Sunday, June 16, 2013

Layers of Doubt

There is this stunning beauty. This vastness. Tall, towering proud red mountains, heaving into the blue. Obscure rock formations awash in an early morning glow. Valleys, natural vacuums, a trap in hiding for the unbridled winds. Its stubborn presence unravelling. Walls of orange dust. 

Welcome to QwaQwa, the Reverend said with a raspy voice. I sense suspect: Alcohol. But then: I might just be paranoid. He shows Thobeka her “apartment.” Cracked windows. Grey from years of despair. Two mattresses, stacked, stained, soiled; the smell of fresh paint; a dirty mop in a dirty bathroom sink; dried paint chips sand dust remnants from abandoned efforts. What did you expect, he laughs. Like a knife.  
Qwaqwa, outside of Lesotho, was one of the first homelands, also called Bantu reserves (later short: Bantustans) created by the white Apartheid government to move/forcefully relocate black South Africans from the cities to less desirable land. These homelands – dumping grounds – were created under the notorious 1950s Group Areas Act, which would eventually force about three and a half million people – or more than 10 percent of South Africa’s population – to move. This socially most devastating design of Apartheid turned South African blacks into second-class citizens - foreigners in the country of their birth; commuting for hours and having to carry passports to enter and leave metropolitan areas to work. These homelands were usually very resource-poor and its agricultural economy often rapidly collapsing. Despite of its vastly growing population, the reserves’ actual territorial size remained small – by design. As one key Apartheid politician argued: “The reserves had to be kept small to force enough Africans (black South Africans) to work on the (white) farms and mines.” 
Welcome to QwaQwa, the Reverend said. A black Mercedes Benz parks next to his white Toyota. A broad tall man exits and slips into the Toyota’s passenger seat. I sense suspect: he despises my firm handshake. White men. White women. Black men. Black women. Xhosa. Basotho. A hierarchy from hell. But then: I might just be paranoid. We follow his Toyota. Paved roads. Dirt roads. Women wrapped in blankets; labouring up the red hills; cheap jackets; makeshift layers against the nagging cold; an unforgiving wind; merciless circumstances; the sun, lurking behind darkening clouds. a harbinger; a foreboding of the coming agony.  Thobeka, sitting in the back, says “Yo.”  A lot. Like a shield. Tires ploughing through red earth; manoeuvring across potholes; remnants from abandoned hopes. along soaring mountains. The “Yo” from the back slices through the silence. The apartment. Cabinets stained. And stove. Table floor. cluttered with dirt and paint stains. You can bake a nice cake here, the Reverend laughs. Like a death sentence. I will not sleep here. No security. There is security. No security. A moral plea into a hollow human void. He is doing this to me because I am black. But he is black, too. He is doing this to me because I am a black woman. He would never offer such a pigsty to a white person, she said. I can feel her eyes boiling behind her dark glasses. Her skin tightening, turning grey from years of weariness.
You need to come back with me to Bloemfontein.
The white government initially “rationalized” Apartheid as a framework to “avoid social friction.” In reality it was a tool to provide cheap black labour for the white economy – to extract and exploit, relentlessly. Black South Africans – in particular women - took up illegal residences in the cities like Cape Town, Pretoria or Johannesburg, to economically survive. Apartheid turned people into criminals – for violating the pass laws, awaiting “deportation to the reserves” or punishment in form of fines and/or imprisonment.” The blurring lines between violence and political activism, despair and humanity. In between: layers of doubt.

Welcome to QwaQwa, the Reverend said. He called to make sure we were on our way back. Leaving Thobeka behind. A text read later that night: Sabina, I hope you arrived safely. I am alone in the guest house. I just finished making notes about today. Love. Thobeka.
I sense suspect I know: White men. White women. Black men. Black women. Xhosa. Basotho. A hierarchy from hell. There is this stunning beauty. This vastness. Tall, towering proud red mountains. Walls of orange dust. Haunting.


  1. well as the only constant I feel I should comment that it looks impressive, albeit like the American west. I'm taking guest blogs next month as I can't be bothered to post much so maybe I could showcase one of yours :)

  2. David!!! you ARE such a great constant!!! ;-)) thank you!! I will send you guys something for the meeting Friday!!

  3. Your words and phrases of wonderings wanderings jump and reel across the mind, flittering, skittering rusty red dust devil delight... :D