HEN the Duke of Edinburgh told some British students in China in 1986 that if they continued studying there they would ‘‘ get slitty eyes’’, the press went berserk: one London newspaper referred to Prince Philip as the Great Wally of China for his racist remarks. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago on an overnight stop in Johannesburg, where we had a drink with a man I’ve known since I was 18 but hadn’t seen for 30 years.
You have to tread carefully with South Africans who have decided to stay in the country. Those of us who left for various reasons are often referred to as the rats who deserted the proverbial ship, lacking patriotism and guts. So when my old friend told me that, yes, his country did have its ‘‘ black problem’’ but Australia had its ‘‘ yellow problem’’, I zipped my lips while thinking: ‘‘ What yellow problem?’’
Johannesburg has become a melting pot. No one knows what the population is. Every day hundreds of Africans from beleaguered Zimbabwe and poverty- stricken Mozambique cross the border into South Africa illegally, walking through game parks and landminestrewn countryside to escape starvation, mutilation and death. Many don’t make it. The crime rate is the highest in the world.
There can’t be many of us who wouldn’t secretly admit that we’d rob and even kill to ensure the survival of our children, and these are desperate, footloose people who have few options. There’s a new underclass of whites, too. In other ways Johannesburg has become a thriving Third World city, bustling and vibrant, with a black elite who dress as smartly as Parisians and turn their noses up at the deprived. Another old friend shrugged: ‘‘ It is, after all, their country.’’
President Thabo Mbeki is on the nose in no uncertain terms and, despite what we read in the international papers, Jacob Zuma is being tentatively looked up to, not only by his Zulu tribe but by whites who think he’s the only chance of their continued survival. A couple of Afrikaner farmers we met said Zuma had been garnering their support by reminding them that both the Afrikaners and the Zulus had been persecuted by the British.
There’s been a reversal of the Great Trek. The majority of English- speaking whites are abandoning their landlocked city, once described as a mini- New York, and going back to the Cape, from where it all began. For the time being it is much safer, but what happens when the wave of criminals up north go in search of fresh pickings is another story.
It’s a bit cowardly banging on about the place from the safety of Australia, but it’s best to keep one’s counsel or wear the consequences. The day after his bull- in- thechina- shop incident, the press were waiting for the cantankerous Duke, and when he walked past we put fingers to faces and stretched our eyes sideways. He looked at us through steel, gritted his teeth, smiled thinly and said: ‘‘ Why don’t you all just f . . k off.’’
Wreview@ theaustralian. com. au