Maybe things happen faster in Africa

It was an effective poster the Wits SRC turned out in June 1977: a photograph of a stone wall with the words “we are all involved” scrawled across the stones. It was also a prophetic poster, because printed at the bottom was the legend “Everyday is June 16”.

This year, every day appears to be June 16, somewhere in the country—in the Eastern Cape, on the east Rand, in the Vaal Triangle, even in the Free State. This particular phenomenon will not be acknowledged, at least not on June 16 in Johannesburg, where there will be so many other things going on one will be hard put to remember what the day is the anniversary of. June 16, for example, will be Father’s Day.

It will be a day to leave the poor guy alone, once you’ve given him a bottle of booze, soap-on-a-rope and a few kind words. Being a Sunday, June 16 will also be a logical day to go to church , where you can pray, according to your minister, your denomination and your inclination, either for the downfall or the preservation of the regime.

This year, June 16 will also be the day when Johannesburg Management Committee chairman Francois Oberholzer plans to press the button to implode two of the four cooling towers that have loomed over Newtown for the past few decades.
They haven’t been there long, even by Johannesburg standards.

The workmen who took two years to build them packed up and left in 1937. Nor are they solid structures, like His Majesty’s theatre was, and the Colosseum. The reinforced concrete walls of the towers are only six inches thick, says a spokesman for the City Electrical Engineer’s office, and the space inside is so barren even rats won’t live in it.

All the same, the towers are graceful, if you like that sort of shape; and perhaps it’s fitting that the Management Committee will end a bizarre controversy on what ought to be done with the things (paint them in centennial livery? tum them into restaurants?) with a typically South African solution: not with a bang, nor even a whimper, but a whoosh .. . thump.

Bidding the towers goodbye should make an interesting Sunday outing, if you can get anywhere near the site. The closest the city intends to let you get is the porch outside the Market Theatre complex, in case you were planning to attend this June 16 entertainment.

The date was chosen, say spokesmen for several city departments, because implosions generally happen on Sundays so crowds won’t gather and this was the best Sunday available. That’s their story.

Maybe they didn’t know what day it was. Or maybe the events represented by the date have become so much a part of everyone’s consciousness that the date is a symbol, not an anniversary. When a date is a symbol, odd things can happen to it. Consider the American 4th of July fete.

You’ll be able to consider it tomorrow, since the American Society has decided to go for crowds instead of sentiment. It’s the major charity event of the year for the American community in Johannesburg, raising thousands of rands annually for worthwhile beneficiaries.

The Society is holding its independence day fete three weeks early this year to catch people before the Transvaal schools break up. There were apparently long and earnest discussions—“a heated debate” were the words on whether one could bear to break with tradition. But there were precedents.

A few years ago, the US turned most of its public holidays into moveable feasts, making sure they fell every year on Mondays to give people long weekends. Exempted were Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, which makes the Society’s move a brave departure.

Americans are very odd, and anyway America has little to do with Africa—less and less, as time goes on, if a disinvestment Bill gets past President Reagan next month. And it took them 200 years to come around to the view that if a day is important, it can be commemorated anytime—Lincoln’s birthday a week late, or even, if necessary, July 4 on June 15. Maybe things happen faster in Africa.



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