Saturday, 6 October 2012

Random found document. Hindsight.

*This one is not a letter to Rian. It's just a random document I found on my hard drive, completely forgot I even wrote this. Wrote it two weeks before I got on a plane to come back to Cape Town from Johannesburg, reflecting on the huge culture shock I encountered when I moved there.

14 March 2012

I’ve been here a month and I still don’t get it. Sitting on a balcony overlooking the street at number 4 Biermann Avenue in Rosebank, the lit tobacco in the pipe I’m smoking is busy dying out. Flashy, expensive cars stop and drive by, each and every one of their drivers probably on their way somewhere, somewhere important very likely.

Everyone in this constantly fidgety town is always on their way somewhere.

Perhaps in Rosebank where I live it’s not as bad, this is where the retired and those newly acquainted with big money reside after all. Hence the fancy cars and the consciously in-tune fashionable attire of people in the street, though from what I’ve seen, I’ve never seen the well dressed Rosebankians walking. Only the posers walk, the dressed up middle class kids that visit Liquid Chefs on a Friday night, spending daddy’s money in the hopes of finding a sugar daddy on the floor of some sparkly, overly expensive club.

Everyone here is always busy and I don’t get why.

Among my group of interns at Avusa, I’ve been dubbed the Leisure Co-ordinator, because of my love of the chill, the hang-out and the I’m-not-doing-anything. The title is just a superfluous one: Poppy is Liquor Administrator and Bianca Office Administrator. But I suppose they reflect a characteristic innate to each of us.

More cars go by, and Lonely People by Dub ‘n Run has its turn in a mix I made.

Jo’burg has lots of those: lonely people. I don’t mean lonely as in longing for company, or wanting affection. No, I just think Jo’burg is a lonely city. It’s so individual-driven. Each and every person on the street, the curator of the Everard Read gallery down the street; the small lady sitting on her recycled beer crate selling cheap cigarettes at over-the-top prices around the corner, she only ever smiles when you buy something from her. Aren’t they all a bit lonely? Aren’t they all trying to make it here? As any fan of American rap music could tell you, they’re hustling.

And that’s exactly it. I feel alien here, I’m not a hustler but I have dreams, and I am determined. 

But I’m not willing to sacrifice my interpersonal interactions for what I want to achieve. I know what I want but I’m not willing to become an island just to achieve success when I could take hold of bliss in a collective.

A 23 year old Capetonian cynic I am, I just can’t connect here. Perhaps it’s the lack of a large body of water, the skyline missing a mountain. But something is off here. This town makes me feel uncomfortable. I’ve made friends, and people are friendly: a smile will be returned with a smile, and a hello with a how-are-you but somehow I miss my socially unbalanced home city.

Where race is a determining factor in how people respond to you, where we still live segregated unless you’re from the middle class, only then do we mix, and only then as far as our interest in the exoticness of the other stretches.

I miss it.

It’s a paradox I’m willing to overlook. I don’t deny at all the opportunity that landed me here is a huge one, working for one of the biggest media houses in the country and being chosen as one of only ten interns: heavy.

Two days before I left for Jo’burg my best friends and girlfriend took me to Simonstown to catch some beach side chilling.

“You’re not going to have this in Jo’burg,” Wilton, one of my three best friends told me, “so get as much of this as you can.”

And he was on the money with that. I miss the ocean, and before I turn into one of these damn lonely people, some fresh ocean air is indeed needed.

Only after that, only after will I resign myself to the hustle, the over achieving drug that fuels this town.

I’m going back home in ten days, and I suppose the ocean had better be there waiting for me.

It's been nearly six months since I left Jo'burg now.

And I work right under the mountain. 

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A Blatantly Open Letter to You, Rian

Having begun reading My Traitor's Heart again after a long time, I've decided to share some of my thoughts with you, Rian. Ideas and ideals sparked by little thngs in the things you say.

You must understand, you've changed the way I observe this place I find myself in: an incessant struggle and everlasting tired wrestling match with race, class, gender and the frustrating duplicity that is Cape Town, South Africa, eighteen years after democracy.

These letters are personal, or as personal as posting them on the internet can be. But I want them to see, where you failed. Where your generation, your people, still have a grip on the eternal cyclic disaster that is this: a post-apartheid Cape Colony.

For me to explain this, I need to explore my own history, and in doing so explore the history and continuous present of Cape Town. But to explore this fair city's past, I need to dig deep into my own experience: a cyclic disaster of race, class, gender, and the inheemse foreigner on our stoeps.

Die Swart Gevaar

Perhaps during the '80s, when you were a liberal, when you had the dirty blond hair you still wear, when you were in that blues band you told me you still play in, perhaps then maybe you thought come Madiba's release, the world would come right, the Afs and the Kleurlinge and the Afrikanervolk and the Rooinekke would live along happily, peacefully even. Wrong, here, my non-responsive recipient, nothing much has changed. The locations still thrive, die wit man is nogsteeds baas and the people on top, they serve the people who can pay. Your great uncle Daniel Francois Malan's plan was a resounding success in the colony. The blacks are with the blacks, the whites with the whites, and the "coloured" folk so named for their inability to be, sometimes, distinguished from your own.

A sprawling city, a beautiful, clean, spotless, cultured city this is. I don't know when last you were here but have you seen how our people, and by "our" I mean South Africans, live? Here we say, come to Cape Town!, we love all shapes, colours and creeds. Nothing, my friend, could be any further from the truth. Here, the Other isn't the black man, the savage the Voortrekkers thought they saw, here He is anyone. Of course this depends on which neighbourhood you decide to trek through.

It has been eighteen years since the "fall" of Apartheid, and I may slip into cliché, perhaps even closely veer towards the dangerous abyss that is modern African National Congress rhetoric by saying: we now have a new divide. I wouldn't dare to call it an apartheid, nee wat, dis 'n ander soort dier hierdie, this is a wholly different beast. Or perhaps not, it could be just the sum of all the leftover pieces of the Apartheid mirror that crashed and splintered all over the Castle's front door the day Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was sworn in as the first black president of the Republic of South Africa. It could be a derelict attempt by the societal norm that apartheid was, trying to keep itself together, desperately holding on to the last bits of its mollified skin and bones.

But, no, it's been almost two decades. You must understand, I write this not as an attack on you, only because at once I love and despise you and yours: love for the brutal honesty that you opened up on yourself, an honesty that caused me to explore my own bits of ugly history, my own denialist present; and it is that that I despise, the hopeful denial you trekked through, the shakes and nods of the head and the "it's going to be okay"s. You must understand, Rian, I too am a recipient of a present shaped by past atrocities, the Sharpeville massacre, the 1976 Youth uprising, shaped to believe in all that is equal and right, that all should be equal and fair, that black is not black but black can be white and green, that when asked what I am I should answer "I'm african", or "Ek is swart, juffrou". 

That was how my mother raised me, to see in anti-colour shades, to see the joy. But now I see the shades, the creeping, ever creeping closer thunderclouds that some time in the near future will erupt and disrupt the menial mainstream flow of Cape Town life. Perhaps my story far seems too dark, too macabre, too generalised. Perhaps. After all, in Long Street interracial couples can walk freely, without second glances. Maybe in Gardens too. Maybe even in Observatory, Salt River, Woodstock. But The truth is, that bastion of keeping the blacks with the blacks and the whites with their fellows and the kleurlinge away from one another is still in full swing. The fear of a dark skin, so ingrained in the Afrikaner mind, that same mind that you explained to me in writing, regulates the unconscious thoughts of most, if not all Capetonians.

The blacks with the blacks, the whites with their whites and the others, all others, with themselves.
In secret, hating and waiting one another out, for the day one slips up. An unknown-to-themselves hatred that runs deep among all South Africans, or perhaps a fear. A medieval fear of still not knowing what the other really is. A common mistrust that the man in the township will simply always rob you, "keep your wallets and your purse tucked away, no valuables, please"; that we all in the ghetto know "the white man with the money really runs the government", which in many cases, is still true, that that same white man will treat us here like cattle, a disposable workforce; "these boer-ooms would never give us jobs".

But, another time, perhaps tomorrow, I'll write again, this after all was only me introducing my pen-self to you. There is much more to discuss. Much much more, all of this came off the top of my head, perhaps for my next letter I'll prepare something. Because you need to know what you left behind.