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
Friday 07 August 1992
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.'
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...