A military coup beckons like distant thunder from the other side of South Africa’s border with Lesotho.
Soldiers shoot police … police shoot soldiers … the general commanding Lesotho’s army defies the King’s command to lay down his sword … rebel soldiers train in the mountains … Lesotho prime minister and allies flee across the border to South Africa … South African police go the other way to guard Lesotho VIPs … corrupt politicians blame each other …
Sylvia Vollenhoven, Foreign Editor of the new website The Journalist, writes me a letter of accreditation. I’m to go to Lesotho, find out what’s happening, be The Journalist’s first-ever war correspondent.
Once I covered South Africa’s fight against apartheid. And independence struggles in Zimbabwe and Zambia. And three years and two wars in the Congo. And America’s civil rights battle against racism.
Now it’s an attempted coup in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.
How could your intrepid war correspondent resist?
Just like the old days.
Actually, there’s a second reason for me to go to Lesotho.
Friday, September 26, 2014, is the last day of my 90-day South African Visitor’s Visa. Time to renew.
So a good day to fly out of Cape Town where I’m a guest in my sister Jane’s house, spend a few days in another country — likely Zimbabwe — then fly back to Cape Town with a renewed 90-day Visitor’s Visa safely stamped on my Canadian passport.
And while I’m away, it’s possible my application for South African citizenship will be approved, so I won’t need any more Visitor’s Visas to live and work here.
In fact, it’s possible the application is already approved and is simply lost somewhere in the three-month national postal strike.
At the last moment, I change my travel plans. I’m a writer and journalist. I know all about airline people and airports. Now I need to be with real people, touch real land. Be part of the proletariat.
So I decide against flying to Zimbabwe and instead take the overnight bus from Cape Town to Ladybrand, on the Lesotho border. Just as easy to get a new 90-day Visitor’s Visa when I return to South Africa from reporting on Lesotho as from hanging out in Zimbabwe.
This intrepid war correspondent’s perfect plan is to stay in Lesotho for four days and interview the mutinous general (think Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains), the King, the Prime Minister and South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (who’s there trying to solve Lesotho’s problems). Then I’ll head back to the South African border, pick up a renewed 90-day Visitor’s Visa, and take the bus back to Cape Town.
There I’ll write a roundup on Lesotho and it’s attempted-coup, sit in the sun, and wait for my South African citizenship papers to emerge from the national mail strike.
As it turns out, there’s a tiny flaw in my perfect plan.
Day #1: Four South African Home Affairs officials sit in a row behind thick glass windows at the international border with Lesotho.
Three of them wear neat khaki or blue uniforms decorated with Home Affairs badges. They treat people who want to cross their border into a foreign country with brisk, bored, bureaucratic courtesy.
The fourth official wears cheap, rumbled civilian clothes and is so fat he overflows his stool. He sits there like some gross Buddha, waves away travellers who push anxious papers through the slot under his thick glass window, makes jokes about foolish people who want to leave South Africa.
The fat man doesn’t seem to do any actual work. So I guess he has to be BOSS, or Special Branch, or whatever organization replaces those fine public servants sworn to serve and protect the rest of us. Of course, it’s also possible he could just be a deputy minister’s cousin Thabo who’s being kept as far away from Pretoria as possible until some fuss dies down.
Anyway, when I present my Canadian passport at one of the thick glass windows this fine September 27 morning, a polite uniformed official tells me I’ve overstayed my 90-day South African Visitor’s Visa.
By ten hours.
Being a writer, not an accountant, I haven’t figured out that my Visitor’s Visa expires at midnight Friday, September 26 while I’m fast asleep on the overnight bus rumbling through the Karoo toward the Lesotho border.
The official sympathizes, tries to help me find a way around my unexpected and very unwelcome undesirability.
The fat man thinks it’s all very funny.
He chortles. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually chortle before. “The big, important Canadian journalist is in great trouble. He broke the law. He must pay the price.”
This hugely delights him. Because, as he keeps reminding everyone in the office, I’m now an “undesirable alien”.
Eventually, a new stamp on my Canadian passport (Sec 30 (1) H … Regulation 27 (B) 9.) legally prohibits me from stepping foot in South Africa for the next year.
I have a strong feeling that had the fat man not intervened, justice and mercy might have triumphed in this clash between entirely unequal forces.
Once past the South African border, Lesotho gives me a 30-day Visitor’s Visa. No problem.
Kaizer Matsumunyane who meets my bus in Ladybrand, drives me to my hotel, the Maseru Sun, in Lesotho’s capital.
Kaizer’s a dreadlocked Basotho filmmaker I meet back in Toronto, who looks like a Rastafarian high priest, knows everyone in Maseru, teaches filmmaking at the local Limkokwing University and is trying to start his own brewery.
Man after my own heart.
With Kaizer’s gentle help, slowly, slowly, the shock of it all hits me.
That’s because Lesotho is landlocked, entirely surrounded by South Africa. I can’t walk or drive out of Lesotho without stepping on South African soil. I can’t fly out because all planes from Lesotho must land in Johannesburg.
And ironically, the nearest Canadian High Commission is also on South African soil. In faraway Pretoria. Where I’m now an undesirable alien.
A ridiculously draconian law has trapped me in a Kafkaesque limbo.
I literally can’t get to any other country from here. And Lesotho is unlikely to let me stay longer than the 30 days stamped on my passport.
To make life even more unpleasant, I have no health insurance. In fact, no insurance of any kind. And I’ve only brought four days supply of the pills my doctor claims cure — or at least alleviate — the ailments I accumulate over a long lifetime.
Then there’s the problem that I have no Canada to return to. I give away my books and most of my furniture before I leave for South Africa. My children and friends take their pick of the rest and the leftovers I donate to Habitat For Humanity and get a $680 tax receipt in return.
What’s your intrepid war correspondent to do?
I open a couple of beers, fire up my iPad, and start the long, laborious process of appealing the South African ban.
Day #3: No need to bore you with the details. But as you’ll understand, Lesotho’s communications system has a few problems during civil unrest.
Added to which, the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria isn’t into receiving multiple attachments or even PDFs. (Eventually I have to e-mail all twelve pages of my appeal separately to firstname.lastname@example.org. And get twelve separate acknowledgments back.)
Meantime, I spend my days trying to find people in Lesotho, South Africa and Canada who might help rescue me. It’s delicate stuff, so probably not wise to mention names here.
Day #5: According to my perfect plan, this is the day I’m supposed to head back to the South African border, get another 90-day Visitor’s Visa stamped on my passport, and catch the overnight bus back to Cape Town.
Instead, I spend the day writing a chronological account of my exile so I don’t sound like a complete idiot when trying to explain it.
Even when I write it as simply as I can, it still sounds ridiculous when I try to explain to people at the other end of the phone.
That evening, Kaizer and I have supper at the Ying Tao restaurant in the Lesotho Sun hotel. My theory is that because there are thousands of
Chinese working in the country, it follows that Ying Tao must be fairly authentic.
It is. Expensive, but good hot and sour soup. Excellent mapo tofu.
Even so, I’d much rather be on the bus heading back to Cape Town.
Day #6: Maseru is full of rumours of political skullduggery.
Here are some things I’ve learned already:
- The attempted coup happens when Members of Parliament try to call a vote of no confidence in the government. The Prime Minister’s undemocratic response is to arbitrarily close down parliament.
- The King, on instructions from the Prime Minister, fires the general commanding the Lesotho army. The general refuses to hand over his sword and heads for the hills outside Maseru with some of his elite soldiers, anti-aircraft guns and mortars.
- It all has something to do with the fact that the police traditionally support the Prime Minister and the military traditionally support the Deputy Prime Minister. So, naturally, when all this happens, cops and soldiers become irritable and shoot at each other.
- The traditional unreliable sources are certain one, two or three police/soldiers are killed in clashes between cops and soldiers.
- The Prime Minister and some of his supporters fear the soldiers plan to kill them too. So, in a most undignified exodus, they flee across the border into South Africa, ask for protection.
- After a few days they return, guarded by South African police with submachine guns. Eventually, other cops from neighbouring countries join them. Lesotho is, in effect, now occupied by foreign police.
- In Maseru’s taxis, bars and restaurants everybody knows everything and nobody knows anything.
Evelyn Waugh (Scoop, Black Mischief) — thou should’st be living at this hour.
DAY #7: I write my first Our Man In Lesotho report for The Journalist.
“The Americans have issued a travel alert warning their nationals to stay away from the dangers of Lesotho. Even so, you can drive around Maseru and no men with guns … will stop and search you at roadblocks.”
Then I get to the matter of the hundred or so police sent by neighbouring countries under the Southern African Development Community (SADC) flag. Their job is to protect important Lesotho politicians from their own almost-coup.
“My hotel is full of very large men with shaved heads who refuse to chat in the lift. Not even ‘good morning’. Many carry assault rifles and wear badges that say ‘Police’ but don’t disclose where in Southern Africa they come from.
“The man in the room next to me wears a small South African flag on his shoulder and the word “EXPLOSIVES” very large on the back of his military jacket.
“And the hotel has just put notices on all the elevators:
“… SOME GUESTS ARE NOT AWARE THAT THEY HAVE TO MAKE PROVISION FOR THEIR OVER NIGHT GUESTS AT THE RECEPTION, KINDLY BE ADVISED THAT ONLY PEOPLE WHO HAVE REGISTRATION CARDS WILL ONLY BE ALLOWED ACCESS INTO THE HOTEL ESPECIALLY (ROOMS FROM 6PM ONWARDS).”
The SADC had previously and optimistically trusted presidents Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Zuma of South Africa to sort out Lesotho’s problems.
My Journalist column rather rudely questions the choice of the two presidents on the grounds that they’re “the two most untrustworthy politicians in our part of the world.”
Predictably, Mugabe and Zuma fail. So the SADC sends South African Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, instead.
I mention Marikana and Ramaphosa’s billions and describe him as: “… the politician who has gone from the likely most trusted presidential candidate in the next South African election, all the way to the winner of the ‘Just Like All The Rest Of Them’ award.”
A wise reader suggests it might be a very good idea for me to refrain from being nasty about South Africa’s high command until I sort out my citizenship papers.
It’s good advice.
I refrain. First time in my professional life I’ve ever held back a story because writing it could be dangerous to my health.
I’m not proud.
Day #8: I visit the South African High Commission in Maseru looking for help, get turned away within fifteen seconds. “Nothing we can do” says the clerk behind the thick glass window. “Next please.”
Your intrepid war correspondent isn’t deterred. I e-mail the South African High Commissioner in Maseru, Rev. Harris Majeke, describe my problem, ask for an audience.
Day #10: I don’t get to see His Excellency, of course. Instead, I’m passed on to his First Secretary Immigration, Madiba Mahlatholle, who interrogates me from behind his own thick glass window.
I show Mahlatholle my letter to the Department of Home Affairs appealing my undesirability, asking for another 90-day Visitor’s Visa. It lists my six appeals against the department’s ruling:
- My transgression was entirely accidental, unpremeditated and innocent. Yes, I sinned, but only by 10 hours after three months.
- I’m currently being considered for South African citizenship. (South African grandparents, parents, schooling, reporter for the Natal Mercury, the Rand Daily Mail and the Sunday Express, etc.). Already, Home Affairs has applied for an identification number on my behalf. If I get that number I become South African.
- Lesotho is currently in the midst of civil unrest, becoming more dangerous every day.
- I’m 76 years old and prone to the normal (listed) disabilities of men my age.
- Lesotho is entirely surrounded by South Africa so I’m trapped. I have no way out.
- My Lesotho Visitor’s Permit is valid for only for 30 days.
First Secretary Mahlatholle ignores five of my six points of appeal. And doesn’t even refer to my request for another 90-day Visitor’s Visa.
To him it’s a matter of getting me off his hands and out of the country. So he promptly turns my problem over to one George Masanabo at the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria.
From: “Madiba, MJ Mr : Maseru, First Secretary, DHA” <MadibaM@dirco.gov.za>
Date: October 6, 2014 at 5:14:33 PM GMT+2
Subject: FW: TIM KNIGHT APPEAL.pdf
Dear Mr Masanabo:
Please receive self explanatory attachement for your assistance and guidance on behalf of Mr Tim Knight,a Canadian jounalist who came to Lesotho to cover the current situation,he visited South Africa but then he overstayed and declared undesirable.His Lesotho permit is about to expire,at the same time he has to leave to Canada via ORT airport,now that he is undesirable in the country,which is the only transit country,how do we assist in that regard.
One of the professional habits I’ve developed as a journalist over the years is to research every name that turns up in a story. Every one. Just in case.
So, now I have the George Masanabo name I check him on the Internet. Turns out the man who will decide my fate isn’t any ordinary official at the Department of Home Affairs.
No sir. George Masanabo is Deputy Director at the notorious Lindela Holding Facility, in Krugersdorp West. (See Mail & Guardian feature October 10, 2014: “Hunger Strikers: They shot us in the head at Lindela.”)
Now, George Masanobo may well be a fine and splendid fellow, a bureaucrat dedicated to serving his people with every ounce of his energy.
He could, for all I know, be trying to reform Lindela and deplores the institution’s gross violations of human rights as much as the rest of us.
It’s possible he occasionally wakes screaming in the dark hours before dawn because of his prison’s reputation for violence, corruption, rape and general human rights nastiness.
I know I do.
But I’m not at all sure I want the Deputy Director of one of South Africa’s most notorious prisons judging my case.
For one thing, he may well be tempted to take revenge against all those other journalists who’ve investigated Lindela in the past, called it a corrupt and vicious hell-hole.
So locking up this white, international, Canadian journalist will be a real coup. Wonderful revenge. An example to the whole world.
I can see Masanabo explaining to my colleagues as he locks me away for four months (theoretically the maximum allowed by law) in Lindela: “This shows no-one is above the law. See how we treat everyone — powerful and powerless, white as well as black — just the same.”
Day #15: To save money, I move from the swanky, slightly battered Maseru Sun hotel (biggest hotel pool I’ve ever seen) to the half-price Mohokare Guest House (no pool but excellent spicy chicken wings).
No more Ying Tao restaurant.
The days drift by. I write and watch a lot of TV.
You think South Africa has it bad with all the out-of-date, third-rate, bland programming that television broadcasters buy cheap from the Americans and British? Then repeat and repeat until you know them by heart?
At least South Africa has something like 150 channels.
But as far as I can tell from my hotel, Lesotho has only five channels.
One for SABC. Another for CNN International. A third shows European football games which all look and sound exactly the same. A fourth channel sometimes shows Al Jazeera and sometimes doesn’t.
Lesotho TV itself repeats Basotho singing and dancing in an apparently endless loop until occasionally replaced by equally endless quasi-interviews with very serious and important people who never smile.
Then there’s Lesotho TV news.
My speciality is storytelling — how to structure stories, write, perform and interview. I’ve trained thousands of working broadcast journalists in hundreds of workshops in a dozen countries.
But it’s a long time since I’ve seen such an unabashed, unashamed, unadulterated mess of a news service as Lesotho TV offers its viewers.
A never-ending river of pompous politicians shake hands, cut ribbons and make interminable speeches about their own magnificence and the malevolence of the other guys.
When the politicians aren’t around, interchangeable group of very respectable, formally-dressed, middle-aged to elderly people sit in serried ranks behind tables topped with white tablecloths and make speeches at each other about, no doubt, exceedingly worthy matters.
I suspect that attending meetings, particularly when they’re televised, substitutes for any real action in Lesotho politics (excluding the current unpleasantness, of course).
I don’t think I ever see a single ordinary Basotho on LTV — except in the interminable singing and dancing programs — during all my time in the country.
Then there’s the fact that, uniquely in all Africa — probably the world — the Prime Minister never gets on his own country’s state television. Seems Communications is run by one of his political enemies.
Day #17: I’m a guest at a meeting of the Media Institute of Southern Africa.
I’m impressed with the oratory. The speakers talk easily and confidently without notes, without stumbling. The audience listens respectfully.
My only problem is that all the speeches are in Sesotho.
However the beer is suitably cold and the sausages splendidly spicy.
And it certainly beats lying on my hotel bed watching TV and worrying.
Just in case you’re wondering, no I never get to find and interview the renegade general up there in the mountains with his mutinous soldiers. I don’t even ask the King or the Prime Minister or Cyril Ramaphosa for an interview.
That’s because — intrepid war correspondent though I was when I left South Africa — I have absolutely no intention of drawing attention to myself during Lesotho’s almost-coup by roaring around trying to interview powerful people when I have no diplomatic representation to fall back on if and when I get into trouble.
Already while I’m here, two journalists have been arrested for trying to do their jobs. I have enough problems without Lesotho turning against me too.
Also, there’s something about being a nowhere person, trapped in this ridiculous bureaucratic limbo (you can’t get there from here), that seriously interferes with my urge to report on almost-coups.
Anyway, I decide I’m getting too old for this shit.
Day #18: I accept Kaizer Matsumunyane’s invitation to lecture to students and faculty at the Limkokwing University’s Communication, Media and Broadcasting school.
My focus is storytelling and journalistic integrity. Great to be doing something more positive than writing endless notes to people protesting that I’m actually an innocent good guy and not an international terrorist.
Much applause at end of my lecture. And a pleasant lunch with the staff.
That afternoon Kaizer drives me to the traditional Thaba-Bosiu village outside Maseru. This is where the great Bosotho chief Mosheshshoe unites his people, defies the might of both Shaka Zulu and the Boers, negotiates protection as an equal with the Great White Queen Across the Water, and lies buried on the hill top.
It’s a huge relief to get out of Maseru politics and my hotel and into the valleys, hills and endless magnificent mountains surrounding the capital. The air is clean here. People still live in thatched, mud-and-stone-walled rondavels and wear the traditional blankets and conical grass hats of their ancestors.
And some still ride the famously hardy Basuto ponies.
Day #19: I watch the Oscar Pistorious sentence hearing on TV.
Witnesses describe corruption, violence, gangs and rape in South Africa’s jails. I picture myself in George Masanobo’s Lindela.
I try not to picture myself in George Masanobo’s Lindela.
Until now, I’ve worked on the theory that since I’m applying for South African citizenship, the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria isn’t likely to be either sympathetic or helpful.
I swallow my pride and doubts and e-mail the High Commissioner in Pretoria. What the hell! I have nothing to lose. I’ll take help wherever I can find it.
I wait for rescue.
Day #20: I watch the boss of South Africa’s prisons give evidence at the Pistorious sentencing.
He admits that gangs rule some of his prisons and yes, gangs are violent. Even so, he tries hard to make his prisons sound like Club Meds for unruly teenagers.
I’ve covered prison stories in three countries. He doesn’t fool me for a moment.
I turn off the TV.
The phone rings. It’s Cathie Bruno, Consular Program Officer at the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria.
She says she’ll try to contact George Masanabo. Maybe it can all be sorted out.
At worst, she promises to try to get me a 10-day transit pass so I can go back to Cape Town and pick up my belongings before being deported back to Canada.
It’s the first positive response I’ve had from anybody in authority in a long, long time.
I think I love her.
Day #21: A colleague back in Canada asks me for what she calls “some telling details about Lesotho.” I don’t have much else to do, so I write back.
- Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. King Letsie lll (universities of Cambridge, Bristol and London) is one of the richest monarchs in the world, a constitutional symbol reigning — but not ruling — over one of the poorest nations in the world. He has absolutely nothing to tell his subjects when an attempted coup threatens Lesotho’s democracy. I’m told, though, that he does play an excellent game of tennis.
- The Lesotho army which may or may not have started the fighting costs around U$60,000,000 a year. Its sole reason for existence seems to be to look smart when on parade for the King’s birthday. Certainly, it could neither repel attacks from neighbors, nor successfully invade any other country (with the possible exceptions of Orania and Swaziland).
- Two out of every five Basotho live below the international poverty line of U$1.25 a day.
- The country has one of the highest literacy rates in all Africa. But it also has one of the highest percentages of citizens with HIV/AIDS.
- Lesotho politicians and bureaucrats are even more corrupt and venal than South African politicians and bureaucrats. In fact, according to all reports, they take corruption and venality to a whole new level of international splendour. It’s as if warring Mafias own the place.
- The Basotho people I meet here are dignified, courteous, hospitable, kind and generous.
Day #21: My iPad signals.
E-mail from the South African Department of Home Affairs, Sub-Directorate: Deportations.
“The request of the waiving of your undesirable status has been considered and was successful.
“The Department has therefore decided to remove the restrictions placed upon your name, with immediate effect.
I’m desirable again.
I don’t know who or what persuades Home Affairs to let me go. I suspect, though, that it’s a critical mass of people extolling my manifold and manifest virtues in many, many places, all at the same time.
Of course, it’s also possible that some smart person warned Home Affairs that unless it relented it could expect such bruising headlines as:
HOME AFFAIRS TO EMMY-WINNING JOURNALIST WHO WORKED TO REFORM THE SABC AND E.TV: GET LOST!
INTERNATIONAL JOURNALIST LEAVES S.A. 10 HOURS LATE, BANNED FOR 365 DAYS
GRANDPARENTS, PARENTS SOUTH AFRICAN — BUT HE’S BANNED FROM S.A. SOIL FOR A YEAR
HOME AFFAIRS SENTENCES JOURNALIST WHO TRAINED SABC AND E.TV IN DEMOCRATIC JOURNALISM TO YEAR IN LESOTHO LIMBO
I suspect Home Affairs decides it has enough bad publicity without the Lesotho Limbo making headlines.
My advice for any colleague trapped in a similar problem is get hold of as many people as you think can help and ask them to intervene on your behalf. From as many angles as possible.
That’s because no politician or official ever wants it known that a single intervener was responsible for an overturned decision. Much safer for the official to be able to shrug helplessly and explain ” … all those people pressuring us … maybe we should rethink our decision …”
It should never look as if one powerful player — particularly a politician — saves your ass.
I reply to the e-mail from Department of Home Affairs, Sub-Directorate: Deportations, thank H. Dlamini and ask for details about my new status.
Can I now go back to the South African border and get a new 90-day Visitor’s Visa?
If not, should I get a letter from the High Commission in Maseru?
What’s my legal status in South Africa?
What do I do next?
Day #23: Kaizer and Tiisetso Moremoholo (faculty manager at Limkokwing University) drive me to the South African border at Maseru Bridge.
I really, really hope the fat man will be on duty so I can push my redemption letter through the slot under his thick glass window and watch his face as he reads it.
No fat man. So no revenge.
Considerable excitement though when officials see the undesirable alien stamp on page six of my passport: Sec 30 (1) H … Regulation 27 (B) 9.
I’m about to be refused entry to South Africa — possibly for life — when I produce the letter.
“I have this letter … it says my appeal was sucessful and there are no restrictions on me … with immediate effect. So I’m just asking for a 90-day visitor’s visa please.”
Much confusion. Seems nobody has seen a sucessful undesirable alien appeal before.
Officials huddle, make phone calls to Pretoria.
Almost an hour later, an official comes out from behind the thick glass windows. “We can only give you seven days. No longer. Sorry, Mr. Knight.” She shrugs, smiles sympathetically. “Try for another 90-day visa when you get to Cape Town.”
Tiisetso kindly arranges for her uncle to drive me the two hours from the Lesotho border to Bloemfontein Airport.
By evening, I’m safely back in Cape Town.
Day #24: I have a massive dilemma.
I’ve only got five working days until I’m an undesirable alien again. And have to leave the country again.
Saturday, October 25, is my last day.
There’s no way I can get another 90-day Visitor’s Visa during those five days. Anyway, the law says I have to apply from outside South Africa.
Also, I’m broke. My original flight from Toronto to Cape Town, added to the twenty-three days in Maseru hotels and flight from Bloemfontein, cost serious money.
I decide I have three options.
I can give up. I’ll find the money to fly back to Canada, start again there, and forget about living in Africa again.
(It’s already some eight months since I first apply for citizenship and surrender my fingerprints back in Toronto. How long can it possibly take some bureaucrat at Home Affairs to figure out that I’m my South African father’s son? What if they know something I don’t?)
My second option is to go underground. I’ll hide out in Cape Town until that bureaucrat decides my status. Or the postal strike ends and my citizenship papers miraculously appear. Or don’t.
I’ll be an undesirable alien all over again, of course. Maybe I’ll become a legend as the White Pimpernel (with apologies to Madiba). With any luck, I’ll turn it all into the ultimate TV reality series.
My third option is to start the whole vicious circus again. Leave the country before the deadline, fly to some country where there’s no fat man behind the thick glass window, and try for another 90-day Visitor’s Visa on my way back.
Of course there’s no guarantee this will solve anything.
Sure, I hold the letter from the Department of Home Affairs, Sub-Directorate: Deportations, saying all is forgiven.
But I hold that same letter when I cross the border from Lesotho last Saturday. And all the South African border officials there will give me is a seven-day Visitor’s Visa.
Even with the letter, I have no idea whether I’ll be allowed back into South Africa at all. And if I am, will they give me a Visitor’s Visa that lasts any longer than seven days?
I can’t spend the rest of my life on seven-day Visitor’s Visa to South Africa.
Day # 27: Jane and I dine with The Journalist foreign editor Sylvia Vollenhoven and two old friends — famed actor/writer/director Basil Appollis (MY WORD! Redesigning Buckingham Palace, District Six, The Musical), and Get The Picture producer Jackie Laurens.
We joke about my Lesotho limbo (great name for a dance step). I tell the stories of the fat man at the border and the impotent, tennis-playing
King who’s directly descended from the great BaSotho warrior/diplomat Mosheshoe but shows none of his spirit.
While we eat, your intrepid war correspondent watches himself being rather obviously unconcerned, nonchalant and amusing and wonders whether he believes himself.
And none of us know whether we five friends will ever sit down together again.
Day #28: It’s exactly 26 hours before I have to leave South Africa or become an undesirable alien again.
I’ve charged a South African Airways return ticket to Namibia to my Visa card. That’s more money I don’t have.
Later today I’ll pack my bags and tomorrow Jane will drive me to Cape Town airport. From there I’ll fly to Namibia.
It’s a glorious Cape Town day. I’m having breakfast in the sun room.
My phone rings.
“Mr. Knight? This is Nelson Ngoepe at the Department of Home Affairs. Your South African Identification Number is approved. Please write it down.”
I write the number down. “Does this mean I don’t have to leave the country tomorrow?”
“Yes sir. Congratulations, Mr. Knight.”
“And I’m South African?”
“Yes, Mr. Knight.”
“I thank you, sir.”