The worm in the bud

2012-07-31 00:00

CAPE Town in winter is not always as wintry as you think. We were there for the International Psychology Conference — or least she who is now Head of the Household and Earner of the Daily Bread was, and I was just there for fun. The weather was kind. Sitting in the garden at Delheim sipping Sauvignon Blanc while warm breezes blew softly, surrounded by green fields instead of KwaZulu-Natal wintry brown, watching sunbirds and even a sugarbird, with guinea fowl clucking behind us, I could begin to understand why so many KZN people want to escape to the Western Cape.

But even Cape Town people need to escape from the endemic traffic jams and rush. They flee to villages like Montague or charming Greyton. We, too, left Cape Town for a weekend in Greyton. The oak trees lining the streets of the village were bare but one could imagine how the shady lanes with the quaint cottages and the mountains behind must look in summer. Again we could understand its appeal to KwaZulu-Natalians anxious to escape the violence and crime of the rest of South Africa. Here was a little Garden of Eden in what often seems pervasive ugliness.

Greyton is like a picture postcard. The people thronging the Saturday market on a sunny morning were a cheerful mixture of local coloured people who have been here from the beginning (remember that Genadendal, the Moravian mission station, the first mission station established to bring Christianity to the Khoi, is just next door) and refugees. Helen Zille got into trouble referring to “refugees” from the Eastern Cape, but in Greyton there are many refugees of a different kind. Some are refugees from the city, hence the many weekend cottages.

The well-heeled pedestrians with upper Constantia accents strolling in the streets or cruising in their Subarus can live in a charming two-roomed huisie with no garage for a weekend, but it is hardly their permanent home. Other refugees, from their British home counties accents, were enjoying the better lifestyle that their pounds can buy in the colonies. There were elderly folk with walking canes, elegant matrons, young women who were the Cape Town equivalent of Sloane Rangers, families with children and dogs. Just like them, we, too, as temporary refugees enjoyed Greyton with its many restaurants and fascinating shops. The local café where we drank coffee and ate mosbolletjies even had a little black pig. But?

In every paradise there is a serpent. In every rose, however beautiful, there lurks a worm. The sun in Greyton only comes up at 8.30 am in winter. The mist hangs heavy until 10 am. The rustic farm cottage where we stayed had no electricity. In the dark with an outside night temperature of below freezing, it took courage to get out of bed for a person who normally wakes with the KZN sunrise at five or six, so the remaining hours of darkness were tedious. And, listening to the gossip in the Saturday market, it was clear that not everything in Greyton was paradisial. “Ja, I had to go to the CCMA,” said a gruff farmer behind a produce stall to his friend. “This one oke stabbed the other, so I sent him off the farm, and he rushed to the CCMA and now the CCMA say it was an unfair dismissal and I must take him back or pay him compensation.” “I’ve had two complaints against me with the police for racism,” explained a generously proportioned Afrikaans woman at the organic products stall. “I am too poor to afford a house here, so I live in the coloured township and my neighbours don’t like me because I’m white.”

Clearly, the troubles of South Africa don’t get left behind at the borders of the Western Cape or even the boundaries of Greyton.

And the observation of the buxom woman was true. Property is unduly expensive. That small huisie in Greyton goes for about what one would pay for a “gentleman’s residence” in Maritzburg’s upper suburbs. Mind you, the economic downturn has led to many “For Sale” signs, so for prospective Greyton would-be residents, this is the time to strike.

But the real problem with Greyton is the same problem with Cape Town. They are Stormers supporters. Imagine watching a Stormers game surrounded by Stormers fans with silly yellow wands. We watched the Sharks-Stormers match in a local pub. There were perhaps half-a-dozen brave Sharks fans in a sea of vociferous Stormers people, who cheered every time Gio Aplon or Bryan Habana got the ball, who swore at the referee for every penalty awarded to the Sharks, who called pale toe every time a penalty was awarded to the Stormers.

This was foreign territory indeed. An enthusiastic group of locals had even brought a Stormers flag to wave. They were clearly not our kind of people. They grew more and more silent as the match went on. As the game ended the flag bearer disappeared without comment. We few foreigners smirked. Sharks people don’t belong in Stormers territory.

As they say here in the Western Cape, sometimes “Oos, wes, tuis bes”.


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