Flat Earth

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The Independent Online
Rainbow nation's black and white

HOW times have changed. If four people had been killed in one South African riot under apartheid, it would have been world news, but the response last week to the worst violence since Nelson Mandela took power was a good deal more muted.

Why? Well, for one thing the people doing the rioting and getting killed were "Coloureds" - the mixed-race minority, about 9 per cent of the population, which speaks mainly Afrikaans and voted for its old oppressors rather than the ANC. The Coloureds now complain that they are being victimised by the new government, and get evicted or cut off when they refuse to pay rent or utility bills, unlike residents of the black townships. It's all a bit confusing, though, and certainly doesn't make for the same drama as the bad old days.

In many African countries, a German correspondent pointed out, when a black government takes over from whites "it is not so much the former ruling race that is bullied as the other minorities. In East Africa it was the Indians, in Zanzibar the Arabs, and in the new South Africa it appears to be the Coloureds' turn."

True, though there is also a problem with the way the issue is seen in the West. Call it double standards or unconscious racism, but black governments behaving badly are not considered as newsworthy as white governments doing the same thing.

Mine hosts

FOR those planning to holiday in Chechnya, a gap has been filled with the publication of a Chechen-English phrasebook. The first thing one realises is that the two languages have few common roots - "man" is stag, "child" is beer - the next is that tourism as we know it leaves something to be desired.

"In the absence of any good guidebook," say our lexicographers, "there is always the immense natural beauty of Chechnya, particularly the forests, teeming with wildlife." Sadly, they are also teeming with mines. What about sending postcards home? "When operational, the postal service in Chechnya is not always reliable," we are advised. "Have post delivered to a host organisation in another republic."

Probably the most useful phrases are "Gerza ma tooghala'!" (Don't shoot!) and "Quzah' ts'h'aa guuranash yui?" (Are there any booby traps nearby?). The authors clearly know the secret of survival in places like Chechnya - "Is it safe?" is immediately followed by "Show me", while the section on mines is admirably detailed, equipping you to determine their number, size, colour, location, composition and when they were laid.

The main thing this new work helped me to understand, however, is why there seem to be so few decent guidebooks to this scenic part of the world.

What's that Rao?

INDIANS are being plied with a pill made from the brahmi herb which is alleged to increase protein synthesis in the brain and enhance memory, even cure amnesia. The former Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, helped to launch the product, and free bottles of "Memory Pills" are being doled out to every MP.

The makers must be hoping, though, that the public does not associate Mr Rao too closely with their wonder drug. He faces charges of accepting a bribe from a British-based Indian businessman, and it would hardly be an endorsement of their product if he falls back on the Reaganesque defence in the Iran-Contra affair: "I cannot recollect ... I do not remember ... I don't recall."