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Sketchbook 

Jeffrey Spahr-Summers, US
 

 

 

Global Lay-Correspondent Report on South Africa

1

On The Move

At once promising something wild, powerfully unpredictable and dangerous, South Africa roars like a wounded lion. Once my father saw the slides of a colleague who had recently returned from the country, the lush natural beauty in the images instantly seduced him. Determined to move there, he asked for a transfer from his company. He then campaigned to win the family over with the idea. I was 11 years old at the time, and I did not want to go. We had been on the move since I was two-years old, leaving Colorado and setting up house first in New Mexico, then Mississippi, followed by Nevada and Oklahoma. I did not want to leave my friends, unaware at the time this would become a way of life continually into adulthood. I’m not sure what he said to my mother or my sisters to convince them what a fantastic idea it was, but I do remember what he told me … “They have rock music there Jeff”, and so (of course), I buckled.

In early March of 1971, we flew out of J. F. K. International Airport in New York City bound for London, our first layover. There were ten of us, my mother, a colleague of my father’s wife, her four children, three of my sisters and me. My father had already been in South Africa for 2 months in order to find a home for us, the rest of the family took this time to pack our belongings. We then spent the last month up in the mountains outside of Denver, which gave my imagination time to run wild. Surely, Tarzan movies were not a good representation of every day life in Africa. I was delighted to learn they were not (at least not in South Africa). From London, we flew to Rome, where a customs agent took one look at us, all of our baggage, shook his head from side to side and just waved us through. I was fascinated with the ruins in Rome; the Coliseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Catacombs and Alfredo’s world famous restaurant. I fell in love with Rome; the fountains, the battlegrounds, the atmosphere, and the food.

We flew British Airways from Rome to our next layover, our first true taste of Africa, Nairobi, Kenya. Because the South African Government of the era (The National Party) created and enforced an arbitrary classification of racial segregation known as apartheid (meaning apartness in Afrikaans, cognate to English apart and -hood), South African airliners were boycotted and not allowed to fly over any other African airspace. As yet, unfamiliar with this cauldron of hatred that apartheid ignited, plus being just so politically naïve, I was ignorant to the innate fear and caution that would become paramount to my social education, awareness, ideals and shame. I was not yet familiar with the phenomenon, known by the Afrikaans community of Dutch decent as swart gevaar (black peril). We finally landed in the city of gold on the veld, Johannesburg, at Jan Smuts International Airport on March 11, 1971 completely exhausted, and as for me, ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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