The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

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

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