Stories by Joe Contreras

  • The Killing Fields

    The elephants are running. Months of blazing heat have dried up the seasonal ponds scattered throughout Chobe National Park in northern Botswana. Desperate for water, the beasts rush headlong toward the Chobe River, which straddles the border with Namibia. After slaking their thirst, they begin foraging for food, but there's little to choose from. Thousands of elephants have picked clean some of the forests that once lined the river, cutting a two-mile-wide swath along its banks. The desolate land is strewn with dead acacia trees, their bark peeled off, their branches broken, their trunks uprooted. ...
  • Poor, White, South African

    White maids in South Africa? To tradition-minded Afrikaners, it's an affront. Even working-class white women have long considered black domestics as part of their birthright. Scrubbing floors, like digging ditches, was viewed as kafferwerk-literally, nigger work. But hard times are forcing some whites down on their knees. In the two months since teacher Babette Schoeman opened an employment agency in a Johannesburg suburb, she has placed more than 40 "European" women in white households as maids. Anita Vuurman, 48, is a former bookkeeper; next week the divorced mother of three will start work as an $18-a-day domestic in a retirement community. "Nothing gets done for needy whites," she complains. ...
  • The Color Of Money

    For months President F. W. de Klerk has basked in the glow of his "new" South Africa, soaking up applause as he flew from one foreign capital to another to proclaim the death of apartheid. But last week he was hunkered down behind closed doors, his image as a reformer shattered by press disclosures that Foreign Minister Pik Botha had secretly funneled $90,000 to the conservative black political party Inkatha in late 1989 and early 1990. The South African police also admitted to channeling more than $500,000 in clandestine funds to an Inkatha-affiliated union since 1987; the covert payments continued long after de Klerk took office in 1989. The revelations shredded the credibility of Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and may hinder de Klerk's ability to negotiate with the African National Congress on a new South African constitution. ...
  • Is It Time To Lift Sanctions?

    Is apartheid really crumbling? The last legal pillar fell last week. Before the South African Parliament adjourned for the year it repealed the Population Registration Act, which requires all South African newborns to be classified by race. The political payoff was immediate. Japan announced it would ease cultural sanctions against South Africa. Kenya restored sporting links. And White House officials said President Bush might seek an end to U.S. economic sanctions as early as mid-July. It was no revolution: South African blacks still can't vote, and the difficult job of hammering out a new constitution lies ahead. Still, President F. W. de Klerk was jubilant. "Now everybody is free of [apartheid]," he said. "Now it belongs to history." ...
  • 'Like A Dam Wall Bursting'

    Black Africa's efforts to isolate South Africa never amounted to much more than rhetoric. The supposed pariah remained a commercial hub; while Nelson Mandela languished in prison, trains from Cape Town brought everything from combs to chemicals into neighboring Zimbabwe, one of apartheid's harshest critics. But now that President F. W. de Klerk has begun to dismantle official racism, even the posturing is falling away. Last week de Klerk became the first South African leader to ever visit Kenya. Earlier this month a South African airliner was allowed to overfly West Africa for the first time in 28 years. And the 51-member Organization of African Unity said it would consider readmitting Pretoria. "It's like a dam wall bursting," said de Klerk. "We are a part of Africa, and most countries in Africa would like us to play [our] role." ...
  • Toppling The Last Pillars

    The annual opening session of South Africa's racially segregated Parliament last week may be remembered as the day apartheid was buried for good. In a dramatic address, President F. W. de Klerk promised to topple all remaining pillars of apartheid legislation, including a key law that requires classification of all South Africans on the basis of skin color. Horrified rightist Afrikaner legislators heckled him with cries of "traitor" and "hangman"; many stalked out in protest. But de Klerk pressed on. "The goal, with the removal of discrimination, is to give all South Africans full rights in every sphere of life," the president said. "South Africa cannot allow the dynamic process of reform to slow down." ...
  • Big Boot For U.S. Soccer

    In the soccer-playing universe it is almost as rare as Halley's comet and could be just as fleeting: a rare sighting of the American team in the quadrennial World Cup. This Sunday the United States will end a 40-year World Cup drought when it takes the field against Czechoslovakia in Florence's Stadio Comunale. The U.S. squad is one of 24 teams that qualified for the 30-day tournament getting underway in Milan this week, and most pundits expect the Americans to pack their bags after the end of first-round play. But the last U.S. World Cup entry achieved one of the sport's all-time upsets, shocking England 1-0 in the 1960 tournament held in Brazil, and the coach of this year's contingent is warning opponents not to take his players too lightly. "We are not going to Italy just to show up," says Hungarian-born skipper Bob Gansler. "We have enough ability to finish." ...