Towards Better Democracy

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Looking for Mr Goodbar … but not finding him


I have many wonderful stories to tell of my time in South Africa, none, as far as recall, recounted in this blog.

At the time, South Africa was under the jackboot of Aparteid. While not draconian, many laws and restrictions applied. There was a paranoia on the part of a certain sector of the population.

One expression of the ruling party was censorship. A sort of keeping the house clean and a reflection of the attitides of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Afrikaner community, the paranoids  I should add, were locked a puritan version of the Dutch past of which they were a farming settling group, who detested the more tolerance attitudes on the part of the English colonisers. Any resemblance between these Uitlanders and the modern Dutch state was, and is, distant.

During the course of my study of music at the University of the Witwatersrand, I formed friendships with many of the girls, young women, who were studying in the Music Department – there were few men. These students were a happy bunch, full of enthusiasm as women of that age are – young men don’t match it –  and loving the substance of what they had ad  of their future careers. They made wonderful friends in groups or as individuals and delightful companions.

A film just released was banned at the time when it came out by the puritan government, Looking for Mr Goodbar. For some obscure reason I was attracted to the idea of seeing the film. Its being out of reach, I suppose. Botswana, a much more advanced neighbouring country, was much more tolerant than the country abutting its border. Blacks and whites lived in harmony there without the non segregation and miscegenation laws put in place by their fearful white settlers next door. Botswana is among few countries in the world which had a British presence and yet were not colonists of. The country was ruled at the time by a benign leader, Seretse Khama – other views may be held on this man but his fellow countrymen admired and liked him.

I had travelled, and did afterwards, to Botswana in the course of my duties as an engineer. I found the place more relaxed that the country I lived and worked in. Flying in on a two seat private plane to Gaborone one immediately becomes aware of this land having little in the way of cultivatable soil.

So, with the film showing in the capital and it being a four or five hour drive from Johannesburg, I formulated the idea of going and attending a performance of the film. Five of my music students were excited at the idea of going, and one afternoon we piled into my car and off we went. Laughter and exuberance filled the vehicle though it was a little crowded. This may have contributed to the atmosphere. Gaborone seemed a long drive from Johannesburg since the roads are almost empty and we’re driving through the monotony of the maize fields which run up to border of Botswana. The formalities at the custom post are cursory and we sail through. It is now night and the town poorly lit.

The cinema is located on the edge of the town and is attended by few of the locals. We line up for tickets behaving more like school children than adult students at one of the most prestigious universities on the continent (the other is the University of Cape Town.)
We get to the ticket taker at the door. The girls are allowed in but he bars the way to me.

“You need a necktie to get in,” he says in English, obviously learned in the cradle (the English have left some mark behind.)

No local would dream of wearing a tie in Botswana. The country is hot and made worse by its being largely desert. A search for a tie will be a fruitless endevour. My friends look disappointed but all pile in filled with excitement.

I hang out in the bar of a local hotel until the film is finished – I barely drank alcohol, I don’t drink any now. The time ’til the film finished seem endless. There was nobody in the bar, the barman absent most of the time, there being no customers to serve. I am drinking Heineken, a Dutch imported beer, South African Brewers’ products not being to my liking.

Soon enough, no, after a drug-out hour and a half or two, the women appear. Their dememour seems normal. The film seems to have neither excited nor disappointed them.  We drove home in a quieter atmosphere than had been the case on the outward journey but still comfortable, relaxed, even intimate, as it is among good friends. The film was not discussed.

Malcolm D B Munro
Saturday 12 August, 2017

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Filed under: Arts, Current Events, history, Media, Memoir, Music, poetry, politics, songs, stories

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