Three days after returning to Boston, I met Dr. Boling for my customary weekly therapy session. I told her excitedly about my visit with Susie, all of which had been arranged since our previous session. She listened to me for a while and then said, quietly, "You have a very simple relationship with Susie." I did not know what to make of that remark, but it has stayed in my memory over the years, and on reflection I have concluded that she was right. My relationship with Cindy had been extraordinarily complicated, requiring constant thought and management. But after a separation of thirty years, Susie and I almost immediately settled into an easy, warm, loving, intimate union. I told her about my sons, about the breakup of my first marriage, a bit about my career. She told me that she had been married three times, first for two years to Gordon, the son of the uranium king, for whom she had left me thirty-three years earlier, then for two years to Ed, a medical student in Chicago, where she had followed Gordon and then settled, finally to Jerry Gould, a University of Chicago Business School professor with whom she had had her two children. Susie's lifelong love of botany had led her to do graduate work at U. of C. and to work for some while both as a graduate laboratory instructor and in the lab of one of the professors there. But neither of us was really interested in spending much time talking about the intervening years. Each of us put away those memories, preserved an important and protected place for our children, and renewed the bond that we had forged as High School Sophomores. As Boling seemed to intuit, it made me uncomplicatedly happy just to be with Susie. We still both loved the baroque music we had so enjoyed as teenagers, and as the years have passed, that has remained an important part of our lives.
The remaining months of my sabbatical were a whirlwind of travel. I reconstructed my doings from my little Coop book for that year. After coming home from Chapel Hill, I turned around less than three weeks later for my scheduled visit to St. Andrews College, stopping both on the way and on the way back to spend time with Susie. The visit to St Andrews was instructive to someone who had spent his career at universities. After talking to the faculty there about their undergraduate philosophy program, I realized that despite being a small school offering no graduate degrees, they were giving their students an extremely solid grounding in philosophy. I have found this at many of the small liberal arts colleges I have visited. Staffed by faculty who trained at some of the best doctoral programs in the country, and who keep up with the field by regularly attending the national professional meetings, these small Philosophy Departments take their students through a rigorous introduction to the history of philosophy and the foundations of epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and logic. In many ways, their students are better served than they would be as undergraduates in big graduate oriented programs in which must of the undergraduate teaching is done either by graduate assistants or by faculty who would rather be teaching their graduate seminars.
A week after returning from St. Andrews, I flew off to Greece, for a visit on my way to Dubrovnik. I was invited by Ann Caccoulos, an ebullient philosopher who lived in Athens with her husband and taught philosophy there. My most vivid memory of the week's stay, aside from an enormous platter of baby lamb chops that is a traditional dish at Easter, was my visit to the Agora. It was much larger than I had imagined, and it had never occurred to me that it was lined by covered stalls. I am afraid the stones did not speak to me as I walked where Socrates had talked with Plato.
Then it was on to Dubrovnik. I do not think I have ever felt so grown up as I did when I checked in and was told that "Ms. Gould is waiting for you in your room." I was there to give a paper at a conference, and I guess I did, but the proceedings left no trace in my memory. Of course I fell in love with old Dubrovnik. Who would not? As we walked on the Placa, the main street of the town, our voices were reduced to whispers echoing from the ancient walls. The stones beneath our feet were worn smooth from centuries of walkers. It was a magical place, perfectly attuned to our mood. Although we have been back only once, Dubrovnik remains for both of us a graceful and sentimental memory.
A week and a half after returning to Boston I was off again to see Susie in Chapel Hill. Two weeks after that, I flew down yet again, but this time I stopped off in New York to attend the annual meeting of the Socialist Scholars' Conference. A session had been organized on Understanding Marx, and several high powered Marxists, including Anwar Shaikh, were scheduled to comment on the book. The meeting was held in The Borough of Manhattan Community College, which is housed in a huge building in lower Manhattan, near Stuyvesant High School. I had to walk all the way around the building before I found the way in, but as I entered the vast reception area, I was stunned. It was packed with people there for the conference. My first thought was, "My God. These are all socialists. We are going to take over the world." But my second thought was, "This is all of us, and we fit into one large room."
The session was a shambles. Shaikh had prepared a fifty minute attack on me, but at the last minute was told he only had ten minutes to present it. The room was so full people were standing in the hallway trying to hear, and each of them, it appeared, had his or her own theory about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. It was nice to be thought of, I decided, but that was not something I wanted to try again. Two weeks later I was off to Africa to teach at Wits.
I went to South Africa on a lark, not realizing that the trip would transform the rest of my life. When I flew out of JFK, the focus of my attention was on a little game viewing excursion I had arranged for myself on the way to Johannesburg. I had always been mesmerized by movies and stories of East Africa, and since I figured this was the only time I was going to be in the neighborhood, I decided to go to South Africa by way of Kenya. In those days, it was impossible to fly non-top to Africa from the United States, so I flew Pan Am to London, changed planes, and headed East for Nairobi. The flight made a series of stops along the way at various West African airports, but I never actually left the plane until we arrived at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi.
My first stop in Kenya was the Treetops Hotel in Aberdare National Park. It is [or originally was] literally a hotel built into the top of a stand of trees near a waterhole. One sits in comfort in the hotel and looks down at the waterhole. The managers put out blocks of salt to guarantee that animals will come to the hole, and sure enough they do. This is very much an old-fashioned British Raj conception of game viewing. Treetops' greatest claim to fame is the fact that Princess Elizabeth of Great Britain was visiting there in 1952 when her father died and she ascended to the throne. As they liked to say, "She went up into Treetops a Princess and came down a Queen." I have since gone on many real safaris, but this was my very first sight of a wild African animal not in a zoo, and I have a warm spot in my heart for that waterhole. If you have never been on safari, I should tell you that the real thing is very little like the films and television shows you have seen. Films are focused and cut to foreground the cheetah or warthog or giraffe or lion being discussed, but of course nothing like that happens in real life. Animals move slowly and quietly. They drift toward a waterhole, emerging so gradually from the surrounding brush that frequently you do not notice them until they have been fully in view for a while. They blend magically into their surroundings, so that it is perfectly possible to be looking straight at a large animal and not see it. I was once sitting in a Land Rover with some other safari guests staring at a copse of trees for quite some time before I realized that there were several elephants in it.
From Treetops it was on to Amboseli, at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. Another tip for first time game viewers: rain is great for the animals but bad for seeing them, because in the dry season, they all come to the few remaining waterholes. There had been many days of heavy rain when I arrived at Amboseli, and as a result, I spent most of a day being hustled hither and yon in a Land Rover by a driver trying desperately to find as many of the Big Five as he could [elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and buffalo]. After a good bit of scurrying about [we did spot the ears of a rhino in the tall grass], my driver got a call on his walkie-talkie and we rushed to a site where five other Land Rovers were already gathered into a semi-circle. As we edged into the group, I saw three or four lions lounging about next to a little grassy rise. I guess this should have been a transformative moment, but I could not help wondering whether one of the lions had said to another, "Wake up, Myrtle, it's eleven o'clock. Time to show ourselves to the tourists." Truly exciting game viewing would have to await a future safari.
I flew into Jan Smuts Airport, as it was then called, and was picked up by Debra and Berendt, who drove me to their home in Melville, a northwest suburb of Johannesburg. The road from the airport was a broad six lane highway, indistinguishable from highways in the United States [save that everyone drove on the left, not the right]. We moved pretty fast, but if I looked carefully, behind the fences that lined the highway I could see acre after acre of hovels. These were shack settlements, "informal communities," not even up to the level of the dismal organized townships like Soweto to which much of the non-White five sixths of the South African population had been consigned.
Melville is a lovely suburb of graceful homes with manicured lawns, marred only by the ubiquitous walls topped with razor wire. The influx control laws passed in the late 40's by the Afrikaaner government forbade Africans from remaining in White cities after sundown, so each morning at dawn, I would see Black women trudging the miles from the train stations and taxi drop-offs that brought them from Soweto and the other townships to their work as servants in the homes of White South Africans. The only exception to the law was for live-in servants, but since it was illegal for Blacks and Whites to sleep in the same building, White homes had a little rondoval in the back yard, physically separated from the main house, where the servant lived. Debra and Berendt used theirs as a guest cottage, and that is where I slept for five weeks.
A word about terminology, which in South Africa was, and still is, extremely important. There are four distinct racial sub-populations in South Africa, a division that under the apartheid regime had the force of law. The descendants of the Dutch and English colonizers, along with European and North American visitors or immigrants, are categorized as Whites [and within that category, informally by language as Afrikaaners or English]. The descendents of the people living in Southern Africa at the time of the colonization are categorized as Africans. The descendents of the intermarriages, or interbreeding, of Dutch settlers and Africans are called Coloureds. The Coloured population lives principally in and around Cape Town, and is, surprisingly, Afrikaans-speaking. Finally, the descendents of the Indian laborers brought by the English from India to work on the sugar plantations of the Eastern part of South Africa are called Indians or Asians. Africans, Coloureds, and Indians collectively are referred to as Blacks, although the contemptuous term kaffir is sometimes used by Afrikaaners, always to refer to Africans. In a country whose entire raison d'etre was race, these terms were heavily laden with meaning, and I very quickly learned to use them correctly. Twenty years after liberation, these racial categories still define the social landscape and dominate the politics of the country.
I settled into an office in Central Block on the East Campus of Wits, just north of Jorrisen Street, and began teaching the students in the second year philosophy class. South African education, as I will explain at length in a later chapter of this memoir, is organized on the English model as a three year undergraduate program with a fourth Honours Year, after which a student can continue for an M.A. or [much less often] a Ph. D. Students apply to a specific program, and without any General Education courses and such, launch into the study of what we in the United States would call their "major." In Philosophy, for example, there was a single first year course, a second year course, and a third year course taken in lockstep by all philosophy students. [Some of this has now changed, but that is a later part of my story]. My job was to teach five weeks of the second year course.
The Wits Philosophy Department, I very quickly discovered, was dominated by men whose conception of philosophy was scarcely broader than that of the majority in the UMass department. Despite living in one of the most political charged places on the face of the earth, they exhibited not the slightest interest in any questions of social justice or even educational reform, preferring to take their guidance from American journals of analytic philosophy. They were dedicated to circling the wagons as tightly as possible around what "was philosophy," keeping away from the campfire anything that smelled of the real world. Pretty clearly, Debra's real reason in inviting me to come out to Wits was her hope that I would serve, momentarily, as a counterweight to their blinkered conception of philosophy. Well, I hadn't flown ten thousand miles to put up with this sort of nonsense again, so I formally challenged the narrowest and most dismissively condescending of the lot to a public debate on the question, "What is Philosophy?" There was a lot of excitement among the students at the prospect of an academic bloodbath, but he backed out, and the debate never took place.
Leaving to one side the Philosophy Department, South Africa was the most exciting place I had ever been. This was 1986, remember, when the struggle against apartheid was in full swing. Everyone I met was instantaneously either my comrade or my enemy. There was no middle ground. It took me a while to adjust. One day I went to a protest on the campus of Wits. The person next to me said, "If you hear a sound like wildebeest stampeding, start running. That means the police are charging, and if you get caught they will beat you really badly." I was astonished and delighted to find that my Marxist convictions placed me not on the margins of polite discourse but right in the middle of a vibrant conversation in which abstract theory and practical politics were fused. The people I met were as likely to read The New Left Review and New German Critique as I was. Marx and Marcuse were on the tips of their tongues. I had traveled halfway around the world but I felt that I had come home.
I was having lunch with the Economics Department after I had been at Wits for a while, and when one of the men [all White, of course] asked how I liked South Africa, I said that I loved it, but that I had not yet seen anything of five-sixths of the population, except for Black men in orange jumpsuits doing work on the roads. The next day, at another rally, a young man drifted up to me and said, "I hear you want to see some more of the country. How would you like to go to Gazenkulu and Lebowa with me this weekend?" Another brief word of explanation. The Africkaaner ideologues who had crafted the pseudo-philosophical rationale of the apartheid state had promulgated a theory of cultural unities [ostensibly derived from Edmund Husserl's writings -- don't ask] according to which each "people" should have their own homeland. Most of South Africa, including all the good farmland, was declared the homeland of the Whites, and Blacks were therefore to be excluded from it [although that did not quite meet the labor needs of the capitalist sector, so townships were to be permitted inside the White homeland.] The African population was then divided, principally along linguistic lines, into ten "nations," and through a series of forced removals and resettlements, sometimes splitting families apart, the Africans were consigned to a collection of dismal provincial territories, each with its own puppet government, passports, and phony national independence. In practice, this meant sending the women and children and old people to desperately poor rural areas and allowing the men to live in hostels near the big cities while they worked in the mines and the factories. Gazenkulu and Lebowa were two of these ten Homelands.
The young man was named Edwin Ritchkin. He was, he said, a graduate student in Sociology, doing his doctoral research in the Northern Transvaal. The next weekend, he would be returning with a small group of Wits undergraduates who belonged to SAVS, the South African Volunteer Services. They had been gathering funds to build schools for the African children and were planning to visit some of their projects. When I told Debra I was going, her first reaction was caution. "Let me check him out. He may be a police spy," she said. Obviously I still had a lot to learn. But she came back and said Ritchkin was all right. I could go. [I have totally lost touch with Edwin, but Google tells me that the next year, he published an article based on the research he was then doing.]
Early Friday morning, we climbed into a Wits Combi and set off for the Northern Transvaal. As we turned off the main highway into White River, I suddenly saw a Kentucky Fried Chicken. I thought, "I came all this way into the Transvaal to see a KFC?" But very quickly, we left the White areas and plunged into Homelands South Africa. The students were there to see the schools they had helped to fund . These were bare cinder block structures without blackboards, desks, or glass in the windows, but they were dramatic improvements on what had gone before. Edwin was there to see Willis Ngobe, one of the subjects of his research. Willis was a successful local faith healer, living with his two wives and one of his mothers-in-law in a substantial structure that had no electricity. Parked in the driveway was an Audi. Chained in the backyard was one of Willis' patients, a man of about forty who suffered from delusions and fits. Willis explained that he kept him chained while he was being treated so that he would not harm anyone.
Edwin was also serving as a courier, an intermediary in an important legal dispute over land and water rights. The Mashele brothers, both serving in the Lebowa parliament, were engaged in an attempt to secure for their constituents the right to access the irrigation system currently reserved for wealthy White farmers just over the "border" in what the government considered South Africa. Before the imposition of the Homeland system, the Mashele family had been leaders of the Northern Sotho speaking people who were now consigned to Lebowa.
Edwin had consulted in Johannesburg with a prominent Indian lawyer, who was engaged in this indirect way in negotiations with the Masheles. All of us -- the students, Edwin, and I -- were invited into the home of one of the Masheles, served tea, and then allowed to listen to the negotiations. Edwin would deliver a message from the lawyer in English. Then the Mashele brothers would consult in Sotho with a group of local bigwigs who had gathered for the discussion. When they had all arrived at agreement, one of the Masheles would relate their response to Edwin in English, and Edwin would then offer the reply he had been instructed to give by the Jo-burg lawyer. This went on for an hour or more, as I watched fascinated. Finally, Edwin was given a message to carry back to Jo-burg, and we left.
Edwin had arranged, or so he thought, for us to sleep that night at a nearby Convent, but when we got there, the watchman claimed to know nothing about the agreement. He wanted some official confirmation of our identity, which Edwin could not provide. Finally, in desperation, I pulled out my UMass picture ID, which I used to check out books. This seemed to satisfy him, and we were permitted to bed down for the night. The next day, we drove back to Wits and Edwin dropped me off in Melville.
Since I was in South Africa and had no idea whether I would ever return, I did everything I could to see as much of the country as possible. I did make one visit to Soweto, with a philosophy graduate student named Vincent Maphai, who lived there, but it was at night, when Soweto was almost totally dark, and I saw very little of the community of one million. Soweto was the largest of the townships, but there are many others, each containing as many people as a middle sized American city. The Boers constructed the townships with an eye to controlling them like prisons. There were at most a handful of ways in and out, each of which could be guarded by South African soldiers in Casspirs, the armored vehicles the state used to police the Black population. Vincent has become quite an important person in the new South Africa, but I am afraid I remember him principally because of his sexual harassment of a woman studying at Wits who later became my very good friend.
Much more important than my SAVS expedition for the unfolding of the rest of my life was the trip I took to Durban, the city on the Indian Ocean in what was then the province of Natal and is now the province of KwaZulu Natal. I was invited to give a talk at the University of Natal, a White university perched on a hill to the east of downtown Durban, but during my visit, I met Rathnamala Singh, a member of the philosophy department of The University of Durban-Westville. UDW, as it was called by everyone, was the institution of higher education created by the apartheid government for Indian students. Mala was then the Professor of Philosophy [this was again the English system, with only one person in a department accorded the title of Professor]. In 1986, UDW, like the other universities set aside for Black students, had a White Rector, but shortly thereafter, one of Mala's close friends, a professor of dentistry named Jairam Reddy, was named the first Indian Rector. Mala became the Chair of the Philosophy Department. Mala's husband, Prem Singh, was a Lecturer in Politics. Unlike Mala, he did not have a doctorate, but he was a very scholarly man and a dedicated teacher. In time, Prem became my closest friend in South Africa.
Quite the eeriest episode of my visit to South Africa was my dinner in Pretoria with Koos Pauw, a philosopher then serving as the number three man in the Ministry of Education. I had gone to Pretoria to meet with director of the Human Studies Research Council, a government funded body that underwrote most of the post-graduate study and academic research in the Social Sciences and Humanities. The visit began with a sightseeing trip to the Voortrekker Monument, a memorial to the famous overland journey that the Boers took in the 1830's and 40's from the British controlled Western Cape east and north into the interior of South Africa, a journey that led to the establishment of a number of what were later South African provinces. ["Trek," by the way, actually means "pull," a fact I learned one day when I saw a door that said "stoot" (push) on one side and "trek" on the other.] The monument is the angriest building I have ever seen. Waves of resentment flow from it as one walks up to the entryway. It told me more about the Boer mindset than a dozen books could have.
That evening I had dinner with the Director and Koos Pauw. As it happened, a convention was in town of elders of one of the three Dutch Reformed Churches in South Africa. They had been debating whether to let Blacks into their church [they decided not to], and now they were unwinding from the day's exertions. They were all stern looking burly men with thick sideburns, shaved cheeks, and carefully trimmed bushy beards. Had they been a happier lot, they could easily have passed for Amish. Our dinner table conversation was an eye opener for me. Pauw was intelligent, relaxed, well-spoken, and utterly evil. I imagined it was what it would have been like to dine with a sophisticated Nazi. I challenged him about apartheid [my parents had taught me to speak up if anyone passed an anti-Semitic remark at a dinner table, and this was the closest I had ever come to putting their advice to use], but he was totally unfazed by my objections, all of which he had of course heard many times.