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The Mau Mau Bejeebies

The Mau Mau Bejeebies

by Brandon Edmonds / 27.08.2010

You know those strip malls that began appearing when we swan dived back into the ‘international community’ around the mid-90’s: chain outlets, nail places, shoes paralleling bigger (more branded) brands, bulk buys, generic hardware and software vendors, and a lone coffee spot nursing dreams of morphing into global ubiquity? You do.

What’s missing is the promotional overlay, the glossy sheen of a ‘real mall’ – sky lights and marble, buffed surfaces and scale. The telling absence of marketed labels. It can make you antsy. Where are the recognizable labels? The go-to standards? The big players? Strip malls make you feel poor. They lack buzz. They turn shopping into getting stuff you need.

Well, Mango airlines is a strip mall experience – in the sky! All the humanizing touches traditionally softening the blunt fact of mass transport are absent. The faux politesse, the pillow talk, the face cloth warmed in the microwave and handed over with tongs. You have to buy your own booze. Buying your own booze on a plane is like slow dancing with your niece (in the shower). It’s not right! We didn’t even get a mobile stairway on my flight. We had to walk across the loading bay like survivors at Entebbe. Only to be met by a security guard in a florescent smock. A ticket glance then head cock meant move to the ass of the bird or keep going to the front. About as special a welcome as a toothbrush kept in someone else’s sock.

The plane itself is a lurid orange soda can. You wouldn’t even smile at it at a party let alone risk annihilation in its care. This was a cry as far from the heady days of post-war air travel (drunken sprees, hostesses fresh from European finishing schools, and a debonair sense of free-floating bon viveurs enjoying life: see the show ‘Mad Men’) as Bethlehem is to Dallas. It was cheap and it was horrible. And it made me realize how badly I need to be more successful.

Anyway, touch down, back home. And I’m offered a taxi. R180 to Woodstock. I don’t think so. A few steps on and a new guy says how much can you pay? Firstly, wow airports are like rich cities in the future. Hyper-controlling , suspiciously clean, weirdly anxious and an obvious honey pot to ‘street entrepreneurs’ – low level operators hoping to service the mobile and sheltered bourgeoisie. Secondly, I can pay you R120. The guy’s into it.

We walk together to his car. He’s young and black. Dressed in a zippered wind-breaker and golf slacks. (What is he, Mister Furley?). Not exactly talky. We’re out in the spring Cape sun when the mau mau bejeebies hit.

They’re basically a capitulation to tabloid thinking. To the worst of our national discourse. Crime gothic. A capitulation to race-based conclusion jumping. To the facile linking of variables (and happenstance) into a bona fide threat.

Convinced of a mugging, I shot this embodiment of civil breakdown, this tsotsi, this taxi driver a series of assessing glances – they amounted to good shoes, clean collar, wait, hold the freaking phone, was that a play of anticipated aggression on his lips, was he mentally preparing himself for the slaughter to come? Who would miss me? What is death like? Will it hurt when the knife goes in?

The mau mau bejeebies!

You can secret away weapons in wind-breakers. A hunting knife. Right? A snub-nose, a semi-automatic, a sawed-off? I’m criminalizing the guy as we walk. It’s meta-criminalizing, granted. I’m too reasonably educated and painfully progressive to flat out criminalize (especially via as obvious, fraught and reductive a marker as race). I’m aware I’m criminalizing him. I’m doing it in quotations in my mind. But there’s no way round it: I’m criminalizing the guy.

Young, black, a zippy wind-breaker, a poker face and an Eastwood-like terseness (in place no doubt to ensure I have nothing to report post-crime: provided I live). It’s Elmore Leonard. It’s Tarantino. I’m an easy mark. I drew money at the ATM. I have a laptop bag. I’m in Country Road slacks and my fingers are clean. I’m begging for an incident.

“Front or back?”
Oh right. Um. Let’s see. What would make it less easy for him to kill me? But the agreeable post-race doofus in me is already responding.
“Either way. I’m easy.”

He has my bags in the boot, and left me to decide. I get in next to him. He drives with a languid ease that has a New Orleans thing – like it’s the slump after Mardis Gras. Bumping 80 all the way. I see my reflection in the rear-view mirror and that’s alarming enough to still the bejeebies. (When did I get a double chin? Fuck the march of time). And I notice a kind of dribble of mottled flesh along his jaw line. A scar. The man has a scar. Prison scar? Was he a lynchpin in the intricate gang interior of Pollsmoor? Had he supervised ritual decapitations? Supped on the arterial blood of a Worcester twink? (Beat that Johnny Steinberg).

That scar turned up the mau mau. I expected him to turn off the highway and speed me to the Flats where anything goes. The familiar geography of the city became a CSI crime-scape to me. I talked about the towers coming down. He said he hadn’t seen it happen. I talked about his day. He said it was long. I told him air travel had devolved into scream-worthy drudgery. He said he wouldn’t know. And basically drove me home.

It wasn’t my finest half hour.

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RESPONSES (29)
  1. Phumlani says:

    Bigotry I say!

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  2. Adele says:

    ‘I’m doing it in quotations in my mind.’

    Jeez, Brandon Edmonds, you’re as dislocated from real life as it gets. You should get out more. Of your mind and into the real world. How else to explain the apparent surprise at flying budget?

    What is this piece, other than a sample of self-indulgent weirded out projection made by some overwound white guy? And the crude racial issues? Yoh.

    Wasn’t your finest half hour, Brandon? You reckon? Wasn’t your finest nigh-on-a-thousand-words neither, buddy.

    Mahala, you pay for this crap? Jeez, if you do, I know at least ten mildly amusing fuckers who’d gladly drop you a sample of their guilt-addled post-millennial whiteboy minds for the price of a burger, fries and a beer.

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  3. Shaniqua O'Kwanza says:

    ‘(Beat that Johnny Steinberg)’

    Oooooo. O no u di’nt.

    Step aside. EGO comin thru y’all

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  4. Nick says:

    Looks like you have gone and crushed a chip Brandon.

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  5. Andy says:

    I just like that he had the balls to write about his own prejudice

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  6. freddied says:

    nice! well written and awesome… you go dude!

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  7. brandon edmonds says:

    Adele…ouch. Are you the Adele I talked to a the Mercury Wine Week? I thought we had something.

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  8. Annabella says:

    Cliched and underwhelming – perhaps such trivial prejudice should be kept to oneself, if only to leave room for somewhat less banal matters like the Woods divorce.

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  9. Matthew says:

    This feels mostly constipated, and possibly disingenuous. I get the feeling most of these thoughts were embellished (or made up) for the sake of this article.

    School girl purple prose. It’s a little gross.

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  10. Mrs Blackie Swart says:

    Haha…funny what gets people angry..I think the story of the experience kicked the familiar feeling of white guilt in quite a few pale bellies…nice one I say…

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  11. Mr Whitey Heart says:

    Don’t feel guilty – I picked up a hitchhiker a year ago, let go of my prejudices, and was mugged in my car ten minutes later. It wasn’t the blackness that did it. It was the poverty

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  12. Hitler's Ghost says:

    This happens to me all the time – but I did something about it…once.

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  13. Sarah Dee says:

    I identify so well with your neurotic self-distanciation – more evident in your choice to write about this, than in the event itself.

    Do you think it’s a condition of modern whiteness, or just our own personal maladjustment?

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  14. Sarah Dee says:

    It was something of a banal piece, but probably in a productive way. I don’t know.

    I didn’t like reading it in the same way as I don’t like it when it happens to me.

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  15. brandon edmonds says:

    These things happen. It’s lazy and awful. It’s also about what you imagine writing is for: utter divulgence or elaborate career-furthering camouflage. I zing between the two.

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  16. Sarah Dee says:

    Or maybe, like me, you only know how to do one, but you still hope it achieves the other.

    I’m just always grateful for honesty – writing that’s not producing its author in some kind of position of “ought to be”. Rather just “is”. For better or worse. Often banal, but productive, I think. Since we live in the “is”.

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  17. twit alert says:

    hmm. In Dee d.

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  18. Xana says:

    Awesome, son. Living in your own Tarantino movie can’t be bad at all, just bad-ass.

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  19. K says:

    brilliantly written, as alwayz.

    sarah dee, race is a red herring, it’s not ‘a condition of modern whiteness’ – some middle class blacks, coloureds or indians may have had a similar encounter but not many have the courage to speak abt it.

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  20. Sarah Dee says:

    You might be right, K. Which is why I posed it as a question.

    But I think you may have mistaken the object of my enquiry. This possible “condition” I mentioned I did so in relation, not to the experiences themselves, but to the particularly exaggerated anxieties and neoroses that surround such experiences in the consciousness of sensitive, white, post-apartheid South Africans evident in the fact that he sees the event sufficiently noteworthy to relate to an audience.

    In other words, I was asking Brandon if he thinks that these anxieties are the property of his whiteness or his idiosyncratic sensitivity? And I would be very surprised if there was a simple answer to that question.

    I’m not able to answer it for myself.

    And just to clarify, I think there is something very constructive about this article. As well as being well-written – before you think that pointing out some complexities is an attack on Brandon’s journalistic skills.

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  21. Sarah Dee says:

    And the possibility of it being a condition of whiteness doesn’t preclude it from being a condition of other “-nesses”…

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  22. Anonymous says:

    Such diverse response. Plenty of discomfort induced negativity, but also some directness and honesty.
    Sarah –
    “I was asking Brandon if he thinks that these anxieties are the property of his whiteness or his idiosyncratic sensitivity?”
    – are these not one and the same? Especially for a mid 30 SA male – remember it was young white men that did the killing. I will probably take a lot of flack for this but I suspect there are few women who can relate to this piece. It’s not called the mau mau bejesus for nothing.

    Suggest take a look at “Sins of our father” – something relevant in it to this.

    Brandon – amazing piece. Honesty in a non deserving world.

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  23. Anonymous says:

    Cave ab homine unius libri

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  24. Sarah Dee says:

    @ Anon

    I would see it as united in one continuum, rather than one static thing. And I am less interested in the fact of it than I am in how Brandon views it.

    The closest I can get to relating to this is the paranoia that erupts from the constant terrorism that is being female in a world where it is possible for you to state that only men can fully identify with a story like this, ie a world in which discourses relating to violence and masculinity (and violent masculinity) are preferred and most prominent. Perhaps I should be asking myself a similar but different question: where on a continuum of femininity and idiosyncratic insecurity do I consider my neuroses (the ones which allow me, despite what you say, to identify with this story in one of the particular ways in which I can) to lie?

    And then, adding K’s statement to the mix (which basically says the opposite to yours, Anon), if you start laying these continua out next to each other, you realise that there is no way of averaging these things out, and working out to what extent you can attribute your paranoias to the collective paranoias of whatever demographic you belong to, and its far more useful to try and work out how people individually relate to their neuroses.

    Which brings me back to my original question to Brandon.

    Basically, I don’t think that Brandon intended for this story to only have relevance to ex-SANDF softies. And I certainly don’t think that it does this. But why? Why do I feel like I get it, when clearly the origin of my “bejeebies” are somewhere completely different?

    But these are probably all unanswerable questions.

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  25. Bruce says:

    If you’re not paranoid, you’re not paying enough attention.

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  26. brandon edmonds says:

    Ah to be in the voluble ferment of a thesis hey Sarah. When all the world seems abuzz with menace and meaning. You raise interesting questions.

    I took a cab ride. I thought I was in danger. Blackness was in there. My own raced perceptions. The mediated impression of South Africa was a factor. You hear such terrible things. I imagined, writing this, that others casually criminalize people they meet. It’s the moral fallout of being here now. I wanted to satirize the quality of my own response. Which was as you put it so well: riddled with ‘neurotic self-distanciation’. But still basically backward and demeaning. Still base and retrograde. It was like a holiday from my own cosmopolitan restraint.

    There’s that scene in Solondz’s “Storytelling” when the black lit Professor gets Selma Blair to use the N-word as he takes her from behind. It’s the craven mix of unmentionables in play that makes things interesting. There’s a long expressive tradition – from Cervantes to 2 Live Crew – of dropping into debased registers – for a kind of rhetorical re-charge, a bolt of the illicit.

    There’s a provocative Zizekian thing here of ‘traversing the Real’ of our socially arrested thoughts. I

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  27. Anonymous says:

    You caught me. Mostly it’s just relieving (?) to speaking about race, not film and dead European philosophers. It’s like a holiday.

    Especially given your illicit mode (which gives away my real reasons for coming back to this article so frequently!). But it takes balls, and you dived in head first while my polysyllables are just a way of twinkletoes-ing along that Zizekian border, while still getting to dip my big toe in.

    But now it feels like the holidays over.

    🙂

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  28. Sarah Dee says:

    That was me, in case it wasn’t obvious. Which it was.

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  29. bahumbugga says:

    Kraaahst Jizzuzz, Edmonds, this Sarah Dee’s got it bad. Hide, boy.

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