Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Cape Town (Page 1 of 6)

White Night

I went to a thing last night at one of our theatres. This is not about the thing itself, but more about who these things are for. There were two shows going on; one in the big theatre and another in the small one, but they were white shows, and almost all of the audience was white too. The whole feeling in the space was one of whiteness. And the whole thing felt like there were a hundred white elephants in the room. Big, old, stinky, immovable, Surf white elephants filled the space and all the white people squeezed past them and said nothing.

Now of course it is funny that I am saying this. I am white. My date was white. And most of the people I spoke to (except for the people at the door, obviously, and the ushers, obviously, and the bar people, of course) were also white. The people I spoke to and connected with are fantastic, and enwhitenened, and aware and concerned. But we were all in a huge room together in Cape Town, South Africa, and the whiteness was blinding in the night.

This is not how we change things. Almost all white casts playing to almost all white audiences is not ok. And we will pay for these mistakes if we aren’t already paying. We need to change it right now.

Opening A Can of Beans – Considering Veganism

img_5647-2I have wanted to become a vegan for many years but haven’t been able to bring myself to the point of actually doing it. It has mostly been about laziness; I kept on imagining that it would take considerable effort, and time and work. I have been a pescetarian/vegetarian for most of my adult life, and then, when I went on the Dukan diet I had to eat protein, so I ate fish, eggs and cheese a lot. In the back (and slowly moving to the middle) of my mind was the knowledge that vegan was really what I wanted to be.

I decided that becoming a vegan was going to be a new year’s resolution, and so I have been gradually preparing for it. I have been buying some stuff to have in the cupboard, I have made the switch to milk alternative in my coffee (delicious) and I have been reading ingredients labels with dedication (and fury; who knew that had egg in it?). I have also been listening, deeply, to Big friendly’s concerns. Becoming a vegan when you are married to a food fussy omnivore is problematic and challenging.

I have a few concerns about my lazy nature, my propensity for weight gain, and my tendency to overindulge. I could become a bread ball in a matter of weeks. But I am going to try and be as conscious and committed as I can. It most definitely looks like Cape Town is perfect vegan country, with restaurants, shops and even delis dedicated to providing for the fast growing vegan community, so there won’t be any stress there.

Where there is stress is on Twitter. Wow. In preparation for my transition I have read a lot on the internet; checked out recipes, blogs, science, pseudoscience, and deeply personal tips from vegans worldwide. I also decided to follow some vegan related people/things on Twitter. Bad idea. I got a DM from someone demanding I stop the killing NOW! I replied that that was why I was starting my journey, and promptly unfollowed them. Somebody else screamed at somebody else that dairy-free was NOT vegan and they need a disclaimer in their one line bio. And then there were the links that led to nothing but clickbait and ads. So, being a #twittervegan is not going to work for me.

I am going to have to tread carefully. A friend told me about how his sister who is a vegan gets abused and challenged by flesh eaters every day. Why? Shouldn’t it be the other way around actually? But, that is not who or what I want to become. I have already done that with smoking. Over half a lifetime of smoking and then 14 years of having quit made me into one of those rabid anti-smokers for a while, and it was hard work. Nah, I am too, too lazy for that.

But. I am going to need help. And suggestions. And great ideas. And encouragement. So if you have any or all of those, I am open, like a vegan recipe book.

 

 

The Usual – holidays and racism in Cape Town

imagesI so do not want to write this post, but it is sitting in my throat like a lump of coal, suffocating me, and blocking my rage and disgust. This time it was the racist incident at Clarke’s Bar and Dining Room that sparked it off, but it is important (I believe) not to single them out, but add them to the list of restaurants, hotels, b&bs, and other places of leisure that are either subtly or blatantly racist. A coloured friend told me about a horrible racist incident that she and her family suffered at Shimmy Beach Club last season. I read about another POC complain about being kicked out by the bouncers there this year. The stories are many, and endless. I have seen the look of relief on faces when I, a white person, join black friends at a table in a restaurant in Sea Point. It is embarrassing.

Cape Town is always accused of being a racist, divided city. And, it is way past time to suck it up and admit the truth of it. I know there are huge efforts, by people who care and take this kind of thing personally, to try and make this less so. It is a deep and thankless challenge, with the opposite of help from the DA entrenched City of Cape Town, who believe they have the mandate to be on the side of big business and big (white) money. We only need to look at the Sea Point councillor who had no actual idea that she was being what she was being until she publicised it; a clueless, cruel, ignorant, racist person with power.

But here is what I don’t understand at all. Why are these restaurants, b&bs, clubs and hotels not working the other way around, from the beginning, to change who and what they are? Why are they not all actively encouraging a coloured and black clientele from the outset? Why are they not actively giving support to those who experience racism from their white clients? Why aren’t they spelling it out on their billboards and websites and in their press releases that they will not tolerate racist attitudes towards staff, other customers and even passers by?  Why are they not shouting it from their rooftops that they are a safe haven for all the colours of Cape Town to enjoy?

It is too late once the incident has happened. It is over for Clarke’s whose pissy and weak attempt at a meeting with those who were horribly insulted is a total band-aid response to bad publicity. Unless Clarke’s does a complete overhaul of their attitude they will be able to get away with being a white only restaurant where POC never feel comfortable. And here’s the other bit of coal stuck in my throat. I am not convinced they (and others) don’t want it this way. They want to serve a predominantly white clientele. They want their white customers to feel comfortable and safe and at home, more than they want their coloured customers to. And it is disgusting, and unacceptable and they must be boycotted loudly. I am adding them to the list of places that need to be named and shamed.

But, I do not want to. I do not want to be the racist police. I do not want this.

A couple of simple Uber stories

Yesterday I was driven around. I Ubered to the airport with the lovely Ngoni, was transferred to my workshop in Durban by the charming Nhlanhla, who fetched me again to take me back to the airport once I was done, and then Tarisai Ubered me home. I wasn’t feeling well which made me doubly happy to hand myself over to all of these capable drivers to get me where I needed to go.

My very early morning trip to the airport was made a pleasure by Ngoni who is a gorgeous looking 31 year old Zimbabwean. We got chatting. He has been in Cape Town for 10 years. It took him four days to get here from Harare. His mom and dad and two youngest sisters are in the UK. His dad has become a British citizen and his mom is a permanent resident. Ngoni and his oldest sister have never been granted visas to go and visit their parents. They were over 18 when their parents left. That is why. My head explodes with that kind of information. His mom is coming to visit him in March. He told me, “I have not seen her since I was 21.” His eyes brimmed with tears and he turned away slightly.

Tarisai fetched me from the airport to take me home just before 5pm. I knew that we would be driving against the traffic, thankfully; it was still stinking hot. As Uber usual he was polite and friendly. We got chatting. He is Zimbabwean and has been in South Africa for ten years and has never gone back home. He told me that 80% of Cape Town’s Uber drivers are Zimbabwean. I knew the figure was high, but I didn’t realise how high it was. He was a lot more down at heel than Ngoni. He drives for Uber part time; the rest of the time he is a construction worker. I noticed from his clothes that here was a guy who made an enormous effort against all the odds to be clean and tidy. I was pretty desperate to get home so we lapsed into silence. As we got closer to Woodstock I started giving him directions for the best way to my house. We came over the bridge that traverses the highway and Tarisai gasped. He was looking at the harbour and the sea in golden light, and he said, “That is so beautiful. The sea. That huge boat.” It was. Then, as if more to himself than to me he said, “I have never been on a boat.” He paused. “I have never been on an airplane. My dream is to go on an airplane, and on the boat to visit Robben Island.”

There was no agenda to his statement. He said it absolutely unselfconsciously. And (not that I am unaware of it every day) it came crashing down on me how differently we experience this life, this world. I, who had been on a plane twice in one day. I, who had listened while people complained about the free damn croissant they were given. I, who watched as drunk men gave air hostesses grief. I, who wished the flight could go faster, come to an end.

The #ZumaMustFallMarch Fail

I am going to try and write my feelings out about my experience at, and around yesterday’s #ZumaMustFallMarch even though they are mixed, and confusing and emotional and probably even unfair to some extent. I am going to try and write them out and then think of a course of action for myself. I am desperate for a political path, voice and action.

Yesterday I woke up in a state of terrified paralysis. I had felt the creeping approach of the terror in the days preceding, ever since Facebook had publicised the event; the gathering, a picnic here in Cape Town, to protest against Zuma and his firing of Nhlanhla Nene. My first thoughts about that had been, people will laugh at us. We will be the laughing stock. Then there was going to be another march, an actual march, not a picnic. People asked, on Facebook and twitter, was this the real march? Was this instead of the picnic? Was this in place of the gathering to honour the Arch, Tutu? And every time I looked I noticed that the conversation here, in Cape Town, was very, particularly white. I should have known. I should have known, since I had marched with about 250 others against corruption, and, regardless of what anyone says, that had been a dismal failure. However, I had been intense and jealous about the magnificent, organic, dangerous student protests that I so badly wanted to be part of. Those student protests had given me hope, energy, a new commitment, and a view of the potential change we could engender. Maybe?

Here is an excerpt from an email I wrote to my best friend overseas yesterday.

I have woken up totally scared today. I am frozen with indecision. Do I march knowing that I do so alongside white racists who know not their own bullshit selves? Do I stay at home on this pseudo day of reconciliation and drink a healthy dose of denial with my tea? I feel like anything I do, or don’t do, has the potential to fuel a rage and hate and support an otherness. We live in a time of maximum suspicion and cynicism. We live in a time of separation and bitterness.

See, I did know. I knew. We walked the dogs and on the way I spoke to Big Friendly about my total indecision. Good people were going to be marching; people I care about, but all of them were white, and this made no sense. I believed in the cause of the march, of that there was no doubt, but I did doubt the efficacy of a march, particularly one on a public holiday, that meant that most people would have more of an issue getting into town, and it would be an added expense, and most people longed for a public holiday to be with their families. A march isn’t a jolly family outing on a public holiday, like a parade, or carnival.

Big Friendly said some amazing things, when I finally let him speak. He reminded me that it was just a march. He said it was part of the process, not an event. He was pretty clear that he was not going to attend. I wish I had had that same clarity.

I came home in a state. As the time of the gathering drew nearer I started panicking. Would I forgive myself if I didn’t make an effort and go? I spoke to my brother who was on his way to the march in Jozi. We had always been marching buddies in the 80s. I longed to be in Jozi. I decided to go.

And here is where it gets interesting. Stop reading if you don’t want to hear my own,  possibly self indulgent, navel gazing agony. I confess. I took an Uber into town. I knew that I wouldn’t find parking, because the people attending this march would be arriving in their vehicles, and not by public transport. I got out of the car outside parliament, already having shared my misgivings with the Zimbabwean Uber driver. It was clear. Everyone arriving and jostling for parking in their 4x4s was white. (I need to segue here and make it very clear, and double explain. Of course whites need to and must march, protest and be visible in their discontent, and of course, I am part of that. I am in fact white. But there is a deep and dangerous problem if it is only, or at least 95% white.)

I started walking up the road, and because I was on my own I picked up bits and pieces of conversation, and my pulse increased. “Did you speak to David? Did he say where we should meet?” Then,  “Ja, bru, dis amazing, dis ongelooflik, maar dis fokken warm, kom ons gaan koop ‘n paar Redbulls.” Then, “Hey move out the way, I wanna take a selfie here, outside the National Gallery.” Then, “I made a booking for lunch at 1245, do you think we’ll be done by then?” I saw a man on a designer bicycle with an expensive shower head taped to his forehead. I saw another man carrying one. His wife was trying to take a picture of him but he didn’t know where to hold it. It was obvious he had never seen the cartoons. I heard, “This is what South Africa should be like.” I thought, 97% white? I tweeted it. It got retweeted 50 times by black twitter. White twitter was enraged and critical, calling me negative. Why did I have to make it about race?

I approached the crowd gathered in front of the Natural History Museum, searching for black faces. A group behind me started chanting “hamba Zuma hamba.” It was shrill. Women tried to find shade. I saw a black woman comforting her little girl who was crying. As I passed I heard her speak in a foreign accent. They were tourists, who had come to the company gardens on the wrong day. I couldn’t. I moved to the outskirts of the group as the speakers began. Some white guy, the organiser I presume, started warming up the crowd. The content of his speech was, enough is enough, and how amazing it was to see so many people from all walks of life. The cynic in me was, these people do not walk. I saw a couple I knew, and their baby. They were scurrying away. They had felt as uncomfortable as I was. We were embarrassed to be there.

I moved even further away and started crying. I was now back outside the gallery. I saw two more people I knew and burst into harder tears. They were just arriving. They had no idea what was happening to me. I decided to leave. I made my way back, moving in the opposite direction of the late comers still arriving. I was almost knocked over by a couple on their Vespa.

I bought water at a shop in Plein Street and sat outside and started tweeting. Young people were also already leaving the ‘march’. Their concentration for something like this was done. “I started the chant, did you hear?” said one girl in designer jeans to her mate who was scratching in her handbag for her phone. Two bearded boy hipsters came past on their skateboards. They were wearing matching black printed #ZumaMustFall t-shirts.

I waited outside the Kimberly Hotel for my Uber home. Morning drinkers mingled with ‘marchers’ at wooden tables on the pavement. Much more like the usual Cape Town CBD I know.

So, on reflection, what was my problem? Mainly, it was this. So many (not all, but a lot) of the white people I saw yesterday were gatvol and were marching for the first time ever. This was the march they chose to march. Not in solidarity with the poor, not against corruption, not for the environment, not for housing, or health or against poverty. Not ever before. And they were happy that there were so many white people there. They felt safe, and self righteous, and proud. And the amount of coloured and black people present (6% coloured and 0.5% black?) was very comfortable for all whites involved. And there was no understanding of the irony. I was told on twitter and Facebook that I should get over myself, and stop being negative, and that it was not about race, by white people. So, clearly, it is actually, 100% totally about race. And denying it is 100% the problem.

I have woken up in a different paralysis today. My instincts tell me to go into town and sign up and pay to become a legitimate and card carrying member of the ANC. Can change happen from within? Can I then justify my criticism of msholozi? Am I being naive and desperate, wanting to do anything to change my whining, complaining self into someone who acts? Am I ready to commit to this course of action and then suffer the shame of a party going to every length to justify even the most blatantly self serving and corrupt actions of number 1? Is this all about me? How can I better serve my beliefs and the people of this country?

What I do know is that this paralysis is terrible and terrifying and I need to shit or get off the pot. I am desperate for advice, engagement, discussion and action.

 

The Subtle rules of Class

Class is a whole other story. Race is big, and bold and in your face, but class is subtle and hard to understand and more difficult to negotiate. I am seeing the world more intimately from this perspective since Clementine came to work for me once a week.

She and her husband are Rwandan. Her husband came here 13 years ago, and it was a political decision. He went back home to fetch a wife over two years ago and came back with Clementine. She is well educated, has had a few excellent and well paid jobs before, and was even studying IT before she followed her heart and came here. And none of it makes any sense to her at all.

Her first exposure to Cape Town and South Africa was life in an informal settlement in Capricorn. She was totally shocked and horrified. Finally they moved into a room in a shared house in Retreat. Clementine cannot believe her circumstances. The room they have for two adults and a one year old child can only accommodate a bed. There is no space around it for Moses to learn to walk. Her life is ridiculously challenging compared to the safe, middle class life she had back home. Yesterday she said with amazement, “I had my own bedroom back home. All of us did.”

What is a huge challenge for Clementine is that she does not see herself as a refugee, even though, because she is Rwandan she has a kind of refugee status. This drives her wild. And yet, she can’t get proper work, or papers, or a bank account, and her husband spent 4 days at home affairs trying to sort out his work permit.

Clementine could be considered a bit of a snob. She is horrified by how the majority of poor black people live in this city. She is uncomprehending of the level of violence (her chief pastor was shot in the hips during a shop heist) and more and more, as she opens up, she tells me of her homesickness, the cheapness of fruit and veg back home, the friendliness of the Rwandan people, and the total lack of understanding of her situation by her friends and family in Rwanda. What’s more, she also has to take the whole xenophobia thing terribly seriously. She is challenged to speak isiXhosa at the train station, and has a generalised anxiety around being foreign.

I have been trying to keep an eye out on a house or flat share for her and her tiny family in Woodstock. The usual; on Gumtree and Facebook and things. And therein lies a very particular tale. Even though there are places they could (just barely) afford, they are aimed at a different sort of person. A perceived different class of people. Let me explain what I mean. There is cheap student accommodation next door to me. It is multi-racial, and some of the students are foreign. But Clementine and her husband (who has a good, secure, if not well paid, permanent job) are not the right class for this type of accommodation. None of the house to share accommodation is aimed at them. Even though, back home in Rwanda they would be perfectly middle class. Here they are poor Rwandan refugees, who must settle for the worst, and pay the most.

I don’t get it. At all. If any of you have suggestions, or can explain that I am looking at this wrong, I would love so much to hear from you. Maybe I am just barking up my own, wrong, class tree.

 

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