Nuwe SA – I Used To Live Here
The lights started to flicker and then flashed on. People slowly began to stir. The cabin looked as if a minor riot had taken place. Blankets were strewn across the floor, half unpacked hand luggage resting on empty seats, mismatched shoes scattered down the aisle, bodies in awkward positions. Most of my fellow passengers, who were somewhat awake, slowly surveyed their surroundings with unfocused eyes. Some kept their eye masks on to keep the light out. Most of them sported hairstyles that looked even worse than the one on their passport photo.
The key(s) to our Air B&B was a bit of a surprise.
The friendly air hostesses struggled to navigate their carts through the obstructions in the narrow aisle and started serving breakfast. Fortunately, one of the pilots sounded rather awake and alert as he announced that we would land at Cape Town International Airport in about an hour.
I kept looking out of the window, trying to see if I could recognise anything familiar in the landscape sliding past below the wing. I was quite apprehensive, as I had been away for some time. I thought to myself that this must be similar to going to meet a long-lost lover, not sure if you really wanted to, but still very curious to see what time has done to the image that you had kept in your memory!
Last time I was here, it was for a family event and I did not have much time to travel around. I only managed to see some of the tourist places; it looked good, but as with all tourist traps in most countries, that is the part of the belly that everybody is willing to expose in the hope that it will get a nice rub.
As advertised it had a sea view! The burglar bars are unknown in Port Moody.
One of my favourite eateries is still there, peaceful ambiance and all.
Some things have not changed at all. The glorious weather and beaches.
Some things have changed quite a lot.
I had been away for several years. I was not sure what to expect, having lived in a place that had become my ‘normal’, a place like the ‘old’ South Africa, except there is no racism. For the next few days, I just observed, watched and made notes. How can a place change that much in such a short time?
As I was walking down the street in an upscale Cape Town neighbourhood, I noticed that I drew strange looks from occupants in expensive cars driving by. I later learned that ‘nobody walks alone in the street anymore’. Too dangerous.
One of the unpleasant memories that came back was the incessant barking of dogs. I used to hate the noise and being woken up at night by neighbours’ dogs barking at anybody and anything.
The difference this time was that the dogs were barking selectively at passers-by, as if they had developed their own version of apartheid. This time I found that you could guess who the owners of a specific house were by watching which race group the dogs chose to bark at. I also learned later that the strange looks I got was because ‘nobody’ walks in the street, especially at dusk, even in that smart neighbourhood.
I was sitting in a corner at a small table on the sidewalk in front of an imitation American coffee shop. Fashion conscious people bustling, looking busy and care-free. Women parking late model cars and swaggering into expensive looking shops. Self-important and very confident. Several of them scantily or provocatively dressed and bejewelled as if they were living in Miami or St Tropez, not the crime capital of the world.
But when I looked closely, and listened quietly to private conversations, especially at the Holy Braai with a cold Castle in hand, another world emerged. The real ‘New South Africa’. A society desperately in search of a sustainable identity; but there seemed to be too many loose parts to make a whole, too many regrets, too many new unexpected barriers in the social mind that must be overcome.
Young, tough, arrogant and loud. People strutting about as if the world should learn from them on how to solve its problems. Too many old people suddenly paralyzed by belated white guilt. The establishment, originally led by the religious zealots, that are now desperately trying to re-invent themselves. Anxious to prove their innocence and new-found virtue, to be more non-racist than God; more accommodating than what the current circumstances can justify.
I suddenly realised that time had drastically changed what I had carefully kept in my memory. The long-lost lover had aged, got on with a new life, seemingly not even remembering the same things that I had saved as cherished memories from our time together.
I could not establish where I would fit in. This was not a place where I felt at home or even where I could belong. A kaleidoscope of new money, old fears, new and yet untried values, all sheltering behind a very false bravado and an unrealistic amount of tolerance.
Just like the old order of the past, the new gods were tinkering with the well-being and untapped potential of the next few generations.
Read his new book! “Poskaart Uit Moskou” will be available on Amazon and in SA via Malherbe Uitgewers soon!
Kobus de Villiers is a retired aeronautical engineer. He grew up in the Free State. After serving in the Bush War, he lived, worked, and studied in several countries around the world. He still does some consulting and builds contraptions in his workshop. He lives with his French wife in Vancouver, Canada. He shares his stories and photos with Howzit on this blog, aptly called “Slypsteen”
Kobus’ books can be ordered on Amazon.
In South Africa, you can find his books through Malherbe Uitgewers.