The other night my wife and I went to a friend's house for a meal. She had other guests: a couple from South Africa, who5 million whites, four million were over here in New Zealand visiting family.
They were a pleasant enough couple: young, attractive, rich. White.
It's not a word I would have used. The "W" word, I mean. It was a term they employed about themselves. The male of the pair saw fit to tell me about life in South Africa. How there are 37 million blacks, 5 million whites, 4 million coloured, and a million or so Indians. (The numbers quoted may not be accurate: I was onto my third glass of wine by the time the stats got trotted out.)
He didn't use any of the usual pejorative and divisive terms - and there are enough of them: kikes, spics, wops, niggers, honkies, greasers, whites, zipperheads, gooks, wetbacks, accountants, management, workers, sheilas, babes, bints, dorks, cretins, pigs, oinkers, wankers, punks, dweebs, brats, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, Shiite, Sunni, Arab,Yank, Pom, Frog, the list goes ever on, like Bilbo's road. Not one of thempassed his lips. But he did use that one damning word: they.
"If I were to go into the centre of the city, then they would..." When they did.."..
South Africa, it seems to me, will never truly be the rainbow nation that the world saw born just a few years ago until we start hearing inclusive language from people like this couple. He told us that our (the white people's) problems were so and so (mainly with the blacks, actually), while the problem with the blacks and Zulus were that they couldn't or wouldn't behave like, well, whites.... and dribble on.
What depressed me, I suppose, was that these people were young. Young enough to have been to school during the initial rainbow years. And all I heard was tired old voortrekker Afrikaans droning.
I will say one thing for them: they do love their country. They went on at some lengths about the astonishing beauty of the land, of the tumble-down wildness of the coastline, of the breathtaking joy to be found in a sunrise over Table Mountain. But I don't think they actually know what their country is. They didn't understand that their nation isn't made up of 37 millions black, 5 million whites, 4 million coloureds, and 1 million Indians. It is, in fact, made up of 47 million South Africans. And all 47 million share in the same problems, the same solutions, the same dreams, the same hopes, the same desires.
If they don't understand this, they understand nothing.
Here in little old EnZed we've gone a long way to sorting our differences. We celebrate our similarities, and our differences. Actually, that's a little rose-tinted: we still have a way to go. But the vast, vast majority of us refer to ourselves as Kiwis, as New Zealanders, as Godzoners.
Or maybe I'm just an over-optimistic bleeding-heart liberal, who can't see the truth even when it's kicking him in the knackers.
Reading: "Zoo Station", David Downing. Robert Harris crossed with le Carre. Excellent.
Listening to: Art Garfunkel,"Angel Clare". The man's voice was a thing of beauty. I'd like to hear him singing with Antony.
“Ask politely, you big ox, or these people may well have to revive you again.” His voice was as cold as an Arctic breeze.
“Bah,” and the big man spat blood. “Sit. Please.”
“Thank you,” smiled the small man. “Asking is good. Ordering is not.” And he helped the big man to his feet, and sat next to him.
Hanno muttered “You have a harder head than me, little Grey.” He gripped his nose between two broad forefingers, and pulled. The loud crack as the gristle straightened into place was almost – but not quite – drowned by the God-Emperor’s shouted “Crom!”
“Hard fist, too,” grinned the cowboy.
“I’ll see you later. Best two from three?”
“Done, my Lord Hanno. Done.” The men slapped palms, grasped wrists, and grinned at one another. The first part of the rites had been observed. Now, to hear more of what this Charles wanted.
Charles cleared his throat and spoke.
“I must begin by telling you that we apologise for bringing you to us. A death once earned should not be snatched back. But after much discussion, we felt we had no option.
“No,’ he corrected himself. “We knew we had no option. Hard though it undoubtedly is for you, we hope you will forgive our presumption when you hear our story. Hear our need. It is great.”
He told the Sleepers of the deaths, of the strange violence that his people had wrought upon themselves. Violence, which should in theory and had in practice for so many decades have been impossible.
“You see, we have small machines we call nanobots and embots. They monitor our health and repair our bodies when or if they are damaged or fall sick. They also help us communicate: in a blink of an eye I am able to plumb the depths of the great I-See centres, or I can exchange a banal thought or joke with one friend or twenty, or everyone in the world.
“We outlawed the use of violence many years ago, and our embot-assisted minds now instantly correct our mood if violent plans or thoughts are made. We simply cannot raise a hand to another. Paranoia, fear, violence, even anger – all these things are impossible. And yet they have happened, with appalling results. Happened not just once, but over, and over, and yet again.”
The men listened, grim-faced. He continued. “We four here have been inoculated, if you like. This project, to bring back some of the world’s great heroes and warriors was possible only because we agreed to -” he bowed his head. A tear escaped, and plopped onto the table. When he raised his face a moment later it was clear and calm. There was a rustling around the table. The sudden mood change had not gone un-noticed.
The man Adam, still shaken, and wiping his mouth, took over the tale. “We volunteered to do that which had become impossible: to contemplate the planning of violence. Our embots were subtly altered, re-programmed to allow us to consider violence. Our greater society now understands us to be uncontrolled psychopaths. And yet even we find it almost impossible to contemplate actions such as you have just done. Seeing the violence that Hanno and Grey indulged in – well , you saw the effects it had on us. Yet that is exactly what the Commonwealth needs you for. We – Charles, myself, Cienwyn, Paulus: we were given this place, the laboratory, and we have worked in isolation for many months to bring you here. We had a number of failures, and we grieve for them. They were like yourselves, heroes: unlike you, they did not quicken to life, as you have. Our world, the people of the Commonwealth, knows of you. They know you are here. They know why.
“You see, we – they, our enemy – has discovered that our technology, our embot and nanobot technology, is vulnerable.” Adam’s voice was now sounding desperate. He looked at the six Sleepers, and saw only grim eyes looking back at him. He suddenly understood what it was to be naked. “Our ‘bot technology is vulnerable to Ultralow and ultralong-wave radio beams that, when tightly focussed, can send the embot parts of us into a frenzy. Adrenalin, normally tightly controlled by our embots, floods and drowns our nanobots. Pain, and uncontrolled violence follows. After that: insanity. Even the scrubbing of embots from the bodies of those afflicted does nothing to help them. The knowledge of their actions seems to make them catatonic. Fear has stricken them, and we have known little or no fear for many, many years. We have had nothing to fear. Everything was within out control. Our fates were our own.” Adam struggled for words. He seemed to be close to tears, then his face suddenly cleared, and he smiled, comfortingly. The six men who listened to him saw the change in expression, and were aghast. Blunt wondered if the man was even human. The story was one of despair, yet this man who told the tale felt nothing. Was he as much a machine as the many strange things he had seen in the white room? Blunt was troubled, and he hand signalled to Whistler to be prepared for action. At least that was something he hadn’t forgotten: in his trade, leading skirmishers at the leading edge of a battle, whistles and hand signals often took the place of shouted commands.