Monday Memories – Decisions and Consequences: #3 South Africa

A broad flight of steps leading up to a 1970s style steel and glass building
This used to be the main entrance to
Lanchester Polytechnic

One decision from those first years in Coventry that I don’t regret was to attend part-time at Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University). The course I undertook was called Industrial Administration. It was credited as an endorsement to my Higher National Certificate. It was a 2 year course and 1970 was the last time it would be offered, so, in common with a few others, I took years 1 and 2 simultaneously. This was possible because there were several modules with no continuity from year 1 to year 2. Included were such matters as an introduction to basic economics, double-entry accounting, understanding the difference between cost, price and value, contract law, industrial relations, types of business ownership and finance.

I passed with distinction. The value to me at the time was small but would prove considerable a decade later.

A notice printed in block capitals in 3 languages announcing that a particular area of beach near Durban is reserved for white skinned people only.
The offical face of Apartheid

When, in the summer of 1973, I was offered the chance to join a team undertaking a project in South Africa I was genuinely conflicted. I was, of course, opposed to apartheid. Moreover, we lived in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the UK. Was it a good idea to expose our son, at 8 years old, to an environment where racial discrimination was enforced by law, knowing that we would return to Coventry where it was morally unacceptable? On the other hand, it was an opportunity to see for ourselves what conditions in the Republic were really like. And if I turned down this opportunity would I be marked down as lacking ambition, unwilling to face new challenges?

I don’t regret agreeing to go. It did indeed open the eyes of all 3 of us to an alternative way of life, one where the differences between people were exposed for all to see, not hidden behind a cloak of false respectability as they so often were, and are, in the UK. You can make discrimination illegal, you can rail against it, but, in the end, you cannot so easily change the false perceptions that drive it. That takes generations. The experience of the last 3 years in the UK has demonstrated that for some there will never be an acceptance that people of different cultures are fundamentally human beings with the same needs, desires, and, yes, prejudices as the rest of us.

Overtly racist headlines from the British Daily Express. Such evil is still with us. Image from The Guardian

I described our experience in South Africa over 3 Monday Memory posts beginning here.

On our return, early in 1975, it was time to make another important decision: one that had been put on hold whilst we were away. I smoked my first cigarette on my school friend’s 13th birthday, a month before my own. Not that that turned me on to the habit; that did not happen until my late teens. From around 1960 I smoked cigarettes in what I would have called moderation – usually fewer than 15 a day. Sometimes I smoked a pipe. But I knew it was bad for my health and my pocket.

Image of a pack of king size cigarettes that does not carry a health warning.

In South Africa cigarettes were very much cheaper than in the UK. They were manufactured from tobacco grown in the neighbouring country of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and had a distinctly different taste to the Virginia tobacco we were used to, although they carried branding with which we were familiar: brands, like Rothman’s, that were up-market in the UK. Back home, with rampant inflation making salary increases worthless, giving up became a priority. Not a decision that, once enacted upon, I ever regretted. Apart from the obvious health benefits for someone deemed, as a child, to suffer from a “weak chest”, the financial gain over the past 45 years must be enormous. I’d need to track the retail price of cigarettes over that period to calculate even an approximate figure, but I reckon it must be in excess of 5% of my income.

6 thoughts on “Monday Memories – Decisions and Consequences: #3 South Africa

  1. I agree, it will take generations and may never disappear completely. However, we as a society are making progress. Can you believe the price of cigarettes today. Yet, people still buy them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really appreciated your letting us in on the thought processes that preceded your decision to go to South Africa. Life is often complicated when you try to do the right thing in difficult situations.
    It’s so unfathomable that race, which isn’t a real construct genetically, continues to be used to degrade our fellow humans and divide us so horrendously. But we can’t abandon hoping for and working for a kinder, more equitable world.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Isn’t it? But it manifests itself in so many different ways, eg. the claim that the followers of a particular religion or ethnic group have an inallienable right to occupy certain lands because the ancestors resided there centuries ago. Follow that logic and 90% of the present population of the USA would have to ‘go home’! But suggesting this gets you branded anti-semitic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two sides to every coin… and sometimes it seems as if there are more than two! I continue to believe (observe) that the problem(s) reside within the human mindset. That mindset is to apply control with all of its attendant evils. Speaking of South Africa, are the people there better off today under indigenous leadership? Not what I hear. The solution is as simple as it is unthinkable for most: do away with borders and walls and national/racial exceptionalism. Live and let live, what’s so difficult about that? Well, except that “we” don’t trust “you” when you have a different religious or ethnic background and different political views. The basis of our distrust comes from fear and that fear is engendered through propaganda.

      Liked by 1 person

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