I love and hate Mitchell's Plain

2013-10-08 09:12
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Cape Town - This has been the most interesting time of my life. I posted a music video, The Good and The Bad on YouTube about my experience of growing up in Mitchell's Plain and, for reasons unknown to me, the video has gone viral with over 280 000 hits.

For the first time in my life people are interested in what I have to say, my views on the world and, strangely for me, my personality. It’s been both overwhelming and flattering.

I wrote the song one night on my way to drop off a close friend in an area of Mitchell's Plain called “Hell”. He has lived there most of his life. We chatted about all kinds of things... Family, soccer, drugs, and how bad the violence was.

The conversation left me feeling incredibly sentimental and disturbed at the same time. And it is this feeling that bore my song The Good And The Bad.

I realised I loved and hated Mitchell's Plain equally. I loved it because it was the place I grew up in. I remember playing with friends in the “witsand”, the very same dunes where they found the Station Strangler bodies.

Mitchells Plain was the backdrop to some of the happiest times in my life.

But I hated it equally because it is where I experienced so much trauma. I remember being about five or six and going to watch a movie at the Town Centre (the only mall in Mitchell's Plain at the time) with my teenage brother. I remember how excited I was standing in line outside the bioscope when about 20m from us a scuffle broke out and I witnessed my first act of violence. A man was stabbed and another hit with a belt buckle on the head, blood squirting from his forehead in a neat stream. I have never felt so scared and vulnerable since. But with time, this type of trauma would become normal. And it was only in adulthood that I recognised that this was abnormal.

Fortuitously, the launch of my music coincided with the release of the national crime statistics.

Due to my father’s heading up the neighbourhood watch in our area in Mitchell's Plain and also being an active member of the Mitchell's Plain Community Police Forum for a large part of my childhood, we were always aware of the crime stats and how they affected our lives. Mitchell's Plain had at one time or another been the deadliest place on earth.

Violence has always been a part of my reality. I remember several instances driving along with my father when he would jump out to mediate some domestic dispute, or when the unexpected appearance of his bakkie would disperse a gang fight. I recall one incident when I saw a guy who had just been attacked by a group of rival gangsters, standing metres away from me, covered in stab wounds.

He was walking around shouting at the top his lungs, “Stiek my! Stiek my, julle n*****s, stiek my!” I remember thinking how different from the fight scenes in the movie this was. In the movies, one stab wound would kill the victim.

As a child on the Flats, violence is a major part of your life. It is not something you choose. It is a daily reality you learn to live with. And today this is still true, maybe even more so than when I grew up.

I now live in the southern suburbs with my family and the one thing I have noticed is my white neighbours’ obsession with crime.

At every braai I have attended, two themes dominate the conversation: how bad crime is and how bad schooling has become.

It’s funny to me, because in the time I have been living here, a number of years now, I have not experienced one incident of violence. I regularly walk to the garage shop down the road at 3am in my pyjamas, because it is that safe.

The police station in our area is helpful, clean and visible, patrolling the area alongside the local security firms.

It has become clear to me that my neighbours speak about crime and violence because they have never really experienced it.

The 2013 crime stats confirm a reality I have always known.

The majority of the crime in Cape Town is coloured people killing coloured people, black people killing black people. But there is a perception out there that white people live in constant danger in our country.

All the violence I have witnessed first-hand in my life has been at the hands of coloured people and the victims have been coloured too. And the crime statistics back this up. Mitchell's Plain police stations still have some of the highest rates of reported murders nationally.

We recently also celebrated Heritage Day and once again the theme of my music video held some significance.

I had a media launch at the District Six Museum, significant to me personally in that my mother was from District Six, and I launched myself under the alias “The Boesman Project”, a name I settled on just one week before I put my video online. Initially, I was going to call myself “Boesman”, but almost everyone in my immediate (coloured) circle cautioned me against calling myself a Boesman. There were some violent reactions to the name.

One person said: “You are too talented to be called Boesman.”

Are Boesmanne not allowed to be talented?

I should explain the significance of the name for me. I recently did some digging into my lineage and discovered that my mother, who was born in Namaqualand, is a not-so-distant relative of the Witbooi tribe, famous for its leader Hendrick Witbooi.

Witbooi was a revolutionary who fought against the oppression of the German forces in Namibia and Namaqualand and for the freedom of the Khoisan people. He is the equivalent of Nelson Mandela to me. Maybe even more so.

His face is on the Namibian $200 note and he is somehow linked to my heritage.

However, growing up I was never made aware of my link to this great tribe. I was told as a kid that we have German blood due to our surname, Krotz. And I would repeat this when asked about my heritage. I also remember conversations my parents would have about us not having a culture, a view that was common among coloured people who were educated or had good jobs (not doing manual labour).

I recall people saying that we were a mix between white people and black people. We were a nation of bastards, with no heritage, no culture. My mother hated the Klopse because she felt it fed a stereotype of coloureds, the stereotype of the no-teeth flower seller who speaks so funny. This was the one image they always seemed to use on the news.

I heard my parents change their accents when they were in a work context or speaking to white people, something I learnt to replicate when I attended schools outside of my area. I learnt early on that “sounding coloured” was a bad thing, as was “looking coloured”.

My brother mocked my school photos because he said I looked like a “plaas-jaapie”. He meant I had the features of a rural coloured person, I looked like a Boesman, with kroes hair, a big bum and fat lips, a combination of socially unattractive features.

I also remember that the word Boesman was used as a swear word by coloured people. When you really wanted to insult someone you would call him a Boesman. Or Hotnot. I was taught to hate myself. I was taught to emulate something else. Something white.

This was all challenged for me at Cape Town High School when in Standard 6 (or Grade 8, as it is now known) I was in one of the first classes nationally to trial the new history curriculum, which spoke of the Boesman being the original indigenous people of South Africa.

We had pictures in our textbooks of a Cape Town where the Boesman reigned. For the first time, I heard the word Boesman used in a positive context. And by my white teacher on top of it.

So with all of these contradictory messages about my ancestry, I chose to be called Boesman – though, after some friendly advice about “Boesman” being a little radical for the community I come from, I amended it to The Boesman Project, which still speaks to where I come from and is easier on the ear. Heritage Day for me has very little meaning because I live in a city that does not acknowledge the fact that Khoi and Boesman people ruled the Cape.

There is no acknowledgment by coloured people that we are the living descendants of the Khoisan and that it is our heritage. There is no acknowledgement of the fact that the same genocide occurred with the Native Americans happened with the Khoisan in South Africa.

There is no acknowledgement of our heritage in the word “coloured” which is what the government still encourages me to call myself when it was a label that was invented by the very people who put pens in my grandparents’ hair to determine their ethnicity.

To me, Heritage Day is a farce.

A very good friend of mine, Ayanda Mabulu, was recently censored at the Johannesburg Art Fair for a painting that deals with the Marikana Massacre. Unfortunately for Ayanda he paints what he sees, which is the obvious injustice around us that seems to grow worse day by day.

Yet, I live in a city that celebrates a group called Die Antwoord, which to my mind is one of the worst things to emerge from our society in a long time. To me they are worse than gangsterism.

I don’t know one coloured person who is proud of the culture of gangsterism or the impact drugs have had on our community.

Yet we give so much credence to Waddy Jones (aka Ninja) from Die Antwoord, who is taking the worst part of being coloured and celebrating it, saying it’s cool to use words like “Jou Ma se P***”, which in the coloured community has been a taboo phrase only used by gangsters in anger.

They are exploiting a people who have been exploited.

Gangsterism is something that was created by the apartheid government. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mandrax was pumped into the coloured community after the forced removals to nullify the “indigenous threat”. Die Antwoord choose to ignore the fact that 67 percent of South Africa’s male prison population is coloured.

They choose to ignore the fact that Pollsmoor is filled with men who would, if they were given the opportunity, do things differently. My best childhood friend is now a tik addict who has spent time in Pollsmoor for armed robbery.

I challenge Waddy to come and spend a week with me in Hanover Park or Manenberg. No security guards. No entourage. No fancy car. Live like someone from Manenberg. Feel how cool it is to live in a war zone. To take a taxi to work at 5.30am when the gangsters have been shooting in your neighbourhood a few hours earlier.

It’s easy to speak about that culture because you have no affinity to it. You don’t see the lives of the kids affected by your music.

I live in Cape Town. The most beautiful city in the world. The most dangerous city in the world. It’s the Good and the Bad.


* Kirk Krotz is a Cape Town musician.


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