Tuesday, November 14, 2006

PW and Me

Growing up with his pointed finger and rubbery lips

I grew up in the apartheid era. My parents were Dutch, and English speaking, but growing up in Bloem, Afrikaans people expected us to be like them.

We were boere, in a way. We had a farm; we just didn’t live on it. But culturally, we had very little in common with other South Africans. No wagon wheels hanging on the wall, no union jacks stashed in the cupboard. My father had a big beer mug from a long ago trip to the Oktoberfest. Otherwise we were South Africans without portfolios.

It didn’t take long to realise that things weren’t as lekker as they ought to be. For starters, we seemed locked out by the rest of the world, if not by our own doing. You noticed it when you watched sport on TV. It was always WP playing Natal, or the Blue Bulls playing Transvaal. Naas Botha was our hero, and Riaan Cruwagen was on the box every night to tell us about Naas, and then tuck us in at night.

I don’t know about you but I used to cringe whenever PW Botha opened his mouth. South Africa always seemed to have him as its bottom line. It seemed like we were where we were because of him, because of his stubbornness.

Maybe some people describe him today as progressive. For me, the years when PW was president felt like year upon year of being stuck. Nothing seemed to happen. All we seemed to do was congratulate ourselves on how strong and good and independent we were, while the world turned its back at us, or waved vaguely from shores that seemed ever more distant.

People’s consciences spoke to them, and PW wagged his finger at their consciences, making them scatter like shadows before fiercely popping flashbulbs.

I didn’t like PW because he always had a nasty look on his face when he was on TV. He was always warning people, and frowning, his rubbery lips flapping around. And he had the most horrible English accent. I used to wonder what people in other English-speaking countries thought of us. If they judged us by our president, they couldn’t have had much love for us.

PW was around when there were a lot of other personalities, and television programmes doing the rounds: like Leon Schuster, and Sarel Seemonster, He Man, Midweek, Robotech, Karike Cuizenkamp, Bles Bridges, Magnum PI, The A-Team, Airwolf, Murder She Wrote, Macguyver and so on. Remember Michael de Morgan?

When FW took over, it was like the country managed to take a tiny little breath after the life had been crushed out of it in a protracted crash down a very high mountain. Somehow there were survivors, despite the maniacal way the country was being driven. And somehow the survivors managed to dust themselves off. And somehow, we’ve made it back up the mountain, to a place higher still.

What beggars belief is that PW, who must have seen all the good things that flowed after he’d been forced to abandon his stranglehold on the country - the Rugby World Cup, the world giving us the Soccer World Cup, the expansion of the country - and still he had stubbornly maintained: "Ek was reg." Watch for the finger, the curling lip and spark shooting out off his glaring eye.

We need fewer people like him in this country, that’s for sure. Meanwhile, Riaan Cruywagen is still around (if a little more plasticky than two decades ago), and Leon Schuster too - proving that longevity is possible when your heart’s in the right place.

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