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.




  1. Fingers in the Sky, all blogging, all different topics. Nice. You're inspiring me to re-read My Traitor's Heart. From what I remember (it's been a few years), I thought it captured SA's complexity as best the written word could. I seem to remember Rian being actually quite pessimistic about the state of things.. (like, not falling into the blissful post apartheid dream). But, a few years have blurred my memory. Gonna dig it out now. Keep on rocking.

  2. Also, dankie vir die nuwe Afrikaans woorde.