‘I first came to Africa in 1994 when South Africa teetered on a knife’s edge.’ Read an extract from Cape Town: A Place Between by Henry Trotter
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Read an excerpt from Cape Town: A Place Between by Henry Trotter, as shared by News24.
Cape Town: A Place Between is an incisive mix of travel narrative, literary non-fiction, and personal memoir. The book reveals the often hidden contradictory realities of Cape Town, a city between two oceans, between first and third worlds, between east and west.
Henry Trotter is the author of Sugar Girls & Seamen: A Journey into the World of Dockside Prostitution in South Africa. Hailing from California, he has lived in Africa for 20 years and written extensively on African history, culture and education. He is based in Cape Town with his wife and daughter.
Read the excerpt:
I first came to Africa in 1994 when South Africa teetered on a knife’s edge. In the months leading up to its first democratic elections that year, the country seethed with violence.
In KwaZulu-Natal, African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) loyalists were engaged in a vicious regional war, fomented by a shadowy ‘third force’ within the apartheid security apparatus.
East of Johannesburg, the charismatic South African Communist Party (SACP) leader Chris Hani was assassinated at his home by two white men. Nelson Mandela himself had to beg the nation not to tear itself apart over this outrage.
And in Cape Town, the white American Fulbright student Amy Biehl was stabbed and stoned by young activists in Gugulethu township. They had just attended a rally where the cry of ‘one settler, one bullet’ (kill the whites) still rang in their ears when they came across Biehl who was dropping off university colleagues.
As a 20-year-old student myself then, going into my third year of university in California and dreaming about where I could study abroad, South Africa was not an option. Not by a longshot.
It was still run by the National Party, the white supremacists who initiated apartheid and were scrambling to protect their privileges. And they were opposed by one of the most politically mobilised populations on earth, an “ungovernable” people who had been engaged in an endless series of protests, boycotts, stay-aways, strikes, and sabotage campaigns since the Soweto uprising of 1976.
I had to admit, from what I knew about the country then – through newspaper headlines mostly – I found South Africa to be thoroughly intimidating. Completely hard core. And its people seemed just a weeee bit intense.
So at the time, Zimbabwe was the place to go in Africa. Safe, stable, peaceful, with an excellent education system, Zim was a popular destination for college exchange programs. Renowned as ‘the breadbasket of southern Africa’, the country seemed poised for a bright future.
Seeking to expand my cultural horizons, I signed up to study African literature and the Shona language at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in Harare. I even wrote a letter to then-President Mugabe before I arrived, letting him know that I was excited to visit his country. (He never wrote back.)