Democracy is a teenager in South Africa. The ghosts of apartheid linger, and they are not going anywhere fast. Driving from Cape Town airport to my grandparents’ house made me cry. The roads were so familiar and the smell of the city brought back the memories of long ago. I’d forgotten about the townships.
We drove down Kloof Road past the corrugated iron homes stitched together with street signs and dampened cardboard. Small, skinny children play on the roadside with soccer balls and goats. There are often fires in the townships that raze down shacks, and disfigure lives and bodies. The shacks are replaced by government housing that looks like prisons: brown brick buildings, tall and plain. Beggars on the street corners peddle beaded keyrings, jokes and souvenirs from Africa. Sometimes they have babies swathed in linen swung across their backs and sometimes they hobble on crutches with only one leg. On the beach, fanned by cruel Atlantic waves and the sea breeze, hawkers sell ice-creams from bright blue coolboxes, and sunglasses from within their coats. Their voices carry across the sand, echoing like the call of the gulls.
“Roomys roomys, vars lekker roomys”
The bronzed, beautiful people basking in the sun ignore the calls of the wild. Families eat snoek and slap-chips with sand and salt on a picnic blanket. The pavements are dirty and smell of sour-sweet urine and the sea. Roadside bars and open-plan restaurants stare from across the street. My grandmother is a celebrity at the Pick ‘n’ Pay. The bakery woman greets her every Friday with a white loaf, a plaited loaf and a “good morning Mrs K”. Her hairnet is pale blue.
The rich erect high fences that buzz with electricity and fear. The poor yearn for Madiba’s promise to come true. The warm nights are disturbed by the shock of wailing sirens and breaking glass.
South African people are laid-back and like to sink Castle Lagers in the sun. South African people speak with a thick accent, guttural and brusque, with blunted vowels. South African people are a mixture of all people: they are black, white and coloured, rich and poor, free and imprisoned by the lingering of apartheid. In spite of flawed circumstance, they are fiercely patriotic. Citizens of the Rainbow Nation are resilient and proud, and strut amongst the danger because circumstance demands that they must. It is a beautiful place with fresh air and wild danger and cheap beer and sweet koeksisters. Many leave, but more stay.