I couldn’t resist it. Look! Here come the tomatoes.
I have been in a stomping rage. It has been so bad I have even shouted at innocents, just because they were there. Granted I am still on the edge of illness, and seriously impatient about getting well, but, honestly, white people. Let me not go there.
So, I have turned to a tiny miracle in my life and I am celebrating the magnificence of the smallest tomato. A month or so ago I noticed the first fragile leaves of a tomato plant, growing by itself in our front patch of garden. I had to toss the devouring caterpillar next door because it would have eaten the whole thing, and I have managed to just let the plant grow, and watch. I hadn’t planted the seed, and can only assume it got there in bird poo, or because someone tossed the tomato from their sarmie over the wall, but the conditions seem to be perfect, and the plant gets on so well with the star Jasmine it shares the trellis with, the lavender it shares the bees with, and the blackish flowered creeping geranium it shares the soil with.
Because the plant has just arrived and flourished, I have no idea what kind of tomatoes to expect. Big, small, cherry, Italian – they could be absolutely anything. I have no control, or choice here. I am so delighted by this.
Bursts of little, spiky yellow flowers have appeared. Such a good sign of fruit to come. And today I looked beneath a starting to shrivel blossom and saw, as small as a dewdrop, the beginnings of an actual tomato.
This plant has grown defiantly. It has broken all the rules of special seeds, and tender care, and timing, and seedlings. It has extended strong stems, hairy green leaves and blossoms all over the place, showing off, taking over, announcing itself. It has a secret history that will never be known, but will never hold it back.
Thank you fierce rebel tomato plant. You restore me to my natural self, and I honour and love you.
With the level of gang violence and murder in Ocean View, Kensington, and Lentegeur at the moment, I am struck by how differently I live. So close and yet totally removed. It is 7am and our front door is open to the street. I am lying in bed hearing people go to work, cats chasing each other on the roof across the road, and cars coming into town on Nelson Mandela Boulevard. Pigeons, seagulls, Egyptian geese and Hadedas all compete to be the loudest and rudest. Soon the construction workers, building the ugly little development on what was an empty plot/dumping ground in our street, will arrive. It has been amazing watching three double storey semis go up so fast. It has also been a joy to listen to this small building crew. They seem to laugh all the time.
But yesterday I was in a micro war. Remember the old man across the road who got his council friends to paint yellow lines in the road outside our house? And then a year later and a front page splash on The Daily Voice helped to get it removed. I haven’t spoken an actual word to him since. Well, Mr Hartley, that old man, was shouting yesterday when I came home in the afternoon. Someone had parked an enormous 4×4 in front of his driveway.
I have been sick, so I came straight inside, but was aware of his growing hysteria for almost an hour. I couldn’t stand it anymore and decided to go and see if I could help. Two houses down from his house, a house has just been sold. It is a beautiful renovation; the trendy grey signposting it as exactly that. As I stood in the road wondering whose gold 4×4 it was I saw three people on the stoep of the sold house and I charged over. “Is that your car?” I shouted. “If you mean the 4×4 then yes, it is mine,” said the tiniest little woman. At which point I exploded, demanding that she not park in front of someone’s driveway. The man, the estate agent, decided to come to her defence, and told me that since she had apologised I should back off. Bad idea. Once she had moved her monster I shouted at her about our street, and how we look out for each other, and white privilege and respect. Her reply was that she had been chatting and didn’t notice that it was a driveway when she parked. My brain started hurting. How do you not notice a driveway? How do you not notice the growing hysterical shouts of an old man in the street? For an hour? I will tell you how. His driveway and his shouts were entirely invisible to this woman, because she doesn’t give a fuck. Not one single fuck.
I shouted “Excuse me!” to the estate agent man who was trying to sneak away. It took three times for him to hear me and stop. “Who are you talking to like that?” I demanded. He went straight into defence mode. “Don’t tell me to come to you!” “Are you mad? I came to you!” “I felt sorry for her,” he whined, “she apologised! What else do you want? Do you also want an apology?” “Yes.” “Ok, sorry then.” He scuttled away and climbed into his shitty little two door and sped off.
Suddenly Hartley and I are allies again. He thanked me as I stormed back into the house. Through the open door I could hear him. “Thank you mam. Thank you.” Until our cat is in his yard.
Jew-ish is a notion I stole from actress Chantal Stanfield when we were working on From Koesistes to Kneidlach (coming to Cape Town in December, save the date, at the Baxter). She was talking about her husband, who is Jewish, and Jew-ish, in the lapsed kind of way that I am. We are not religious (I am an atheist), we are not kosher, we are not Zionists, and we are as critical of the problems inherent in Judaism as we are prepared to acknowledge the good in it.
I have had struggles with my Jewish identity for all my life. It is confusing and unsettling and sometimes even achingly painful. I won’t even go into detail. How I have emerged, at the age of 52, is as a much more committed human, South African, vegan, than Jewish person. I am deeply opposed to the Israeli government and its Apartheid crimes against the Palestinians. I am deeply opposed to any human rights abuses, including anti-Semitism, and I am constantly shocked at any group’s ability to be selectively moral, or morally outraged. Crimes against humanity must all be condemned with the same force. Nobody gets to pick and choose, and none can be worse than another because of who is doing it, or who it is being done to.
So, at a funny birthday party on Sunday I got into a dangerous conversation with a man I did not know, a Jewish man of my age group or slightly older, a man with good hair, teeth, clothes and definitely a house and car and servants and trips overseas, who described the increasingly shrinking jewish community of South Africa as ’embattled’. He gave reasons for this condition on the growing Muslim anti-Jewish sentiment in South Africa, and the government’s anti Israel stance. And I was blown away. Embattled? A community that lives in the best areas of Cape Town (and Joburg), that is seen as one of the wealthiest segments of South African society, with the best schools, big businesses, and high profiles, is ’embattled’? A community that isn’t driven out and forced into the sea to become refugees if they survive. A community that isn’t locked in and shut out, and water rationed and policed. A community that is not at war. On the contrary, the Jewish community is far more able and capable of serving other genuinely embattled communities.
The Jewish community that I know has always fed on this sentiment, this idea, this feeling of being embattled. It is probably in our genetic make-up. And even I agree that it is understandable. Israel is built on that foundation; that Jews are only safe in their homeland. But there is this completely skewed notion that Jews are struggling and under threat here. A notion shared by many whites. And it is such a dangerous notion because it separates out from the truth, totally minimises those who are actually embattled, like the poor, and ends up justifying ‘survivalist’ behaviour.
While there were many prominent Jews or Jew-ish people in this country’s struggle for liberation, there have been much fewer involved in meaningful transformation. Unfortunately, the sentiment of the SA Jewish community as a whole has aligned itself more strongly to a conservative, religious and Zionist-at-all-cost way of thinking. And because of this Jews have become easier targets. The sale of Tafelberg, here on our doorstep, is a fantastic example. So few (300 or so) Jews actively campaigned against the sale to the Phyllis Jowel Remedial School, yet allowed Helen Zille jump onto the anti-Semitic bandwagon when there was such deep resistance to the sale by pro-social housing campaigners. I can’t help but feel that the Jewish community is its own worst enemy here.
I write this with a yortzeit candle burning its last. I am commemorating the death of my mother a year ago. I lit the candle for connection, for ritual, for her really. And there is a part of me that longs for a true, deep and meaningful connection with something Jewish; not religion, not even culture, but something else wrapped up in identity and belonging. But I am still the black sheep, and the South African Jewish community (on the whole) shames me.
Yesterday my friend and I Skyped with our bestie in Oz. It was about 230pm here and in Melbourne it was 11pm. The first thing that we couldn’t believe was that we were speaking to her (and seeing her face) while she was on a tram! The miracle of modern technology still astounds a neanderthal like me, and I can’t believe I live in that sci-fi fantasy of video calling.
The second thing that blew my mind was that she was on a tram, going home, by herself, at 11pm at night. She was free to use her cellphone to Skype us. She was waiting to get off at her stop and walk the rest of the way home, by herself, in the middle of the night. She was safe. And I was jealous. I was totally, unashamedly jealous of that freedom, because I have never felt it here, at home. I have never walked by myself at night, or caught public transport at night (or regularly during the day even). When I come home, in my car, I scan the road I live in. I look up and down and left and right. When I leave, in my car, I make sure my valuables are nowhere to be seen.
Poor me. I, who have a car. I who will pay for an Uber if I need to. And then there is the majority of women in this city, and country, who have no option but to take public transport and to walk home by themselves at night, and are scared every day of their lives. Women whose cellphones get stolen as they run the gauntlet from station to home. Women who have to sit with steel tight knees and thighs on overcrowded minibus taxis so they are not harassed. Women who cannot find themselves alone in a train compartment, or taxi for fear of losing their lives. Women whose children are unsafe while they wait for their mothers to come home. Women who are in the cross fire of gang wars. Women who are afraid, all the time.
I want women to feel safe here. I want to feel safe here. But I think it is too big an ask and that breaks me.
I was away for the weekend, on a beautiful, celebratory trip for a friend’s 50th. We were in the Drakensberg, at a spot I have never been to before. It was also a group of 11 women, which is something I have never done before, and it was magnificent.
One of the most special parts of the space/place was the view from my bed out through huge windows over a special part of the dam. I saw the sun set behind the hills, and I woke to the morning star reflected in the water. I saw the pink sunrise turn orange and then pale yellow as Crowned Cranes fought with Plovers for the island. I heard and saw the massive Spurwing Goose, swim, dive and even take flight, and I watched the zebra from my front door. I had a live-and-let-live agreement with the family of rock pigeons sharing my balcony and even stopped frightening the two stodgy adolescents of the group. And I saw the elusive and much spoken about but hardly seen otter, twice. It was a room with a view. A whole new world for me.
When I came home late last night Big Friendly caught me up with what had happened while I was away, and one of the things we chatted about was that he had seen my brother, who was visiting Cape Town while I was away. He mentioned how my brother had said that if he hadn’t heard, from us, that there was a serious drought in Cape Town he would never have known. And when Big Friendly’s sister was here for a few weeks, she saw no sign of water awareness at her Waterfront hotel either. And this is really problematic for me. It means that visitors to our city have no idea of the extent of the problem, and are not prompted to do anything about it. It’s true. There is nothing about the drought at the airport, or in hotel literature, or in public bathrooms. There is nothing about it in the B&B’s and they are not telling their guests. We can do better Cape Town. We have to.
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