The radio symbolizes the Smaleses’ white liberal hypocrisy. It also symbolizes the cultural displacement they experience when the country’s ongoing civil war forces them to abandon their old life in Johannesburg for July’s rural village. The Smaleses constantly tune in to the radio to receive news updates about the conflict in Johannesburg. While the Smaleses take pride in their progressive, anti-apartheid politics, their fixation with the news reveals a contradiction between their progressive politics and their desire for a political situation that favors their race and social status. Presumably, the Smaleses are listening to the radio with the hope that a news broadcast will announce the defeat of the Black rebel fighters, an end of the civil war, and a return to the apartheid-era social order that existed before the conflict began. In other words, the Smaleses long for the reinstatement of an oppressive regime that they have long condemned. This contradiction between the Smaleses’ theoretical political views and their practical hopes for the future illustrates the limitations of white liberalism. While the Smaleses support equality ideologically, their constant radio monitoring suggests that they are not entirely willing to embrace a new social order that robs them of the many privileges they used to enjoy. They might support racial equality and oppose apartheid—but only so long as these social changes don’t negatively impact their quality of life. As the couple obsessively tunes in to the radio to listen for news of an end to the fighting and a return to the status quo, they find it increasingly hard to ignore the fact that their desire to return to their old life directly contradicts their supposedly progressive, anti-apartheid views. Maureen and Bam claim to support Black liberation, yet they also desire the privileges that Black oppression affords them.
The Radio Quotes in July’s People
—Here, I bring for you— He tossed up in his palm and presented to her two small radio batteries.
—Oh how marvellous. How clever to remember.— He had heard her say it all when friends brought her flowers or chocolates.
He grinned and swayed a little, as they did. —Now you listen nice again.— It was the small flourish of his exit.