Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: xenophobia

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.


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.

Brothers in Blood

I have to say it was creepy parking in the almost empty parking lot behind Artscape and traveling though the empty building to get to the Arena on the other side last night. Just up the road Cape Town was pumping with the jazz festival, but where we were was a dark, lonely little piece of town. Again, the silence of the Arena bar was depressing, along with the exactly four bottles on the shelves and the wrong glasses. It does make it hard for us to feel like we are there because we wanted to be. We were actually there for Brothers in Blood, Mike van Graan’s play, directed by Greg Homann and performed by David Dennis, Kurt Egelhof, Conrad Kemp, Harrison Makubalo and Aimee Valentine. And, before we took our seats I considered the possibility that I shouldn’t have had that single Jack after all. Everything felt a little bit taboo, knowing what I did about the subject matter.

Brothers in Blood puts a Muslim father and daughter, a Jewish doctor, a Somalian Muslim refugee and a Christian reverend in the blender that was Cape Town during the height of PAGAD action in the late 90’s. It’s all quite complicated. Their stories are woven together and then folded into a bag of interconnections that double back on themselves, for further connecting. And they all have very similar losses, and painful histories that bring them to this mixed bag of need and blame and anger and conflict.

There were moments during the 80 minutes of the play that I was deeply moved, mainly by the really superb performances of the cast, across the board. They were very, very good and fabulously directed too. There were a couple of scenes that were breathtaking and riveting and deeply touching, in spite of the fact that I found the style and form of the play quite difficult to come to terms with. It’s that funny thing where the internal monologues have to serve a triple purpose to expose back story, subtext and opinion. We pretty much get told everything about our characters and then see how this plays out when they interact. And I think it is a pity that they don’t just get to be.

The story of PAGAD feels to me to be an old one. There was something clear and committed and passionate about the struggle against gangsterism and drugs then. Last night I felt I was watching a slice of history, and it is almost that what the play was predicting didn’t come to pass here. In Palestine maybe. In the Middle East differently. In Somalia much worse than we ever expected. The irony is that in present day Cape Town intolerance of this nature is defined as Xenophobia and it is pretty much confined to black communities.

This is my story. I live in a little street in Woodstock. My house, that was originally owned by a Jewish woman, was rented out to Muslims when she was ‘forcibly removed’ when this area was declared ‘coloured’ in the 60’s. Now we own it; one pro-Palestine Jew and her long white non-Jewish husband. The corner shop is run by Pakistanis who can hardly speak English. The threat of the revival of PAGAD enters our conversations on the street corners when all of us feel frustrated by the scourge of tik and petty crime and the ineffectiveness of law enforcement. Our neighbours to the left are deeply religious Muslims. Our neighbours across the road are deeply religious Christians. Mo is a lapsed Muslim, now atheist, married to Milly, who goes to church every Sunday. At the bottom of our road are a family of coloured hippies; more socialist than religious. We have children in this street called Dylan and Aaliyah and Faizel and Summer and Aaron and Blaize and Mikhail, and Robyn, and Fahiem and Yasser.

I have gone off track, into my real world, grateful it hasn’t ended up with the ‘usual suspects’ behaving in predictable ways. Go and see Brothers in Blood. See great performances. See how sometimes we need terrible things to happen before we are changed. But sometimes, luckily, we just do change.

The Difference

There is a march against xenophobia on Sunday, at 10am, from the St George’s Cathedral along what used to be the fan walk during the World Cup. I think that if anyone is having doubts about how to put their 67 minutes of service into action this would be a good way.

The other day Ridi Direko was on the radio talking about xenophobia and a psychologist called in to explain how the term was being used incorrectly. Xenophobia is an irrational fear of foreigners. It is like other phobias; claustrophobia, arachnophobia, agoraphobia. What is important here is that it is one, irrational and two, a fear. What is happening in South Africa is outrageous, out of control, anger driven hatred against foreigners, that results in action which is racist. It is unrealistic to believe that all these South Africans are suffering from a phobia. Let’s call a spade a spade. They are racists who are acting out.

Why this is important is because I believe that they need to be dealt with as such. We have an extraordinary constitution that, in principle at least, protects every race, gender, colour, culture and nationality and outlaws any form of discrimination. This kind of racist attack needs to be responded to with haste and severity. There can be no excusing or tolerating or justifying or downplaying this kind of thing. We need to name and shame. We need to be vigilant, aware and absolutely clear. And anyone caught doing anything, from name calling, bullying and shouting, to any physical violence, must feel the full might of the law.

Let’s say what this thing is. And let us be clear that it is not acceptable.

Prayer for Tolerance

On this last day of showing the world how beautiful

friendly and kind

Colourful and crazy

Generous and supporting

South Africans are, and can be.

On this last day

I am praying.

Hard and fervently I am praying

and making a call at the same time.

I am writing it and saying it.

I am praying and even begging

that not one person in this country does something

to somebody who isn’t originally from here.

Please. Let us all get ready to stop it from happening.

We are armed with good feeling.

We are padded with pride.

We are forewarned with reality.

Now, let us protect these lives,

from nations we loved when they were playing soccer.

That terrible feeling

5671cb488fc54e8cbd05a66e0318eded “I know. It’s happening.”, says Samson in The Tent. And yesterday it started again in De Doorns. Zimbabweans were chased out of their homes, which were destroyed by South Africans who claim they are ‘stealing their jobs’.

I cannot begin to explain to you what I feel. Mostly it’s rage. And also fear. I also feel physically sick when I think about it. How can people do this to each other?

We have to sleep with one eye open. We have to watch their backs. Please. No more xenophobia. Please. No more violence. Please. No more unfixable heartache for these, the most displaced and desperate. 

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