Mass action scores highly on the domestic front: John Carlin finds the black members of his Johannesburg household are divided, but mostly favour the ANC's strike campaign

I COULD almost have covered this week's 'mass action' campaign for the Independent without leaving the safety of the lily-white suburb I inhabit. The story was right here, where a reasonably representative sample of South Africa's black population - nine in total, including children - share my premises.

Their differing responses to the African National Congress (ANC) call for a general strike and a protest campaign offered a pretty good indication of the way 'the oppressed' responded nationally. I encountered some surprises, and some unexpected insights into the domestic political scene.

The character around whom everything revolves is Henrietta, my maid and everybody's matriarch. Last week she said her younger brother Fisman, who works in a factory which makes ambulances, was very concerned about losing his job if he heeded the strike call on Monday and Tuesday. It was a sentiment I understood to be common among black workers. I was not surprised Fisman should have these misgivings. I had always seen him as an apolitical individual, a meek soul I have been paying for three years to do what I call 'gardening' and he calls 'cleaning'. His main interest, apart from systematically reducing my garden to an ecological disaster area, has always been the Kaizer Chiefs football club. Or so I had thought.

On Friday afternoon, on his arrival from work, I saw a man transformed. I asked him whether he planned to observe the strike, and he responded with a big grin, a thumbs-up and a hearty, 'Yeees, Johnny] Today at work the union man said Mandela phoned all the bosses and told them they must not fire people. Aieee] I like Mandela too much]'

Did he know why the strike was being held? 'Yes. That De Klerk must go. Nelson Mandela must be president]'

I was dumbfounded and struck more forcibly than ever before by the fact that all these notions President F W de Klerk has been entertaining of beating the ANC in a free election are just so much pie in the sky. That perception was reinforced on Sunday, when I received a call from the woman who employs Fisman's wife, Rosie, to clean her house twice a week. She asked me to tell Rosie not to come on Monday. Rosie's reply was: 'Oh yes. I was going to call her myself to tell her I cannot come, because there is a stay- away.' Now if there is one person whom I had always reckoned to be even less politically aware than Fisman, it was his wife. Again, I was stunned.

Some balance was restored the next morning, when two black men pitched up to fix the plumbing. Why had they come? 'Oh well,' one shrugged. 'We don't really know why they are doing this strike. And our boss said we must come to work today.' The boss, sharing the general white paranoia about mass action and ANC 'intimidation', had generously warned his employees to make detours if they encountered any menacing looking black men on their travels around the suburbs.

As for Henrietta herself, she is the one who's always talking about Nelson Mandela and please could I invite him for dinner some time, she'd love to meet him. On Sunday night she told me that her boyfriend, Stanley, who owns a minibus taxi, would not be working on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday morning, my impression of her attitude was confirmed when she did not appear in the kitchen. But although I told her she was free for the next two days, she was unable to repress the urge to set about the usual diligent house-cleaning.

Fisman, compounding my amazement, triumphantly announced he had been to the big march in Pretoria with Mr Mandela. 'I'm so tired, Johnny. We walked and we danced too much] But we have to get blacks to the government there, you know.'

Yesterday he woke up feeling like death, and Rosie asked me to take him to hospital. He had caught pneumonia - a consequence of the march, a disapproving Henrietta was convinced.

'Oh, I don't know about all this mass action,' she said. 'I don't think it's a good thing. It makes people crazy.' She had been told Inkatha people were shooting at taxis bound for the Transkei - ANC country, where her family lives. 'All this mass action, it's too dangerous . . . I don't like it.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable