A Message to Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuaveby Sean O'Toole / 12.06.2009
At first, there wasn’t a wall. Then, it happened sometime after 2001, they built this thing, a wall. I don’t know who “they” are, but I do know this: it measures about five kilometres, or thereabouts, hasn’t been painted, but for this lonely piece of graffiti, and principally serves to section off the community of Evaton West, located about 50km south of Johannesburg, from motorists using the N1.
I also know that the wall wasn’t there in March 2001, which was when I met Zakes “Satch” Motswane, a resident of Evaton West. Satch was 53 then. Born on the farm Wembley in the Free State, his eyes glowed when I asked him about his first kiss. “Jesus… bliksem… 1968… Lydia, in the Free State.”
Officially, Satch was unemployed. This didn’t mean he was unable, Satch helping his wife to run a crèche used by the working moms and dads who call Evaton West home. According to the old timer, he’d been laid off from a job as a managerial assistant on some mine in Welkom. Before that, during the 1980s, he’d worked as an organizer for the Transport & Allied Workers Union, and before that he’d been a driver. These details didn’t really interest me.
Instead I asked Satch how many cars he’d personally owned in his life. “Many, many,” he responded, mentioning a Vauxhall, a Beetle, a Valiant, a Chev 4.1, a station wagon, also a Toyota 15-seater.
“When I was a driver I sometimes drove to Cape Town,” he added. “When I saw Robben Island it caused me great pain. No one can stomach that kind of pain.”
Satch moved to Evaton West in 1998: “It was a new lease on life.”
At some point during our conversation, we spoke about the highway that passes his neighbourhood’s western boundary.
“Some white and black people that pass here have guns and they shoot at the people who live near the highway,” Satch stated. “The people here get angry and innocent people who pass can get injured if people here decide to close the road and take matters into their own hands.”
Perhaps, and I am only speculating here, this might be why “they” put up this wall, to stop any nonsense. But the wall is only half the story. I first spotted this graffiti last September. When I passed by Satch’s neighbourhood in May, it was still there, albeit now re-written over the spot where it had originally appeared and been erased.
As a piece of art, which is how most graffitiests tend to speak of their creations nowadays, it is perhaps forgettable. Faith 47, Falco and Mak1 make prettier art. But that isn’t why I want you to pause on it. Put aside aesthetics. Concentrate on ethics. Think about the implications of something Satch told me.
“Nigerians are dangerous. If a Nigerian looks at you while you are sitting at a restaurant, he will be able to draw you the same as you see yourself. Those Nigerians! Angolans are only after diamonds, and Kenyans after emeralds. Mozambicans… phew… everything. That place where the Portuguese people learnt those peoples everything. If you give a Mozambican a chance, he can do anything. Weld, fix things. Let’s not talk about cars. A car is a very minor thing for a Mozambican. Those people [immigrants] are dangerous. Myself, I would like to take all of them in one ship back home, finished and over.”
Seven years later, pissed-off South Africans attempted to broker this final solution. I can’t honestly say if Satch was one of them. I don’t think so. I could be wrong though.