Changing Places
Trafalgar Square, in the heart of London’s chic West End and theater district,
has a historical reputation as a center of political protest and mass gather-
It has been the final destination of many rallies and demonstrations
since the nineteenth century. One of the longest-running protests was the
vigil by the anti-apartheid activists who took up permanent residence on
one side of the square outside the South African High Commission, effec-
tively boycotting entry to South Africa House. Consequently, for many of
us the building was out of bounds until 1994 (figure 99). The year of the
first democratic elections in South Africa inevitably heralded a new era for
the South African High Commission and nights spent tucked up in a warm
bed rather than on the inclement street outside the building for the anti-
apartheid protestors.
For most of us who had never seen the interior of South Africa House,
setting foot inside the building was an extraordinary experience. One had
the strong sensation of crossing a threshold in both the symbolic and actual
sense of that word, for the building was a perfectly preserved representa-
tion of an idealized 1930s South African universe—idealized in that it pro-
duced with minute attention to detail the symbolic regimes of a nation on
the cusp of an independence from its colonial ruler (Britain) but one that
would also usher in the segregationist and racial supremacist ideology of
apartheid. Clearly the new democratic dispensation in South Africa in 1994
would need to put another face on one of its key diplomatic missions, and by
the year 2000 a refurbishment plan had been drawn up that was designed
to be more representative of the ideals of the new government.
In many ways the tale of the two high commissions is the tale in micro-
cosm of this book, for it both revisits some of the earlier history concerning
the foundations of the apartheid state and takes us forward to a vision of the
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