In The Shadow of the Dragon's Back

An American Girl in South Africa during the Early Years of Apartheid

by Rachel Odhner Longstaff

The author is the fifth of six children of a Swedenborgian minister who was sent to South Africa to establish a theological school for Africans. 

Now, come along with me as we run away from a wildfire on the mountain, and join me on a walk through the Durban markets with my mother. Read about our African friends and our Indian gardener. Visit our very British girls’ school, and spend a week of intensive language training at an Afrikaans farm. Don’t miss how I cringe at the sound of a hyena in the foothills, and what it was like to fear the Mau Mau in the dark.

Light and Brightness vs. Shadow and Darkness

All this takes place in the growing shadow of a police state, brought to light by the voices of Nadine Gordimer, Helen Joseph, Alan Paton, Dan Tloome, Winnie Mandela, and many, many more, writing in Africa South, New Age, Reality, The Times (London), The Black Sash, Inverell Times, Liberal Opinion, College English, and others. These brave writers will leave you with at least one haunting phrase, such as,

“Put the children in a home.”

“They were told their passes were out of order … now they dig potatoes with their nails.”

 “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa—it is your answers.” (Helen Suzman, Member of Parliament)

“This is a White republic, ruled by the white man.” (Prime Minister Hendrik F. Verwoerd)

“When will I see my son?"  "You will not see your son again.”

 

The Dragon's Back is the name of one of the mountains in the Drakensberg region of South Africa. The banner photo, above, shows the small house that represents our family, and the ancient granite mountains that represent apartheid to me. I grew up in the shadow of that land of contrasts, light and dark, white and black, sun and shade.

After returning permanently to America as a teenager—through a confusing and sometimes painful process of discussion and observation—I was finally able to uncover those artifacts of the past that inform my place in the world today.  

Banner photo by Margaret Mary Hulett

“A brave and beautifully written memoir .... Rachel’s memories and musings show that the light of social justice burns brightest in the tall shadows of oppression.”
— Professor Archie Dick, University of Pretoria