The Day the Earth Continued Movingby Sean O’Toole / 10.11.2011
Meet Art Mzendana. For the past two years this 23-year-old self-starter businessman has operated a spaza shop outside his home, at the spot where Mpofu and Mqha streets intersect in Kuyasa, Khayelitsha. His red-painted wood stall sells mostly fresh produce, apples, pears, onions, cabbage, which Art buys at Epping market and repackages. A bag of blackening bananas here will set you back R5.
“How is business?” It is Saturday afternoon and Art is seated alongside his sister and a mutual friend inside the shop.
“Just picking up from there and there,” he responds. “You see those ups and downs, mos. You know how business is like.”
A few minutes before I entered Art’s stall something unusual happened. A man, a white man in a grey double-breasted suit and large security detail, obliquely passed by his shop. The man was wearing a red poppy in his lapel and was stalked by a wolf pack of photojournalists. His name is Prince Charles and he had come to look at the geysers and solar panels installed on the roofs of Kuyasa homes.
Interesting fact: the 2300 energy-efficient homes in Kuyasa represent South Africa’s first internationally registered Clean Development Mechanism project under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Kuyasa is the first Gold Standard Project internationally. The man in the grey suit, who earlier that afternoon spoke about the plight of small-scale farmers and looming catastrophe in fisheries to an audience of UCT students dressed like they were attending a matric dance or their graduation (the degrees of smart-casual varied), is interested sustainability and climate change. During his visit to Khayelitsha he was not interested in apples, pears or blackening bananas.
“Why didn’t you sell some fruit to Prince Charles?”
“I was shy,” offers Art, whose face is marked with tiny scars and fresh abrasions. “I was shocked when I saw him. When I first saw him I knew it was Prince Charles.” He points at his sister and friend, “they didn’t know him.”
Nor did fellow Mqha Street resident, Bukelwa Shude, a 36-year-old mother of two. Indeed most Kuyasa residents, who hadn’t been told of the visit, disinterestedly surveyed the flotilla of suits and lensmen as they moved down Mpofu Street towards the railway station.
“I’ve read about him and seen him on TV,” says Art, “but this the first time to see him face to face. He is old, on TV he is a modern guy, but now he is old.”
The conversation turns to what the British satirist Evelyn Waugh, in his remarkable piece of reportage on the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930, described as the “startling and frivolous” in news reporting. I ask Art what brand of suit he thought the prince was wearing
“Eish, that was an expensive suit but I didn’t look at the name,” he says. “I wouldn’t think Dolce & Gabbana.”
And what about his shoes, does Art think the ambulating prince might be wearing Crockett and Jones? Locally, this classic English footwear brand, established in 1879, is associated with a certain vintage of urban wise guy. (“He goes for quality, man / not quantity, never / the price is no obstacle,” reads Oswald Mtshali’s poem The Detribalised.)
“We are talking Prince Charles here!” Art summarily reprimands me.
The subject quickly shifts from the visiting royals to our local ones. On the previous day, Prince Charles was in Ulundi to meet the reigning Zulu monarch, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, also IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Clearly Ondini Palace, the Zulu royal house in northern KwaZulu Natal, is a long way from Khayelitsha. In this windswept and largely Xhosa community, Zulu royalty means very little.
Responding to the question who the current Zulu king is, all three people inside Art’s stall chime, “Shaka!” When I ask Bukelwa Shude, who has lived in Khayelitsha for a decade and jobs as a domestic worker, if she knows that Buthelezi is also a prince – his official title is Prince of KwaPhindangene – she shakes her head. (Admittedly I didn’t know either, that is until two hours earlier, when Prince Charles acknowledged “Prince Buthelezi” during the opening formalities of his speech.)
It’s time to wrap: I have a news story to file. After listening to Art’s sister diss the geysers – “When it is cold, the water is also cold,” she says. “When it is hot, the water is hot. This is a useless geyser, this is a nonsense geyser.” – I buy a bag of bananas and head home.
While researching background, I come across a Life magazine article on the three-month long British Royal Family tour of South Africa in 1947. Reporting on their March 19 visit to Eshowe, a Life magazine journalist recorded how “the South African earth trembled under the savage beat of a Zulu war dance”. For some reason it is gratifying to be able to report that that 64 years later, on November 5 in Khayelitsha, there was only a bemused glance, an indifferent stare, and no ululating. The earth also didn’t tremble.
*All images © Sean O’Toole.