The Ultimate Safari

by Nadine Gordimer

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1035

Between 1948 and 1992, the Republic of South Africa had an institutionalized system of racial segregation known as ‘‘apartheid’’—the Afrikaner word meaning ‘‘separateness.’’ Effectively stripping all South African blacks, coloreds, and Indians of their citizenship rights, apartheid was instrumental in helping whites to maintain power in the predominantly black country. As countries across Africa regained their independence from Europeans, the South African government, fearing the liberating influence of its recently liberated black neighbors on its own black population, financially and militarily supported the efforts of rebel groups to destabilize neighboring governments. This desperate measure to protect the apartheid system and the white control of the South African economic and political structures resulted in the long-term displacement and deaths of millions of southern Africans over the years. Nearly all of Gordimer’s work addresses, in some way, the effects apartheid has had on whites and blacks alike.

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Prior to the events of the story, the narrator had lost both her father and her mother to the war. Her grandmother and grandfather took over parenting responsibilities, and when the grandfather lost his only means of livelihood to the bandits, he suffered from a mental breakdown of some sort, and the grandmother took over sole responsibility of raising the family. It was through the commitment of the grandmother to keeping her family together that the narrator and her siblings were able to trek hundreds of miles across the wilds of Kruger Park to the relative safety of the refugee camp.

One of the major effects of the South African policy of apartheid was the displacement of millions of blacks in the region. In South Africa itself, where apartheid dictated where blacks were legally allowed to live, many poor families were forced to live illegally in shanty towns outside of cities where they hoped to find work, living effectively as homeless people in corrugated iron shacks and tempo rary structures. In the larger southern African region, many poor villagers were forced by military incursions financed by South Africa to abandon their homes in favor of refugee camps where they lived for years in desperate conditions. At the end of the story, a white reporter asks the grandmother if she ever wants to return home. While the young girl dreams of a day she will be reunited with her mother and grandfather in their home village, the grandmother responds directly by saying, ‘‘There is nothing. No home.’’

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Even though many countries around the world— particularly in Africa—have successfully liberated themselves from their European colonial rulers, most of them are still economically and militarily vulnerable to outside forces. In southern Africa, many of the border areas surrounding South Africa were effectively reduced to anarchy and lawlessness by the repeated incursions by quasi-military groups funded and supported by the South African government. While some of the military groups had legitimate political issues they were addressing, most of them were little more than groups of vigilantes whose sole aim was to destabilize the areas through brutal force that included raids, pillaging, and military attacks. It was this environment of lawlessness that finally forced the narrator and her family to make the arduous trek with other refugee families through Kruger Park and to the refugee camps in South Africa.

One of the goals of apartheid was to help whites, who made up less than 20 percent of the South African population, maintain complete economic and military control. The effect of their policies was the widespread oppression of otherwise innocent blacks in both South Africa itself as well as in the neighboring countries.

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Latest answer posted August 11, 2007, 12:26 am (UTC)

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Racial Conflict
Apartheid effectively contributed to the complete economic and political control by whites of the non-white population in and around South Africa through the institutionalization of race-based classi- fication systems and laws. Apartheid effectively fueled racist tendencies among the populace, and one of the effects was the dehumanization, in the eyes of the white populations, of blacks. Although there is no ‘‘racial conflict’’ per se in ‘‘The Ultimate Safari,’’ the widespread racial conflicts that the area had been experiencing for years led to the environment that forced whole families and villages into desperate living situations. Without that racial con- flict, it would have been difficult for whites to justify the widespread refugee problem, and there would have been greater pressures for more humane and peaceful solutions to the problems South Africa believed it was facing.

Rites of Passage
The family’s trip through the wilds of Kruger Park can be viewed allegorically as a rite of passage for the young narrator. Through the journey, the girl must confront the loss of yet another family member—her grandfather—and she must take over the parenting responsibilities of her younger brother whom she must physically support. The narrator, though she is only 11 years old at the story’s completion and although she still clings to the naïve hope that she has a home to return to where her grandfather and mother will be waiting, has begun the process of passing through the rites that will eventually lead her to womanhood.

Role of Women
In a society ruled by war, the women of the villages were forced to take over all parenting responsibilities, becoming both the homemaker and wage earner. In ‘‘The Ultimate Safari,’’ the burden of this dual responsibility falls onto the shoulders of the grandmother, who must not only lead her grandchildren to safety, but who must also take over the care of her own husband whose dementia has rendered him useless. To a lesser degree, the narrator must also take over parenting responsibilities by carrying and caring for her infant brother who begins to grow weak from malnutrition during their trek.

The warfare that the villages experience in the course of Gordimer’s story is ‘‘guerilla’’ warfare; that is, the Renamo rebels trying to overthrow the government do so in ways that create instability in the outlying areas without ever directly confronting the government’s military forces themselves. Guerilla warfare is an effective military tool for groups of limited resources, as fewer soldiers are needed to inflict serious damage, and the psychological effects on the population are far greater than they are through conventional warfare.

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