Zebras for Table Mountain (review)

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Zebras for Table Mountain:
Journal of a South African Visit
Written by Henriette Groot
Reviewed by Carol Alma McPhee

The ability to see and write clearly, the justice of an open mind, the opportunity to observe people and events during a complex period in a conflicted country: all these qualities Henriette Groot brings to her recently published journal, which recounts her experiences in South Africa in 1986 – Zebras for Table Mountain. Groot is a member of Central Coast Meeting in San Louis Obispo, CA (PYM). She and her husband took a round-the-world sailing voyage at a critical time in history. This journal reflects Groot’s curiosity as the couple approached South Africa in September 1985, her interest in people of all classes and races, her knowledge of the Apartheid struggle, and her desire “to be with South African Quakers.”

South Africa in the 1980s bristled with conflict. Yet Groot records that the people persisted in trying to live ordinary lives, even as they dedicated themselves to bringing peace to the land. Arriving in Richards’ Bay near Durban in November 1985, Groot contacted the interracial Quaker meeting there. Many of them lived illegally in a “White Group Area.” Groot tells the tale of one of their members being arrested and detained for several weeks of questioning. Upon his arrest, the group at first scattered, but when he was released from custody, they regrouped, despite concerns that he might be convicted later of illegal activities.

Groot also tells of attending South African Yearly Meeting in January 1986. Her reports of the sessions are precise and insightful, not only relating many sides of each discussion, but also exploring her own feelings as a semi-outsider with a particular interest in conflict resolution. Groot actually helped draft the Epistle of that annual session, which stressed that SAYM continued to stand for “Peace and Reconciliation,” in spite of the calls by other churches to support the choice of the oppressed to use violence.

Through her active involvement with SAYM, Groot got to know Hendrik W. van der Merwe, or “HW” as she called him. A pioneer in the field of conflict resolution, HW had served for some time as an intermediary between the Mandela camp and the government. Groot tells of planning sessions that HW invited her to attend and of administrative support she contributed to some of the meetings.

Zebras for Table Mountain covers other subjects as well. Groot reports conversations with people from many walks of life – privileged whites, servants, yacht club members, and educationists. She tells of tourist jaunts to famous parks and cities, and of meeting her Dutch cousin, who seemed to have taken the side of the government against the revolutionaries. Recording everyone’s opinions, Groot gives the impression that people from all sides were working toward understanding each other.  ~~~

Carol Alma McPhee is a community activist in San Luis Obispo, CA. She writes and publishes books about women’s issues and nonviolence.