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Golf in the Vineyards of Africa

Today on the Franschhoek Mountains behind Cabrière, a bank of clouds has clung to the peaks in an otherwise blue sky. The clouds spill over, down the face of the mountain, like a frozen waterfall. In von Arnim you begin to get a sense of the commitment many white South Africans feel for the land. He is German, and one side of his family traces its ancestry through six generations of German South Africans. Like all white South Africans he went through moments of fear, but he is sanguine about the country, which he sees as the vital link between the rest of the First World and the developing continent. It will ride out its own difficulties, he thinks. "We didn't turn to bloodshed and war. We could have. We were equipped. We are leaving behind the remnants of colonialism for the challenge of democracy." He is emphatic about his intention to stay. "Of course," he adds, "it is hard to pack up your vineyards on your back."

The psychological plight of the Afrikaner is portrayed in a beautiful little novel, currently popular in South Africa, called The Smell of Apples by Mark Behr. It's the story of a South African Army general as seen through the loving and gradually disillusioned eyes of his son. Set toward the height of apartheid, the story depicts the psychic repression that was for the white race the real cost of the brutal system. The son is ultimately sacrificed in battle for his father's lost cause, but not before understanding that "in life there is no escape from history."

The end of apartheid and the victory of Mandela's African National Congress has swiftly and effectively ended legal discrimination, but economic class structure perpetuates de facto segregation. It is not unusual to see only white diners in a leading restaurant on any given evening. Similarly, golf clubs here remain almost exclusively white, though none would now turn away a nonwhite player.

The leading minority group in Cape Town and the surrounding region is not black, but that group of South Africans called "colored." To anyone who knew apartheid from afar, this category always seemed one of the system's stranger aspects. However, the concept endures, and it's taken seriously -- not least by those to whom it applies; many of them can be quite outspoken in their contempt for black South Africans. The colored -- anyone who is not descended purely from either blacks or Europeans -- encompass a broad swath of the country (with the Asians, they make up more than fifty percent of Cape Town's population). The label can get confusing. A young white fellow remarks that he is "seeing a colored girl" but dare not tell his parents. I ask what his friends think. "Oh, I don't really believe they know. They think she's Italian or something."

Ascendancy in government has only just begun to create a black upper-middle class. Meanwhile the migration of poor blacks from the countryside to the environs of Cape Town has of course increased with the end of apartheid and is highly visible in the shanty towns that now spring up virtually overnight on vacant land near the freeways. These are places of astonishing deprivation -- frail shelters made of scraps of tin and packing cases.

Suddenly the openness of the society reveals all sorts of tensions disguised by the rigidities of apartheid.

Whites tend to divide among themselves along ethnic lines: the English often disdaining those they call "Dutchmen" (i.e., Afrikaners). An English woman admits this, telling me, "You do hear people say things like, 'You know, I met really quite a nice Afrikaner the other day.'" Meanwhile, the blacks mirror this division, Zulus mistrusting Xhosas.

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