Chapter 10: "‘It’s Fun In South Africa’" by Harriet McKay
‘It’s Fun In South Africa’
Interior Design for the Union-Castle Shipping Line 1948–1977
Sometime in the autumn of 2007 John Graves, the Curator of Ships’ History at the National Maritime Museum, Royal Museums Greenwich, took design historian Professor Anne Massey and I on a research visit into one of the museum’s conservation studios. He wanted us to look at an object that was being treated for preservation. On a table in the studio lay a large, beautifully coloured poster: an advertisement for the Union-Castle shipping line. In my memory, the poster exists as being a considerable size (at least two metres in height by oneand-a-half metres wide). I was therefore surprised when revisiting the Maritime Museum’s online records to discover that it is in fact only 1020mm long and 635mm wide. 1
That the poster should have assumed such large proportions in my mind, and that it should have made such a striking impression upon me, was not simply due to the object’s quality. Rather, it was the imagery and message that I encountered that day which became engraved on my mind and which, 13 years later, provide the leitmotiv for this chapter. The poster presents a chubby, smiling black toddler, wearing what might, at the time, have well been labelled “native dress,” jubilantly dancing barefoot in the sand. The object, dated circa 1960, broadcasts the message, “It’s fun in South Africa” (Figure 41).
Of course, somewhere in South Africa, circa 1960, black children might have danced and felt joy on occasion. However, that an entire nation should be marketed according to a knowing obliviousness was what burnt the poster’s imagery onto my mind. More specifically – that at the height of the apartheid era, the viciousness of that regime, along with the enormously complicated political, socio-economic and infrastructural systems of a police state, should be deliberately hidden behind such a caricature is staggering. This chapter provides
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Figure 41 Union-Castle advertising poster, ‘It’s fun in South Africa’, c. 1960. Source: Copyright National Maritime Museum Greenwich, London, accession no. F8515. Used with permission.
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a brief discussion of themes most salient to understanding how the apartheid system and interior design coalesced to create Union-Castle’s passenger accommodation.
Investigating such issues calls for a cross-disciplinary approach. The history under scrutiny here begins with the election of the pro-apartheid National Party government in 1948 and ends shortly after one of the most notorious events of the apartheid era, the Soweto Uprising of June 1976. 2 While the two nations were closely bound, the relationship between Britain and South Africa throughout this period was by no means straightforward. 3 That national politics should be visible through interior design on board ship is a concept which is heavily indebted to Anne Wealleans’ seminal charting of the politics of decorative schemes on board ocean-going passenger liners, Designing Liners. 4 The argument presented here is predicated on Wealleans’ arguments that interior design communicates messages about national identity, and borrows from Susie McKellar and Penny Sparke’s book Interior Design and Identity. 5
Setting the scene, the interiors of early postwar ships sailing the Cape Route (Southampton in the United Kingdom to Cape Town, South Africa), Royal Mail Ships (RMS) Pretoria and Edinburgh Castles, 6 are explored for their significance as a marker of the continuing colonial exchange apparent between London and South Africa. This relationship was particularly strained when it came to London–Pretoria politics. Emblematic of the old tensions between Briton and Afrikaner and, in that context, harbinger of the rise to power of the far right, these were historical frictions and hostilities that, it can be argued, fed into the apartheid ethos. Despite the historical foreboding embodied in the early postwar ships’ passenger accommodations, in desiring to signal British heritage and ‘pedigree’ as superior to a supposedly subordinate former colony, notions of genteel leisure, pleasure and discreet fun were also very clearly written into the interiors of sister ships Pretoria, Edinburgh and also Kenya Castle.
Surveying the postcolonial period, it becomes apparent that messages about pleasure-seeking and leisure were inscribed into the marketing campaigns and interior design of Union-Castle’s ships of the 1960s and ‘70s. In my discussion of RMS Windsor and Transvaal Castle and of Sailing Ship (SS) Reina del Mar, I propose that the idea of pursuing a completely carefree life as a passenger became vital to Union-Castle’s marketing armoury as a denial of the system of Grand Apartheid 7 that flourished in the 1960s. I argue further that this ethos is
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embodied in interior design schemes which otherwise expressed subservience to Pretoria. The twin focal points of this discussion are thus the politics of representation and the representation of politics.
Union-Castle’s origins lie in the founding of the Southampton Steam Shipping Company in 1853. Significantly, throughout its long history the shipping line took the leading role in the conglomerate of European shipping lines which operated on the Cape Route. Not only did Union-Castle dominate its rivals but, since it represented the fulcrum of the wider trading partnership between Britain and South Africa in the postwar period, it was also critical to wider relations between the two nations. To maintain the continuing success of the Pretoria–London economic shipping alliance, and in line with the promotional gambit represented by the “It’s fun in South Africa” poster, British Pathé News 8 was deployed to record news items featuring the launch and maiden voyages of Union-Castle ships. Produced as ten- or 15-minute narrated screenings ahead of feature films, this promotional material was screened extensively in UK cinemas.
One of these promotional films featured the crowd-pleasing comedian Sid James, well-known to British audiences and at the height of his fame as Cockney wise-guy and key member of the cast of the Carry On films. 9 Titled 38a Bus to Cape Town, 10 it features James as an irascible London bus driver stuck in traffic who lapses into a daydream about Union-Castle’s new ship, RMS Transvaal Castle. In the film, James’s narrated reverie is prompted by passing a South Africa tourist information centre and seeing a travel advertisement for Union- Castle. The film then charts Transvaal’s journey to Cape Town, extolling all that she had to offer on board: “The number one escape route to the sun … everything you could want, or even think of wanting, is right here on board,” rhapsodises James; “isn’t that better than coughing your way down Piccadilly?” 11
Employing James to deliver the message was a calculated ploy on the part of Union-Castle’s managing organisation, British and Commonwealth Shipping Limited (B&C). Throughout the period, Union-Castle’s eleven-anda-half-day voyage to Cape Town was promoted as a journey of hedonistically uncomplicated ease to an equally untroubled land of opportunity. This was a gambit that, as I explain below, gained particular importance during the 1960s. However, just as the guffawing jollity of the Carry On series was dogged by the behind-the-scenes enmities and the less-than-jovial preoccupations and rivalries
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of its leading actors, 12 so too did the marketing and interior design of Union- Castle’s 1960s and ‘70s vessels mask dark secrets, skeletons in cupboards which make the earlier colonial and patriarchal messages associated with the passenger liners of the 1950s appear benign, if pompous, by comparison.
Fitted out – their interiors and furnishings put in place – around the time that the National Party government was sworn into office (June 1948), Edinburgh and Pretoria Castles were advertised as providing an onboard life of sociable comfort. At the same time, however, their interiors carried portentous messages derived from an aesthetic conveying a gravitas also based on historicist styling. This was achieved through a conservative and, for the period, rather oldfashioned, part-Art Deco, part-‘Tudorbethan’ idiom, passenger accommodation featuring heavy dark-wood furniture, panelling and, particularly in first class, leather-upholstered, Chesterfield seat furniture. The aim of this decorative approach can be read as an attempt to remind white South Africans that although self-governing autonomy within the Empire had been granted in 1910, they were still expected to behave as loyal subjects of an Empire whose dignity and heritage was enshrined in the oaken furniture and fittings of Union-Castle’s ships.
These were ideas – particularly significant in first-class areas on board – which, allowing for some levity, nevertheless spoke of the probity of Empire and British colonial superiority, adopting decorative schemes through which the old colonial assumption of a kind of ‘necessary authority’ might be transmitted. After all, in the words of a Board of Trade pamphlet, entitled British East Africa and published when Pretoria and Edinburgh were being built, there remained a sure need for British support in the region since “It must be appreciated that the African people are still largely in a somewhat primitive state and that they are being plunged into the complications of twentieth-century civilisation without having the assistance of the slowly leavening influences of the intervening centuries.” 13
Thus the atmosphere into which passengers entered upon embarkation was one in which the weight and responsibility of Empire informed a decorative culture which eschewed fashionable statements in favour of communicating a message of unchanging dependability. For example, the upper-middle class rituals and markers of these staunch standards, afternoon tea and sherry before ‘Luncheon,’ would always be available in the rather drab but highly appropriate galleries and smokerooms on board a Union-Castle ship.
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Figure 42 ‘Afternoon Tea in the Long Gallery’, Union-Castle, First Class to South and East Africa. Source: Author’s ephemera collection.
Just as the United Kingdom had a complicated relationship with colonial East Africa, so too, of course, British–South African relations had been historically fraught. Important to this discussion of the way in which British interior design and apartheid coalesced on board ship is the argument that the tensions between the British imperial project in South Africa and Afrikaner nationalism sowed the seeds for the apartheid agenda. For example, as Wessels comments, the Anglo-Boer War of 1989-1902 can be understood as an event that triggered consequences which had lasting implications for the relationships between different population groups within South Africa. 14 The collateral damage inflicted by that conflict included the trans-generational trauma caused in part by the experience of forced internment in the new British invention, the concentration camp. Thus Wessels argues:
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The Afrikaners who suffered in the internment camps, stored the negative experiences in their memories … In some cases, many years later, even in a succeeding generation, these traumatic experiences once again gained prominence, and sometimes manifested themselves in one or other political view, for example in the apartheid policy … The Afrikaners … who had been humiliated and oppressed earlier became the new oppressors (of black, coloured and Asian people) from 1948 onwards under the banner of separate development (apartheid). 15
Always complicated, relations between B&C and the National Party government became even further knotted from the 1960s onwards, particularly after South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961. These complexities were reflected in Union-Castle’s interior design, with passenger accommodation during this period – now designed by genteel lady-decorator Jean Monro (1916- 2013) 16 – speaking paradoxically of putting parvenu Pretoria in its place while at the same time being minutely careful not to do anything that might be seen as offending the Republic.
By the time that Sid James’s marketing film and the featured liner Transvaal Castle were launched in 1960, the National Party had been in power for 12 years and its political agenda was well advanced. Furthermore, just as Hendrick Verwoerd (the ‘Architect of Apartheid’ who was largely responsible for cementing the apartheid republic) took up the premiership (1958-61), B&C Chairman Nicholas Cayzer was raising the stakes as to what was and what was not permissible in terms of interior design on board his ships. On the Cape Route, for example, the B&C made it their business to become intimately involved with Pretoria and employed Union-Castle’s interior design as a signifier both of national status as regards the Republic and as a marketing tool through which to advertise the country itself. However, as far as marketing of its ships and the design of their interiors was concerned, B&C was at pains to appear entirely apolitical.
Advertising materials for the shipping line (of which the 1960 “It’s fun in South Africa” poster was the apotheosis) existed in a constructed oblivion that protected financial interests by projecting a message of leisure and fun, and appeared, at least on the surface, to be blissfully oblivious to the circumstances surrounding its operations. The fact that in 1961 B&C should have produced
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Figure 43 ‘She’ll be 10° browner by the time she reaches The Cape’, Union Castle promotional material. Source: Author’s ephemera collection.
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a magazine advertisement for travel to South Africa via Transvaal Castle announcing “the going’s good by Union-Castle, The Big Ship Way to Africa” was indicative of this approach. As a riposte to the growing threat posed by air travel, during this period the ocean crossing to South Africa was increasingly marketed as a holiday in itself.
Mailships leave Southampton for the Cape every Thursday at 4 p.m. You can also book an African Sea Safari to take you to Cape Town and back by mailship and sightseeing, (e.g. big game, gold and diamond mines, Victoria Falls, the Kariba Dam) by air, train or motor coach within Southern Africa … Ask your travel agent. Or Union-Castle, Chief Passenger Office, Dept.14B, 19-21 Old Bond Street, London W1, Hyde Park. 17
As if selling trips to diamond and gold mines – which were centres of dangerous work and slave wages during apartheid – was not evidence enough of a denial of South Africa’s treatment of its majority population, the advertisement’s main copy indicates the extent to which B&C was clearly protecting its interests. Positioned above a white, bikini-clad, sunbathing woman, the advertisement reads, “She’ll be 10 degrees browner by the time she reaches the Cape.” 18
Messages of a carefree lifestyle on board are particularly evident in the ‘hotel ship’ accommodation offered in Tourist Class on Windsor and Pendennis and Transvaal Castle’s One Class. Following Jean Monro’s appointment as ships’ interior decorator for B&C, Nicholas Cayzer instructed her that Windsor’s Tourist Class rooms should be characterised by “great comfort but with a less formal atmosphere [than First Class] and with plenty of gaiety in all the rooms.” 19 A brochure for Pendennis Castle (c1959) introduces the ship accordingly: “Her decks are very wide … long and comfortable new deck chairs are set in gaily coloured ranks facing the rails. Spaces are marked out for deck games.” 20 Drawings of the Tourist Class dining room and smoke room on board (Figure 43) follow suit: “the smoke room is one of the gayest rooms in the ship, with a Harlequin Bar … .” 21 Monro’s own description of her scheme reads in just the same way:
Gaily coloured in pink, grey and lime, the Tourist Class Lounge will have arecessed dance floor in the middle of the room.
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Figure 44 Tourist Class Dining Room and Smoke Room illustrated in promotional brochure, Pendennis Castle, 1959. Source: Author’s ephemera collection.
The Tourist Class lido and swimming pool will be a very gay area. The verandah café, with bar and soft drinks kiosk, will have soft furnishings of chintz with a bright fruit and flowers pattern, and a wooden teak floor. Round the pool will be covered Promenade and Dance Decks. 22
In her notes Monro also remarked that “A feature of the 1st Entrance Hall will be the very fine square of shops, while a gay shopping area will be arranged in the Tourist Class Entrance Hall.” 23
Despite being intended to mark the dynamic and assured entrance of B&C onto the world shipping stage, both Windsor Castle and Transvaal Castle’s interiors reveal a reverence for historical Britain and, as witnessed in the interiors of Pretoria, Edinburgh and Kenya Castle, provided spaces that were both reverential of the British upper class and pointed reminders of an imagined superiority to South Africa and its government. At the same time, they created a
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Figure 45 Couple dining in front of RMS Windsor Castle’s First-Class Dining Room mural. Source: Copyright National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, accession no. F81857. Used with permission.
smokescreen behind which the government’s policies might be politely hidden from view. Both Windsor and Transvaal’s passenger accommodation employed English country house 24 style in their public spaces and cabins and, on board Windsor, made direct reference to the royal palace itself. Symbolic of land-based permanency and the durability of the British Establishment, representations of the castle or country house and its interiors were used in a number of the line’s ships during the 1960s.
British national associations represented by Union-Castle’s interior design, literally drawn (and painted) out for first-class passengers on board Windsor Castle in its dining room mural, for example, (Figure 45), were themselves informed by a design practice that was embedded in cultural and social expectations that wholeheartedly disavowed politics. Jean Monro’s appointment by B&C, for example, was itself redolent of English upper-class genteel practice, as it does not appear to have been accompanied by any formal interview, nor
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indeed a brief. Rather, her lineage as a society decorator appears to have been taken as evidence enough of her qualifications to tackle the job.
Similarly, the B&C periodical The Clansman recorded of Windsor Castle not long after her maiden voyage that she “was received with acclaim, and soon, during her peak booking period, her passenger list began to read like extracts from Debrett.” 25 Significantly, the silencing of politics that Windsor and Transvaal’s alternatively “gay” and jovial or mannered and conformist interiors represented were to become anthropomorphised as that epitome of apoliticism, the British monarchy. On board the ship for Windsor Castle’s final sailing, liberal Afrikaner (and friend of Prince Charles) Laurens van der Post recalled the ship’s last departure from Southampton in August 1977: “Dressed overall, as we saw her in that long level light of the morning of August 15th, she looked like a debutante waiting to be conducted to her first ball … she eased herself with the grace of a young queen from the quay …” 26
This notion of the regal was to play out rather differently on board the last ship to sail the Cape Route under B&C auspices, “Queen of the Sea,” SS Reina del Mar. First chartered by Union-Castle in 1964, and then purchased outright from the Pacific Steam Navigation Company in 1973, Reina (her original name remaining unchanged) was, like Transvaal, a one-class ship. Unlike her predecessors, however, no lavish interiors were created once she became part of B&C’s fleet. Rather, a functional modern style, significantly reminiscent of a contemporary airport lounge, was adopted in public passenger spaces, while her ‘cheap and cheerful’ bedrooms were, according to documents held by the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, derided in the British press as looking as though they belonged to the resort chain, Butlins.
Of all the ships discussed in this chapter – her short Union-Castle career notwithstanding – Reina was the one for which a marketing message of jollity was most forcefully pursued: “You have the whole run of this mighty ship because she’s all one class. So, everything’s friendly and informal – she’s a happy ship.” 27 Branded by B&C as a “fun ship,” this message was reinforced through descriptions of life on board this egalitarian cruise-liner:
The siren sounds; a cheer goes up from the quayside … ‘We’re away!’Yes, away on the best holiday you ever had, a cruise on Reina del Mar [sic]Union-Castle’s beautiful 20 000 ton liner. Ahead of you lie magic days and
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nights at sea … wonderful living and entertainment, good company, newfriends. …
Lie on a reclining chair in the sun … swim in one of the deck pools, playvarious deck games … And later there’s the cinema, bingo, dancing, maybethe Captain’s cocktail party or a ‘Black and White Minstrel’s show.’ 28
That so dubious a form of entertainment as ‘blackface’ should surface on board a Union-Castle liner en route to Africa is again indicative not only of what were considered acceptable 1970s British cultural norms, but also of a complete failure to acknowledge the increasingly vicious treatment of the real black populations in the country of arrival. Examining Reina’s marketing material, one has the feeling that the message of the fun to be had on a Union-Castle voyage has reached fever pitch. The extent to which this aspect had developed is indicated by a 1972 Reina del Mar brochure in Afrikaans. Advertising luxury cruises, alongside its cover image featuring the bra-less back of a bikini-clad blonde, written in bold contemporary lettering is the message, “VROLIK EN VRY MET DIE KONINGIN” (“cheerful and free with the queen”). That such a risqué image should have been produced in the very conservative South Africa of the time can be read as an almost desperate urgency to appear enticingly, merrily relaxed.
South African officials had by now joined the clamour. A 1976 typescript in the Union-Castle archive in the Cape Town campus of the National Library of South Africa, entitled Sailing South Africa and written by a Mr Roy L Allen (whose professional affiliation is not mentioned), demonstrates just what was perceived to be at stake. The vehemence of the argument for South Africa’s need to generate ‘goodwill’ suggests that it may have been written during the second half of the year, in the months following the Soweto uprising of June 1976.
If a country is to develop a very real, very lucrative industry of tourism in a big way, grandiose ideals are useless unless the material aspect of supplies logistics are not [sic] thoroughly investigated and necessary supply services organised accordingly.
South Africa is a tourist country. Goodwill on the international scale canbe built up through it and by it. That is why it is in the vital interest of the
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Republic that all obstacles must be pushed away, all barriers dismantled, alllethargy must go in the tourist context. Tourism is destined to become one ofSouth Africa’s major industries. 29
No doubt the growing threat from air travel, coupled with the severe shock to the apartheid system in the light of global reaction following the Soweto uprising, prompted an increased emphasis on promoting tourism, as advocated by Allen. Of huge significance to the interior design of the liners at this time was the resultant move by B&C to market its ships as coastal hotels: 30 “Business can be conducted while in port or underway. In port clients can come aboard for discussions, conferences and other gatherings. There is the added attraction that they may enjoy entertainment facilities if they wish.” 31
More significantly still, on 23 December 1975, a memo, marked “important,” was circulated around Union-Castle offices in South Africa giving notice that, “Among the following travelling with you on the coast we would specially commend the following and anything that can be done to promote their voyage will be much appreciated: Mr P A Vorster, son of the Prime Minister and [his wife] Mrs Vorster.” 32
It was not only businessmen and dignitaries for whom Union-Castle’s doors were opened. Like many white South Africans of her generation, a friend of mine, Joanne McGilvray, remembered as a teenager in the 1970s being able to board the ships for visits while they were berthed between voyages at the docks in Cape Town. In her view, Union-Castle’s ships had not only been regarded as redolent of British style, but had also presented an escape from the police state, and offered a view of something assumed to be very British: democracy, the rule of law and social justice. 33 However, as I have hinted throughout this chapter, there is a rather different and much darker side to this story.
In late 1957, four years before South Africa would leave the Commonwealth, a B&C managers’ meeting determined that “[t]he British National anthem should not be played on board ship unless followed by Union’s anthem,” that “Her Majesty’s picture should not be screened at the end of cinema performances” and that it had been “quietly agreed to drop the showing of the Queen’s portrait on the SA coast.” 34 Is it coincidental, then, that on neither the Suez (East African) nor the Cape (South Atlantic) route did Union-Castle interiors contain any representation of, or reference (visual or otherwise) to, black Africa?
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Also sailing a Union-Castle route, the shipping line British India saw fit to include images derived from destination countries as well as gifts from local African stakeholders – for example, from the Bugandan King 35 – as part of their interior decorations. On board Union-Castle ships, by contrast, depictions of a native population extended only as far as the literally white, Cape Dutch architecture of South Africa’s early European colonisers. Also, apart from dockside labour, B&C employed very few black administrative staff on land and none, apparently, on ship. Was it simply happenstance that B&C, a company that bowed to Pretoria’s wishes with regard to the representations of the British monarch, also excluded references to the majority South African population? The evidence suggests not.
The June 1976 issue of the British shipping journal Time and Tide features an interview with Nicholas Cayzer. In it he is quoted as saying that conducting business with South Africa was the only “sensible thing to do.” “We trade where we can,” he continued, because “in a tumultuous world where emotion gets the better of common sense, we cannot afford to lose any of our trade.”
One must get a sense of proportion about South Africa … We are always listening to the humanitarian viewpoint but if we were to cut off our trade to South Africa it would do a great deal of harm to British industry … [and it] would also do a lot of harm to the South African economy and particularly in this context we should do harm to the black South Africans working in industry. We trade where we can trade. That is our job. And this is the most civilizing thing that we can do … 36
Within British industry in the 1970s this stance was by no means exceptional; indeed, that Cayzer was awarded a peerage in 1982 by Margaret Thatcher, notorious for never taking a stand against apartheid, was indicative of a shared mindset. South African anti-apartheid activist Ruth First’s 1972 book, The South Africa Connection (an exposé of Western investment in South Africa during apartheid), lists B&C among the companies trading with and investing in the Republic, an indictment that is backed up by papers in the Union-Castle archives. Throughout the postwar years, these papers reveal, funds were deposited in South African banks and ventures, first by Union-Castle itself and later by B&C and holdings by Cayzer’s other companies. 37
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Of equal significance, a memo dated 1977 and now in the National Maritime Museum notes that “Sir Nicholas was, until last November, President of the UK- South Africa Trade Association ... He is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Graduate School of Business, Cape Town University and a Trustee of the South Africa Foundation.” The memo continued: “The UK-South Africa Trade Association, of which Cayzer is President … is a non-political body set up to do everything possible to further trade with South Africa … [It] exists to interpret South Africa to the world.” 38
In his 1979 article on the South Africa Foundation (SAF), Galen Hull noted that it was “no secret in Johannesburg or abroad, that the South Africa Foundation is a ‘front organisation for government.’” 39 In 1984, Dave Nellist, the Labour MP for Coventry, was temporarily banned from the House of Commons following a fracas relating to allegations he had made, accusing Sir Ian Lloyd (Conservative MP for Portsmouth) of being on the SA government’s payroll. Lloyd, a South African, denied this charge, but later admitted to having accepted “hospitality.” Lloyd had been a long-serving executive of B&C as the company’s director of research between 1956 and 1964 and its economic adviser during the period in question (until 1983).
While duplicate copies of correspondence and general office administration fill archives in both Greenwich and Cape Town, the South African holdings also contain numerous files absent from the papers of the London archive. The London papers were donated to the Royal Museums Greenwich by the Cayzer family themselves. A box marked “Top security” contains a letter written in 1973 by the Durban Union-Castle office to B&C’s London headquarters that gives an insight into the history of the “very close liaison” between the shipping line and the South African police and security authorities:
We have promised our assistance at any time to the authorities should incidents become known to us which might be of interest to the police in combating crime or subversive activity. In return we are assured most definitely of the immediate and fullest co-operation of the police and any other security authority at a time of general unrest or if we require them to deal with any specific incident. 40
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Figure 46 ‘Office Staff’, Union Castle, 1961. Image courtesy of the National Library of South Africa: Cape Town campus.
No wonder that in August 1960, on the arrival of the Windsor Castle into CapeTown, Mayor Joyce Newton Thompson wrote of the newcomer to the Union-Castle fleet:
With the entry of the Windsor Castle into the listings of the U-C mailships, we welcome also the belief in the future of South Africa. From the moment visitors by sea are welcomed at the pleasant new passenger terminal and drive up the Heerengracht into the Mother City, they will appreciate the beauty, the steady advance and the hospitality of Cape Town. 41
This “pleasant new passenger terminal” was at Berth F in the harbour and not far from the shipping offices in Union-Castle House. Also in clear view of Union-Castle House is Jetty 1. From here, not long after the Windsor Castle first sailed out of port, so too, from 1961 onwards, did political prisoners bound for
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Robben Island. In the period up until 1977 when the final Union-Castle sailings were made from Cape Town’s harbour, activity on the jetty – the movement of prisoners onto boats bound for incarceration – must have been known to Union- Castle officials.
If the ship, as Foucault suggests, is a heterotopia, a “floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea,” 42 then surely Table Bay contained two such heterotopic spaces during this period: the luxury interiors of the Union-Castle liners and the sealed confines of a maximum-security prison.
In the 1960s, during the era of Grand Apartheid, Union-Castle – or rather the shipping line’s managing company, B&C – was at the forefront of the Britishowned, non-political organisations which took on the role of presenting South Africa to the British public. Cayzer’s avowed mission was not to antagonise Pretoria and thereby risk damaging his profits. In line with this goal, the disposal of images of the British monarch on ships bound for the Republic and, more importantly, the denial of the realities of black Africa – to promote instead ideas of merriment and indulgence – succeeded in creating a self-contained, untroubled world where the status quo of both the National Party regime and the British/South African political economy remained not only unquestioned and accepted, but supported and maintained. In this way, B&C were able to turn a heterotopia into a utopia.
The cinematic equivalent of the “It’s fun in South Africa” poster the Sid James promotional film can be read as an endorsement of the apartheid system. As Transvaal Castle is pictured entering Table Bay, James’s voice-over continues as a Routemaster bus is driven off the ship. Continuing his narration as if driving the bus around Cape Town and along the city’s coastal beaches, over shots of white bodies surfing and sunbathing on a segregated beach, James enthuses about “lots of lovely space where people can spread themselves and begin to live … there’s something marvellously uncomplicated about life out here [emphasis added]. It’s just like life on board and when you look back on it you realise it was the voyage that set the tone for the whole trip.” 43
His musings interrupted by car horns sounding around him back in Piccadilly, the closing scene of the film shows James as the bus driver verbally giving the finger to a nearby driver (“And bon voyage to you too, mate!”). Just as his message switches to one of ultimate belligerence, the one representation of
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black South Africa to be found in archives in either Greenwich or Cape Town belies the far less jovial reality of what was at actually at stake in determinedly continuing to conduct business with South Africa during apartheid. A photograph (dated 1961) belonging to the Union-Castle archive in the National Library, Cape Town, captures a large group of the shipping line’s South African office staff seated and smiling for the camera. They form a phalanx of contentment as they beam away over the head of their one black colleague, seated crosslegged on the floor below them (Figure 46). It is as if he does not exist, and the impassive camera does not record any lingering discomfort amongst fellow office staff. The photograph is simply labelled “Office Staff” in biro on the reverse. 44
As a tool in the production of a particular construct of British identity, the wilful ignorance of Union-Castle’s interior designers created an aesthetic that spoke of white supremacy and polite avoidance, sunshine, amusement, good living and above all, plain, old-fashioned joviality. In this way, it was possible to legitimise the shipping company’s relationship with the apartheid government despite the dark secrets that were involved in this exchange and the menace of their implications. Remaining shielded from the apartheid regime, Union-Castle passengers would indeed have found that there was great fun to be had in South Africa, so long as they were able to buy into that carefully designed message.
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‘It’s Fun In South Africa’249