The rosy-cheeked young man with Aryan good looks, a winning smile and a thick South African accent straight out of a Tarzan movie looked up from his chair in front of the managing editor’s desk, then – clutching his old-fashioned leather briefcase and Indiana Jones fedora – stood and extended his hand in greeting.
This unexpected visitor in the newsroom had just met for 10 minutes behind closed doors with the Tulsa Daily World’s city editor, executive editor and managing editor. City Editor John Gold had waved me in, muttering uncomfortably, almost under his breath, “Just talk to him. See what he has to say. Write a little something.”
But who was this waiting kid? I’d interviewed Shriner clowns, Miss Teenage Americas, indicted presidential aides, retiring barbers, tornado survivors, five-year-old marathon champions and drunken country music stars. So, who was this blond young man in the expensive tweeds? Why were my bosses seemingly annoyed? I grabbed my voice recorder, sensing something was odd.
The young guest introduced himself glibly – obviously he’d done this before – and launched into his pitch that he represented the Republic of South Africa, which was tired with being barred from international athletic competitions, banned from economic trade worldwide and slandered in the global liberal media. He wanted to explain why South Africa should not be a pariah nation, portrayed as bigoted despots in Academy Award-winning movies and “biased” 60 Minutes segments about the world’s most famous political prisoner, the aging South African opposition leader Nelson Mandela.
The young man said world opinion was being unfair to South Africa and the country’s century of laws and policies denying any vote or voice to 80 percent of its population, the tribal blacks as well as “coloureds” who were racially impure, that is, not Caucasian.
His nation was the only stable democracy in Africa, he declared, and America’s only reliable friend, the only force keeping the entire continent from turning blood-red Communist. After all, one only had to look at the genocidal disaster after the Belgians turned their Congo colonies over to the native blacks or when Portugal had pulled out of Angola, leaving it in a decades-long civil war. The atrocities were horrendous, he recited: murders of nuns, destruction of oil company property and the rise to power of corrupt dictators. Look at Libya! When Italy gave up its oil-rich African colony, madman Muamar Khadafy had seized power and now was using the oil riches to finance terrorism worldwide.
South Africa, he pointed out, was a wealthy, stable nation wisely using its gold and diamond reserves to provide all its citizens with the highest standard living of any country in Africa. And, he asserted, it wasn’t a colony! Whites from Britain and the Netherlands had been there for centuries – settling in a relatively uninhabited land, turning it into the bread basket of Africa, feeding the entire continent.
I interrupted his well-practiced presentation, chuckling that his task of defending his nation’s institutionalized racism was not unlike the Ku Klux Klan sending a public relations flak to our newsroom trying to explain why American blacks really liked slavery and that lynching uppity Negroes had protected the United States from crime.
The young South African looked startled. No, he told me with a pained expression, it wasn’t like that at all. South Africa, he said calmly in the tones of a well-practiced college debate team captain, was completely different: South Africa was greatly blessed with an abundance of natural resources including vast gold reserves, fabulous diamond mines, fertile farmlands and such strategic metals as platinum – vital to the defense of the United States. The climate is wonderful – the envy of all Africa, much like Hawaii. Furthermore, South Africa’s strategic location controls the crossroads of the world – that narrow passage between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
He resumed his so-rudely interrupted presentation – that South Africa back in the 1600s had been colonized by English and Dutch settlers when they found almost no indigenous peoples there. The Dutch had established two incredibly prosperous colonies, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Meanwhile, the English thrived at their Cape Town colony. A result of their prosperity was a mass migration of invading black tribal Africans in search of jobs, which the Dutch and English graciously provided – paying well, providing good housing and offering ample benefits.
I asked him if he had ever seen the classic 1964 movie Zulu, which some have compared to Lawrence of Arabia, starring Michael Caine instead of Peter O’Toole. It’s an epic take of the 1897 Battle of Rorke's Drift where 100 or so British riflemen held off thousands of spear-wielding Zulus. The film is “an edge of your seat spectacular,” according to the internet movie database site www.IMDb.com. He said he loved the film and said much of it was based on another even more dramatic confrontation, 1838’s Battle of Blood River in which 470 Dutch defenders led by Andries Pretorius defeated an estimated 15,000–21,000 Zulus. Thousands of blacks had died, but no whites, who suffered only three wounded, including Pretorius himself. South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, is named after him.