It was late afternoon and as I travel back from Mossel Bay to the guesthouse, a strange mist unravels. This dirty grey haze is fed from the mountain overlooking the harbour and stretches far out into the beyond. About 20km eastwards, the same eerie grey mist kisses the foot of the Outeniquas as the Groot Brak Rivier guides it onto the Atlantic. In the distance, these two snakes meet and intermingle presenting me with a spooky yet stunning scene.
Racism is an inbred characteristic in South Africa. In no ways am I saying that we are the “world champions” of it. I would actually go out on a limb and call us the least racist country in the world. However, our colourful history bares testament to the want of a privileged few wanting to oppress others based solely on skin colour. Yes, this was legislative for the best part of the 20th century but this extends further right down to personal interactions you have with the general public. It all started in Mossel Bay.
My arrival into Mossel Bay was pretty eventful. These eventful endeavours tend to cause hunger. My quest for food landed me in a rather large pub just down the road from the guesthouse. I walk in. Intimidation engulfs me. I order what turns out to be a damn good vegetarian lasagne. My wait in the bar shows me the source of this intimidation. It’s an Afrikaner bar with clientele encompassing all the important demographics and stereotypes. Everyone in the bar is white (with the exception of the people behind the counter.) I gaze upon rugby jerseys, beer boeps and bad 80s hairdos. The intimidation weakens me. I finally get my food and leave.
None of the people in the bar actually stared at me disapprovingly. They merrily enjoyed the good beer and good food that flowed all night. That was it.
Bartholomew Diaz is credited with being the first European to set foot on South African soil. After his ship was ravaged along the shoreline of the Cape of Storms, on 3 February 1488, his ship landed at Aguada de Sao Bras which was later named Mossel Bay. For this, they named a museum here after him. A really cool exhibit in the museum is the life size replica of a giant squid caught in the area. The tales of the Kraken from myth weren’t totally unfounded. Outside the museum sits the Posboom or The Post Office Tree. Mossel Bay in past years was an important oasis for weary travellers on their way to procure spices from the East or one’s returning with these procured spices. Letters were left under the tree in a boot to relay news to other travellers. This tradition became a rather great quirk and nowadays you can send a postcard to a loved one by posting it into the (concrete) boot sitting under the tree.
The date 3 February 1488 also goes down as the day the first interracial killing occurred on South African soil. When Diaz and his fellow Portuguese brethren landed at Mossel Bay, the native Gourikwa were naturally scared of these alien persons. When they returned to their ships, the tale goes that the Gourikwa proceeded to throw stones at the ships that were docked. Being the 15th century, the only way to deal with this is to arm your crossbow and make it a permanent fixture to the sternum of aforementioned, stone throwing Gourikwa.
After the visit to this museum, I went off to the mall to find some breakfast. I happened across a home industry shop. This is where I purchased some, “Nikkerbols.” So I was wrong all my life. Great…
I’ve been a beach person for the bulk of my life. Living on the other type of reef has not diluted my love of the ocean. I’ve seen many a seaside town with either its quaintness or the splendour of beach side mansions. The Mossel Bay precinct stretching from Glentana all the way to the town is littered with immense houses. Kilometre upon kilometre is strewn with endless villas each trying to outdo the next in terms of size. Many dwarf the best that Umhlanga can throw at you. The architectural style is 70s and 80s. Being mid-June, many of these dwellings are asleep – biding their time till their occupants embark on their long journey to the coast to fulfil the annual pilgrimage that they’ve undertaken since their childhood with new additions that are now of age to start this tradition with a generation that is yet to set eyes on this wonderful coastline.
Driving back that night, I missed a turn and drove down a dark service road. In my headlights I glimpse a black family walking, in great summer clothing, hand-in-hand. A dog barks at them as they disappear into a greater darkness.
Did I mention it is June? I feel bad.
This road trip of mine was done to expose myself to the beauty of South Africa. Instead, just like my contemporaries that traversed the N9 in their VW Fox, I’m here on a hedonistic trip down a foreign path into a land that I shall now exploit. Some say I am here to support an economy that shall feed the locals that toil on these lands. These locals aren’t locals anymore. My contribution to this economy builds and grows this land into an ever expanding balloon. The land I now walk on is a Protea Hotel that once belonged to the family that now travel into a land far off that is foreign to them. They don’t live in Mossel Bay or Glentana or Fraai Uitsig. Just like Hoopstad in the Free State, the twin town is their home. They have been banished – expelled from this prime real estate because they have committed the crime of poverty. Poverty is dealt with in amazing ways – when someone is robbed of water, electricity, sanitation, a roof over their head and/or comfort and warmth, we fix this by taking away their dignity as well. Or at least, our pets do this as it is beneath us…
The blood that dripped from the Diaz arrow left a stain of fear on our land. From the outset, we have lived in a nation filled with fear. Racial fear has been entrenched into our psyche. It is part of us – an evolutionary dead end kept alive because there is no way to get rid of it.
Society has tried to change over the last few years of democracy. Our kids don’t see colour anymore. Your eight year old son will bring home his “girlfriend” one day to play in the garden. This act alone will cause your great grandparents to turn in their graves. It might make their corpses explode when said son, now being 25 years old, brings home this same girl but this time, as his fiancé.
Instead of getting rid of this racism, we, instead, have fed it and made it grow into something larger than it was. Ye olde nemesis – money – is now an integral part of the racism that infects society. As the race groups of our country slowly (an emphasis on slowly) reach an economic equilibrium, we have found new ways to segregate people.
Just like the apartheid government created the Bantustan homelands, we too create pockets of wealth that exclude those that don’t have a Platinum Credit Card. We boom off these suburbs and construct shrines of consumerism equipped with the obligatory Woolworths Foods. Outside these islands, we segregate the ones outside. We move away infrastructure from them or put infrastructure in-between that increases the cost of living. And seeing that this is not enough, we build low-cost houses ensures that we have several generations of workers being bred to serve and enrich our greed.
Maybe it is because we all live in fear. Maybe it’s this fear has allowed us to embrace incredible progress. Maybe out of fear of not having water to drink that we built the Gariep Dam. Maybe the fear of not being able to cross the dam made us build Bethulie Bridge. Maybe the fear of losing contact with Cape Town that we built the N1. Maybe it is out of fear of being poor that we dug a kilometre into the ground to find diamonds.
But it may be this fear that made me feel uncomfortable in the pub. It made Diaz shoot the Gourikwa. It made us ensure that there is a world where another human family has to walk at night, in the cold whilst our pets ensure there miseries are amplified.
I wish it could be different. I really do…