Bumper stickers, ads allow South Africans a public voice
Soweto, South Africa — ``Even God,'' proclaims the red-and-white bumper sticker, ``loves Soweto.'' The message is one of dozens through which individual South Africans are, increasingly, raising their voices beyond the conventional avenues of political expression. Many of the speakers are blacks, who have no elected voice in national government. But whites, too, are shouting their hopes, fears, and gripes.
The statements appear on car bumpers; schoolyard walls; and, some, in the classified-ad section of Johannesburg's main newspaper, The Star. The content varies. But two themes seem to predominate -- frustration, and its flipside, the urge to assert personal, community, or national pride.
Virtually all the segregated black townships around Johannesburg have begun to proliferate bumper-stickers displaying the neighborhood's name, the red figure of a heart, and messages like: ``I Love Soweto.'' No one is quite sure who started the fad. But it has spread as quickly as the hoola-hoop.
White businessmen who travel to the townships seem to be pasting the stickers on their own cars, presumably figuring this may exempt them from being attacked by militants. In the townships white-owned vehicles have become political ``targets'' for radical youths.
On township walls, painted scrawls convey more explicitly political messages. ``Viva ANC!'' screams one Soweto slogan, a reference to the outlawed African National Congress.
A few blocks away in one Soweto neighborhood other graffiti provide a window on the political rifts and rivalries within the black community. Countering the nearby ANC slogans are wall-cheers for rival black-consciousness movements: the Pan-Africanist Congress and various wings of the Azanian People's Organization.
Another slogan -- ``UDF for whites'' -- attacks the United Democratic Front, which has melded blacks and whites into the country's largest anti-government organization.
``Tutu the Mad Dog,'' exclaims another slogan a half mile down the road. The message lends weight to the Anglican Archbishop's expressed concern that the position of black leaders favoring peaceful change is being eroded by the frustration, anger, and urge for violence among some township youths.
A white voice, in a recently inauguranted ``Peoples Initiative'' column in the Star's want-ad section, offers a different perspective on the Archbishop. ``Please save us from so-called Christian churchmen.''
The Star column got its start a few months ago when a white-liberal group ran several dozen appeals for negotiated entente, and changes in government policy and race laws.
``We urge the government to charge or release all detainess,'' said one message, ``and to express willingness to negotiate the future of the land with the leaders of all groups.'' Said another: ``We appeal for an immediate cessation of violence on all sides.''
Although the momentum of the initiative column has flagged, there are still a few messages in any given week.
Recent messages included a white man's Zulu-language encouragement for Archbishop Tutu, and a terse declaration from one contributor that ``I am a white South African and proud of it.''
One woman wrote: ``Instead of gearing up to fight sanctions, surely all South Africans should be striving together to form one cohesive people. Would it be asking too much of Fat Cat Businessmen to forgo some of their profits, think about the political solutions for our country, and stop pandering to the [ruling] National Party. . . .''
A few days later, a man asked: ``Who is doing us damage? The government, the ANC, or the private sector?'' The man said all he knew was that after years of intermittent conflict, ``We have nothing to show for it except [that] we could be a dying breed. Many wives and families could be left destitute.''
But perhaps most eloquent of the recent messages was the agonized question of one Sue Myburgh: ``How much more violence and suffering must this country endure for apartheid to end?''
This report was filed under South Africa's emergency regulations, which prohibit reporters from being ``within sight'' of any unrest, any ``restricted gathering,'' or any ``police actions''; from reporting on arrests made under the emergency regulations; and from relaying information deemed subversive.