Welcome to Hell – Here’s your Vuvuzelaby Dela Gwala / 04.05.2011
“This city works for you”, the sign that marks the cardboard and brick remains formerly known as the Uluntu Recreation Centre – “Native Yard” – NY106, Gugulethu township. There’s a playground: multi-coloured cylinders, gaping plastic wire, industrial concrete fences and a chained lock. A crappy screen door against sex, cigarettes and alcohol. This binned “safe haven for children” is the starting line for the fun-runners of the protesting set. The peaceful marchers. The watchdogs of the poor are dancing down the street, banner in hand and free t-shirt on back. The saviours of the innocent and their “rat-infested” lives. The Mzoli’s chisa nyama smell of good times barely makes it to this street corner. The rest of Gugs is not a roadside rest stop for foreign accents. It’s that awkward moment, when the drive from the airport becomes the set of Slumdog Millionaire. Un-washed, un-clothed, un-fed, filth, stench and corrugated iron. Welcome to Cape Town.
The men in uniform stood on the corner – the kids that no one wanted to play with. They huddled up to protect themselves from the stigma, the mutterings about Andries Tatane’s death. “It’s the sound of the beast; it’s the sound of the police”, a crowd member chants a playground torment. Leading from behind, they put on their best traffic officer impersonation. Every road safely crossed a triumph – like a bored plea for forgiveness. Forthcoming attraction, the gloom of a threatening Cape winter pressed on for the first hour of the 13 km march. Those hostile winds should’ve stuck around. As the hoodies and jerseys came off, the tyranny of the t-shirts began again. It was hard to figure out who was getting more free publicity: God, the DA or the beautiful game. The big man upstairs had the rightful claim. The Way of Life Church had assembled against informal settlements; a simple proclamation of being human and deserving to be treated as such. Four walls and a toilet. Dignity is sold at a price the destitute can’t afford.
One man shouldered the wooden cross, a life-sized companion to the cause. Jesus is a community leader. Jesus is just. “Jesus is HIV positive”. The 8th utterance: a decree of a modern day saviour who would share all the wounds of the trampled. Cue the ascension of the DA brand management machine. The glare of the blue t-shirts was emphatic; no one saw the signs, the PR version of the second coming. The ANC didn’t bother to show up until the end. Party promotion is preserved for people’s funerals, where the memory of the dead doesn’t get a word in edgewise. A man set a DA poster alight and there was a scuffle to extinguish what he had done. Like that everyday moment in horror movies when the characters run in the wrong direction and the killer is waiting patiently for them with a chainsaw. It was predictable. It was unnecessary. A simple outcry for housing became a pre-election spectacle. Politics: a dirty game played with people’s lives.
A little pair of legs barrelled down the street, his Kaizer Chiefs cape flailing about his head. He wanted to join the ambling procession of “Bafana Bafana supporters”. God’s people were in patriotic yellow, wearing that long gone optimism across their chests. Someone’s graffitied wall had an ad for the UEFA Champion’s League on it. We’ve built our own mini “theatre of dreams” a couple kilometres away. We provided seating for thousands, but housing for none. Maybe we can ask FIFA for the money to house our poor? “Welcome to hell, here’s your vuvuzela”. Soccer is not the evil; the devil is in the exploitation of its enjoyment.
“My father was a garden boy. My mother was a kitchen girl. That’s why I’m a Socialist!” The legion sang. A community leader tried an alternate ending, “That’s why I’m a Christian”. More than 3 hours in, Rev Skosana reminded us that we could put down the identifiers: “personhood” was good enough. Meet the man who proclaimed Jesus’ HIV status and the poverty-stricken’s rodent problem – the man behind this march. “We talk past each other”, he said, “Political parties create artificial divisions”. We build our own walls to protect us from the solution. We slavishly bow down to business interests. Land stands empty but apparently there is nowhere for people to live. Who owns it? That unfeeling entity termed “the investors”. His impassioned sermon ends with: “Your leaders have failed you”. What kind of backward world are we living in when the only person talking sense is the priest?
Here, children run onto the street but no one comes to fetch them. In the ‘burbs, no one can get past the gate – on either side. The Rev’s accidental analogy of the way things really are. Ignoring the poor is a middle class obsession, right up there with cheating on our spouses and raising ignorant children. Simple issues get lost in a compost heap of ideology. The speakers of the day churned out the term “black consciousness”, words always resurrected to rouse up sentiment. We are not dealing with anti-black policy in this country; we are dealing with anti-poor policy. There’s a difference. Poverty speaks different languages and is comfortable in any skin. The Western Cape is the epicentre of multi-cultural have-nots. This is not a revolution, it’s a crisis.
Maybe citizenship requires a little more than deciding whether or not to put an “x” next to Jacob Zuma’s cheesy grin. It might take a drive down to the “dodgy” end of Lansdowne, to stand in the piss on the road. Take a good look at your democracy. Satan might just be our money grabbing society, and here is his open invitation: “Welcome to hell – South African townships”.
*All images © Dela Gwala