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People Being People

by Rémy Ngamije / 24.05.2011

Outside, hungry dogs run around in cracked streets where pavements have been stripped to lay the foundations of equally cracked and rundown houses. The sunset in Ocean View and the last rays signal the start of a busy Friday night at a local game shop.

While most people in Cape Town would be showering and getting ready to have their wallets lightened by exhorbitant cover charges from Claremont and City Bowl clubs, everyone here simply puts on some plaatjies and crosses the street to the local pub or pool hall.

If there was a cover charge, no one would pay it on principle – few can afford it. The motto here is that people are better broke indoors than outside, so the clubs and pool halls are packed to capacity.

There is no age limit. Zalies and toppies are all out. A group of teenagers who should be at home grappling with Maths or something academic, have their hands wrapped around Black Label quarts and blow cigarette smoke with the confidence of a thousand John Waynes.

Being the only black person, I stand out amongst the coloured community – I draw unwelcome attention to myself like a pause in the Zuma state of the nation address.

Ocean View

The community, despite the stereotype, is not unwholesome or intimidating. They love their drink and they dance to house music like they were born to it. They are loud but not unsavoury. There are a couple of missing teeth, but there’s no Ross Kemp to say that they all belong to the Number Gang. As a foreigner, I am not completely welcomed, but I am not shunned either. As the hall fills up and the liquor takes hold I am drawn into drunken handshakes and hugs, “Aweh my braatjie, hoesit?” and other greetings are regularly slurred in my ear.

Ragga remixes blare from speakers while the click-clack of pool balls against each other narrates the passing of the hours. Waiting for a fight to break out, I avoid stepping on anyone’s shoes or challenging anyone with my curious gaze. I am almost disappointed when the hours pass and there is no sound of broken beer bottles followed by muffled grunts as Castle Lager and heads collide.

For the most part, Ocean View is misunderstood – most coloured communities in South Africa are. Dangerous, violent and drug-riddled, just some of the words regularly used to describe them in media. This small settlement is none of the above. If it is, it keeps its ugly side well hidden. All I see is a tightly knit community – everyone seems to know each other. The pool hall is raucous with the noise of men greeting each other loudly, slapping each other on the back. The stereotypes seem unfounded.

Coloured communities seem to fill the cracks that people have consigned them to. In the pool hall, the noise, music and atmosphere is no different from a shebeen in Khayelitsha. And it’s only marginally different from a night at Tiger Tiger. It’s not worthy of a documentary. It’s just people being people.

To a large extent, South Africa’s racial profiling has created the people it has today. Though the standards of the past have been largely abandoned, their influence still filters down. You can see it in the way people respond to their “domestics” or “die klein baas”. While the black majority and white minority are locked in political and economic struggles, the coloured communities remain largely ignored… and stuck with the stereotypes forced on them through circumstances not of their own making.

The pool hall reaches a deafening crescendo – Liquideep spills out of the speakers. Beer is consumed in quantity. Slaptjips are devoured and cigarette smoke chokes the air. It’s not a coloured jam. It’s just people being people.

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