‘‘Good Climate, Friendly Inhabitants’’ first appeared in 1965 during a period of sweeping historical change in Africa. In the decades after World War II, the European powers that had dominated the continent gradually withdrew their colonial administrations as they faced increased opposition from armed liberation movements. In the year 1960 alone, seventeen African nations gained their independence. But problems plagued the new nations from the start. The colonial powers had drawn the borders between African states with little regard for the ethnic and socio-economic makeup of the territories. Furthermore,Europeans Retained Control Of Many Sectors Of Africa’s economy. For these reasons, many conflicts occurred during and after the formation of independent states. For example, the Republic of Congo declared independence from Belgium on June30,1960. But just eleven days later,the province of Katanga seceded from the new republic. Katanga’s political leader, Moise Tshombe, was allied with Belgian mining interests. He employed European mercenaries—in the Gordimer story, the drifter is one of these mercenaries—to defend the breakaway province from United Nations troops who were brought in at the request of the Congolese government.
Most of the newly independent African nations were governed by black leaders. But Gordimer’s South Africa, which had been independent since 1931, remained under the control of the white Afrikaner population. The white South African government institutionalized a system of enforced racial segregation called apartheid. This system was marked by a set of repressive and racist policies, similar to the Jim Crow laws that once prevailed in the American South. For example, the Mixed Marriages Act and Immorality Act banned intimate relations between the races. The Group Areas Act declared many residential areas off-limits to non-whites, relegating millions to a bleak existence in the impoverished townships on the outskirts of South Africa’s major cities. The Separate Amenities segregated public spaces such as schools, hospitals, buses, and beaches.
Among the most despised apartheid laws were the pass laws that required black South African men to carry passbooks at all times under penalty of imprisonment. These identification books contained detailed information such as fingerprints, place of employment, and sometimes a personnel evaluation from the individual’s employer. Police or other government employees could demand to see a person’s passbook for any reason and use the information found therein to deny permission to travel in certain areas.
Many white South Africans supported the ideology of racial discrimination underlying apartheid, andcountlessothersacceptedit through passive indifference. But there were white liberals who sought social justice either through their personal relationships with blacks or by joining civil rights groups. These individuals sometimes worked to support South Africa’s leading organization for black solidarity, the African National Congress (ANC), which began a nonviolent ‘‘defiance campaign’’ in 1952. This campaign followed the principles Mohandas Gandhi had used during his years organizing South Africa’s Indian population before the First World War. A more militant organization, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), was founded in 1959.
In early 1960, both of these groups prepared campaigns to protest the pass laws, enforcement of which had sharply increased. On March 21, a crowd gathered in the center of Sharpeville township, without passbooks, and marched to the local police station. When the crowd failed to disperse after several hours, police opened fire, killing sixty-nine and wounding more than 180. Most were shot in the back while trying to escape automatic weapon fire.
The Sharpeville Massacre was a major turning point in South African history. The government responded by declaring a state of emergency and banning the ANC and PAC. Leaders in the ANC decided that nonviolent protest had failed to bring about meaningful change, and they formed an underground military wing headed by Nelson Mandela. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and spent the next twenty-seven years in prison. His release in 1990 and subsequent negotiations with President F. W. de Klerk led in 1994 to South Africa’s first multiracial elections, which Mandela and the ANC won.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Nadine Gordimer, Published by Gale Group, 2010