Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: xenophobia (Page 1 of 3)

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.


Conversation with a taxi driver

Our show was cancelled last night so I decided to drink wine with a friend who was in town. I took an Uber because I didn’t want to drive drunk, and Vava picked me up. I could hear from his accent that he was Congolese, so of course the conversation swung round to how long he had been in Cape Town (14 years) and how the recent xenophobic (I hate that word, used so wrongly) attacks had made him feel. I could almost see his decision to tell me the truth, and suddenly he poured out his story, leaving me in tatters.

He told how in all his 14 years of being here he never ever, not once felt safe. He told me of his lengthly legal battle for citizenship and how disgustingly Home Affairs treated him. He told me about the hideous violence he had left behind, that still haunts his dreams, and his heartache around the current violence and the absolute lack of commitment by government to do anything about it. He almost sobbed when I showed sympathy and then he had to control his desperation when he shouted about not one conviction for the 2008 violence. By then we had reached the Alexander Bar, where I was going.

We just sat for a moment and held onto the day, 27 April, Freedom Day, and how it really just wasn’t that at all.



The Line

I thought I would only get to this in the morning, after taking a bit of time to compose myself, but I can’t help it. It needs to be written now. Truth is, I am waiting for my face to get back to normal, from an hour long cry.

Tonight was the opening of my sister-in-law Gina Shmukler’s play The Line at The Baxter Studio. It is only on this week, as part of the Rolex something or another (not exactly sure), but this means that you need to make a very special effort to get to one of the very few performances. It is absolutely required viewing.

This play has arrived in CT with a lot of hype because of how well it did in Joburg at The Market. I was nervous about how it would translate for a Cape Town audience, particularly an invited, opening night one. I didn’t need to worry. It delivered on every level and I was in trouble after the first five minutes and didn’t ever pull myself back.

Some of you will know how the subject of xenophobia gets me going and so it is no surprise that from this point of view I was invested. Two actresses play characters and tell stories taken directly from interviews with perpetrators, victims and witnesses of the out of control xenophobic attacks that rocked South Africa in 2008. And it is devastating.

The Line is a radical, complex, powerful, shattering, horrific, personal, critical, and ultimately human look at these xenophobic attacks, and how it affected those involved. I knew that this was what it was about, and yet, revisiting it in this way was like opening the emotional floodgates. That’s because the piece is so contained and clear and it is able to cut to the real dark heart of this horror without ever getting sentimental, preachy or message mad.

The two actresses, Khutjo Green and Gabi Harris are nothing short of extraordinary. I marveled at their performances. The set (Niall Griffin) and sound (Charl-Johan Lingenfelder) were perfect, as was the lighting, but I say this as an afterthought. I was totally undone by this piece in its totality, and I cannot urge you strongly enough to go and see it. Go.


I have been struggling this last week or so, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. Finally, I think I am starting to scratch beneath the surface, to work out why this horrific story of Mido Macia, the taxi driver who was cuffed and dragged by a police van, and who later died of his injuries, is so upsetting.

First of all, I could not come to terms with the fact that there was a video; someone had recorded this horrific act on a cellphone. Then I could not imagine actually watching it. And still, I knew, if it wasn’t for the video these cops wouldn’t have been caught.

Over and over again though, I try to imagine what split in the brain takes place that people can allow themselves to inflict such grotesque pain on another human being. I make this statement general. I know that the police in this country (and others) are under resourced, over stressed, desperate, and have all seen the hideous and unbelievable. But they are still people. And people should not be able to do this kind of thing to other people; regardless of who they are and what they have done.

The detailed description of the pain he suffered before he died makes me want to gag. I cannot ever read it to the end. And there were people who did it, people who watched it happen live, people who watched the video footage.

Today, in court, the cops’ defence team brought evidence to light that this man was involved in an accident that killed five children. As if somehow this was an excuse to torture him until he died. It makes me sick. It makes me sick that people can do what they do.

The Line is Coming


This amazing piece of work is coming to Cape Town and will be at The Baxter for 5 shows only. Gina Shmukler’s The Line deals with a subject close to my heart, xenophobia. Do not miss it.

War and the Swing to Conservatism

What happened? What happened to turn the passionately committed anti-apartheid children and youth that I was part of into fearful, hating racists who want all Arabs dead?

This new flare-up of war between Israel and the Palestinians has once again brought into sharp focus the disease that has swept through Jews in South Africa and many of my old classmates, and I do not understand it one bit.

I went to King David High School in the late 70s and early 80s. Yes, I was always considered to be an outspoken rebel, but my thoughts about apartheid were shared by all of my friends and many more who weren’t. Some of us went on to be even more outspoken, committed and involved in the struggle once we went to ‘varsity. We all knew that apartheid was evil and wrong, and even though we were white and had moments of fear about the future, the fear was never enough to turn us away from what we knew was the absolute truth. I certainly remember thinking how I couldn’t imagine what it was like to be black, disenfranchised, without power, without access and absolutely oppressed. We all did.

And now, these same friends have turned into paranoid, hysterical, ranting racists and Arab haters who believe, from South Africa (FFS), that their people are threatened and that Palestinians; refugees contained in virtual prisons, are what threaten Israel’s existence. How? How did this happen to those people I knew?

I am devastated by this. I know it isn’t everybody. I have friends and family in Israel who are deeply opposed to the war and are desperate (and vocal) protestors for peace. Just like we were in those days. But I am scared and shocked by how few of us there are, and that most of those old friends have turned into the oppressors we feared and hated and fought against.


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