His name is Percy Qoboza and his favorite saying used to be that of Martin Luther King: "Either we learn to live together as brothers or we perish as fools."
It used to be.
That was before they closed down his paper and threw him in jail.
He used to be a moderate, the one all foreign journalists would come to when they visited South Africa, the one who would convince them it could all be worked out withouut violence. He used to be the black the white Afrikaners pointed to to show how fair the system was, how blacks could indeed rise to the top, be successful. He is a former Nieman fellow, the best-known black journalist in South Africa and former editor of the two largest black newspapers in his country, The World and Weekend World.
Today Percy Qoboza is a different man. He is angry, despairing.
He sees more and more young blacks becoming militant; he sees a turning away from the white liverals who have traditionally championed their causes.
He sees a hardening of the views of the Afrikaners and he sees, finally, the inevitability of the violence both backs and whites have always feared.
Today Percy Qoboza is out of jail. And he has another newspaper, the Post, the larget black newspaper still being published in South Africa.
But now he knows how tentative, how ephemeral, all this is. He knows that for no reason he could be thrown in jail, be banned, have his newspaper closed again.
So now the white Afrikaners don't mention him any more. And now the white liberals get edgy when asked about good old Percy. And now, when visiting foreign journalists go to see him, they get a very different story from Percy Qoboza.
He is short and very dark-skinned, with a round face, bloodshot eyes and a cunical tongue.
At lunch he will say -- with shocking bluntness -- to a white South African editor who has just been left jobless after his paper was merged with another: "Now you know what if feels like to be a kaffir" (in effect, "nigger").
And the editor will reply sarcastically, "Oh Percy, try not to your insufferable self."
Now Percy Qoboza sits in his office at the Post and gives an interview, joking occasionally with reporters who stick their heads in to say hi or chat.
But he is not in a joking mood.
"My whole experience has been a very traumatic one," he says. "I went through those five and a half months in jail in periods of intense bitterness, sometimes bordering on pure and brutal hatred. It was a time of extreme soul searching, thinking about my country for the first time in a quiet and serene atmosphere. At the end I said to myself, 'They've closed down my paper for no reason at all, I suspect because we continued to speak out and editorialize against injustice. They threw me in jail without telling me why my freedom was violated."
And so, he says, he felt there was only one conclusion to make. "I ended up saying to mayself, 'I have tried my best to reflect society in an honest matter. I have suffered the supreme indignity. I have no more role to play here is South Africa. I must get out."
"I must pack my cases, take my children and get out. I saw no hope for this society."
It was his children, he says, who convenced him to stay.
"I discussed this with my wife and children and I told them there was no future for us in this country. With all the good will under the sun, the very thing we have tried to avoid all our lives, this bloody racial issue, will come. At the moment, when people are in jail without trial, I cannot see change. So we must leave."
His 15-year-old daughter was strongly opposed and rallied his other children on her side.
"She told me, 'That's great,'" says Qoboza. "We'll all live a good life in New York, going to good schools. You'll get a good job on one of the papers and we will live happily ever afterwards. Except this story cannot end like all good stories. We'd still be confronted with the realities of this country. We would see on television or read in the papers of some relatives who died from police bullets.
"'We would see people we know on the streets from out neighborhood getting killed. We'll still read about and see people dying. Can we live with our consciences?" My daughter asked me, 'when maybe, just maybe your physical presence in this country could help in some way to avoid disaster?"
"This confrontation with my children," says Qoboza, "kept us thinking My wife and I, in spite of my experiences, in spite of the danger that I will still go back to jail, in spite of the danger that our home will still be bombed, I eventually felt I had to remain in this country."
There are many avenues Qoboza could take in trying to help his country.Up until now he has been taking the moderate course, communicating with white liberals. But even with the white liberals things are beginning to sour, and the young blacks are beginning to abandon their white support -- possibly the first indication of violence to come.
"It has been one of my most unfortunate and sometimes bitter experiences," says Qoboza, "to see how more and more young people can become very angry at what people consider liberal whites. The liberal white has become a cliche with his sanctimonious statements and comfortable words. Yet they continue to reap the fruits of raciality, continue to maintain the position of privilege.
He says he feels sorry for some white liberals, especially the ones who have been acting as a bridge between Afrikaners and the blacks. "Now," he says, "they seem to be getting if from both sides."
"We have an expression in the black community," he says. "That we would rather deal with the Afrikaners than with the white liberals. The liberal element is confused about where it stands. Whit the white Afrikaner, the lines are clearly defined on both sides."
Helen Suzman is something of a legend in South Africa, as is Percy Qoboza. To the white, English-speaking liberals, Suzman is Lillian Hellman. To the white Afrikaner she is Bella Abzug.
Helen Suzman is the only woman membr of parliament in South Africa. At 61, she is one of 17 members of the liberal Progressive Party, composed mostly of white, English-speaking South Africans, as opposed to the ruling Nationalist Party, which is made up of white Afrikaners. Married to a rich doctor, she is the daughter of Russion Jewish immigrants. She has been in politics for nearly 30 years and at one point, between 1961 and 1974, she was the only member of the Progressive Party in the entire parliament. "I was the only spokesman for everything ," she says today, even now with a note of disbelief in her voice. "That was really something."
She is a feisty, funny, attractive and totally fearless woman who drives the white Afrikaners up the wall with her relentless criticism of their racist system, with her larger and enthusiastic following.
"I would be in a state of rage all the time if I were black," she says. "God knows where that would lead me."
She understands bettr than most how Percy Qoboza feels, his growing disillusionment with even the white liberals. "Percy's under pressure from his own people," she says. "And he's going that way.We liberals have no power. We make all these nosies and we're genuinely upset about the situation -- we're not simulating it. But we're small. I can't scrap the immorality act, for instance. And the blacks know we're in no position of power. I'm under no illusions about that."
The young blacks, says Suzman, are "becoming far less interested in the white liberals and have cut themselves off. I think we're going to find our position much more difficult."
She had always thought it would be the young Afrikaners who would leave South Africa at the first threat of violence, at the first indicationof a black takeover.
In fact, she says, it is the young English speaking whites who are leaving.
"I might leave," she admits, "if I were young and not so involved. It becomes more difficult once you're involved. Both of her daughters have left South Africa and live abroad. And she admits politics had something to do with their departure.
For Suzamn, as for other white liberals in South Africa, watching what is happening is not only maddening but frustration as well. "You see the course of events," she says, "and can't understnad why no one else does. People don't react if they're privileged. This government is much stronger than Rhodesia. Millions of white South Africans haven't the slightest intention of leaving. They've been here for a hell of a long time."
Still, Helen Suzman doesn't feel the end is near, as do many white liberals and blacks.
"I don't personally think we're on the verge of any upheaval," she says. "I don't see the blacks being in any position to force fundamental change. They're so busy keeping alive, getting their wages, getting to and from work. I mean, they have to get up at four in the morning to get themselves to work from Soweto.
"I think the outside world pressure to continue to harass the government can help. But the whites will not share power with the blacks."
And Helen Suzman is a pessimist, but with a note of hope.
"The communication hasn't ceased by a long shot," she will say. "Of course most of the young blacks have become radicalized. They don't want to have anything to do with the whites. But millions of blacks in the majority still want to talk."
Then she will change her mind again. "Still, if you'd asked me five years ago whether there would be Cubans in Angola I'd have said you needed your head read."
And again. "But," she says, "change is much further ahead than most people think. I think it will be a long time before we see fundamental change. It's going to be a long time. A very long time."
Bitterness, Not Hate
Percy Qoboza says he is not afraid. "But I am conscious more than I was before, that I am living in a country which disregards fundamental human freedoms.
He has to censor himself, he says, because there is a real possibility the government will shut this paper down as well and he worries about his staff and their futures. And he says with stunning simplicity, "It's better to be on the outside of jail and have apaper than to be in jail with no paper."
What frustrates him the most, he says, is that some young people feel he is too moderate and some old people think he is too radical. "This is one of the strange twists of fate, because I don't want to be labeled anything but a newspaperman."
Percy Qoboza inisists now that his bitterness is directed not at people, but at the system, and he says too that he has stopped hating.
"Hate disorients you," he says. "But my bitterness is something I cannot liberate myself from until such time as every vestige of injustice is liberated from my country..." He smiles. "And it will, that's why I'm still here."
Unlike Helen Suzman, however, he is not as optimistic about how it will happen or how long it will take.
The radical Percy Qoboza speaks:
"We are living in a situation that is a continuous volcano about to erupt," he says. "You move around the streets of Soweto, you talk to people and it looks normal, quiet and peaceful. The government will be quick to tell you that. But in the midst of that calm and sweetness and apparent peace, if you put your ear to the ground you can hear the simmering volcano. And it is sure to erupt any day... over just one little stupid incident. It is the height of folly to think that Soweto is peaceful."
No sooner has he finished this depressing prognostication than the moderate Percy Qoboza emerges, interjecting the last hopeful words.
"What worries me most about this society," he says, "is that people have resigned themselves to the inevitability of revolution and violence. But I still believe in man's capacity to rise up to the occasion. Maybe, just maybe, some great leader will rise up, not an Afrikaner but a great black leader...."
His voice trails off and Percy Qoboza slumps down in his officechair.