The Many Faces of South Africa

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Quite a lot’s been said about South Africa and the state of crime, poverty and inequality over the years. I don’t intend to make a critique of this issue in this blog post since there are many wonderful things to celebrate and highlight in South Africa but it would be unfair of me not to at touch on the current state of affairs before I go on with my little tour.

A selection of popular Afircan dishes including a popular lumpy Zimbabwean millet beer, Chibuku.

A selection of popular African dishes including a popular lumpy Zimbabwean millet beer, Chibuku. Cape Town CBD.

Certainly the Rand has weakened considerably over the last decade against the dollar and sterling. When I arrived a month ago the mid-market rate was about 17.5 to the pound. Today it’s 18.5.

That obviously works in my favour as a sterling account holder. So when a beer at a local bar costs me R25 I score; when a meal costs R40, I score; when an Uber taxi costs as little as R25, I score. It’s also revealing that most of the Zimbabwean contingent I talked to at my brother’s wedding repeatedly remarked on how ‘cheap’ everything was.

The problem for working class South Africa is touched upon in an article I found on the site News24 from August last year (referenced at end of post) and is presumably still reasonably accurate. It alleges that South Africa is …

“… a country without an adequate social security net and where at least half of the national workforce earns less than R3 100 a month. Perhaps as many as a third of men and women in work earn less than R2 000 a month.

Yet most trade unions and human rights groups estimate that a bare living wage in 2014 would be between R4 000 and R5 000 a month.”

Even considering the relative affordability of food and services for me I find it hard to imagine surviving on less than 150 quid, and perhaps even as little as 100 for many. Considering that RSA is one of the continent’s more affluent nations it’s saying a lot. It is worth scrolling down to the comments section where some other facts and figures give further food for thought.

#Utopian Indignant, claims:

Actually not. Just like government, Terry Bell uses the incorrect exchange conversion rate to compare wages with overseas. The correct rate is the Purchase Parity Conversion Rate – youa re using the speculative moneymarket rate, which is only for buying and selling money on international markets. Terry and government arrive at incorrect costs calculations on contracts and wage negotiations because of this technical error. Using the correct rate, our pay compares reasonably per skill level with overseas, but our Public Sector is significantly overpaid.

Another quotes official stats to support his claim that the black population has grown by 47% in the last 20 years whilst the white population has only seen a net increase of less than 5%.

Whatever the situation, I’ve seen a fair deal of poverty on my trip out here. It’s hard to say whether or not there are more beggars and homeless individuals than previously. Although the sight of destitute whites still shocks some I think it’s important to look beyond colour and rather at communities.

I’m aware that sectors of the scattered Afrikaans communities look out for their aged members who have fallen through the safety net. Black African communities tend to have stronger familial relationships than their European counterparts. Are they strong enough to weather the hard times notwithstanding the question of the foreign workforce and the forces of xenophobia which seem to simmer in the background?

I don’t have the answers, but like my friend Carol I agree that anyone who chooses to bury their head in the sand and ignore these issues does it to their potential detriment. Where is the charity of society when all I hear are cynical assertions that vagrants and beggars have probably ‘brought it upon themselves’, ‘are most likely criminals’ or that they make ‘obscene amounts of money begging at traffic lights.’

I don’t believe it frankly. Most of the people I’ve given a few Rand coins to or, on occasion, bought a loaf of bread or packet of crisps for, have been pretty desperate people. If this isn’t manifest in their appearance or demeanour it’s in their eyes. I’ve no doubt some of them will spend this money on alcohol or some other substance but at least a quarter of people who’ve approached me have asked for food and been grateful for it.

He plays a badly tuned red guitar but his voice was true and heartfelt.

He plays a badly tuned red guitar but his voice was true and heartfelt. Near Parliament Gardens, Cape Town.

It doesn’t cost me anything substantial because of the nature of the exchange rate. The scriptural homily about giving in proportion to one’s means actually leaves me slightly uncomfortable in times like these. Am I giving generously enough?

At times it seems better to give nothing rather than give inadequately but one has to put one’s pride aside in such situations. There will always be beggars who will push their luck. I do try make a point of giving more generously to those who seek to help themselves. I have a soft spot for buskers and street artists.

There is much to admire in those who go out on the streets in all-weather with an old guitar, hand-drum or accordion to earn their living. Perhaps all that they have is their voice. Some of the sweetest, most heartfelt songs I’ve been privy to were played or sung from a street corner or pavement.

Busking can be a lonely and frustrating business at times. This young man's trumpet was in a poor state of repair. My heart went out to him.

Busking can be a lonely and frustrating business at times. This young man’s trumpet was in a poor state of repair. Cape Town.

I chanced upon a young man in the middle of Cape Town on the edge of a market square, dressed in a glittering red and gold costume as if he had stepped out of a carnival procession that had moved off without him.

I stood back and watched as he tried with growing frustration to get his trumpet in tune. It was nothing more than a collection of parts held together by an assortment of folded, paper wedges, cigarette filter ends and goodness knows what. It looked as though most of the keys had been brazed onto the body at one point or another; many of the joins were broken. It was pretty hopeless.

I went across out of curiosity and he explained how he had been given the instrument a few years before. It really needed professional attention but of course he couldn’t afford it. I gave him R20 and took his name and phone number with the intention of making some enquiries on his behalf. I’m ashamed to say that I lost the slip with his details on it. I really should have done better.

Immortalising the nameless black citizen who emerges every day from township to work the city streets as traders, taxi-drivers and labourers.

immortalizing the nameless black citizen who emerges every day from the township to work the city streets as a traders, taxi-driver or labourer.

I’ve walked many of these city streets as a curious spectator, both of people and architecture. After spending many years ensconced in my own little world I’ve done my best to travel and make amends.

We live on a populated planet after all and cities are where we congregate and create things of beauty as well as the mundane and functional. Ever since visiting Algiers, indeed Algeria, I’ve had a particular interest in the legacy of European urban architecture in African towns and cities.

Urban Cape Town has some great architecture against the ever-present backdrop of ‘the mountain’. I caught a commuter taxi from my backpacker residence in Observatory (Obs) to town one morning and was surprised to see a number of Europeans commuting for work or studies.

Working and middle-class individuals, black and white, use the Metro Rail service every day to commute from the suburbs to the city, Cape Town.

Working and middle-class individuals, black and white, use the Metro Rail service every day to commute from the suburbs to the city, Cape Town.

The city is probably more cosmopolitan than even Jozi (Jo’burg) far to the north. When I moved further out to Muizenburg I discovered that the Metro trains, the main urban rail provider, moved people of all hues to and from the city. Both means of transport were wonderfully cheap – between R6 and R12 per trip depending on the distance.

What concerned me on the Metro commute wasn’t so much the graffiti which adorned the carriages both within and without as the number of black and white advertisements pasted on the inside of the compartments. Many advertised ‘affordable’ abortions alongside a mobile number but no information as to the provider of the service.

Others were less controversial and even a little amusing: penis enlarging and hip-widening creams and treatments, dubious ‘doctors’ who could revive fortunes, eleviate debts and cast love charms. It reminded me that superstitions lurked barely beneath the surface of this erstwhile modern city. It was the same elsewhere in Durban, Jozi and Pretoria.

It’s tempting to call it African superstition but I can’t be sure who the practitioners and clients of these myriad treatments and charms really are. South Africa does, after all, play host to dozens of foreign nationals from all corners of the continent. The fraudsters and confidence tricksters aside it was the advertisement of illegal abortions which saddened me most. How could these people advertise their services with impunity?

Women in townships are all too often the subject of abuse. Those who worked at the hostel and who I spoke to either avoided the township altogether or told me it was unsafe to move around after dark. I took a township tour with Henry, a deadlocked, affable Malawian who had lived in that particular one, Masi, for several years. It wasn’t the first time I had been in a township but they are never dull places. Unfortunately those photos are still on an SD card so they are not included here.

A few days earlier I decided to take a tour of Robben Island with one of my fellow hostel travelers, a young Norwegian man called Pal (the a having a little circular character above it, not available on my mini-keyboard). Never mind that it is a highly subscribed tour which departs several times a day from Cape Town harbour, it was still worthwhile.

I went on a tour to Robben Island with a friend from my hostel. We were fortunate enough to have a former inmate explain to us exactly what they had to endure in the apartheid-era prison. Amazingly enough he bore no grudges drawing his inspiration from fellow inmate Nelson Mandela in his policy of reconciliation.

I went on a tour to Robben Island with a friend from my hostel. We were fortunate enough to have a former inmate explain to us exactly what they had to endure in the apartheid-era prison. Amazingly enough he bore no grudges drawing his inspiration from fellow inmate Nelson Mandela in his policy of reconciliation.

On the trip out we were lucky enough to see a Southern Right Whale surface a hundred yards astern of the small vessel we were on. I thought it a large seal until it surfaced properly with barnacles encrusting the exposed part of its head. As we arrived at Robben Island harbour a streak of white beneath the surface betrayed the path of a penguin, the one and only one I remember seeing on that trip.

After disembarking we hopped on one of several buses taking tourists around the small island. We weren’t allowed to disembark until we got to the old prison buildings, where we were given a tour by a former inmate, Ntabo Mbatha. He was a humble man who had made the island, his former prison, his home. He looked not unlike the current president, Jacob Zuma. His voice was rich and sonorous, a confident orator.

What amazed me, as it evidently did an English travel blogger for the Daily Mail several years before (see reference below) was his lack of acrimony. Like Mandela before him he embraced the idea of reconciliation. He really was to be admired. I have uploaded half of the footage I took of his presentation below:

Back at the V&A Waterfront the crowds had swelled. The V&A is a real hive of activity – tourist central. A guide from a city walking tour alleged that the shopping mall and restaurants were the second-most visited ‘attraction’ on the continent ahead of Table Mountain which made him sad. I guess it has to be taken in context.

The Waterfont area has a bit of everything – musicians, good food, boat trips, museums, art galleries and pubs. One just hopes the wealth filters into the local economy. I’m told rents are exorbitant and heard from a reliable source that only 3 in 10 restaurants survive their first year in the city.

I enjoyed my time in Cape Town. I certainly met a broad spectrum of people both local and foreign; white, black and mixed-race; gay and straight. I’ve come way with some priceless anecdotes and good memories. My journeys to the other metropolitan areas mentioned have been shorter affairs but worth mentioning too.

For the first time in my life I visited central Durban where I perused the natural history museum (excellently curated) and the city Art Gallery above (not quite as good but also worth a visit). Nearby stands the City Hall, an impressive neoclassical structure with a variety of statues and impressive memorial to the Great War in close attendance.

The memorials appeared well maintained but, like all South Africa towns, the informal sector flourished on the margins. A few white vagrants were sleeping rough near one of the statues, a former governor of Natal, while young people perched at the bases chatting amicably to one another.

I walked to the Victoria Embankment which flanks the harbour. The wharfs here harboured an amassed wealth of yachts and catamarans under the auspices of the Royal Natal Yacht Club. I continued on to the end of the harbour pier beyond the boats and restaurant-cafe (closed till further notice). Right at the end was a chunky fisherman of a mixed-race ethnicity. A little further back were a group of Indian fishermen with deck chairs and a cooler box.

I asked the former how the fishing was. He shrugged and cast a critical eye across to his Indian compatriots. “If it wasn’t for them taking out every single fish they hook there might be some decent fish. Man, you have to throw back the undersized fish and let them grow. They take everything just to make bloody fish cakes and sh*t.”

The view across Durban harbour from a pier with the city skyline as a backdrop.

The view across Durban harbour from a pier with the city skyline as a backdrop.

The real problem it seemed lay in the fact that fishing permits were not being actively enforced as neither were bait catchers. As with Cape Town the most sort-after bait were the sand prawns caught during low tide when they could be sucked out of their holes with simple hand pumps. My new acquaintance was adamant that they too were being over-harvested.

From there I walked back across town and hence to the Point area. My curiosity saw me enter one of the new ‘China Malls’ which I had previously seen on the outskirts of Pretoria. I am anecdotally informed that Chinese business has been flourishing in South Africa in recent years.

To be fair most of the shops therein were not Chinese but on the second from last floor above there was a large department store, the China star, selling all and sundry. However, the very top floor of the building spoke of different era. A derelict Art Deco styled room recalled a time when white Durbanites probably came here to socialise and be entertained. I would love to know more about the history of the place.

From Durban I headed back up to the Highveld – Jozi and Pretoria. Based in the former I took the new intra/inter-city Gautrain to the latter last week. It is a modern fast-rail service, essentially a modern mass-transit system significantly faster than the Metro Rail. It runs between Jozi and Pretoria at regular intervals, more frequently during rush hour, and provides a useful alternative to the busy, congested inter-city freeway (motorway).

I have long been fascinated by the Afrikaans language and it’s people. I did a year in Pretoria to round off my bachelors degree in 2003. It was a difficult time for me personally but I long regretted not pushing up against whatever social and self-perceived barriers might have presented themselves at the time and tried to see more of the city.

I guess it’s a case of ‘better late than never’. Please take a look at the accompanying gallery and attendant captions to get an idea of the rich history of the former capital of the Transvaal Republic, the Union of South Africa, the apartheid-era Republic of South Africa and indeed the present capital of the nation.

Referenced articles:

http://www.fin24.com/Economy/Labour/InsideLabour/Inside-Labour-Decent-wage-decent-policies-20140829

http://travelblog.dailymail.co.uk/2010/06/the-people-of-south-africa-could-teach-the-england-players-a-thing-or-two-about-humility.html

Life on the Rocks

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Sorry friends but time and location have prevented me from sitting quietly and diligently transcribing my recent experiences. It really has been quite a busy two weeks or so. I was in Zimbabwe initially for a symposium at my old university and then for a further few days with friends and family.

I then flew to Johannesburg where I stayed with some old friends of my parents from Zimbabwe, living now in Boksburg on the East Rand. We took a trip to Monateng private game reserve for 2 nights which was great. On our last evening we went on a game drive and saw a good number of different animals: impala (rooibok), nyala, eland, duiker, zebra, sable antelope, jackal, bush-babies and a number of different bird species. I will post some pictures/videos when I have the chance to upload further.

I came down to Durban on Friday last week. Durban is a place I have returned to periodically over the years and it holds many memories. I love the sea and the opportunity to go for a dip is never far from my mind. On the Sunday the weather started off grey and drizzly but as the day wore on it cleared up steadily. Here is a video from Willard Beach at Ballito a little north of Durban City. The tide had been out and was just beginning to turn. I am standing on some exposed rocks, a spectator to the swells and breakers pitching themselves against these very same rocks a dozen meters or so from where I stood. Glorious…

South Africa, April 2014: From The Highveld to the Cape

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When one mentions South Africa to an English person the responses usually fall into one of the following categories:

a) Thoughts and conjectures synonymous with the Oscar Pistorius trial (ongoing at time of writing)

b) A family connection, but 9 times out of 10 not able to name the town or place where the said family reside/d.

c) Cape Town: either a desire to visit it or having actually visited it (but quite often nowhere else in SA).

Thus the Cape (read ‘Cape Town’) would seem to be the most prominent of South African geographical areas in the minds of English people generally. Why is this? Natural beauty is one likely answer. Cape Town is a beautiful town, surrounded as it is by the clear waters of the Atlantic on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other and flanked by impressive mountains. In fact the image of Table Mountain is iconic. You would be hard pressed to find someone who has not at least heard of it, never mind having seen a representation of it on a postcard, travel brochure or the television. I even learnt on my trip that it has been granted status as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world (Unesco?). And then there are the historical and cultural links. If you haven’t done so already you can read the concise but illuminating synopsis in the travelblog country information.

I hadn’t originally planned on travelling to CT but an old friend of mine from Zimbabwe, John Paul, was keen to visit. He lived and worked in Joburg but had spent a year or so in CT and often reminisced about the place. He was weighing up whether or not it was feasible to return. The consensus seems to be that CT has the scenery and quality of life and Joburg has the money (as in paying jobs). JP confirmed this. He had loved his days in the Cape but had to bail out and return to the Highveld with empty pockets to start earning again.

Part of the problem with CT – not that it is a problem by design – is that people like to indulge the senses. Most obviously the plethora of natural wonders and activities to suit: white, sandy beaches with crystal blue waters; towering sandstone and quartzite peaks which afford the most amazing panoramas; the diversity of the fynbos vegetation so unique to the cape region; hikes and trails; paragliding; cage diving with sharks; whale-watching etc. To complement the visual wonders are those pertaining to the palate and olfactory delights: fine wines originating from splendid vineyards set in the foothills of the mountains; superb restaurants and markets promoting good food and dining; and lots of pubs, cafes and clubs. But all this comes with a price tag, hence it is no wonder that it is a playground for the wealthy.

Cape Town boasts a… plethora of natural wonders and activities to suit: white, sandy beaches with crystal blue waters; towering sandstone and quartzite peaks which afford the most amazing panoramas; the diversity of the fynbos vegetation so unique to the cape region; hikes and trails; paragliding; cage diving with sharks; whale-watching etc. To complement the visual wonders are those pertaining to the palate and olfactory delights: fine wines originating from splendid vineyards set in the foothills of the mountains; superb restaurants and markets promoting good food and dining

We picked up (another) Avis hire car at the airport and made our way across to Observatory, a suburb popular with students and where a mutual friend, Sean, operated from. Sean was a contemporary from our St Georges College days in Harare, Zimbabwe. Sean and JP had been closer friends back then than I had been to either of them but I had become better mates with JP after school when we found ourselves together in Harare during the start of protracted turbulent times about 15 years back.

Back then Sean and JP had started a business together servicing computers and whatnot and had done pretty well for themselves, judging by their local popularity anyway. Sean had moved to CT and JP had other ambitions so that business was consigned to history a long time back although I can remember seeing the metal advertising signs gathering rust in the vicinity of the business years later – the fate of most Zimbabwean business really. Now Sean ran his own adventure and tour company. JP had come on board for a period a few years ago but as I said the commercial opportunities in Joburg had pulled him back there again. Besides the adventure company he also had a bar called Forex in Observatory and a student lettings agency.

View from Sean's Balcony

View from Sean’s Balcony

Sean wasn’t in but we discovered his brother Rohan who had been a few years below us at St Georges. Sean was back at his place in Hout Bay where we would be spending the night. We shared a drink with Rohan and a few other locals before heading out of town going south for the half hour journey to Hout Bay. It was dark by the time we arrived but Sean welcomed us and showed us to our respective rooms. We were pretty shattered so after showering we hit the sack.

As I discovered the following day Sean’s place had a great view over the bay towards the opposing mountains and Chapman’s Peak. The mountains were skirted by a road of the same name and part of the annual Cape Argus Cycle route. Sean shared his rented accommodation with several lodgers: Martin, a Dutch intern; Lisa, an American girl also working for Sean in some capacity and Chloe, a local girl studying law at CT University. I also became acquainted with Legend, his muscle-bound pitbull terrier. Initially terrified I had become quite fond of the hound who shared a sofa with me later in the weekend and proved a good companion on walks in the area. Sean’s place would be our base for the following 4 days whilst we came and went to other locations.

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The following day we drove the Chapman’s Peak drive to Noordhoek beach with Legend in the back seat. The three of us took a leisurely run along the length of the beach – perhaps a mile long – along white sands onto which the Atlantic waters gently lapped. I guess the flanking coast sheltered this stretch of water from the breakers although at the northerly end there was a break popular with body-boarders. They weren’t out at that time but we did come across a number of other joggers and dog-walkers. Towards the southern end of the beach was an old wreck, the metal ribs of the ship poking through the white sands like the carcass of some old leviathan of the deep, stranded many years before and left to decay. An old iron forecastle and rudder alluded to its true identity, the metal itself peeling away like the layers of an onion, something I had never seen before. It was very photogenic but I didn’t have my camera on me so the moment remains only in my mind’s eye.

Towards the southern end of the beach was an old wreck, the metal ribs of the ship poking through the white sands like the carcass of some old leviathan of the deep, stranded many years before and left to decay. An old iron forecastle and rudder alluded to its true identity, the metal itself peeling away like the layers of an onion, something I had never seen before. It was very photogenic but I didn’t have my camera on me so the moment remains only in my mind’s eye.

A little later we collected JP’s housemate, Cliff, who had also flown down from Joburg the previous day. I hadn’t been aware of it but this was another reason why JP had decided on CT that weekend. Cliff and his girlfriend were going to a wedding in Fransschoek, a town set in a picturesque wine-growing region of the Western Cape about an hour out of Cape Town. We arrived around lunch-time. I was introduced to Fi, Cliff’s partner, and another couple, Toni and Tony. My middle name is Anthony, so sitting on the same side of the restaurant table we were effectively the three Tony’s! I won’t bore you with the trivia except to say that Fransschoek is a beautiful place.

The popular Motor Museum near Fransschoek Town.

The popular Motor Museum near Fransschoek Town.

After lunch, on Cliff’s recommendation, JP and I visited the local motor museum, a priceless collection of sports and classic cars and thereafter checked into a small B&B run by an elderly Afrikaans couple, Aldie and Alta, who had relocated from Pretoria (Johannesburg’s twin city, together constituting the greater part of metropolitan Gauteng Province) some years before. They spoke perfect English and operated an immaculate guest house, one wing of which they occupied. Cliff and Fi took one of the rooms whilst JP and I checked into Alta’s late mum’s place; China ornaments, polished brass and silver spoke of the old ladies former occupation. I got the impression her daughter had done little to change it really. JP found it a bit odd but I quite liked it.

JP enjoys the view above town.

JP enjoys the view above town.

That evening we drove up one of the mountain passes where we had a commanding view over the town and the surrounding wine-lands. We discovered a group of people huddled around what looked like a movie set. It transpired there was a commercial being filmed but no one elaborated. We were eventually allowed to pass and park at the base of a nature trail. We didn’t have long before sunset so we hiked a few minutes along the hill-slopes until we found a decent vantage point. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…

After dark we had an engaging meal in one of the multitude of restaurants in the town. I got to chat to Fi who turned out to be a very interesting person: she had her own business consultancy and worked a lot with small business entrepreneurs in Johannesburg. That’s where her passion lay. Afterwards we had intended to turn in but landed up walking into what must have been the focus of the town’s night life, a busy little bar somewhere in the centre of town.

We proceeded to have the sort of evening that for me at least only comes around once or twice a year if I’m lucky: plenty of dancing and a steady flow of drinks to keep things lively! Fi reckoned she would be regretting it the moment we walked in but I think has to be said that we all had a good time. JP decided to ring the town bell on the way out which involved vaulting a small wall near the bell tower. He didn’t do this as gracefully as I think he might have intended, tearing a hole in his jeans in the process, but he rang the bell and was down the road faster than a lightening flash. We had a good chuckle about this the following day. If he had anticipated a reaction from some element of the authorities it never materialised. Perhaps this sort of thing happens quite often?

Bell-tower, Fransschoek

Bell-tower, Fransschoek

JP decided to ring the town bell on the way out which involved vaulting a small wall near the bell tower. He didn’t do this as gracefully as I think he might have intended, tearing a hole in his jeans in the process, but he rang the bell and was down the road faster than a lightening flash.

I felt remarkably well the next day considering all that had happened the night before. JP on the other hand was not faring so well. We checked out of our accommodation and decided to take a breakfast on the high street before going back to CT. There were several cafes to choose from and I can’t remember on what criterion we settled for the one we did, suffice to say it had a decent view of an old colonial building across the road (the town hall?) and views up and down the main street.

Leader of the DA, Helen Zille

Leader of the DA, Helen Zille

It was mid-morning and already there was a steady flow of tourists along the pavements. We both ordered eggs, JP marrying his with a filter coffee whilst I went with an Irish (just to goad him!). I remember taking a stroll in the interim period after placing the order and noting the election posters adorning the street lamp poles as they had done in every other town and city I had visited thus far (Durban, Joburg and Pretoria). The Western Cape was a Democratic Alliance stronghold and Helen Zille was the face of their campaign. She smiled confidently from one such poster nearby which simply proclaimed ‘Helen Zille for Premier, Vote DA.’ Elsewhere their slogan was simply ‘Together for Jobs’.

The ANC's Jacob Zuma

The ANC’s Jacob Zuma

Like elections everywhere the economy and employment were a priority issue and considering the high youth unemployment in the country it was an obvious appeal to that swathe of the electorate. The ruling party, the ANC, opted for an equally all-encompassing slogan: ‘Together We Move South Africa Forward’, pasted below a portrait of Jacob Zuma. That word ‘together’ would seem to be a staple of South African political jargon, and no wonder really, for it is the antithesis of ‘apartheid’. If only it was as simple as everyone making a unified effort to literally move South Africa forward. Sadly there seemed to be a general consensus that corruption was systemic. Zuma was still embroiled in the Nkandla scandal in which 200 million odd South African Rand had been appropriated from the public finances to build him a residence of some magnitude. He alleged that he had not had any say in the matter (the rather large sum had been put down to ‘security costs’ I read somewhere) but it was obvious that someone somewhere had done rather well out of the deal.

As it transpired our waiter was a young man named Ishmael. I say young in deference to myself because it turned out he was roughly the same age as me (not so young then!). His dark complexion and distinctive features had already alerted me to the fact the he was most likely a Zimbabwean and his accent quickly confirmed it. I soon engaged him in conversation. Ishmael was one of probably a million or more Zimbabweans living in the country. Many had papers, many didn’t. Ishmael claimed he was there on a work permit and I had no reason to doubt him. A few years before the government had made it easier for Zimbabweans to seek the right to work, although not indefinite leave to remain. He said that his permit would expire in the next year. ‘What then?’ we asked him. His response surprised me somewhat.

‘I will consider returning to Zim’ he replied. ‘Some of my friends there, they are doing very well,’ he elaborated. ‘If you can get some vehicles and start a business for commuters you can make some good money.’

‘I will consider returning to Zim’ he replied. ‘Some of my friends there, they are doing very well,’ he elaborated. ‘If you can get some vehicles and start a business for commuters you can make some good money.’

This was a timely reminder that despite all the dirty politics and deplorable antics of the incumbent Zanu PF up in Zimbabwe, money and jobs still held sway. Besides which I had it on fairly good authority that the problem of xenophobia was still lingering not far beneath the surface. I asked Ishmael about this. He said that he was aware of the issue and how during election time things were always more tense. All the same he didn’t seem too perturbed.

‘The last time foreigners were attacked by locals it was the Somali shopkeepers who were targeted. Anyway it is different to those other places up there like Johannesburg and KZN (Kwazulu Natal, the most densely populated area of the country).’

‘Why had he come to the Western Cape?’ I asked. He replied that he had first arrived in Pretoria about ten years ago around the time I was there. I recalled the groups of unemployed Zimbabweans huddled together in suburban shopping car parks and side-streets. Perhaps he was even among them? Jobs were scarce so he had migrated a thousand kilometres or more to the south to one of the most affluent areas of the country where he found work as a waiter and hence our later meeting at this juncture in time.

He still lived in what he referred to as a ‘location’, a by-word for a government mandated area of informal or formal houses inhabited by working class Africans. He didn’t elaborate on the details except to say that the blacks lived here, indicating one level, the coloureds (the lighter skinned Malays or Cape Coloureds) another level a little lower down, and the whites the bottom, by which I assume he meant the valley in which Fransschoek town was situated. Whether this could be called a system of passive apartheid by which previous patterns of settlement innocuously perpetuated itself, or something more actively enforced through cultural and economic stratification I couldn’t say, although the phenomenon is widespread throughout post-colonial Africa. Like the Zimbabwe I grew up in the whites very seldom, if ever, lived in the locations, but the blacks moved dynamically between the suburbs depending on their economic status.

It was refreshing talking to Ishmael and we left him a decent tip before jumping back in to the hired Toyota for our return journey to CT and Hout Bay.