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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future