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Articles filed under South Africa

Brief Thoughts on South Africa

Will be back home tomorrow AM, at which point I hope to have lots of US domestic policy to talk about at The Agenda, which I’ve neglected this week due to connectivity and travel out-of-itness. Not a good way to build an audience. I’ll do better, comrades.

But for now I’m still fixated on South African puzzles. I’ve followed South African affairs for many years now, yet this is my first trip here, though hopefully not my last. This morning I had the pleasure of meeting a brilliant young political thinker and strategist based in Johannesburg, a friend of a friend. I’d characterize his views as left-libertarian, and though he identifies with the ANC political consensus — he sees a split between the SACP-COSATU hard left and a meliorist mainstream that marries social democratic commitments with a neoliberal approach to the macroeconomic environment — he’s very interested in cultivating alternative political voices in the country, for obvious reasons. Between meeting various worthies under the auspices of this Brand South Africa trip, I’ve been reading the kind of books I normally avoid: doorstop political histories, including the very well-regarded Gevisser biography of Thabo Mbeki, now available in abridged and updated form; and R.W. Johnson’s history of post-apartheid SA, which has added poignancy as I understand Johnson has just narrowly avoided death. Johnson’s perspective is jaundiced at best, and some would call it apocalyptic. I find it a useful corrective, if difficult to square with my impressions and those of Alec Russell, who wrote the more breezy, journalistic account of the Mandela-to-Zuma era that I read on the way here.

Why does South Africa matter? Its Gini coefficient is essentially identical to that of Brazil, so it’s certainly not unique in the challenges it faces. Yet it also reproduces some of the tensions and anxieties of a post-conflict society like Iraq, which I think of as akin to a sprawling inner-city on a national scale devastated by poverty and violent oppression. The Shia majority was so under heel for so long that it bears the marks of serious psychological damage. The same is arguably true of South Africa’s majority. One often hears that whereas Zimbabwean migrants are highly educated and possessed of a cultural self-confidence that I as an American take for granted, there was an intense internalization of the logic of apartheid, of racial inferiority. Unraveling this is a slow process, as the older generation has imbued the post-apartheid generation with this residue of cultural self-doubt. I’m a little wary of this kind of analysis, but it rings true.

Crudely, I guess I think South Africa matters because it strikes me as a microcosm of the world. The awkward co-existence of First and Third World ways of life in a single state is very vivid and immediate here, but of course it exists throughout most of the world. The middle-income countries — the Brazils, the Mexicos, the Egypts, the South Africas — are the future. Everything depends on their getting it right.

Wait a second. Toto’s “Africa” is playing in the lobby right now. This is my favorite song. In light of the setting, this seems like a cannily ironic gesture. My mind is blown.

One community that has flourished in post-apartheid is the Asian minority, which has benefited from its relative privilege, the robustness of Asian civil society institutions, and also the fact that Asians are beneficiaries of racial preferences. Firms that hire Asians are given credit for hiring the underrepresented, a priority under the program of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment, yet Asians are arguably overrepresented in many sectors. This will be a tough policy to unravel, not least because Asians were, like members of the Jewish minority, overrepresented in the leadership of the ANC in exile, quite in contrast to the so-called Coloured minority, an incredibly diverse group — some descended from enslaved Malays, some from the Khoisan, virtually all with some degree of European ancestry — that was an artifact of the apartheid state’s peculiar ethnographic logic, yet that has a very vital (and arguably problematic) sense of political identity.

As you can probably tell, I don’t have very systematic thoughts at the moment. The more I learn, the more I have to revise what had been settled views. This isn’t to say that my original assessments have been overturned — in broad outline, I basically believe the same things about the country and its prospects (fairly bright, R.W. Johnson’s brilliant polemics notwithstanding). It’s more in the fine-grained detail.

I haven’t spend much time in middle-income countries. I think it agrees with me. There’s something about the crazy energy of this phase of development, the self-fashioning, the reinvention of nationhood, etc. All gross generalizations, of course.

Also re: South Africa, I wrote a flawed column on what Iran might learn from the South African experience. I have to say, I wish I had more time to reflect on the relevant issues. It was a product of some very lengthy conversations. Those of you who find my neocon commitments distasteful might find it interesting.

I feel really lucky to get to think out loud. Thanks for indulging me, TAS readers.

South Africa in the Wee Hours

It’s 4 AM here in Cape Town, and it’s raining like hell. I have to gather my scattered belongings for the flight to Johannesburg. Thus far the Brand South Africa journey has been rewarding, if unconventional. We’ve met a number of government officials, and I had the great pleasure of attending a press conference held by the Ministry of Public Enterprises, easily the highlight of my time so far. The political culture here is fascinating — and surprising. The effort to reconcile deep inequalities has been, to this imperfect and casual observer, insanely successful, considering the obstacles. Dani Rodrik has written a fair about South Africa’s growth trajectory, and why the country’s macroeconomic rigor hasn’t been rewarded with more FDI and economic growth. But it’s worth noting that the post-apartheid government has thoroughly kicked the ass of the apartheid government in this regard, and a real economic takeoff is easy to imagine, provided the crime problem is addressed very aggressively.

Re: the trip: it has reinforced lots of invidious stereotypes. There is a hilarious degree of clustering, with cliques forming more or less on national lines. Brassy American women sticking together, etc. As a jingoistic American, I’m a little sad to report that the Americans tend toward an un-Reihan showy earnestness, but that’s life. I find the Indians particularly awesome: two in particular are really witty and subversive and self-effacing. This raises interesting questions: am I more of a Diaspora personality than I realized. My mother says yes. One of the Chinese journalists has the most fascinating — and convincing — political worldviews I’ve encountered. I was heavily influenced by Prasenjit Duara’s critique of the nation-state, and this guy seems to have come up with it on his own. His whole thing is about how China is essentially France in the 18th century, in the midst of a centralizing project bent on obliterating regional and ethnolinguistic distinctions. Really, really interesting.

So now I must scramble. Keep it real, comrades.

Cling to My Precious Battery Charge

I foolishly failed to bring my international power adapter to South Africa, breezily expecting that I’d find one at my hotel. A marketing arm of the South African government has brought over to get a sense of how the country is preparing for next year’s World Cup, and my understanding is that I’ll also get to attend a Confederation Cup game or two. I’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on tomorrow. I hope I will, at least. My plan is to file a column tomorrow. I’m a few hours ahead for once in my life, which is nice. One wonders if I can make this time zone business work for me on a longer term basis.

Initial thoughts: the plane from Dulles to Dakar to Johannesburg was full of an improbable mish-mash of people, ranging from the quiet intensity of the enormously large gun-loving Afrikaner man to the voluble and demanding bald American business guy to the urbane middle-aged African American woman who is obsessed with the Die Hard movies who was seated next to the genteel African student who was interested in my book on the history of post-apartheid South Africa. Or rather Alec Russell’s book on the subject. I didn’t write it. I didn’t even buy it — I borrowed it from Christian Brose of Foreign Policy, who is a generous soul. I prefer counterprogramming in my reading, e.g., rather than read a book about Zuma on a flight to South Africa, I’d normally want to read a book about Suharto. I did read large sections of the forthcoming Isabel Sawhill + Ron Haskins book on building an opportunity society on the flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, which will be fodder for future Agenda posts. But boy, I plowed throuh the Russell book. This was definitely the work of a veteran foreign correspondent: newsily engaging and well-informed, if far from comprehensive. It gave me some useful context, though I’m really interested in mundane stuff, like the drawing of provincial boundaries, the renaming of provinces, developments in local government, finer-grained accounts of the economic transition, language policy, etc. One hopes I’ll pick up a bit while I’m here. Still, worth reading.

Best part of the trip so far: Abdul Karim, who drove me to the hotel from the airport, is a brilliant dude. Born in 1978, he arrived in South Africa in 1994 as a student. He’s now a first-year political science undergrad, and he’s a totally incisive observer of the political scene in Kenya and South Africa and the wider world. Definitely a dazzling conversationalist. He’s going places. We had a frank conversation about perceptions of South Asians among other things.

Of course, the trip has lasted for just a couple of hours, not counting the endless flight. So we’ll see what happens next. Assuming I’m properly wired, I intend to keep you posted.

The Beautiful and the Damned Ugly

This post is fourth in a series about South Africa.

SOWETO — An early highlight of this trip was a helicopter ride over Cape Town. Storms buffet the Cape much of the year, but that morning the South African International Marketing Council somehow busted the conspiracy of rain and clouds and provided a windless, clear day and a scenic tour of what must be one of the prettiest urban and suburban landscapes in the world. The city sprawls, and on its wealthy fringes the cliffs, seascape, and ubiquitous backyard swimming pools give the impression of having been transported from Pebble Beach.

I am now in Soweto, where the scenery is different, for a host of reasons. The first is poverty: “matchbox houses” line the streets, and any building older than a decade bears every mark of having been constructed during a time when belonging to the middle class was not even an aspiration. The second is geographic: beautiful country surrounds Johannesburg, but the crowded urban environment has erased any lingering charms in Johannesburg proper.

I stayed for one night in Soweto at the Holiday Inn, which on the inside does a passable job of seeming not to be in Soweto. (Portraits of Steven Bantu Biko are over the beds, and throw-cushions are disguised as sacks of maize, but otherwise the place is indistinguishable from a Kansas City Holiday Inn.) The balcony opens onto Sisulu Square, a “township entertainment explosion centre” in Kliptown. In the middle of the square are monuments, and on its edges vendors sell fruit and cheap goods. Plain concrete, which is the architectural medium of choice, does the square no favors, and virtually all the monuments and buildings are sinfully ugly. For aesthetic reasons unknown to me, the pillars on the Square side of the Holiday Inn, built in 2007, meet the ground at a slight angle. The hotel looks like something Frank Gehry might have designed after a prefrontal lobotomy.


So much of Soweto makes sense to me: the pride in the city’s role in South Africa’s freedom struggle, the appetite for improvements in services and standards of living, the restaurants and dance floors. But Soweto’s aesthetics of memory are as foreign to me as the mourning rituals of any Polynesian tribe. Other Soweto historical sites suffer from the same concrete blight, and have none of the foliage I associate with beauty and memorials. I’m used to calm gardens, with simple stone monuments. At the museum to Hector Pieterson, the child killed by South African police on June 16, 1978, there is a line of dirt that points from the museum to the large stone monument at the site of his murder. The line of dirt is supposed to have trees, but instead it is just dirt. The one Soweto site that did have greenery is Oppenheimer Park, a lush little oasis in Central Western Jabavu, named for the father of the diamond industry. And unlike every other place in Soweto I visited, Oppenheimer Park was utterly empty. The one man visible when I entered the park was sitting on the concrete foundation of a steel lightpost, his ass firmly planted on the only artificial surface within fifty meters.

Lest this critique sound like pure snark, let me quickly pivot to say that Sisulu Square is also a place of mirth and activity, where vendors sell fruit, men and women laugh and pose for photos, and groups gather at a tshisa nyama or braai or barbecue place for cookouts. So when I say that the place looked nothing like my idea of a monument, I emphasize “my.” The temptation is to think these as failed memorials, botched urban architecture. That temptation is worth resisting. Why might someone love these places, and feel them worthy of the struggles they commemorate? What is it about these spaces that is attractive to Africans, but so unattractive to me? The answer, I think, has to do with the urban lives that most South Africans now lead. Soweto is a place without trees and open spaces, and without the kind of bucolic images that someone like me associates with parks and beauty. Most people who live among those monuments do not think of the countryside as a retreat, but as a place they have happily escaped. The monuments are not erected with me in mind; they are erected for South Africans, and to those South Africans they are perhaps ideal.


For lunch in Soweto, the International Marketing Council took us to Maponya Mall, one of the nicest and most modern malls I have ever visited. It had tidy bathrooms, chic restaurants, and great deals on memory cards, among other things. A sushi joint inside had a cardboard cut-out of a ninja, and the ninja said: “I don’t fight for honor — I fight for sushi!” This could be my motto. There is an irony, though: the Marketing Council was working hard to ensure my comfort, and to replicate familiar comforts of home, but the differences between South Africans and mine are significant. Part of selling a country consists in making it seem like the country of the person to whom they’re selling it. But the monuments show that it is a very foreign place indeed.

Photos by Flickr users ign11 and oso under a Creative Commons license.

Two Hours Before the Mast

See here for previous dispatches from South Africa.

PORT NOLLOTH, R.S.A. — The real world is a rough place. After several days wandering South Africa like medieval goliards, straining to opine wittily on what we see, many in my troupe of bloggers look weary, in desperate need of sleep, an unhurried cup of tea, a nice book, and reliable access to 110-220V power. The last of these is most important, since many of us live by our cameras, laptops, and digital recorders. My camera-phone just died, so my power needs have pruned themselves helpfully to just a laptop. But for others, the need for a socket is an unquenchable addiction, and their nerves have been frayed visibly by the spotty access to the Web and to outlets on this tour. At the restaurant where we stopped for lunch recently, half a dozen bloggers descended on a single power strip. Each plugged in, and profound relief and tranquillity washed over the dining area, as if our starter course were not springbok carpaccio but a long collective drag off an opium pipe.

But today is not a day of relaxation. We’ve risen early and swapped our blogger pajamas for neoprene thermal suits and life jackets — safety requirements in case we fall out of the Sikorsky helicopter that is scheduled to take us from Port Nolloth to the Peace in Africa, queen of the de Beers diamond cartel’s navy. In addition the kimberlitic pipes from which de Beers mines underground diamonds, the alluvial fan of the Orange River has been a site of diamond exploitation for about a century. And in the last few decades, de Beers has figured that many diamonds are probably out at sea near the mouth of the Orange. The Peace in Africa sucks mud off the ocean floor, and inside, under strict security, a crew of grizzled miners-of-the-sea runs a whole ocean-going diamond-mine in the ship’s belly.

At the Port Nolloth helipad, we’re advised to expect a carefully monitored, sometimes inhospitable environment, followed by careful bodily searches on return from the ship. We will have to wear special clothing to cope with the wet steel and generally harsh conditions of sea life. We will eat lunch in the miners’ mess, and should expect conditions markedly sparer than the fine hotels we’ve enjoyed so far. “Do the ladies get a free diamond?” asked one bloggeuse, only half joking, as the helicopter powered up. The de Beers handler, Tom Tweedy, had heard that one before. “If you don’t pay for it,” he smiled, “it’s not worth as much.”

Fifteen minutes later, we landed on the ship, ducked under the still-turning chopper blades, and filed an orientation room. The ship, we learned, is ten miles offshore and moves just a few meters in a typical day. During daylight, it sends down a sort of benthic bulldozer to cut five meters down into the seabed. A big tube sucks the churned-up water and earth at a rate of 400 tons per hour, and any object over 19mm gets tossed overboard summarily, including very large diamonds. Diamonds that size are so unlikely, says the ship’s metallurgist, Ezizly Steyn, that it isn’t even worth looking for them. She says fish get drawn into the works, too, but only rarely, since most fish are too spooked by the underwater carnage to want to get close.

According to de Beers, which has been accused of exaggerating the scarcity of diamonds, the ship produces just a handful per day — about 570 carats, which fits comfortably in one of my own mid-size paws. Which isn’t to say that I was allowed to handle the stones themselves. The most remarkable feature of the vessel is its security; the mining operation is really not much more than a suck-and-filter system, with radiography at the end to find separate shiny stones from dull ones. No person ever sees or handles a diamond. All the work is done, as it were, virtually, often with computers and closed-circuit videos. There’s always a layer of steel between a human and a precious stone. In the end of the process, the diamonds go in steel cans, which even when they leave the ship by helicopter are still roughly half full of worthless shiny objects (mostly quartzite, calcite, and shell pieces) that the machines can’t distinguish from real diamonds.

We bloggers hadn’t been so far away from our computers for days. Some swooned, and the rest popped Dramamine. Was it the pain of separation, or the six-inch swells? Before we descended into the ship’s bowels to meet the crew, we all donned special boots (“OIL AND PETROL RESISTANTANTISTATIC,” they said on the soles) and earplugs.

Steyn, the 27-year-old metallurgist, acted as a sort of spokesman for the crew. She said she loved her work. Being aboard an industrial ship with two other women and 57 men didn’t cramp her style at all, she said, and she was still “enjoying the single life” onshore. She wore a hot-pink hard-hat, in case her strawberry blonde locks didn’t differentiate her enough from the rest of the crew. “She’s Ripley!” said one blogger.

But even the others had style. When we clomped in our boots into one of the operations centers — a roomy command post filled with a wall of computer screens and an HP printer the size of a tanning bed — we saw a man with a nicely cropped goatee, designer glasses, and an earring leaning back in a plush chair and manipulating the undersea bulldozer. A joystick attached to his chair, and he could lean back and click away, in all the comfort you’d expect if he were playing Starcraft in a South Korean cybercafe.

I asked what they did for leisure, and kicking up his feet (he wore orange Crocs, the sandals of choice on most parts of the ship), the operator said the ship had a nice library, a tea room, and satellite television. The Peace in Africa was actually quite a pleasant place. Plus, he said, “We work two hours at a time, because it’s very difficult to be looking at a screen all that time.” Half a dozen bloggers nodded in agreement.

Hell is Other People (Named Graeme)

This post will be about South African science and technology. But first, an endorsement of bizarre names.

South Africa would be a lovely spot for a holiday, were it not packed with people named Graeme. If you’re a Graeme in the U.S., you get used to knowing that when you hear your name, someone’s talking to you. But after a week here, where I have heard “Graeme” and turned to respond dozens of times in vain, I am learning what misery it must be to answer to “Matt,” “Alan,” “Tim,” or some other common name. I’ve dealt with other Graemes before — in Kandahar this summer, at one point the air field’s print-media tent housed Graeme, Graeme, and Graham. (The TV guys next door were Mike and Mike.) The situation became nearly unbearable. This would never have happened if I were Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Despite this frustration with Graemes, I must express my gratitude for a set of questions suggested by Graeme Addison, a South African science writer who has helped arrange my trip. The questions were prompted by a presentation in Cape Town by Kobus Meiring, CEO of Optimal Energy, the company designing South Africa’s electric car. The Joule is likely to be on the market in two years and is supported by the South African government. Meiring — a tall, confident Afrikaner — had spent nearly half an hour on the subject of low-emission transport, and his strong bid to construct an electric car with commercial appeal beyond the Ed Begley set, when a flicker of moral hesitation entered his talk: Meiring said he had been “not always proud of what we did, but technically it was very stimulating.” Was the Joule not a straightforward case of green do-gooderism? Why the diminished pride?


Above is the Rooivalk Attack Helicopter, manufactured by the South African parastatal Denel Aviation. Meiring, like many white South African engineers of note, applied his considerable talent to the South African defense industry during its boom under apartheid. His most notable project was the Rooivalk — reputedly one of the finest aerial attack platforms ever built. The Rooivalk is no longer in production, in no small part because during apartheid, few countries allowed arms shipments to the South African pariah state. And an attack platform without weaponry is really just a platform. Even though Denel never had a functioning product to ship, Meiring and other engineers made advances in technology and process that have helped solve tricky issues like the battery design of electric cars like the Joule.

This employment history is common among South Africa’s elite: nearly any white South African over a certain age in a technical field at one point or another served the apartheid government. The day after the electric car briefing in Cape Town, I listened to a presentation at a Stellenbosch technology park by Jan du Plessis, the MIT-educated chief engineer of SunSpace, which designs cheap, lightweight satellites. His astonishingly dry and technical talk was leavened only by a misheard remark about “Jew Observation Systems” (in turned out he said, in his thick Afrikaans accent, “Geo Observation Systems, which sounded much less interesting). Du Plessis’s research record also included work for the apartheid government — a government that bragged of its expansionist capabilities, fought its neighbors, and produced functioning nuclear weapons. I presume that the South African government wanted aerospace research for purposes more applied than theoretical.

Du Plessis and his team at the University of Stellenbosch designed and sent up one satellite already. It was launched by the U.S. in 1999 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The U.S. conducts its polar-orbit launches from Vandenberg, because the clear shot south allows rocket parts to fall harmlessly into the Pacific (rather than onto Havana, as they might if we launched south from Cape Canaveral). Polar-orbiting satellites circle the globe parallel to lines of longitude, overflying Santa Claus and the Emperor penguins on every rotation. Meanwhile, as it circles, the earth spins perpendicular to its path, so any one place on the planet’s surface sees the satellite, and is seen by it, once a day.

I don’t believe the word “spy satellite” ever came up in the presentation, but that’s what his product — due to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan — looked like to me. He assured us that the foreign governments that worked with SunSpace did not include North Korea, Iran, or Syria, but he couldn’t say which they did include. And he emphasized several plausible civilian uses of a satellite.

Science policy often includes moral dimensions. What’s most remarkable about these scientists with checkered (and unconcealed) histories is that they are, to all appearances, still treasured for what they represent to South Africa — as perhaps they should be. They represent, as exhibits on a pro-South African tour like this, the ANC government’s support for the continuation of the high-level research common during apartheid. We may be new to government, in other words, but we know a good thing when we see it, and we’ll be more open in our embrace of our enemies’ talents than our enemies were in their embrace of ours.

The ANC, after all, is hardly knee-jerk anti-science, the pronouncements of Thabo Mbeki about HIV notwithstanding. The ANC loved the nuclear program under apartheid, since it supposed the nuclear weapons the apartheid government developed would belong to the ANC after the ANC took power. When de Klerk shuttered the nuclear weapons facilities irrevocably in the early 1990s, ANC politicians howled in anger. This howling, and the peaceable turn that formerly gung-ho militarist engineers have taken, are perhaps signs of a kind of political health. If one of the nice things about shifts in power is that scientists self-police more carefully — and that governments, in the best of cases, cut back their own powers, lest those powers pass over to their rivals — then so much the better.

The South African Scene

CAPE TOWN – Starting today, I’ll be posting a series on South Africa. I’ve been here twice before, but have spent considerably more time in its neighbors Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Many Zimbabweans, with their country then not even halfway into its downward slide, told me they looked to South Africa as a potential refuge. And in Mozambique, as I hitched up the coast, white South Africans in SUVs passed me nearly every day, and never once offered a lift. At a gas station south of Vilankulo, I ambushed one group of South Africans to ask why no one ever stopped; they said they had come up to Mozambique as a holiday from the troubles of South Africa. It seemed a bad sign for the region that everybody was going somewhere as a refuge from something.

That was seven years ago. In September, South Africa’s International Marketing Council contacted me to suggest a trip around South Africa. It would be, I thought, a potential corrective to the unfair indirect impression I had acquired so long ago, of a country that was at least better than Mugabe’s tin-pot dictatorship but inferior to a fragile democracy run by a benevolent eccentric and littered with land mines. Simon Barber, the shrewd manager of South Africa’s brand in the US, offered an itinerary of relentlessly sunny presentations and experiences, focusing on South Africa’s tech industry. I already use Ubuntu, a South African flavor of Linux, on one of my home laptops. Apparently the tech sector contains many other surprises, some of which I’ll cover here. In the coming days, expect to read accounts from electric-car factories, wind farms, gold mines, and more.

Here, then, is the prologue to my posts: all activities described here have been organized and paid for by Simon and his crew of marketers, and are being covered by a group of other bloggers here. I’ve been accused before of being willing to cripple a child in exchange for a free transoceanic flight; keep this in mind, if in any of my posts I sound in any way credulous or Moonie-like in my descriptions of the country.

If I do begin to swoon unduly, perhaps I’ll be buoyed by my native dyspepsia, and a predisposition to hate the type of managed tour that I’ll be on. Packed itineraries, tourist buses, waiting for others and making them wait for me, hotels that serve champagne at check-in, hours of compulsory socialization — none of these is my usual idea of pleasurable or productive travel. The travel I’ve found most rewarding has been solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and prolonged. Not coincidentally, the travel that produces the best writing tends to be from awful places. Think of Graham Greene’s The Lawless Roads, Apsley Cherry Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World, or anything by Redmond O’Hanlon. One intriguing consolation, though, is that most of these books describe journeys in the company of others. I ought to give that a try.

So this trip will be a lesson for me, not only in the wonders of modern South Africa, but also in traveling in herds, and in luxury. Thus far, the herd I’ve joined has proven a delight. (They are all bloggers, many with tech focuses, so they tend to chime and buzz and click at random moments. When we first gathered together and began synching our phones and laptops, we sounded like a Spike Jones warm-up session.)

As for the activities and meetings, they’ve barely started. This afternoon we dined at Moyo’s, a cheery outdoor buffet in Rosebank, Johannesburg. I ate springbok stew while a quartet of musicians sang the Click Song (‘We have lost our queen!’ exclaimed one white South African, in a moment of delayed mourning for the late Miriam Makeba). I even submitted to having my face painted, or rather stippled in the zygomaticosphenoid region with a black-and-white feathery design. Within minutes, I absentmindedly smudged the artwork. For the rest of the afternoon I looked less like a Xhosa warrior than like a half-hearted Gene Simmons impersonator. Or like a man with a Siamese fighting fish preparing to attack his eyeball. I leave you that image, as an appetizer for posts to come.