Bigotry and other dark arts

2014-10-02 13:45

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One of the main reasons I choose to live in Cape Town is the easy access to all the idyllic towns just a stone’s throw away.

Maybe it’s because I spent my formative years in a village, and these destinations seem to have the perfect combination of rural and urban. However, some of these towns haven’t moved past 1994.

My friends and I decided a very long time ago that we would never let potential racist, sexist or homophobic attitudes define what spaces we could and could not visit.

Over the years, that has resulted in some genuinely amazing times, and a few unpleasant interactions.

This past weekend we headed to Prince Albert, which is just five hours from Cape Town at the foot of the Swartberg mountain range.

It is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world. Much of it is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and it’s certainly more mind-blowing than that big old rock lording it over Cape Town. But I digress.

The town was hosting its second arts festival – the first was hosted in 2012.

We’d been to that first one, so we knew what to expect from the townsfolk.

There are the smiley stares, as if to say: “You can’t be offended by my very intrusive stare because I’m smiling, see?”

This is a special skill perfected by white people in highly segregated hoods.

Then there are the “semigrants”, described as “people who move to smaller scenic towns to get away from urban crime, congestion and the concrete jungle”.

They’ll claim they haven’t seen any black people in years, except their coloured staff from the nearby township.

They start with the smiling stare, then they come over and ask where we’re from – nothing malicious, just a whole lotta semigrated ignorance.

Then things take a turn down Offensive Street. Someone tries to speak some fake Zulu-cum-Fanagalo, based on some shit they apparently learnt back when they used to live in Mpumalanga.

We couldn’t even summon the energy to explain the error in the assumption that all black South Africans speak the same language, never mind Fanagalo.

Don’t get me wrong, Prince Albert is incredibly beautiful, and we had fun when not experiencing micro-aggression. Admittedly, being exoticised right here in the motherland is trippy as fuck, but we brought a big bag of salt with us specifically for such occasions.

However, last weekend, with the initial romanticism that coloured our 2012 trip fading away, the smiling stares started to look a bit sinister, the questions a bit more patronising – like when my friends congratulated the crew after an Afrikaans show they had enjoyed, and the response was: “Oh, did you understand that?”

Then there was the restaurant courtyard where we wanted the table moved into the sun.

The waiters were obviously busy so we moved it ourselves, after which the smiling owner/manager lady quipped: “You guys are awesome. You should come work for us.” How about no? How about you work for us and hurry up with our damn croissants?

The best was saved for last. The morning before we left, a friend was sitting at a restaurant by herself at a table for four, waiting for three friends to join her.

Right next to her was another table for four. The neighbouring table was occupied by a white family of four.

Another customer, white, looking for extra chairs for his table, came around, but instead of asking my friend if he could take the chairs at her table, addressed the white family at the neighbouring table, asking if he could take the chairs at my friend’s table.

They shrugged, also dumbfounded, I assume. As he started to pick up the chairs, he gave my friend a quick look as if to confirm that she also wouldn’t be needing the chairs, because for whatever reason, she didn’t deserve the courtesy of actual speech.

The situation did not end well for him, and the stares lost their accompanying smiles.

All that said and done, I’ll probably go back again for the arts festival, and I will continue to go for weekend drives to all the beautiful small towns, mountain passes and other scenic routes in the Western Cape.

It would be silly to leave this gorgeous province to those who would make it a safe corner to practise bigotry and other dark arts.

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