Transcript

72:

Trek
Transcript

Originally aired 08.08.1997

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, the story of two Americans who went to South Africa. One's white, one's black. And they went there because there's something about South Africa for them and for many Americans, something familiar and unfamiliar at the same time in a way that makes it mesmerizing.

Robert Kennedy described this congruence of nations as well as anybody. In 1966, he was visiting South Africa. And he began a speech at the University of Cape Town this way--

Robert Kennedy

I come here because of my deep interest and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-17th century, then taken over by the British, and at last independent. A land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day. A land which was once the importer of slaves and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage. I refer, of course, to the United States of America.

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

That stunned pause before the audience begins applauding, I think that's so beautiful. More than England or France or Israel, more than Canada or Japan, when we think of South Africa, it is a more interesting mirror of the United States than nearly any country. I think because we glimpse a distant echo of the most frightening parts of our own country and the most inspiring parts.

In the 1950s and '60s, black South Africans looked to the US for inspiration. Lewis Nkosi lived in Sophiatown. He remembers reading American literature like Langston Hughes' Simple Speaks His Mind.

Lewis Nkosi

We used to laugh so much about what he was saying, because it sounded to us like this was Johannesburg. And listening to the music, the films like Stormy Weather were just speaking for us.

Ira Glass

"Harlem was like our neighborhood," Lewis Nkosi says. Black South Africans in Sophiatown listened to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, tried to dress and talk like Lena Horne and Cab Calloway. In Sophiatown, gang members modeled themselves after Hollywood movies, dressed in zoot suits, picked up phrases from tough guy films like Street with No Name.

Lewis Nkosi

We wanted to sound like Americans, to relate to American culture. And we wanted also to fantasize about being black Americans rather than black South Africans, because the intensification of suffering in South Africa was just too great. America, it was a country where you have Thurgood Marshall working to eliminate a lot of the civil rights abuses and getting schools integrated and so on. So you know, this was a movement in the opposite direction to where we were moving.

Robert Kennedy

Nations, like men, often march to the beat of different drummers. And the precise solutions of the United States can neither be dictated nor transplanted to others. What is important, however, is that all nations must march toward increasing freedom, toward justice for all. You must do this not because it is economically advantageous, although it is, not because the laws of God commanded, although they do, we must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.

[APPLAUSE]

Lewis Nkosi

And looking to America as a land of hope, this is a cliche now. But we really did believe that.

Ira Glass

Now, of course, the situation is reversed. Once Nelson Mandela got out of prison, and especially after he entered the president's office, it's been black Americans who look to South Africa for inspiration. A few years ago, I did a series of stories for National Public Radio with a South African reporter, comparing race relations in the US with race relations in South Africa. And one of the most striking differences between the way that blacks in the two countries saw things was blacks in South Africa, they said they had hope.

Of course, it isn't just black Americans who look to South Africa to see a place where things are changing, where things are getting better in small ways. Today, we've devoted our entire program to the story of two guys who look to South Africa that way. Their names are Josh Seftel and Rich Robinson. Both of them grew up in the normal morass of post-civil rights race relations in this country, went to schools that were integrated but where blacks and whites usually stayed separate, rarely mixed.

So they headed to the new South Africa for a few weeks. And it turns out they did not agree on what they saw there. What we bring you today is partly a story of the emerging multiracial society over there and partly a story about the one here at home to contemplate this 4th of July weekend. Rich starts our story.

Act One.

Rich Robinson

It was my idea to go to South Africa. I'd met this South African guy at work. He told me that South Africa is the most beautiful country in the world and that everything you see on TV about it is wrong. I asked Josh to go with me.

Josh Seftel

I had another reason for wanting to visit South Africa. I had just gotten a letter from some South African guy named Benzion Seftel asking if we might be related. My family's very small. Besides my parents and two sisters, there's only a few Seftels in all of North America. I guess I was simultaneously excited and scared. I mean, it's not every day that the size of your family suddenly doubles.

But when they're white South Africans, all these questions pop into your head, the first and most obvious question being, "So do they hate black people?" I mean, what do you do when your family doubles in size but the new half is a bunch of white supremacists? I decided not to share any of these worries with Rich.

Rich Robinson

Josh and I met 10 years ago in college. We ended up living in the same house, and we've lived together off and on since then. Josh is the son of a Jewish doctor in the suburbs. I grew up in the city. My parents are public high school teachers. He's white, I'm black, but none of this has ever been an issue. Before this trip, I don't think we ever had one serious talk about race.

We both wanted to see the new South Africa, to see how much the country had changed since Nelson Mandela took power two years ago. We decided to begin our search in a neighborhood called Yeoville. The free magazine they give you on the plane had an article about it. Lots of glossy pictures of blacks and whites laughing together in the streets, drinking together in bars and clubs, eating together in restaurants.

[CLUB MUSIC]

Josh Seftel

Yeoville's a party. The street is lined with outdoor cafes, people are wearing Nike T-shirts, New York Yankees hats, all kinds of American stuff. The scene is just like the magazine pictures. Blacks and whites talk together and drive by us in BMWs and Mercedes. When Rich and I go into a convenience store to get a drink, there's a tall black man wearing a Public Enemy T-shirt in the corner. He's playing Pac-Man.

Yeoville Man

I tell you, things are going properly. We are just mixing up. Like, I'm talking to you guys. I think you are colored, yeah? You are colored?

Rich Robinson

We call it "black" in America.

Yeoville Man

Is it? OK, that's black. And you're "white," right?

Josh Seftel

I'm white.

Yeoville Man

Yeah, sure, sure, sure. That's OK. I mean, that is positive. You can look like my woman. She has [? got a ?] white too, man.

Josh Seftel

Standing over by the pay phone, his girlfriend was plump and rosy in an African print jumpsuit and a red cashmere Kangol beret.

Yeoville Man

She's not from around here, but still, I've got here my woman, my white woman. Lovely. I love her to the maximum, I'll tell you that. But it's like, anyway--

Josh Seftel

Do think that Yeoville is maybe one of the best places right now because it's mixed?

Yeoville Man

In South Africa?

[BEEPING]

Yeoville Man

Sure. Sure.

Josh Seftel

What's that?

Yeoville Man

That's the pager, my man. [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Josh Seftel

What does it say?

Yeoville Man

"Talking nonsense." [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Josh Seftel

Your girlfriend just paged you from across the room?

Yeoville Man

Yeah. She just went to the phone call and paged me, and it's like, hey, beeping! She's-- anyway, guys, hey.

Josh Seftel

What's your girlfriend's name?

Yeoville Man

Mary.

Josh Seftel

Mary. If you came into this store five years ago with Mary-- a white woman, black man-- what would have happened?

Yeoville Man

I would have been dead eight years ago.

Josh Seftel

You would have been dead eight years ago?

Yeoville Man

That's true.

Josh Seftel

Why? What would have happened?

Yeoville Man

Yeah. Because I would have been killed by my own brothers because they were fighting against the white people. And if they would have seen me with a white woman, that's the end.

Rich Robinson

It was our first day in South Africa, and it seemed like everything you'd want it to be, everything you'd dreamed of for the new multiracial society. Blacks and whites together, Pac-man, and personal pagers. We went to the Pita Palace for a celebratory souvlaki, and there, our celebration was cut short.

Dimitri

I'm now 21 years old, right? And what I did was I decided that I have to leave this country.

Josh Seftel

Dimitri, the owner of the Pita Palace.

Dimitri

I can't raise my children here. There's too much crime. And they'll just break into your house, take your stuff, and go. They come into your house, they break in, they rape your wife, they shoot you, and totally destroy your life. Kind of like the black people are taking revenge on the whites for apartheid, you know? Someone got around and said, "Oh, let's drive them out of the country." And it's working, because every single year, the emigrations are going up.

Josh Seftel

A lot of white people are leaving?

Dimitri

Yeah. Didn't you know that? Thousands, thousands. I know of hundreds of families that have emigrated this year.

Josh Seftel

You're going to leave soon?

Dimitri

As soon as I can, yeah.

Josh Seftel

Over the next few days, we would hear Dimitri's story over and over. Wherever we went, people talked about crime and fear and whites leaving. That night when we walked home through the dark streets of Johannesburg, we found a shiny bullet shell on the pavement. We took a cab the rest of the way home.

[RUNNING WATER]

Rich Robinson

You excited?

Josh Seftel

About what?

Rich Robinson

What are you doing today?

Josh Seftel

Going to see--

[ELECTRIC RAZOR]

Josh Seftel

--the people that I think are my relatives. That's why I'm shaving.

Rich Robinson

So how many times have you talked to them?

Josh Seftel

Well, I've talked to them on the phone once-- twice.

Rich Robinson

Do you think they're shaving right now too?

Josh Seftel

I can only hope so.

Rich Robinson

Are you nervous?

Josh Seftel

Not really. I mean, it could be interesting.

Rich Robinson

Well, what if you don't impress them?

Josh Seftel

I'm just afraid that they're going to be racist and they're going to hate you because you're black, and that you'd never forgive me for it.

Rich Robinson

So you're going to have a little anxious energy?

Josh Seftel

Perhaps.

Molly Seftel

We Seftels are unusual.

Dolly Seftel

Well, look at Joshua, you see.

Molly Seftel

Yeah. And we've got many stories. Well, I suppose Harold told you-- I don't want to go over it-- his association with Mandela. Did he tell you?

Josh Seftel

So here we are with my long-lost family. Sitting around a big table piled with lasagna and fresh baked bread, are Harold Seftel, his sisters Dolly and Molly Seftel, Dolly's son Louis, and Rich and I. They reminded me of my relatives back is Schenectady.

Rich Robinson

Josh looks a lot like Louis. It was easy to believe they were related. Nevertheless, we spent several long hours around dinner trying to prove it.

Josh Seftel

Now, Uncle Borach is which person here?

Dolly Seftel

Now, that's my father Louie.

Josh Seftel

That's Louie, the little boy in the picture?

Dolly Seftel

That's right. Yes.

Josh Seftel

And then Uncle Borach is him?

They pulled out some old photos, including that turn-of-the-century photograph that every Jewish family has. It's black and white, ragged at the edges, with a neatly posed family. The father in this picture had a thick, white beard, heavy eyelids, and a black-brimmed hat. He was probably my great uncle.

Dolly Seftel

Yes, well, he was very smart. Apparently, he was a ladies' man.

Josh Seftel

Oh, really?

Dolly Seftel

Yes. He had lots of ladies. In fact--

Josh Seftel

There's something about meeting distant relatives so far from home. There's this immediate bond that's basic and powerful, this feeling like you're all players on the same team, even though you've just met. But at the same time, mainly because Rich was there with me, I was nervous and wanted to know what the people around the dinner table had done during apartheid.

It's embarrassing to think about now, but I asked them repeatedly to talk about those years. At first, they were reluctant to discuss it, but finally they did. I was relieved to find out that Harold, a tall, lean, 60-year-old with squinty eyes, not only knows Nelson Mandela, he's one of his doctors. After Mandela came out of prison, he invited Harold and his kids for lunch. During apartheid, Molly was active in a group called The Black Sash, which picketed outside the court buildings.

Harold Seftel

At the end of the day, what did we do? I mean, it's not that we rioted in the streets or that we--

Dolly Seftel

But I mean, look at you. You only worked in black hospitals, you wouldn't--

Harold Seftel

I would not-- I worked in a black hospital. And look, I suppose I did a little bit of good--

Dolly Seftel

I mean, you changed the attitude of students towards black people. And he was--

Harold Seftel

But I can't really describe myself as an activist. Let's be honest.

Dolly Seftel

Yeah, but your daughter was an activist.

Harold Seftel

Yes, but my children. I think I would say my children.

Josh Seftel

It turns out, Harold's son David used to drive around giving medical care to black activists who were too scared to go into the state hospitals. Harold's daughter Lisa is a member of Mandela's party, the ANC. She was arrested and imprisoned for several months during the struggle and had to go into hiding underground for years. For a while, Lisa's Aunt Dolly and Dolly's son Louis, who are less political, let her stay at their house.

Dolly Seftel

Yes, '86, when we went to Israel, that's when she stayed and moved in here with the ANC.

Louis Seftel

That's a great story. During that year, because she needed a place to hide, we said that she could stay here and she could run whatever she wants to here. Because it was safe, it was suburbia, it wasn't where the activists hang out in Yeoville. So this was a great cover for her. So she stretched out and she spread out by the pool. All the ANC communists just laid out by the pool.

Molly Seftel

We don't know that, Louis.

Louis Seftel

We know from Joseph, our servant. He's from Malau. He has worked for us for 35 years. And Joseph would tell us that every day he would cook for them. And he would bring them meals. And he would serve them as they were writing their newsletters and their propaganda.

Josh Seftel

Even though Louis seemed to have some problems with the ANC, Harold knew Mandela, Lisa was in the ANC, Molly was protesting in the streets. As far as I was concerned, my family passed the test. My fear that they would be a bunch of white supremacists was put to rest and I felt relieved.

Rich Robinson

I felt uncomfortable. Dolly and Louis got this nervous, self-congratulatory tone when they talked to me about some of this stuff.

Dolly Seftel

And we're very unique. First of all, we're one of the few white families that's got a black child in the family. I mean, I'm the aunt of this-- and not many Jewish families have got black children. In fact, I don't think there are any other Jewish families. And there's one family, but they adopted the black child.

Rich Robinson

It was just one of those situations where you never forget you're the only black person in the room. After eating, Louis took us on a short tour of their estate. We saw their expensive bedrooms, pools, Jacuzzis, and finally, tucked around the back of the house, was the servants' quarters, which consisted of a tiny main room with four beds and a closet-sized bathroom. One worker was in the room at the time watching a dim black-and-white TV. Beside his head on the wall was a photocopy of a game board.

Louis told us that this was a lottery game. If you picked the right square, you won the pot for that week. I asked him who played. He pointed to the servant and said in a patronizing tone, that all of "them" do. The servant shook his head to say that he did not play, but Louis repeated that "all blacks played."

Later, there was this awkward moment-- awkward for me, anyway-- when Dolly and Louis were talking about Harold's daughter, Lisa.

Dolly Seftel

Her main boyfriends were black.

Louis Seftel

But she would always say that the blacks in the ANC were always--

Dolly Seftel

But that was the-- often you won't find, she doesn't criticize much, but she did say that the blacks, the boyfriends were not faithful. They had lots of women. And even the man that she's had the baby with, he's got a child. But I hope that he's faithful to her.

Rich Robinson

Well, I don't know how she meant it, but that sweeping statement about what all blacks are like, all blacks are unfaithful, that did it for me. That let me know who they were.

Rich Robinson

I'm saying I went over to that family and I felt tension because of a reason. That's what I'm saying.

Josh Seftel

I don't know. I don't quite understand what was tangibly so harsh about--

Rich Robinson

Are you serious?

Josh Seftel

Back at the hotel, we talked about dinner.

Rich Robinson

It's just the first time that I had seen white settlers talking about blacks and their domestic help and who they keep around. And it was just I didn't realize how even the most liberal whites aren't necessarily the most-- they're proud that they have Lisa in their family because that way they can say that they are, in fact, the most liberal whites.

Josh Seftel

It's almost like you don't want to like them.

Rich Robinson

Pfft. I'm serious. I did not go in there not wanting to like them. But I definitely felt tense. And I didn't know why I felt tense. And I started to feel bad, and I started not wanting to be there. You missed it, though. When you left the room and it was just all of us in the room, we had nothing to talk about. They didn't want to talk to me at all. I mean, there was noticeable silence, and there was nothing going on.

Josh Seftel

You honestly believe that most white South African families are more liberal or as liberal as them?

Rich Robinson

No! See, I didn't say that. I said exactly what I said. I went and I saw and that was the reality and I felt, and that's what happened to me. Period.

Josh Seftel

I'm not taking that away from you.

Rich Robinson

OK.

Josh Seftel

You want to fight more? Hm?

Rich Robinson

I can't fight about what I feel.

Josh Seftel

I guess I'm saying that-- I don't know. I mean, I was pleasantly surprised that they were less racist than I could ever have expected.

Rich Robinson

Well, did you hear what I'm saying? You're saying that because they were less racist than we thought they were going to be, that's good. And yes, that is good. But I'm still allowed to be upset about it. And I am, in fact, upset about it.

And you know what it's like? It's exactly like America. There's an underlying tension, and people want to be friends and all of that. But on the underside, they're all just [BLEEP] dicks.

Molly Seftel

This is where we live. This is our milieu. There's a wonderful park here.

Josh Seftel

Rich needed a break from my family. So when Molly came to pick us up for breakfast, I went alone. She gave me a driving tour of the neighborhood.

Molly Seftel

OK, now in this house-- let me show you-- in this house, this lady was attacked. They jumped over that fence and beat her up. I'll show you where another person was murdered.

Josh Seftel

We drove through peaceful, leafy neighborhoods with big houses. But almost every house was surrounded by a high fence and barbed wire. One neighborhood had a manned checkpoint to keep people out who didn't belong. Another had armed security guards patrolling the tree-lined streets on bicycle. We drove past an area that looked like a golf course with a neatly manicured lawn. And right by the curb, half-hidden by the shrubbery, were maybe half a dozen black people, sitting and laying on the ground.

Molly Seftel

In this bush here, the people squat. Anywhere where there's water, the homeless squat.

Josh Seftel

That's amazing, because this looks like a very well-off neighborhood, and right on the edge, there are squatters.

Molly Seftel

When my daughter Louise was here, there was a ring at our intercom. And I looked through the window, and I said "There's one of these squatters." I said, "Don't open the door." She says, "Tsk, Mommy."

So she said, "Yes?" He said, "Please Madam, please. I want some bread." So I said, "Don't give it to him because he'll send hundreds here. And your mother will be killed. And leave him alone. He'll go and tell the others. You don't give him anything!" So I had just baked some bread, I made sandwiches. And I said, "Louise, I'm warning you. You'll find your mother dead."

But she went on, and she put lettuce and tomatoes and cheese. And I said, "Louise, he's going to tell all the others. And you'll see. It'll be terrible. Leave it. Don't do it. Don't do it." And she walks up to the gate, and he says, "Oh, Madam! God bless you." And she said, "And don't you ever dare come here again!" And he jumped back. And do you know what? The next day they were ringing again.

Josh Seftel

We were back at her house. She pulled her car up to the big gates and punched in a code. Metal doors slowly parted and we drove in.

Molly Seftel

And you know how we used to live before? We had no fence. Nobody had fences.

Rich Robinson

Crime has gotten worse since the end of apartheid, but it's not as big an increase as most people think. Since 1994, the murder has actually dropped 14%. Car thefts have dropped. Home burglaries have increased only 11%. The biggest increase in crime is non-residential robberies, which is up 50%, and rape, which is up 36%. What's happening is that crime in the white areas is now becoming the same as it's always been in the black townships.

Josh and I weren't getting along so well since the fight in the hotel room. In the 10 years we have known each other, we had never really fought before. So we decided the best thing for our friendship would be to get away from his family and out of Johannesburg.

Josh Seftel

We rented a tiny Volkswagen and set out to see more of the new South Africa. We drove for hours over green, rolling hills. The deeper we got into the country, the fewer and fewer white faces we saw. Every so often, we'd see a cluster of pink and aquamarine huts on a hillside, a village. Finally, we stopped at one.

Rich Robinson

There's a group of guys about our age sitting in an old car seat next to one of the huts. They looked like they were waiting for something to happen. They didn't seem happy with the new South Africa.

Wayne

They promised us money. They promised us jobs. There's nothing that ever have happened like that.

Rich Robinson

All three men were unemployed. For Wayne, a tall, thin man who covered his shaved head with a black fedora, told us that the new government had finally brought electricity to the village just that week.

Wayne

They bring us electricity first. Why not water first? Why didn't they ask us "What thing do you want first?" Are we going to eat electricity? Are we going to drink electricity? Where are we going to get money to buy this electricity if we are not employed?

Rich Robinson

They invited us into their shebeen for beers. They asked us questions about America, about our girlfriends, about the federal system, how we liked people at the office. They told us a story about why black men's noses are flat and white men's noses are long. They asked me if I was a relative of Michael Jackson. And they complained about the new South Africa. Wayne said if he were president, he'd enact a much more radical redistribution than Nelson Mandela has.

Wayne

What I should do-- all those white men's area, white men's toilet, I'll do it upside-down. If this was the black man's toilet, then that is the white man's toilet. I'll take the whites there and tell them to come here in black men's toilets and then I'll write "Whites only." Yeah? The only thing maybe that should be the [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Rich Robinson

But doesn't hatred breed more hatred?

Wayne

It's in the blood now. It's in the blood.

Rich Robinson

Sitting in the shebeen, Josh and I were more relaxed with each other. There's nothing like a little talk about apartheid to make you forget your personal problems.

Josh Seftel

One of the guys had an old accordion out on the car seat. I asked him to play a song and he did. "A Roman hymn," he told us.

Rich Robinson

For these guys, the new South Africa was a lot like the old South Africa. They were still without water and work, and they still felt powerless. Apartheid had done more than just separate the races. It had created a lasting sense of black inferiority.

Wayne

The blacks, if they see a small boy of white meat, they think that small boy of white meat is-- I forgot-- is bigger than them. And they've got money, and they've got whatever. We always see ourselves as inferior as [? what we ?] [? have told, ?] the doctor and the system of [? his. ?] That thing will not end.

Josh Seftel

On the way out of the village, we ran into three teenage village girls. One of them wore a thick layer of white face paint, like a mask. She said it was for pimples. We were talking, and they were teaching us how to say hello in Xhosa. And then the girl with face paint turned and looked us over. She looked at Rich's skin, which was a few shades later than her own. Then see looked at mine, which was a few shades lighter still. Then she looked at both of us. "Are you brothers?" She asked us.

Ira Glass

Our trip to South Africa continues with the South African Woodstock and an organization that's half Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" and half terrorist group. That's in a minute, from Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme. Usually we bring you a variety of different stories on that theme. But today, we're devoting our whole show to just one story about South Africa's emerging multiracial society and about America's.

If you just tuned in, Rich Robinson and Josh Seftel are best friends. One's black, one's white. Rich is a New Yorker. Josh is from Boston. They traveled together to the new South Africa not long after Nelson Mandela took the president's office to meet some people who Josh thinks might be distant relatives of his and to see what's changed since Nelson Mandela began his experiment at creating a multiracial society, and what hasn't changed.

Rich Robinson

Say "Boer."

Josh Seftel

Boer.

Rich Robinson

Say it.

Josh Seftel

Boer. I am a Boer.

Rich Robinson

What does that mean?

Josh Seftel

That means I don't like you.

Boers are the descendants of Dutch settlers in South Africa. And the stereotype is they're farmers, they're racists, they're African rednecks. They're the group of whites who actually voted for apartheid and built the apartheid state. And Rich had become obsessed with them. Every white person was suspect, especially in the countryside.

Josh Seftel

Do you think we've seen a lot of Boers?

Rich Robinson

Actually, yeah, we have. On dirt roads, the dudes driving cars with the buzz cuts and crazy-looking eyes, tanned skin. Don't you think those are Boers? Don't you think they look like that? The little buzz-cut guy?

Josh Seftel

I guess I don't-- I'm not looking for Boers. I only notice it when you say it.

Rich Robinson

The fact is, I came to South Africa hoping to confront real racists. In America now, racism is like this cloud that's still surrounding us, but you can't touch it or see it. You just feel it when you go to a party or when you go into a store. But in South Africa, white oppression officially just ended two years ago. I came here thinking it would be like seeing what it was like during the bus boycotts in the '60s or during the Civil War. I came here looking for the enemy.

Josh Seftel

Which didn't bother me, as long as Rich wasn't looking for my family to be that enemy.

Rich Robinson

Boer.

Josh Seftel

That's good. That's good.

Rich Robinson

Boer. I can't do it.

Josh Seftel

Do Boer.

Rich Robinson

Boer. Boer.

Josh Seftel

We had read about a place called Rustler's Valley in our guidebook. It said that Rustler's was one of the most progressive places in the country, maybe on the continent, a kind of ongoing South African Woodstock. When we got there, there were lots of hippie-looking people with long beards, toting aboriginal instruments and bongos. The horticulture there looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. On one hillside, it looked like someone was holding a VW van convention. On another hillside, we joined a group of people who were in the middle of experiencing "a sound journey."

They all sat in a circle with their eyes closed and their legs crossed. In the middle of the circle was a man with a bunch of instruments. He was blowing on a didgeridoo. When he stopped, they went around the circle talking about how the sound journey had made them feel.

Woman 1

It was an amazing experience. I actually still feel quite out of my body, really. And thank you for creating the space to help me let go. I'm just feeling incredibly emotional.

Woman 2

I experienced such a movement through, I don't know if it was my bloodstream or my soul.

Josh Seftel

Down by the river, it was like Eden. There were people swimming naked and horses drinking from water and running wild. A group of two women and two men were passing around reefers the size of small cigars. But most of the action at Rustler's took place around a giant, flaming globe. At night, hundreds of kids danced to techno music in the firelight. Next to the dance floor was a pool where nude swimming was encouraged. There was a room called The Passion Pit, with low couches, dim lighting, and intertwined bodies. There was the tepee village. Rich and I went down there and ran into this guy wearing moccasins, knickers, and a feather headdress. He rolled a joint and talked to us about Rustler's philosophy.

Man 1

I very much believe that psychedelics have been around since the beginning of time. They've aided in man's evolution. And I think they can take us towards the future, certainly in dissolving personal boundaries and ideals of who we are and what we are and who we are about. So smoke a lot of dope.

A lot of people in our government are smokers. They were left-wing revolutionaries and radicals. I've personally had conversations with this deputy staff president about hemp and the role it will play in regenerating rural economies.

Rich Robinson

We had somehow wandered into a techno version of America in the '60s. But if America's '60s were about rebellion, it wasn't clear from anyone we talked to who or what, exactly, Rustler's meant to be rebelling against. In the smoky bar near the dance floor, we met the founder of Rustler's. He's 40-something with a pony tail, beard, and an African wrap that covered his hairy legs to the knees. His name was Frick. He explained the enemy.

Frick

You see, the power structure that we're rebelling against is the American government. We see them misleading the whole world down a corporate dead end into neomodernism. They're leaving no space for society to develop. We believe we need to return to Shamanism or return to magic or return to values of the earth, an understanding that was held by most ethnic people. So we see our source of inspiration as being the ethnic peoples that the corporate world hasn't yet [BLEEP] up.

Rich Robinson

So the American government was the enemy, and the solution was the ethnic peoples. The only problem was, there were no ethnic peoples there. In a country made up of Zulus, Ndebele, Sotho, and Xhosa, a country with 12 official native languages, besides the kitchen workers and occasional gardener, I was the only black person at Rustler's. Josh and I did a little informal survey. Why no black people?

Rustler's Valley Resident 1

It's anyone. Whoever wants to come can come. And maybe black people just aren't into it, you know?

Rustler's Valley Resident 2

There is plenty. They come up here to work and clean and do the gardens.

Rustler's Valley Resident 3

They're not into the same thing we're into. Black people don't like raves and rave parties and I don't see that as a bad thing.

Frick

We have a very good rapport with them. When we go to town, they all wave at us. And they're friendly.

Rustler's Valley Resident 4

Apartheid takes a lot of time to dissolve. And even if you want to cross the barriers, they're not that easily crossed because they've always been separate. It's a pity.

Rich Robinson

Rustler's Valley wasn't really a part of the new South Africa. It was more like a theme park for recreational drug users, a summer camp escape for young, white South Africans where they didn't have to think about the crime rates or the futures in this country. After two hazy days, when we finally got back into our room, we found a young, blond-haired woman sprawled across one of our beds rolling a joint in the bedspread. It was 5:00 in the morning. We'd had enough. We asked her to leave.

Josh Seftel

Back in the States, I almost never notice race. But since I'd been in South Africa, I found myself noticing it whenever Rich and I walked into a room. I'd look around and think, are there any black people here? I worried he'd be uncomfortable.

Josh Seftel

Do you feel like they're treating you differently than they're treating me as a white person?

Rich Robinson

Oh, yeah. Sure. Don't you think?

Josh Seftel

I don't know.

Rich Robinson

It's that expectation. I walked in the main room. They had a couple people behind the desk. And two or three people were hanging out. And they were having at least two conversations, possibly three. You know, different groups of people. Not many people, six to eight people. And I walked in the room, closed the door, and everyone's quiet. Literally, I mean, come on. Two or three conversations didn't just happen to end at right the exact same moment I walked in the door. But you know, I open my mouth, I say a couple words, I make a joke, and it lightens everything up for them, and they feel, "OK, that's all right. That's cool."

But I only am able to do that because I know that if I prove to them that I'm from out of the country, then they'll feel comfortable again, like they're not having-- like, it's something that they can feel cool about. Every time I see somebody, I try to talk and make witty jokes so that it's easier.

Josh Seftel

In the morning, the sound journey people were at it again. They sat cross-legged in a tight circle with their eyes closed. And when the man in the middle swirled his didgeridoo around the head of an entranced, red-haired woman, a steady stream of spit splattered onto her forehead and her eyelids. She didn't seem to notice. As we were driving out of Rustler's, someone approached the car and gave us a bulging sandwich bag full of marijuana and a bumper sticker. It said, "Pot will save the world."

Pagad Leader

Drugs are the fundamental thing. Drugs is the cause of all the other vile things that is happening in our country.

Rich Robinson

In a mosque in Cape Town, we met a group called PAGAD, short for People Against Gangsterism And Drugs. They're a little like that group DARE that we have back in the States, except instead of soccer moms, these guys are Islamic fundamentalists.

[PRAYING]

While hundreds of Muslims pray in a huge main hall, we're in a small classroom off to the side. Sitting across from Josh and I are three PAGAD spokesmen, crammed into tiny desks meant for elementary students. Despite the 80-degree weather, they're wearing heavy ski jackets. They each have their own cellular phones, which interrupt us constantly throughout the interview. Their leader is As-Salaam [? Tohfi ?], a giant Indian man with enormous hands. He dabs his brow with a light blue terrycloth hanky.

Pagad Leader

If you go to parties tonight, to nightclubs where you go, what is the reality of that is to get drunk, to get zonked out of your minds through some kind of drug. Is this what we want? Is this what God intended when he created us as human beings? God Almighty curses us for these things. So we will never have peace in our lives.

Josh Seftel

PAGAD is famous for their method of getting people to just say no. They go to a drug dealer's house, pull him into the street, and set him on fire. There had been an incident like this six month earlier. A drug dealer had been burned to death in the street. And PAGAD felt their part in the incident had been misrepresented in the press. Their legal adviser, who had been quiet until then, explained PAGAD's side.

Pagad Legal Adviser

A group of people went to ask this specific person, "Please, can you stop with your drug dealing? Because the people is suffering." They were met with gunfire from three meters inside the house. 17 people were shot at from behind bulletproof windows to people standing on a pavement which is two meters wide. So people was firing three meters into a crowd of about 5,000.

Josh Seftel

5,000 people. As I sat there imagining what I would do if 5,000 people showed up at my doorstep, the legal adviser turned to us.

Pagad Legal Adviser

Where were you last night?

Josh Seftel

Where was I?

Pagad Legal Adviser

Last night.

Josh Seftel

As I fumbled for an answer, [? Tohfi ?] explained how drinking, naked dancing, nightclubs, and abortions are all destroying the new South Africa.

[PRAYING]

Outside the mosque, there was a wall of graffiti-- "Kill Jews," "Kill Americans," "Hezbollah." Everywhere we turned in South Africa, people seemed to be looking for quick and easy solutions to massive and complex problems. Whether that meant belonging to an alternative community or being an anti-drug crusader, killing Americans and burning drug dealers or smoking dope.

Rich Robinson

It was time to return to Johannesburg to say goodbye to Josh's family and then escape from South Africa. We had been getting along fine since we left the Seftels two weeks earlier. No fighting. But now, with only four hours of highway between us and them, the tension returned. I was driving. Josh and the microphone were facing me. They had me cornered.

Josh Seftel

I get the sense that when you meet a white person here, you make the assumption that they're racist until proven innocent.

Rich Robinson

I don't think whiteys here are automatically racist.

Josh Seftel

I mean, that's what you said before. I'll play the tape for you a little bit later. But you did say that.

Rich Robinson

Well, I'm sure that I did not say there are active or inactive racists and there are not two categories. And we can replay the tape as many times, Mr. Seftel, as we need to.

This was one of those arguments where you just go over the same tiny points over and over again. I didn't catch on at first. They all seemed like reasonable questions. But then I realized what he was looking for. Josh didn't want my opinion on racism or the innocence of whites. Josh wanted me, as a black person, to admit that his white South African family were the good guys.

Louis Seftel

I love round shapes. And I built the plan of this house in the shape of a big breast with the fireplace being the nipple, three-dimensionality thrusting through double stories. We can then have a look at this anthropomorphic, habitable woman!

Josh Seftel

Back in Johannesburg, my cousin Louis took us on a tour of his latest masterpiece. Louis is an architect.

Rich Robinson

It's a two-story house still under construction. It doesn't really look like a huge breast. It's just got lots of curved walls and curved ceilings and a lot of breasty ornamentation.

Louis Seftel

There we are. So here, have a quick view at this round facade over here. OK.

Josh Seftel

Well, let me ask you this. Why do you put so many breast shapes in your architecture?

Louis Seftel

Well, I'll tell you why. People have an immediate response. I've taken people into my breasts, and they are so moved, and they are so stunned. They can't quite work out why they like these spaces. But they like these space because they feel hugged and encompassed by them.

Rich Robinson

It was hard to dislike Louis. He was such an entertainer, I don't even think he took himself seriously. In our time in Johannesburg, he took us out, offered to lend us his car, invited friends of his over so we'd have people to meet. The more I spent in South Africa, the harder and harder it was for me to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

But there were still times I didn't know what to make of people like Louis. For instance, camped out in the middle of a half-built house in the rain were at least a half dozen black men who had built a fire in the middle of the living room.

Josh Seftel

Who are those guys in the rain by the fire?

Louis Seftel

By the fire, these are workers. Traditionally in South Africa, the workers live on site. These guys--

Josh Seftel

Where do they live?

Louis Seftel

They live here. This is where they live.

Josh Seftel

On the cement floor?

Louis Seftel

Yeah, they live on the cement floor, and they are the builders of the house. They're casuals, laborers, they're semi-skilled, they're bricklayers and blasters and stuff. And they come to-- and what's great about it is they're using the house in the way the house is meant to be used. Except, I'd like them to put the fire inside there, in the fireplace where it was meant to be.

But let's go into the lounge. This is the great lounge. Good evening, gentlemen. Good evening. How are you? Good. We have a reporter here from America. He's going to tell a wonderful story about this house. Anyway--

Rich Robinson

He showed us the kitchen and the bedrooms and the living room and a small servants' quarters attached to the side of the house.

Louis Seftel

And here are the servants' quarters. They have their own little suite and yard.

Josh Seftel

Is it nice in there?

Louis Seftel

Beautiful. Lovely main bedroom and bathroom and kitchenette. Very nice.

Rich Robinson

That's going to be a mainstay of Africa then. Servants forever.

Louis Seftel

Absolutely. Servants are here in Africa to stay forever. And in fact, we must make them very nice because maybe, in a couple of years, we will move into the servants' quarters and the servants will move into the house. So you must always make them very nice.

Josh Seftel

Wait, can you say that again?

Louis Seftel

What I'm saying is that there was in the bylaws of the old South Africa a law that your servants' quarters had to be very small and minimum-sized, and they had to have very high windows not overlooking a public space. Now servants' quarters are being made more luxurious and they're more like a little kind of garden cottage, granny flat kind of thing, because we might have to move into them one day and rent the house after the servants.

Josh Seftel

On this last visit to Johannesburg, we stayed with my family at Dolly's house. And this time, they really felt like family. Late one night after Rich went to sleep, I talked with Dolly in the kitchen about the ups and downs of my love life. She urged me to marry a Jewish girl. It was just like talking to any of my relatives.

When I first got to South Africa, I had been more willing to judge Dolly and the others. But now that I had seen more of the country, I didn't feel that way anymore. I guess at some level, it just didn't feel right to judge family in the same way that judging your parents harshly for having different opinions than you do doesn't feel right. But Rich wasn't so sure.

Josh Seftel

I don't feel skeptical of my family, my relatives here. I think you do. I think you feel a little bit skeptical of them.

Rich Robinson

Well, I mean, how couldn't you? They're rich, they've got bad-ass houses, they've got servants, you know. It's like people living in the South that still have domestic slaves. I mean, I guess it is a job for somebody, but it just gives you bad reminders of what it was and what was.

Josh Seftel

So do you like the Seftels or do you not like the Seftels?

Rich Robinson

I think they're good people, and I'm glad we had a chance to meet them.

Josh Seftel

But?

Rich Robinson

But--

Josh Seftel

They're still rich and white--

Rich Robinson

Yeah.

Josh Seftel

--at the end of the day.

Rich Robinson

At the end of the day, when the chips are cashed in, they still all have servants.

Do you feel like if you were here, you would have done more or less than-- what position would you be in in the Seftel family, if you were here? Do you think you would have gotten involved in the struggle, or--

Josh Seftel

I don't know. It's too hard to know. I mean, there's so many variables. I would hope that I would have been involved in some way. It's like, how can you guess what you would have done? You never know.

Rich Robinson

Another day, another dinner with Josh's family. Our goodbye dinner. The conversation revolved around a few ongoing obsessions.

Molly Seftel

Did you hear the news today about this new gang that's going around? They're raping young women.

Josh Seftel

On this visit, they seem more beleaguered than anything else. They told us about all their friends who'd been robbed and attacked. Molly explained how she'd been mugged at knife point.

Molly Seftel

I'm always looking at myself in the glass in the windows. And as I look, I see two tight-buttoned young men jump out of the shadows. And so I jumped into the street. And they followed me. They grabbed my bag. And they were pulling me along the ground. And I was screaming. I mean, I had every sound coming from me. I don't know where it came from.

And they must have been doing this for about three minutes, when coming towards us was an elderly white couple. They must have been in their '70s. And the man pulled out a gun, and he shot the one on this side of me. And I said, "And him too! Him too!"

Josh Seftel

Not long ago, Molly had been famous and powerful. She was an actress who had been in lots of plays and a few films. She was the first white actress to appear on stage with a black. Her husband Monty had been a politician and had served as the mayor of Johannesburg during the '70s. But he died a few months before we arrived. Now she lived by herself in a big house with a big wall surrounding it. She was alone, except for her black servants.

One of the turning points in her life as a South African, one of the moments that changed her from an activist into the person she's become, was the day that the Seftels had waited for for years, the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison. The day started off just fine.

Molly Seftel

Well, it was total euphoria. Our family got on a plane and we flew to Cape Town and we stood in the square and waited for Mandela to come. And we waited and waited and waited and waited. And in the meantime, in the-- and it got hot as Hades. My friend who was with me, she was punched in the stomach and her camera was stolen. It was an enormous crowd of people. And they were crushing you and crushing-- eventually, you didn't have any space to breathe. And we must have been there for about six hours when we decided we must get out of here, because we began to fear for our safety. It was that sort of encroachment on our territory. And this is what's happening now.

Rich Robinson

The new South Africa wasn't working out the way they expected. They complained that since the ANC took power, the mail service is horrible, there's litter in the streets, the government's corrupt.

Josh Seftel

And they're scared. I mean, they're scared in their own homes.

Molly Seftel

So that's what we've become. We're not a threat to anybody. We pay our taxes and timidly tiptoe through the land, hoping nobody will mug us.

Josh Seftel

Now, most of the young people in the family are leaving. One of Molly's children has emigrated, and one of Harold's. And another of Harold's sons is probably leaving soon. Harold told me that in 15 years, there will be hardly any Seftels left in South Africa.

Harold Seftel

Yeah, there's one family, and it's a family that has perhaps a greater commitment to South Africa then, say, the average white family. And that, I think, is a microcosm that tells you what's happened.

Josh Seftel

Even at this last dinner, even getting along with them as well as we were, there were still things about my South African relatives we didn't completely understand. And it might have been impolite, but we just asked them over and over. What did they do during apartheid, if they felt guilty?

Molly Seftel

No, I didn't feel guilty.

Harold Seftel

I didn't feel--

Molly Seftel

No, guilt's the wrong word for us. We don't feel guilty.

Harold Seftel

No.

Molly Seftel

No such word.

Josh Seftel

What's the right word?

Harold Seftel

I think, disappointment, perhaps.

Dolly Seftel

We are guilty to the extent that--

Harold Seftel

Oh, no. We're guilty in the other way. But not because--

Dolly Seftel

We lived through the apartheid years. We didn't take up arms. We benefited. But in our own little way, we kind of contributed. I know that Harry--

Harold Seftel

I mean, the fact of the matter is--

Dolly Seftel

What else could we have done?

Harold Seftel

No, but the critical point is--

Dolly Seftel

The government was so oppressive.

Harold Seftel

No, but now, let's make this point.

Dolly Seftel

We could have done what the Firsts did. What Ruth First did. She went to jail. And her family was destroyed. But we didn't want that.

Harold Seftel

But the important point is the fact that we've stayed, we made a contribution. Surely, the fact that we were here and helped to teach and to educate and to treat the sick and so on and so forth. That was surely far better than being in Boston. All right? We weren't activists. Absolutely right. But while we were here, surely we were making a contribution which we could never have made in Boston or in New York.

Josh Seftel

So that was it. Now that we're back in the States, Rich and I never really talk about what happened in South Africa. I guess we've said everything there is to say to each other.

Rich Robinson

It's been several months since we've been back and we haven't had a single fight.

Ira Glass

Josh Seftel is a documentary filmmaker who made the film Taking on the Kennedys. Rich Robinson works for a business consulting firm. After coming home to the United States, he moved to Brazil for six months on business. Alone.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Alix Spiegel and myself, with Paul Tough, Nancy Updike, and Julie Snyder. Contributing editors Sarah Vowell, Jack Hitt, and Margy Rochlin. Production help from Alex Blumberg, Susan Burton, Jorge Just, Todd Bachmann, and Sylvia Lemus.

[ACKNOWLEDGMENTS]

If you'd like to buy a cassette of this program, call us here at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380. Or you know, you can listen to most of our programs for free on the internet at our website www.thisamericanlife.org. Thanks to Elizabeth Meister who runs the site. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who walks up to me at the end of every single show we do and declares--

Woman 1

It was an amazing experience. I actually still feel quite out of my body. Really.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Happy Independence Day. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Woman 1

And thank you for creating the space to help me let go. I'm just feeling incredibly emotional.

Announcer

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