day could be described as gray. Too gray. Wintry days take hold of a
blueness, as though the ocean, turned upside-down and its cold hue of
late afternoon, had begun to drip down on the location - but just that,
it couldn’t make it - today, tomorrow. It was winter blue if you had
a secure house in the northern suburbs away from that wretched gray.
In fact, gray was seldom seen there; the awarded privilege when the
sun decided to show face or slowly slip down in a multicolored dusk.
Even the sun had been told to stay away from the confines of the location,
never to please, make the grass grow, or allow the flowers to blossom.
A visit to the land of emptiness.
coldness wrapped you in, in a strangling vice-tight hold, but at the
same time, tried to squeeze you out, not wanting you, warning you to
move on. I hated the streets but I had to be there, to report on a nation’s
The streets are
cruel here, just muddy foot-thick strips of slush in the rainy season
and suffocating dust in the dry.
of cracking bricks, formed a wall continuing forever. They separate
rows of prison-style houses that kept the residents of the location.
There was no time here - I learned - unless someone died, when that
house became different, an appealing gesture of difference, with the
other houses of the accordion-shape formation squashing from both sides,
inwards, towards the house that claimed death. It became a show of concern,
to break the monotony.
Only then did
time perhaps move on, in slow mourning, until death had become a forgotten
drama, the accordion of houses slowly taking their previous pattern.
Mass produced houses designed in minutes, thousands of on both sides
of the strip, separated by another strip and another and another. In
each hundreds of thousands of Blacks coming and going, entering and
disappearing, in and out of stark white-washed housed of deceptive purity.
A young woman
sits knitting. At her feet are bundles of wool, bright red with strands
of blue. Her eyes gaze downwards to the silvery knitting needles speeding
away unwandering in deep concentration. No one can disturb her hour.
Her mind lost in fantasy perhaps, forgetting all, oblivious to the harsh
surroundings in which she is confined.
On the same street
a baby cries out, stops in a while as her mother leans forward, thrusting
her nipple into his mouth. She smiles and begins a lullaby, beautiful
but eerie, as though not fit for this place. A precious moment, a face
of pride directed to her suckling baby, only. She has for this instant
forgotten the future. It doesn’t exist, the hateful past, but only the
the wonderful seconds of present time, time that is only temporary.
The baby falls asleep, satisfied, the lullaby lingers on for a few minutes
more, and then silence.
She too fades
into a sleep.
Further down another
strip, I spot four men huddled together, trying hard to keep the cold
air out, their mouths allowing for drifts of cold steam to wander while
staring at the cards in their chapped shaky hands. As each speaks, a
puff of cold misty hue clouds the air, as a steam locomotive would spit
out in gaining power to produce movement. They, too are deeply engrossed
in what they are doing. There is a quick chuckle from the winner, a
choir of despondent cries of disbelief from the losers. The next hand
is dealt quickly, taken with a swig of the bottle and the lighting of
homemade cigarettes. Then all is quiet in deep concentration until the
next victory. The stillness, this quietness seems so false, so reassuring
that everything here is fine.
I keep moving.
At the junction
of the strips, stand two youths, one dressed in jeans, faded and ripped,
his T-shirt bearing the initials UDF; the other in garage light brown
overalls. Each stands like a newly-elected politician after a successful
election campaign But these teenagers are far from the avenues of a
regular job, let alone important decision-making. Their existence in
a racially classed country has reduced them to attacking the equally
destitute who may have money in their purses at the end of the month.
Someone who is too old to fight back, who will give in easily without
defense. Blood will be drawn today, each day, the faces of those countless
young, disappearing into rows of block houses, grinning with location
achievement. They look at me with hateful eyes as I pass guardedly,
knowing the passions of their minds.
I turn quickly
into a new street. One with the attributes of a political catastrophe
in the making, by a government ruthlessly bent on suppressing the black
masses, shaping them according to its will.
rhythmic beats of township jazz/gospel usually loud, blaring from decaying
radios wrecked of age, has changed channel to sounds of trepidation.
The number one song has been scored by many an oppressive government;
deadly bullets slamming into human flesh with a thud of an old bass
drum while others off their marks, zip into walls sculpturing violence.
The added notes - cries of agony as whips come down, lifting sprays
of blood into the air. The song is played over and over until its melody
is memorized and sang out in nightmares.
The calmness on
the other side of the strip seemed like an illusion, a front to turn
back visitors seeking answers to questions. The vans spill out uniformed
men in blue and brown, charging with ferocity, unleashing powerful terror
on children, men and women who fight back the pain with cries of pain.
They run with outstanding courage.
Others stand firm
Houses are entered
and the struggling dragged out, rammed forcefully into waiting vans
- struggling men, women and children, the strong, the blind and the
crippled dragged from their homes…struggling.
I am witnessing
it, my eyes trapdoor shut, now only allowing for the sounds of repression
to enter my mind. It is a reminder that I’m not supposed to see it;
off limits to Whites. The truth is jailing me. I must hide.
The cops are closing
in fast and when they see me, for seeing them, the knife will come down
hard - slashing.
there’s no room, you see its a tiny place I have here.”
will be here soon!”
they always come eventually.”
is nothing to do but wait.”
can I hide this?”
the room is empty.”
The room is foreboding,
empty of happiness. Only a few wobbly stools, a table and in a corner,
an ancient oven. A bright clean cross hangs on a wall. The oven. I can
put my camera bag there.
are they now Mrs. Batshala?”
will be here. They are in my neighbor’s house.”
The wait was short-lived.
Four blues crashed inside. Catching sight of me brings them to a sudden
you doing here?”
your permit allowing you to be in a Black area?” Asked the other cop
aggressively, leaving me no time to answer the first question.
an answer now!’
me explain. My reason for being here is that I came to tell Mrs.
Batshala here that her mother died of illness last night and that
she must arrange the funeral. That is why I’m here.”
nee man, that’s okay. We thought you were one of those journalists
who writes lies about our country.”
no Sir, I don’t even have a pen.”
The cops laugh
and warn me to leave immediately. The calm resumes.
Nervously I turn
to Mrs. Batshala. “That was close.”
was.” Nods Mrs. Batshala.
Batshala, don’t worry, I’ll get the photos of the police murdering
your daughter to the newspaper. Tomorrow the world will know.”
Outside life is
slowly returning to normal as I make my way through the street. An old
man with an evenly cut beard, a gnarled stick in one hand, his legs
struggling forward, turns to stare at me. Children in a resumed game
laugh loudly in pure delight. The stop, look at me and continue their
Nothing can stop