Tag: Cape Town

Being an Eastern Cape refugee in Cape Town

(Pic: Gallo)
(Pic: Gallo)

A lot is made in South Africa of the “refugee situation”; that is, desperate immigrants from other African countries who have chosen to settle in the continent’s southernmost country.

Protestations that Nigerians, Congolese, Malawians and Somalis, in particular, “have come to steal our jobs” are as ubiquitous as the daily furore at the taxi rank over who saw which customer first.

That is complete nonsense of course, and everyone knows it, but it is one of those topics, like dissecting the merits of the Pep Store funeral plan, that locals like to debate endlessly.

Yet in truth South Africans are among the greatest number of refugees going around, so to speak.

Ask any South African on the street where they are originally from, and they will invariably tell you a location hundreds of kilometres away from where they live now.

And in Mzansi, there is no greater natural refugee than one who hails from the Eastern Cape. I should know – I am one.

According to the 2011 Census, in the Eastern Cape, 436 466 people left the province since the last census 10 years prior. Ninety-four percent of the Eastern Cape population was born in the province, compared to 56% of Gauteng’s population.

And almost two million people born in the Eastern Cape lived in other provinces, with the majority living in the Western Cape in and around the Cape Town metro (0.9 million) and Gauteng (0.5 million).  

Desperately poor under apartheid and equally so now, the Eastern Cape has never quite managed to get off the ground, despite vast swathes of natural beauty, excellent schools and universities and being home to South Africa’s motor industry for decades.

Every year scores of us leave to work in Johannesburg or Cape Town, either in the industrial or mining sector or to pursue a career in the corporate or entertainment field. “That’s where the money is” we are told, and off we go; an annual exodus not seen since the days of the Biblical plagues.

I myself am a late bloomer in terms of the Eastern Cape émigré, having only settled in Cape Town several months ago. Yet, even now, I can honestly say my reason for leaving was neither financially-driven nor born out of any especial desire to become a master of the universe.

Yes, I was in need of a job upon my return from Southeast Asia, but the main catalyst for my decision was that Cape Town – with all its hipsters, beardy-weirdies, flash public-relations types and movie-extra hopefuls – represented the ideal opportunity for change.

I was reared in Port Elizabeth and will always be proud to call it my home town. But in the last few years I had seen it become a microcosm of Johannesburg where a rat race, and indeed, sometimes egotistical mentality had begun to infiltrate every aspect of your working and social life.

The result was that the city once deemed the friendliest in the land had become disconnected from what it once was –  sleepy yes, but a good place to relax and enjoy your days in the sun.

I worked briefly in Johannesburg some years back, but after a few weeks the hustle and bustle of a heaving concrete beast became too much. There was no tangible downtime to take your mind off the previous week’s work, and everyone seemed in too much of a hurry to get onto the next thing – and prove the next thing to others.

I understand perfectly that these attitudes sometimes are required in an economic hub, but they are definitely not for everybody. And neither should they be, especially in a city like Port Elizabeth which was historically always a delightful place to live despite being blue-collar.

So Cape Town it was, a 700-odd kilometre trek up the N2 for this particular refugee.

It has been two months now, so what do I have to report?

Without a shadow of a doubt, change has been effected.

Cape Town, above all, is comfortable with itself, and that is reflected in the attitudes of its residents. Aside from the odd bad apple one encounters, the people are among the friendliest in the country, and that has a marked impact on one’s own attitudes.

The Cape Town native is acutely aware that their city has a reputation for being “cliquey”, but also knows that this arises from a small cross-section of the community who most people avoid at all costs.

Second point: Cape Town residents do not care one jot for the political wrangling that consumes South Africans in other parts of the country.

Contrary to what some might believe, Mother City residents are not in the least bit interested in spending their dinner times dissecting the latest political diatribe from one or other party leader. While they are immensely proud that their city houses the country’s Parliament, one suspects they are even more pleased that the magnificent building bolsters the central business district’s prime real estate value.     

It is almost as though politicians are only rolled out when there is an election, otherwise civil society pretty much runs itself.

To be free of South Africa’s great political preoccupation is a huge relief, and it is little wonder that many Capetonians appear perplexed when they see someone ranting and raving about something or other on television.

And finally, how could anyone continue to harbour feelings of anxiety or anger or concern when in every direction there is either a mountain, ocean or vineyard to gaze upon? It is almost impossible to worry about anything for too long.

As South Africans will have guessed by now, the description of myself as a “refugee” in this piece relates to an incident in early 2012 when Western Cape Premier Helen Zille referred to Eastern Cape pupils flocking to Cape Town for improved education as “education refugees”.

It sparked a massive outcry, prompting the ruling party and others to label the Western Cape government an “erstwhile apartheid” regime.

Personally, looking back on that incident now and as an Eastern Cape refugee myself, I don’t see what all the fuss was about.   

John Harvey is a media relations consultant in Cape Town. He previously worked as a journalist in Port Elizabeth, Plettenberg Bay and Cambodia, contributing to a number of South African and international publications. He is hoping to obtain his work visa for Cape Town shortly.

Race and racism in the Republic of Cape Town

(Pic: Gallo)
(Pic: Gallo)

Cape Town is so conservative. It’s not surprising then that the rest of the country calls it “The Republic” – a country not quite a part of the so-called new South Africa. You don’t have to look far to see whom Cape Town caters for. Just take a short drive from Vredehoek to Khayelitsha, as a start. If you’re not the driving type, take one of those cute red tour buses, plug in those nifty little earphones and learn the unpalatable history of this city, said with such timid self-awareness so as not to give away what nearly every Capetonian knows – that Cape Town is still divided along racial lines.

Anyone who lives in the city centre will vehemently deny this although it’s evidently clear, from the racial makeup of boardrooms and suburbs to those who are left to enjoy the city after 5pm. It is an awkward contradiction for a city that desperately wants to be seen as a progressive “World Design Capital”. Unless by design it means the invisible lines that run across the city, dividing it into specific racial areas: the whites in affluent suburbs and the CBD, the blacks and the coloureds in the townships; a spatial arrangement akin to that of a chest drawer with distinct shelves and compartments that contain each puzzle piece of Cape Town in its place – except for the bergies and buskers who seem intolerable nuisances. (Remember the assault of a blind busker by police last year?)

The other not-so-famous incidents include a “private function” policy at certain bars, such as Asoka, where black people have the unfortunate position of being turned away at the door once the colour quota has been reached. There was also that interesting piece of journalism by the Cape Argus, last year, which uncovered what was evidently a stated preference for white tenants by property owners in suburbs around the City Bowl. The city has vehemently refuted claims that it’s racist. Here, I must concede that Cape Town isn’t racist – at least not in the classical sense of what we see in documentaries and exhibitions about apartheid. There are no “Whites Only” signs around the city. It must be an unfortunate coincidence then that there are hardly any black people who live in the affluent parts of Cape Town. It must also be an unfortunate coincidence that novelist Teju Cole, in his interview with City Press about the Open Book Fair, stated: “[Cape Town] is a divided society where privilege accrues very much to people who are white and who have money.”

A woman carrying a child walks down an alleyway in Blikkiesdorp ("Tin Can Town" in Afrikaans), a settlement of corrugated iron houses about 25km east of Cape Town. (Pic: AFP)
A woman carrying a child walks down an alleyway in Blikkiesdorp (“Tin Can Town” in Afrikaans), a settlement of corrugated iron houses about 25km east of Cape Town. (Pic: AFP)

When I went to the Open Book Fair in Cape Town last September, I nearly tripped over myself when I realised how homogenous the audience was – a pale sea of whiteness jostling around brilliant black writers. I distinctly remember thinking: don’t these white folk find it strange that there are no black people at this event, except for a negligible number of tokens, myself included? Contrast that to the Jozi Book Fair or any art opening showcasing a black artist’s work. Johannesburg, as far as art is concerned, has a more diverse audience; a more informed audience than Cape Town, and a notably larger black middle class. Some attribute this to the economic status of the city but the alternative answers avail themselves easily when you speak to black professionals who are about to relocate to the City Of Gold. Often you’ll hear that there is little or no transformation within the organisations and companies situated in Cape Town. The bosses are white, the tea lady is black, Jabu answers to Chris. In a nutshell, Cape Town companies are run by white males.

As if this wasn’t enough, even the visual arts crowd is predominantly white despite the fact that “nearly two thirds of emerging visual artists under the age of 40, in South Africa, are black” according to Joost Bosland, one of the directors of the Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town . The very people, I presume, these emerging black artists would love to have a conversation with through their work never get to see the work, at all. And the art industry seems perfectly fine with this. Typically, you’ll find a group of black artists doing work that concerns something about them being black but it’s shown in spaces and to people who aren’t quite engaged with the stories being told by the artists; people who appreciate the work from a distance. Some artists struggle with this. I chatted to Mohau Modisakeng, a visual artist, about how race plays out in the arts: “I look at art as a language, a language that functions like any other – using pictures and symbols. And my language is informed by my mother’s story and my father’s story, and how I grew up. I’d say my audience is people who share the similar circumstances in life, whether it’s social, political or economic. They are my ideal audience, but I can’t get to them because of these frameworks that are in place.”

These frameworks are a historical fact that persists to this day. A present reality that is burdened by our history of deliberate social exclusion, which makes for very specific demarcation of the various groups who are in or out, or comfortable or not comfortable in a space; a fact currently at play in this city, sans the apartheid signage. The white man who recently told my friend at the Harley’s Liquor store that he wished “he’d gotten rid of all of you when we had a chance” simply because he thought she was jumping the queue to pay for a bottle of red wasn’t racist – he was being conservative, by Cape Town standards. He just wanted her to know her historic place and to remain in it – and that place is nowhere near him and his lily-white Cape Town CBD.

L.L. Fikeni lives, writes and works in Cape Town.

Medicine on wheels for Khayelitsha residents

An initiative started by Sizwe Nzima, a 21-year-old South African entrepreneur, is now a thriving, Forbes-recognised and award-winning business which fills a much-needed gap between the residents in Khayelitsha, Cape Town and the nearby public hospitals and clinics.

Nzima and his employees deliver medication by bicycle to chronically ill, mostly elderly residents who would have otherwise spent essential time, money and energy making their way to facilities and queuing for their medication.

His business is called Iyeza Express and, since its inception in 2012, has a growing customer base.

Nzima is one of the M&G’s 200 Young South Africans for 2013 and was recently featured on BBC.

Dynamic Africa is a multimedia curated blog focused on all facets of African cultures, African history, and the lives and experiences of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora – past and present. Visit the blog and connect with the curator, Funke Makinwa, on Twitter.


Sex education on a street kerb

Between HIV prevalence statistics, child grants, polygamy, Ben 10s, sexual violence and the annual initiation-school deaths, the medical, moral and economic panics that swirl around black bodies in South Africa are enough to power all the geysers in Gauteng for a month.  Perhaps it is with this knowledge of the many panics surrounding all matters black and sexual that enterprising self-proclaimed miracle workers going by nondescript names like ‘Dr Tony from East Africa’  promise all manner of miracle cures for all kinds of sexual problems – from fixing relationship crises to penis enlargements. (For some mysterious reason, these doctors are almost always from East Africa). This social investment in matters relating to black sexuality may explain why on one Cape Town train, the only stickers gracing the walls and roofs of carriages are adverts for penis enlargements and “quick, same-day” abortions (their  words). Whenever I take this train, I am uncertain what bothers me more: these doctors’ advertorial monopoly or the logic of having adverts for “quick, same-day” abortions side by side with adverts for penis enlargements.

True, I failed maths in school — which explains why all numbers have a slippery encounter with my mind — but the equation here seems too unfortunate, even for my anti-algebraic mind. I can’t decide whether it is a question of  ‘to each their perils’ or an acknowledgement of some correlation between penis enlargements and women’s desperation for backstreet abortions. In this social climate, a roadside conversation about sex and its perils is bound to be tinted with all manner of ideas.  But what better place than the Cape to have a random conversation about sex, with an unknown teenager, at 8:23 in the morning?

(Pic: Flickr / Rob Allen)
(Pic: Flickr / Rob Allen)

I am walking to work on a typical Cape winter’s day.  Sheltered by my umbrella, I’m listening to an SAfm talk-show on serial killers. Among the panelists is an ex-convict, invited in his capacity as a former serial killer. He clarifies to the talk-show host that, eintlik, he is an ex-murderer. Not a former serial killer. He just happened to have murdered, well, several people.

I feel the presence of someone beside me. Being hyper-sensitised by the talk-show discussion, I almost jump.  As I turn to my left, I hear the ultra-polite greeting, “Good morning m’aam”. I respond, as I remove my earphones, slightly puzzled at this young man, about sixteen, a few inches shorter than me, cuddled in a heavy coat, hands in his pocket.

“Ma’am, can I ask you something?”

I don’t know where this is going, and I am puzzled at the polite “Ma’am” laced with the heavy ‘coloured’ Afrikaans accent, but as we walk on, I say, “Okay?”

“Please, I am not being rude, but I want to know: is sex painful?”

Ei? But really now!?! I turn and look into his face, preparing to firmly tell him he is way too young to be trying this nonsense with me, and even for his age-mates, he will need to learn some ‘pick-up’ protocol. But as I look for words, I realise from the serious, slightly shy look on his face that he is not being cheeky. He is actually expecting a serious answer to this question; and from the shy look on his face, he has been pondering this question for a while.

“Yes, sometimes it is. Why do you ask?”

“My girlfriend says it is painful. Is it painful for men too?”

I never! It occurs to me then that I have never asked the men in my circles and life this question. The automatic assumption is that of course sex is always pleasurable for men.  It is still drizzling, and my office is a block away. It quickly occurs to me that this is a Dear Sis Dolly moment; and I must respect  this young man’s courage to ask this question of a complete stranger. He must have realised this conversation could go very badly. I quickly don my big-sister hat and step into this street-kerb sex-education scenario. I truthfully explain to him that sometimes it is painful for women, but I do not know if it can also be painful for men. I am a big sister/aunt. I tell him the best way around this is to always listen to his girlfriend, and never force her to have sex when she is not ready. I fumble around for polite language for explaining the importance of foreplay to women’s sexual comfort, as he listens attentively. Lastly, I tell him to always be safe and ensure he protects himself and his girlfriend, by using a condom. He giggles at this last part, and shyly tells me he knows about the importance of condoms.

“Good!” I smile back at him. “So, where are you going so early in the morning?” I ask.

To pick up something from his father, who works at our local supermarket.

As we parted ways, my heart ached for this teenager, who had to resort to a stranger on the street to explain sexual matters when he lived with his father. I found this encounter so bizarre that the first thing I did was describe it to my colleague at work because it was so odd that it felt like a hallucination. My colleague had only one question for me: Why is it that of all the people on the streets he decided to ask you?

The jury is still out on this question.

Oh, and now, thanks to my male friends, I have an answer for my young friend on whether sex is painful for men.

A bit of Jamaica in Cape Town

It’s a windy Friday afternoon. I walk through shopping stalls that line a tiny pathway between a fish and chips shop and Woolworths. A kid in a torn T-shirt flashes a 32GB memory stick in my face. I refuse the deal, even before hearing his price. I sink underground in an escalator. At the bottom of it is a man selling newspapers and three women touting various perfumes. A few minutes later, I surface in front of McDonald’s. I dissect the Golden Acre Shopping Centre in half with its walk-through and emerge on the other side that faces Darling Street. Now I’m in front of Jimmy Braye’s Rasta stall. Reggae blares from it; a huge Bob Marley poster flaps in the wind; red, green and yellow clothes are draped everywhere. “Welcome to Jamaica,” it all seems to say, but this is Cape Town.

Jimmy Braye's stall. (Pic: Dudumalingani Mqombothi)
Jimmy Braye’s stall. (Pic: Dudumalingani Mqombothi)

I start to say sorry for being late but Jimmy quickly stops me. “No need to apologise, my king,” he says. He’s young, loud, big and friendly; Ghanaian but he’s been calling South Africa home since 2003. Before that he spent some time exploring Argentina. “I have been everywhere my king. Singapore, Holland, Togo, Uganda and Australia,” he says proudly.

South Africa beckoned because he saw it as an “economically viable” country. He started out working for Community Peace Project, an NGO based in Observatory, for two years. In 2005, he embraced his passion and opened up his Rasta stall. “I saw a need for it,” he says simply. People come to Jimmy for caps, T-shirts, pants, hoodies, bags, smoking pipes, Rizla and books. He gets his supplies in bulk from Johannesburg.

I ask Jimmy how he finds Cape Town – “It’s beautiful, my king” – and South Africa today. He stares at me for a short while rearranging his thoughts and finding the right words to communicate them. “South Africa is getting there. Its democracy is still young but slowly it is getting there. I hope it does not end up ruined like other African countries. But under the current government, that seems to be happening,” he says. Jimmy tells me he doesn’t follow the news or politics but “South Africa is ready for new leadership. The same thing happening here is happening across the continent. I know this because I’ve been around.”

Jimmy Kaye. (Pic: Dudumalingani Mqombothi)
Jimmy Braye. (Pic: Dudumalingani Mqombothi)

Apart from the shop, Jimmy runs the Marcus Garvey Foundation out of his home in Vredehoek. He started the project to source funding to build homes for homeless kids. This dream is yet to materialise but he remains hopeful that donors will come on board.

During the two hours I spent with Jimmy, tourists, street kids and passersby dropped in often, some to browse, others to say hi, and some after “a spliff to blaze”. Jimmy smokes weed but doesn’t sell it. “The cops come to search for it but they do not find it because I do not sell any dagga,” he says.

Sales aren’t great but he is happy his stall is still operating after nine years. Making a profit is secondary to doing what he loves, he says. You will find Jimmy here from six to six every day except on Sundays, when he goes to church, and Tuesdays, when he goes to the Deer Park with his fellow Rastas to pray and smoke. He spends his free time working on his project for homeless kids.

Jimmy is one of many informal traders in Cape Town but he’s not only here to make a living; he wants to make a difference. We say goodbye, Rastafarian-style. I pound his left fist with mine and touch his open left palm with my own, and then I step out of Jamaica into Cape Town.

Dudumalingani Mqombothi is a film school graduate who loves reading, writing, taking walks and photography. He plans to write a novel when his thoughts stop scaring him.