainbows and giraffes and sweetly-smiling exotic-dancing tribal maidens — as well as explosive HIV rates and polygamy and baby rape.

Indeed, even South Africa's most ardent apologists can't successfully direct our attention away from the mess. They therefore have two choices: they can either admit the reality, which for them is synonymous with succumbing to despair, or they can escape into an idealized version of a golden past, when the revolution still meant something, before all of its noble ideals were corrupted and betrayed.

Two recent movies about South Africa display each of these tendencies, respectively: the funereal bummer-outer "Disgrace" and the uplifting crowd-pleaser "Invictus."

"Disgrace," directed by Australian Steve Jacobs and based on a novel by J.M. Coetzee, takes the viewer right into the terrifying maelstrom of the Afrikaners' collective humiliation and dispossession at the hands of the country's newly empowered black majority. Its anti-hero is English professor David Lurie (John Malkovich), a snobbish, affected, effeminate, yet lecherously heterosexual man, the sort of fellow Malkovich could play in his sleep, possibly even in a coma.

After a forbidden tryst with a "coloured" student, Lurie is fired from his post at a swank Cape Town university. The haughty, unbowed, unrepentant horn-dog professor then seeks out the company of Lucy, his twentysomething daughter, who has chosen to make a living as a farmer in the countryside. Lucy has just split up with her lesbian partner, who moved back to the city, and Lurie (a bad man but a loving father) is appalled to find his daughter dwelling alone in a remote spot in the middle of the country. After all, he watches the news, and he's quite aware that things are very unsafe for white farmers these days. Lucy, however, feels a need to stay put, for reasons never adequately explained.

Soon, of course, a father's worst fears are realized. One day, out of the blue, three young black thugs take advantage of an opportune moment to break into Lucy's house. Lurie tries but is unable to protect his daughter from the marauding intruders; they drag her away and rape her (off screen), loot the house, shoot the guard dogs, and lock Lurie in a bathroom, dousing him with kerosene and setting him on fire.

Following that ordeal, David and Lucy are treated for their injuries, and they file a police report, but little if any investigation ever comes of it. What's more, Lucy, aware that her position is tenuous on the farm, doesn't want to make waves; she's aware that her farm workers are amassing greater power thanks to grants being awarded by the government. Even when she discovers that one of her assailants is now living with the family of the clan leader of the local black tribe, being a nephew of the chieftain's latest wife, she implores her father not to tell the police.

The waning power of the Afrikaner and the concomitant ascendancy of the black population force whites such as Lucy to make certain dreadful sacrifices. In order to keep her house, she winds up ceding all of her land to the clan leader, Petrus, a shrewd and slippery character who may have had prior knowledge of the attack. What is more, when she finds that her rape has resulted in pregnancy, she even agrees to marry Petrus in exchange for his protection and for the well-being of her unborn child. (She's convinced that this will be a strictly "social" arrangement, never to be consummated, but her horrified father suspects otherwise.)

Though enraged and possessing a natural paternal desire for revenge, Malkovich's character is no Charles Bronson, and this movie is no "Death Wish on the Veldt." Lurie, in fact, has little choice but to accept his daughter's decision, viewing his own suffering and grief in some way as a cosmic punishment for his own previous wrongdoings.

The nightmare scenario that plays out in "Disgrace" is viscerally searing, and the implications couldn't be clearer: whites in South Africa are outnumbered and outgunned; they must endure outrageous atrocities with stoic resolve if they hope to survive at all. Such a theme, of course, is not only a "downer" but, worse, by modern enlightened standards it's borderline "racist" in its depiction of blacks as violent, insolent, uppity hoodlums, and whites as their helpless prey. There is, in fact, practically a "Birth of a Nation" vibe at work here, and clearly that is ideologically unacceptable. [1] Let Americans see this movie, and they might start to question certain supposedly self-evident "truths" regarding race and multiculturalism! The drooling masses need to be fed sweeter milk. Hence, we have the big-budget sports movie and Nelson Mandela biopic "Invictus," directed by Clint Eastwood.

This "feel-good" movie is set in the purported "glory days" of the reborn South Africa, just after blacks were granted the vote and in droves elected Nelson Mandela. That was four years after the iconic African freedom fighter, or terrorist (as you please), was released from his Robben Island prison cell. Played with typical charm and charisma by Morgan Freeman, Hollywood's ultimate archetype of black paternal gentility, the Mandela of this film is a gracious turner-of-the-other-cheek who unites his divided country by throwing his weight behind the nation's nearly all-white rugby squad, the Springboks, during their bid for a world championship.

At the start of the film, we are given to understand that nearly all South African whites are rugby fans, while blacks are interested only in soccer. Mandela faces pressure from his political base to dissolve the rugby team, and disallow the singing of their anthem and the wearing of their team colors, which for some evoke nostalgia for the apartheid era.

But the new president rejects those urgings. It's partly for tactical reasons: Mandela is sharp enough to comprehend that it would be imprudent to antagonize or alienate the Afrikaner contingent, who still wield significant power in certain quarters. Yet he insists to a confidant that his gesture is "not just a political calculation, but a human calculation." The Mandela of this film sincerely wants the new regime to work for everyone's well-being; he doesn't wish simply to replace one form of tyranny with another.

Thus, he bravely reaches out to the Afrikaners, the very people (among others [2]) who branded him a terrorist and threw him in prison for 27 years. He befriends the Springboks' captain, François Pienaar, played by a bulked-up and peroxide-blond Matt Damon (by the way, is it written somewhere that South African movies have to star American actors?), and enthusiastically adopts the squad as a potentially unifying symbol for his country. What follows is an underdog sports movie in the tradition of "Rocky," "The Bad News Bears," "Hoosiers," "Victory," and innumerable others, but with overtones of racial healing and reconciliation. The white team rallies behind the black president, and the entire South African people, black, white, and otherwise, unites to cheer the Springboks to victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

While the broad outline of the movie is "based on a true story," its thematic thrust is obviously Mandela-hagiography and hopeful multiculturalist propaganda. There is a kind of melancholy cast to the events depicted: for one brief and shining moment, we are asked to believe, the races came together under the benevolent rule of a saint-like leader. Unfortunately, the good vibes portrayed in "Invictus" didn't last, and things have now declined to a much more "Disgrace"-ful state of affairs.

The future of South Africa is up for grabs. Perhaps racial harmony and peace can actually be achieved — who knows? However, with the persistence of certain sobering facts on the ground — namely, expanding black-on-white violence, continuing white emigration, ever-present African-style political corruption, and the frightening specter of Mugabe-like tyranny haunting the land — one is inclined to be dubious that a happy ending is in the cards. In fact, it may be fair to say that, all World Cup-related warm-and-fuzzy "We Are the World" sentiments aside, we may be nearing the end of the rainbow for certain lighter hues of the Rainbow Nation. Only time will tell.  Ω

July 9, 2010

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1. Novelist Coetzee, South Africa's most-famous contemporary author, is a longtime liberal but, it seems, one who was finally mugged by reality. He got into some trouble in his homeland for publishing Defiance — and he now lives in Australia.

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2. For example, Mandela's chief prosecutor, Dr. Percy Yutar, was a Jew.

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