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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 38 | volume VII | September-October, 2004



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                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 38September-October, 2004
Essays

Address with poetry and song: African Forgiveness – too sophisticated for the West

Fourth International Literature Festival Berlin 21st September – 2nd October, 2004


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Antjie Krog

    This year South Africa is celebrating ten years of democracy. And the country is swarming with foreign journalists, film makers, writers and academics doing the Ten-Year-Democracy story.
    One tries not to be cynical about their enthusiasm.
    Of course there is nothing like a tattered miracle, or a fake reconciliation to get the journalistic juices flowing. Expose the fraud! Go to the poorest of the poor and show up the double talk of the new black elite and the racist Afrikaner rogues. In stead of asking the hard questions about America and the European Union, it is easier to fly to Africa where the goodies are still good and the baddies still bad. Especially when the weather is warm and the wine fragrant.
    This past year many of us, important and unimportant South Africans, were booked back to back with interviews and discussion programmes. I remember waiting to be interviewed on an Irish radio station in the same smart hotel that Bill Clinton stayed. The team had just returned from Houtbay – a coastal village near Cape Town that has a particular high density of squatters and posh luxurious homes with breath taking views. The interviewer looked wild. He was pacing the room angrily while his assistants were getting the sound systems ready.
    He stopped in front of me. “How can it be?” he asked furiously, “I interview this black woman, living in a shack in appalling conditions, illiterate, dirt poor, I ask her: ‘what did forgiveness and ten years of democracy brought you?’ She said: ‘freedom and peace.’ I said: ‘but here you are, see how you live, you have nothing, a few yards from here, look at that mansion and the rich whites there.’ And you know what she said? She looked at me and said: ‘ten years cannot put right what three hundred years made wrong.’ This is what she said. I can’t believe it. Is she mad? Is she stupid?”
    He looked at me accusingly as if I know some secret evil way that forces poor black people to give smart answers. When he mentioned that another radio team was lining up to interview that same woman again I was suddenly wondering by myself: if the fourth or fifth white pushes a microphone into my face and asks with undisguised disgust: how can you talk about forgiveness if you still have nothing and the whites still have everything… sooner or later I






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