Go shout it from the moun­tain

CityPress - - Voices - LWANDILE FIKENI voices@city­press.co.za Fikeni is a Cape Town-based free­lancer

One morn­ing, we wake up feel­ing fat. To be sure, we’d felt fat for a while but on this par­tic­u­lar morn­ing, it was ex­ac­er­bated by the fact that our flat over­looks an of­fi­cial state es­tate that houses one of our rea­son­ably fat min­is­ters. I’ve heard peo­ple say it’s the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter’s res­i­dence and, you know what? It’s not called “min­is­te­rial gravy” for noth­ing. At all times, a posse of po­lice of­fi­cers is to be found at the en­trance. They are as fat as we feel and just as lazy. With their frames squeezed tightly into their blue uni­forms and their blue caps con­ceal­ing their eyes, you’d be for­given if you thought they were guard­ing the house of a mod­ern Al Capone. Sun­day morn­ing squeezes through a dense mass of leaves and flecks of sun­light. A piebald cat leaps into view and perches on the wall where the elec­tric fence of our gated apart­ment block sep­a­rates us from the min­is­ter’s house, and the min­is­ter’s elec­tric fence bar­ri­cades her from the rest of the street.

Cats roam freely in our block the way dogs do in Gugulethu, where my girl­friend’s fam­ily lives. But the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Gugulethu and Vre­de­hoek end there. If in Gugs a ca­coph­ony of cars and chil­dren and mu­sic and chat­ter punc­tu­ates the ex­is­tence of its in­hab­i­tants, Vre­de­hoek is the ab­so­lute op­po­site.

Our street, on the con­trary, is quiet save for the rustling of leaves and the singing of the mild, dry east­erly Cape Doc­tor.

Slowly, we climb out of bed and put on our gym clothes. We make our way up Gorge Road, past the park where ber­gies’ rags hang out to dry on branches. Fur­ther and fur­ther up the foot of Ta­ble Moun­tain we climb, as slowly as our bod­ies al­low.

The canopy of trees pro­vides am­ple shade from the bit­ing sun. “This is where Azure must’ve climbed,” my girl­friend says. “Ah-zoo-ray”. He is the 13-year-old street kid pro­tag­o­nist in K Sello Duiker’s sem­i­nal novel, Thir­teen Cents. While the book deals with the un­der­world and rav­ages of poverty in Cape Town, this pic­turesque trail is also re­flected on Cape Town Tourism leaflets.

Rel­a­tive priv­i­lege makes for an ex­cep­tional life in Cape Town. Where we are stand­ing, the moun­tain looms large up ahead with be­hind us the sprawl­ing city sub­urbs and the city; fur­ther down, the har­bour and the sea. You’d be for­given if you thought this is all there is to this mag­nif­i­cent-look­ing city.

Hugged by the bo­som of the moun­tain and the for­est, we take a rest. A black man and his two daugh­ters fish for tad­poles in a shal­low pool. The fa­ther is pa­tient with his daugh­ters and shows them how to catch the slip­pery off­spring. “No, dad, you do it,” says the youngest. She’s up to her knees in the murky wa­ter.

In a way, the view of­fers us a slice of the dream of the rainbow na­tion: a smidgen of the new black elite en­joy­ing the bit­ter fruits of free­dom in a world that, not so long ago, was the ex­clu­sive ter­ri­tory of whites. On our as­cent up Ta­ble Moun­tain, the fa­ther and his two daugh­ters are the only black peo­ple we see, just as we are the only black peo­ple in our elec­tric-fenced apart­ment block.

An el­derly cou­ple with English ac­cents de­scends from above us. Aloof, the granny slips on a boulder. Her hus­band jumps to grab her. The two of them cas­cade down the boulder in the gush­ing stream from the mini wa­ter­fall ahead and plunge into a pool just next to us. “White peo­ple,” my girl­friend says as I try to fish them out.

“We’re fine, we’re fine,” the man says as they laugh and play in the wa­ter. We ask about an al­ter­na­tive trail down the slope and they point us in the di­rec­tion.

“Is it not in­ter­est­ing that they know more about this moun­tain, about this coun­try, than we do?” my girl­friend asks con­temp­tu­ously.

“It’s be­cause they took all the land and stuffed us in town­ships and ban­tus­tans all those years ago, with Bantu ed­u­ca­tion,” I say. “We’re still in the town­ships ek­ing out a liv­ing from the scraps and leftovers of this city,” she says.

“With a fancy car and CA qual­i­fi­ca­tion I’m still the girl from Gugs. Even at work. They still want to send me on er­rands like a maid. That’s the only way they know how to re­late to me.”

Right there, the thin ve­neer of ex­cep­tion­al­ism cracks and we re­alise that as much as a lot has changed for a few of us, we’re still in the same po­si­tion as be­fore. Ex­cept now we ex­pe­ri­ence the mis­for­tune of the pig­ment of our skin in larger waists and beau­ti­fully lit restau­rants and quiet streets, on Wey­landts fur­ni­ture and in open-plan of­fices, hop­ing that some day, one day, things will truly change and we won’t be so un­com­fort­ably self-con­scious in the coun­try of our birth.

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