South Africa


Drama and dance in the days of apartheid — recollections of an American diplomat in SA

Drama and dance in the days of apartheid — recollections of an American diplomat in SA
J Brooks Spector. (Photo: Supplied)

Today we put aside any contemplation of international crises and the distressing progress of elections. Instead, at the suggestion of several friends, I recount my experiences living and working in South Africa over the past half-century – and how the country, particularly its arts and culture, captured me.

That first moment of discovery can be crucial in a journey. Mine came shortly after my first flight to Johannesburg from New York City, via stopovers at a half dozen African cities, arriving in Johannesburg at midnight, after more than 24 hours of flying. 

From a full-to-capacity Boeing 707 departing New York City, only a handful of passengers were left on the plane. Mangosuthu Buthelezi, his aide and I were in economy, and there were one or two passengers in first class. Everyone else had disembarked at less isolated and maligned African cities.

Driven to the dark, empty house in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs where I would live, I promptly fell asleep in the first bedroom I found. The next morning, searching for my glasses on the night table, I put my fingers into a cup of coffee placed there by someone, unseen, unbidden, unheard. Given what I had read of South Africa, as well as my general knowledge of the harsh division between blacks and whites, I wondered how white South Africans lived their lives with such equanimity when housekeepers came into their bedrooms while they slept.

Before coming to South Africa from Indonesia, after a brief stopover in the US, I had read what I could find about South Africa while living in Jakarta. An Indonesian literature scholar lent me Es’kia Mphahlele’s Down Second Avenue and I had read Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country. I had also read about the Anglo-Boer War, Shaka and apartheid; I knew some of the words to the song We Are Marching to Pretoria; and I had heard of Nelson Mandela and Dr Chris Barnard. 

Beyond that very modest introduction, I knew only a sprinkling of facts and fiction about the country where I would live and work for the next several years. Young US diplomats were assumed to be able to learn on the job as they “read in” to their new positions, even as they sorted out their actual work and everyday life in a new land.

Some notes of explanation may be useful about the realities of diplomatic work. Depending on one’s job, many only needed a modest acquaintance with a country. If the job was supervising the issuance of visas or passports, the crucial task was to be current with US regulations and attentive to “watch lists” of suspicious individuals and criminals. If the job was managing an aspect of an embassy’s financial operations, the task was to stay current with government accounting procedures.

The core of my job was different as a US Information Service officer. That was an independent agency of the government, although guided by the State Department, and I worked with our government’s international exchange programmes, our libraries, conferences and seminars, as well as with the host country’s media. This meant becoming immersed in South Africa’s cultural world, its educational circumstances and institutions, and knowing journalists — foreign and domestic — who reported on South Africa to the US and the world. 

Apartheid isolation

When I arrived, there was no television in South Africa and it was obvious local newspapers and radio did not report everything of importance in the country — either because of their editorial policies or due to government pressures (most especially on the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s radio channels). 

In 1975, there also was no internet, no satellite broadcasting, no 24/7 news cycle. To stay current, we read an airmailed copy of the International Herald Tribune that arrived two or three days after being published in Paris, along with the international edition of Time magazine.

We followed BBC and VOA shortwave broadcasts; and we read the Wireless File, a daily US government communication sent to embassies over a radio/teletype link that provided US reporting on the region where one worked, along with internal staff announcements. 

I also had a subscription to the Sunday Washington Post, which arrived via diplomatic pouch a week or two after its publication. I had access to our well-stocked library, including numerous contemporary US magazines on many topics. Our library was open to everyone who wished to use it — black and white.

Our offices, including the library and small auditorium, were on the first floor of a downtown office building and we had a small locally hired staff. One individual handled relationships with the media while another coordinated our programmes of guest speakers and related activities, and recommended people who could be invited to the US on working visits as embassy guests. 

One unspoken but key task was to get a new, inexperienced officer — me — connected with the country’s intellectual core, from those at universities, in community theatre groups in Soweto, or writers living under banning orders issued by the South African government. Other employees handled a film lending library with several hundred titles about the US — documentaries and performances of US dance companies and major theatre works. 

Opposition to government

Almost immediately after arriving, I was meeting black South Africans and those whites living in near-permanent opposition to the government. There were those South Africans we invited to visit the US for a month to explore their professional interests and make personal contacts; there were guest lecturers for gatherings we had convened; there were official visitors from Washington for a first-hand look at apartheid; and there were US journalists seeking insights for their writing. 

There were also mundane decisions about which new books or films to acquire for our library. After I had been in Johannesburg for only two weeks, my senior, a forbidding older officer, returned to the US due to illness, leaving the office in my still-unprepared hands.

Our office had no guards, metal detectors, or other barriers back then. People came in unannounced, sometimes just looking for a place to sit for a chat — or to speak to someone about their fears, hopes and aspirations. They received a warm greeting, coffee or tea, and even a chance to use the toilets — a prized opportunity for many, given the near-totality of apartheid’s stamp on the urban landscape. 

In this flow of visitors, we met the writer/journalist Don Mattera, who once handed me a cardboard box, filled with a manuscript that I could read over the weekend. That manuscript eventually became his famous memoir Memory is the Weapon, a bildungsroman of Sophiatown, the legendary, racially mixed neighbourhood with its lively cultural life that was destroyed by the government in the 1950s.

One office activity was hosting a “music appreciation society.” In the early 1970s, this helped connect us with black South Africans largely deprived of opportunities to attend live concerts in the city. It was connected with a tradition in black townships of jazz listening and appreciation societies that met in homes. Together with our society’s chair — Wilby Baqwa, the most senior black employee in Southern Africa’s largest construction company — we put together new events each month.

One month it was a presentation of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s Broadway hit Lost in the Stars, based on Cry, the Beloved Country. The next month was a performance by the Afro-fusion/jazz group Malombo, back from the US after touring with Miles Davis. In another, after reading that the US jazz guitarist Barney Kessel was performing at a segregated nightclub — the Top of the Carlton — I prevailed on him to perform a set for our society as well. Our offices were four blocks from where Kessel was staying and so we walked to our office — rolling his amplifier and carrying his electric guitar through those city streets. Along our way, some black passers-by recognised him from his album covers and joined in the walk to our office.

I met my wife — a music education lecturer at the Johannesburg teacher’s college for coloured South Africans — when I was asked to give a talk to a community group establishing a softball league for teenagers. (Softball is a close relative of the US’s national game of baseball.) Despite segregation in most venues, I invited her to a concert at the notionally integrated University of the Witwatersrand. 

Some months later, we had a quiet, carefully planned wedding in nearby Swaziland (now Eswatini), where South African racial laws on marriage did not apply. After that, it was impossible to return to Johannesburg, so we were reassigned to Washington, but not before a Johannesburg newspaper printed a story headlined “Coloured beauty flees South Africa with American diplomat”. You can look it up.

The language of culture

A young theatre manager, Mannie Manim, asked me to go with him to see the site where he and his associate — the playwright/director Barney Simon — had received the go-ahead from the city to convert the venerable but now-vacant downtown fruit and vegetable market into a theatre. 

The building had been erected in 1913 as a symbol of the city’s exuberance about its future, located amid the world’s richest gold mines. Now it was being saved from demolition since the city had decided it should be converted into a cultural facility and Manim and Simon, somewhat to their surprise, won the rights for that. 

Together, we went to the building where a theatre was emerging. Even with just a modicum of knowledge about construction, I could see that while it would be a money pit, it could also become a great opportunity for South African culture.

In the mid-1970s, virtually all the theatres in the country were restricted to whites, unless a special, one-time permit was granted by the government for a privately hosted evening, or an officially approved fund-raiser for organisations such as the Coloured and Indian Blind Welfare Association. 

Back then, Johannesburg had an active mainstream theatre world, albeit one barely acknowledging the African continent. The Civic Theatre (operated by the city government) was on a hill near the Old Fort (now the site of the Constitutional Court and related museums). Operas, ballets, and musicals were among the theatre’s primary offerings. 

Segregated live commercial theatres like His Majesty’s, The Empire and The Colosseum were a modest downtown version of London’s West End. The city also had other smaller theatres, along with nightclubs offering cabaret and stand-up comedy, largely in Hillbrow. 

The Johannesburg City Hall was the city’s major concert venue for the orchestra, although university, church and school halls also hosted performances. Impresarios promoted popular and classical international performers in tours that sometimes included performances throughout the country and other southern and east African destinations. The vast majority of those were for whites-only audiences.

One black South African theatre activist, now living in the US, recalled: 

“I did not participate in any of the Civic Theatre events except for one lapse when I saw Equus. For the most part, we boycotted events at the Civic Theatre on those occasions when we were allowed to attend performances sponsored by non-profit groups such as the Association for Coloured and Indian Blind. For the most part, our attendance and participation in performing arts events was restricted to the Wits Great Hall and the Coronationville Hall, which was a poor excuse for a theatre venue.”

Back in the early 1970s, the South African cultural efflorescence of the later 1970s and ’80s — when musicians, dramatists, artists, and choreographers became increasingly powerful voices in opposition to apartheid — was only beginning to gain momentum. Meanwhile, most white South Africans were largely unaware of black South African cultural activities.

Mary Benson, the South African-British journalist and anti-apartheid activist, could bemoan the loss of the vitality of Sophiatown’s racially anomalous, polyglot life in the early 1950s, but that had come just before the explosion of creativity that began in the 1970s. However, Benson’s lament, and the experiences of most white audience theatregoers generally, did not take into account the efforts of black theatre entrepreneurs such as Gibson Kente and Sam Mhangwani. 

Below the radar

Their works were successfully playing to black audiences in township community and church halls throughout the country (occasionally including this slightly bewildered foreigner). Beyond those works, there were the more sternly political outputs of Molefe Pheto and others in the People’s Education Theatre and similar groups, operating just below the standard radar. By the early 1970s, some of those efforts were finding increasingly receptive audiences among politically active black South Africans. Part of my work was in going to see these efforts in township halls around Soweto.

In our work arranging speaking opportunities for visiting Americans, one time, we took a young US poet (and part-time fisherman in Ireland) to a Catholic boys’ school in the working-class neighbourhood of Reiger Park, on the eastern fringe of Johannesburg. The school was surrounded by waste rock from now derelict mines, and was, not surprisingly, for black pupils. (Its tough headmaster, an Irish priest, introduced us to the mysteries of Irish whiskey during an evening so cold one could see clouds of one’s breath inside the school’s hall.)

Also accompanying us that night was the South African poet Sipho Sepamla. By day he was a black personnel head at a factory. Before that, he had been an impresario for music shows in black townships. But most important of all was that Sepamla was one of a new wave of poets seizing the attention of black audiences who saw in live readings of his work a perfect articulation of their feelings about South Africa. Blending English, Afrikaans, “Tsotsi Taal” street lingo and black vernacular languages, Sepamla’s distinctive voice (together with others like Mongane Wally Serote, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali, and James Matthews) was setting out a sensibility that would inhabit the 16 June 1976 Soweto uprising.

Like other US embassies and consulates around the world, we hosted members of the US Congress when they carried out overseas oversight visits. In 1975, Congressman Charles Diggs arrived at Johannesburg’s airport. The authorities had a suite in the transit area for VIPs arriving without visas, but whom officials did not wish to keep sitting in the transit lounge when the visitors were scheduled to board an onward flight. The congressman had arrived without a South African visa, intent on entering South Africa to make a statement about South African policies certain to be reported in the media of both countries.

Children run past a mural of former South African president Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters in the Orlando District of Soweto on 30 June 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images)

A library in Soweto

Diggs was chairman of the Africa Sub-Committee of the House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee (equivalent to a parliamentary portfolio committee). He had come to South Africa to see it for himself — and earn some street credibility with his Detroit constituency by putting a finger in the eye of apartheid. The South Africans did not let him into the country, and he was now provoked by this transit lounge game of chicken. As a response, he insisted our embassy would be required to build a library in Soweto.

In 1975, there were virtually no privately held buildings in Soweto where we could rent space for a library, and there was no land to be purchased or rented to build one. The South African government held title to all of Soweto’s land; and, in any case, the South African government would not issue a permit for a new, foreign-owned library. 

But Diggs’ position was firm. If the US Embassy did not establish a library in Soweto, as a subcommittee chair, he would put a legislative “hold” on the budget for all of the US’s educational exchange, information, cultural and related programmes in South Africa. Despite arguments that black South Africans already extensively used our libraries in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, Diggs was intent on making a symbolic point, rather than debating circulation statistics. 

Eventually, we discovered that a long-time friend of our office, Khabi Mngoma, among his many other activities, was also the executive secretary of the YMCA in Orlando, Soweto. In that privately operated building, they had two unused meeting rooms. The YMCA could use the rental income and said they would be happy to host a US library as a community service. So, we set up the library, stocked its shelves, and trained staff to run it. 

Back in the early 1970s, even though South Africa was a racially restrictive, authoritarian society, it seemed unlikely fundamental changes would come anytime soon. But on 16 June 1976, broad-based protests against the apartheid system erupted — for the first time in over a decade — over a government decision that, in future, learners would be taught mathematics and the sciences in Afrikaans, rather than in English. Those protests evolved into a broader, more sustained revolt against the state — and everything it stood for. 

People our office had been in touch with for years were the intellectual and ideological stiffening of the revolt. But circumstances in Soweto now meant it was increasingly difficult to continue those relationships, not least because security forces kept harassing or detaining many of those acquaintances.

In the midst of all of this, Simon and Manim’s dream became operational on 19 June 1976, opening with Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. The second play was Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. (Technically, the productions were by Simon’s theatre collective, The Company.) When we learned of the second production, we bought two evenings for invited, integrated audiences for our 4th of July holiday. Miller’s play, with its messages about intolerance and abuse of authority, seemed an apt demonstration of our opposition to the ongoing repression — via the language of culture. 

Thereafter, my wife and I, after being married in Mbabane, Swaziland because of South Africa’s racial restrictions, were back in Washington for a new assignment. While we stayed in touch with friends and relatives in those pre-internet times as best we could, we only returned to Africa in January 1987, to Mbabane, Swaziland, four hours from Johannesburg.

Unrest and repression

While in Swaziland, we watched the escalating violence and social unrest in South Africa, even as, paradoxically, the cultural life of the country seemed to be flourishing, becoming more vibrant in tandem with the political pressures of those times. Playwrights and other cultural figures also drew on their internal resources for stories and inspirations in response to a tightening cultural boycott of South Africa. 

We visited Johannesburg regularly to see works such as Mbongeni Ngema’s Sarafina! (the musical about the Soweto uprising), or a production of Shakespeare’s Othello, directed by Janet Suzman, pairing John Kani and Joanna Weinberg, about the doomed black military leader and his white wife in Renaissance Venice. And we made our way to see people at other organisations in Newtown, such as Sipho Sepamla, now in his new chair as the head of the Federated Union of Black Artists, Fuba. 

Two years later, I returned to South Africa as the embassy’s cultural attaché. The number of our office’s short-term exchange visitor and Fulbright scholarship programme totals going to the US had grown bigger by an order of magnitude over the 1970s, but the number of guest lecturers from the US had declined sharply in response to South Africa’s increasing academic isolation.

Any thoughts of cultural exchanges or the reestablishment of the US Fulbright professor programmes in South African universities faced major obstacles, given the pressure for sports, academic and cultural isolation designed to weaken the apartheid regime. In 1989, it seemed South Africa’s political and social circumstances would remain, as they had been, on into the foreseeable future, or perhaps even worse, as a cycle of unrest and repression continued endlessly.

But, towards the end of the year, the new South African president, FW de Klerk, having pushed aside an ailing PW Botha, did what many thought impossible. High-level political prisoners such as Govan Mbeki (Thabo Mbeki’s father) were released from prison, and government officials hinted at further moves. Foreign diplomats began to wonder if there might be expanded roles for them in a changing South Africa. 

One logical next step for us was to canvass local and US academic organisations about re-instituting the Fulbright professor programme at some South African universities. Would the US’s African Studies Association, for example, help or hinder this? Would still-banned liberation bodies — the ANC (African National Congress), the PAC (Pan-Africanist Congress), Azapo (Azanian Peoples Organisation) — or their legal, local equivalents such as the UDF support this? 

And would SA universities and their faculty associations take a leap of faith that the local situation really was evolving — even if there was not yet real clarity about what would happen next? Then, in the midst of this, the De Klerk government released Nelson Mandela and began inching towards negotiations over the country’s future.

Culture in transition

Whatever foreign diplomats saw as operating limitations on work in South Africa were now unquestionably different from what they had been only a few months earlier. We began to think about all the other tools of cultural diplomacy we might conceivably begin using. 

As part of this, we drew closer to the Market Theatre, underwriting a production of The Meeting — African American dramatist Jeff Stetson’s play that asked what a conversation between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King would have revealed had the two met before their deaths. As the theatre’s 1992 opening offering, in two opening nights, we invited several hundred guests, from Nobel Prize winners to newly returned-from-exile ANC president OR Tambo, and nearly the entire leadership of Cosatu and its member unions. Asked by our ambassador about the lesson of the drama, I said, “Well, nonviolence wins by a nose”. To which he replied, “It had better.” It was a tense time in South Africa.

Meanwhile, we began considering what kind of cultural relations we could or should nurture between the two nations. Should it be a big splash or efforts slowly and in tandem with changes in the political situation? Local realities would dictate what was possible, but if we waited until everything was tied up neatly, others could move ahead with their projects, setting the landscape for cultural relations for years to come. 

I had read about the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s (DTH’s) tour to the Soviet Union, following the resumption of US-Soviet cultural relations after the Soviet military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The DTH’s core mission was to promote black success in the toughest of all art forms — classical ballet. It had been established by New York City Ballet star Arthur Mitchell back in 1968, in response to his despair over the death of the Rev Martin Luther King Jr and the civil unrest that followed. DTH’s vision could be the right message from the US to a reimagined South Africa — and a fitting punctuation mark for the cultural boycott.

The cover illustration of a major magazine which I had seen was for a story that showed one of the dancers was South African — Augustus van Heerden — a man who had left the country to pursue his dreams in the face of apartheid restrictions. We soon learned there were three South Africans in the company: Van Heerden, Felicity de Jager, and Laveen Naidu (in the student ballet corps). Coincidences grew. Van Heerden and my wife had studied dance together in Johannesburg decades earlier, and De Jager had studied at the dance school founded by my mother-in-law. 

Over the next year we sought support from South Africa’s liberation movements (the ANC, the PAC and Azapo), now that they were operating legally — with the idea that a DTH tour could be the symbol of a reimagined, democratised cultural world in South Africa. 

Such an effort needed a local institutional sponsor, funders and an appropriate venue. The Market Theatre was prepared to be the sponsor, as long as others paid the costs, given its financially precarious state. The theatre had built real liberation struggle credentials internationally, making it the only appropriate backer.

Concurrently, we sought support from the country’s liberation movements. Over the past two years, there had been an evolution in the ANC’s thinking about the cultural boycott and international cultural relations. As ANC cultural spokesperson Barbara Masekela said in her speech at the 1990 Grahamstown Arts Festival about culture, although they still backed a boycott, “it could serve as a pathway, to allow the representative, democratic culture of the people out to the world, as much as it is a filter to exclude the poison of apartheid, and prevent it gaining credibility”. 

There was also the influence of ANC legal expert Albie Sachs, in his discussion paper “Preparing Ourselves for Freedom” in which he argued that the new freedom meant culture should be unfettered by formal ties to “the Struggle”. Eventually, the ANC and PAC issued formal letters of support, agreeing re-engagement for South Africa with the world in sports, education, and culture could give them leverage against the government in the negotiations over the country’s future. Mandela signed a letter to Arthur Mitchell, the DTH artistic director, stating the visit:

“[W]ould serve as an inspiration to our artists, who have struggled to maintain their vision and creativity despite brutal apartheid oppression… Our great challenge here is to democratize our cultural and social institutions, over which the apartheid ideology has sought to dominate. The transitional process we are struggling to engender is a difficult one, to which your visit will make positive contributions.”

The Pan-Africanist Congress wrote, “The PAC feels that the Harlem Dancers’ visit will not have [the] intent and effect of advancing apartheid and will give appropriate assistance to the Market Theatre and other dance formations and to the disadvantaged dancers in occupied Azania.”

Eventually, Azapo offered verbal assurances that it would not stand in the way either. Following extended discussions, liberation struggle-related cultural organisations — the Dance Alliance and PAWE (Performing Arts Workers Union), in addition to the UDF’s Interim Cultural Desk, a more informal body loosely associated with both the ANC and the UDF — also joined in support of the visit.

Funding remained problematic, until Nedbank, thanks to the efforts of senior marketing manager Ivan May, agreed to a major sponsorship role. A realisation that the visit (and the corporate support) would include a full programme of workshops, masterclasses and other educational efforts, in addition to performances, ultimately won broad support from cultural figures.

The question of where they would perform was now crucial. The Market Theatre’s stage was far too small and the only other possible venue in Johannesburg was the Civic Theatre. Its five-year renovation was well over budget and five years behind schedule, but now that it was ready, in response to the cultural boycott, the Civic Theatre had no show for the reopening. (Their negotiations with Cameron Mackintosh, the creator of the musical Les Miserables ended when word leaked about the plan and Mackintosh withdrew his show.) 

The DTH could save the Civic’s managers from public ridicule. The price was a new management advisory body, drawn from ANC-related community arts bodies and other anti-apartheid groups, effectively superseding the theatre’s apartheid-era trustees. 

The DTH had to win over its US sponsors, leading African American cultural figures, and the UN’s Special Committee on Apartheid. Mitchell’s charm was persuasive. Once it began, the DTH’s month-long tour in South Africa reached more than 10,000 audience members and 25,000 participants in workshops, demonstrations and masterclasses across the Witwatersrand. 

Adrienne Sichel, South Africa’s leading dance critic, described Mitchell’s first visit to Soweto in her book Body Politics – Fingerprinting South Africa Contemporary Dance:

“Then there was that chilly spring morning in September 1992 when I sat next to a visibly moved Arthur Mitchell (who finally meet me, this time on my home ground) as we drove into Soweto in an official chauffeured car. This was the start of this company’s historic township and city outreach programme and performances in the renovated Johannesburg Civic Theatre (now the Joburg Theatre) with President Nelson Mandela attending the first night. 

“The Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) tour, which included two Johannesburg-born dancers, Gus van Heerden, now the DTH ballet master, and ballet-trained, former Johannesburg-based Moving into Dance Company (MID) dancer, Felicity de Jager, officially marked the end of America’s cultural boycott of South Africa. This visit also led to Moving into Dance’s Vincent Sekwati Mantsoe being commissioned to create a work on this ballet company in 1997 which premiered at the Kennedy Center’s African Odyssey Festival, in Washington, DC.”

Ironically, by the time the company began its South African performances and workshops, I was en route back to the US — my second engagement with South Africa was now at an end. I would return for a third assignment to a much-changed South Africa, one week after the events of 9/11. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andy Macdonald says:

    A string of left-wing Johannesburg-centric memories of a foreigner. Rehash of old history.

    • Bob Dubery says:

      I think we need to be reminded of this not so-old history. It is being written out of records and recollections at a giddy rate. And, of course, some was never written down in the first place.

  • Just Me says:

    Americans never acknowledge their governments role in propping up bad regimes (apartheid SA) or forceful regime change (DRC Congo), especially during the cold war period, mostly through covert CIA actions, in what can be considered general Coups which happened in Central and Latin America, Africa and Asia. Without this context, the Americans’ version of events is never quite correct.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    Hmmm…. by the late 80s there were some multi-racial venues in Johannesburg. Probably because of the Nat government’s decision to not enforce certain apartheid legislation in some parts of the country.

    I recall going to Kippies, adjacent to the market theatre. A small jazz club. All welcome, and all mingled.

    There was Jameson’s in Commissioner Street, but that was a special case because of an ancient liquor license that they held and which had been renewed at regular intervals and had never lapsed. Or that was the legend. There was often an extra little thrill in going to Jameson’s apart from the music (the standard was high) and the mingling and conversation across colour lines. That was because there was often an unmarked car parked opposite the entrance, always with two rather large men in it, wearing sunglasses even after dark, and taking notes and sometimes photos.

    But it wasn’t all like that, and even though the cops were mostly not enforcing laws like the Separate Amenities Act, those laws were not repealed, and individual owners and sometimes patrons would dish out their own type of enforcement. There was a tea room in liberal, prog-loving, dagga-smoking Rockey Street whose owner allowed a back room to be used for “sorting out” black men and youths who were deemed to be making a pest of themselves.

    • J Brooks Spector says:

      yes, theatres in johannesburg and cape town were legally integrated by the late 1970s and early 1980s if management so chose to apply for such permission. but liquor licences for “mixed race” crowds were always an issue. there had been pressure by theatre operators to broaden audiences because of the arrival of TV. still, what’s a theatre without a bar? even in a piece of this length, we could not include all the events/circumstances we encountered or that others had to have endured. regarding another comment above, I didn’t regard my memories about my work to be seen as supportive of misc coups and other misadventures. I certainly was not high enough in the hierarchy to have any influence over such things and later in life found it difficult to discuss more recent interventions. my job as I saw it by that point was to explain government actions, not necessarily be a cheerleader for them or to airbrush them.

      • Bob Dubery says:

        Also I am comparing, I think, events from different eras. Firstly there was the decision I referred to – to turn a blind eye to some laws in some areas (mostly Prog seats). That came in the mid 80s (1986?) But when I was a regular at Jameson’s and Kippies and the Yard Of Ale (which was in the market complex and did have the occasional black customer), that would have been 1988 to 1990, and even in Apartheid SA some things could have liberalised. In 1991 the de Klerk government abolished the Group Areas Act.

  • Agf Agf says:

    A interesting read. I recall in the seventies when the Nico Malan Theater in Cape Town opened its doors to people of colour. I was an articled clerk at the time and a partner of a prominent Afrikaans firm of accountants stated quite openly and proudly: “Ek sit nie langs n K”. How times have changed.

  • John Parkes says:

    My Father used to listen to BBC World service on his little shortwave radio early every morning, probably because the signal was better then, to listen to the news we weren’t allowed the hear. I wonder what Brooks Spector thinks of the current situation in South Africa now. John

    • J Brooks Spector says:

      I have mixed feelings about the current circumstances and the difficulties in making a well-organised, well-managed modern society for all, but I think it is better, all things considered, than it was when I first came to SA, without question. I made a choice, after all, to continue to live here after I retired from the US government.

    • Jean Racine says:

      His writing on SA current affairs makes it abundantly clear what he thinks. Or were you really trying to compare a racial dictatorship with a flawed, noisy, stumbling democracy? Only those for whom a police state worked, would dare attempt such.

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