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This story is loosely based on an incident reported in a newspaper article in April 2012. A green grocer, Rajen Moodley, living in Durban, South Africa, was approached by two men from northern Zululand. The men had an old rhino horn in their possession, and were looking for a buyer. Being unfamiliar with Durban, the men approached Rajen Moodely to help them locate such a buyer. Rajen was promised 10% of the R1.5million price tag attached to the horn. Rajen, enticed by the potential R150 000 he stood to make, went about the task of finding a buyer in the market for a horn. His first port of call were the local muti* markets, where he left his name and cell phone number with muti sellers, with the instruction to call him if they happened to hear of someone in the market for a rhino horn. One day, Rajen received a phone call to say that a potential buyer had been found; he then set up a meeting with the two men who had initiated the contact, in order to meet the buyer. They met on Durban’s Golden Mile outside one of the better hotels, and then made their way to another location to show the horn, hidden on the backseat of their vehicle, to the buyer. Once the horn was uncovered in front of the buyer, the police surrounded the vehicle and arrested Rajen and the two men for illegal possession and attempted sale of a rhino horn. For his role in the crime, Rajen received a 3 year jail sentence.

*muti: the South African term for tradition medicine; usually herbal.

I must stress that this story is completely fictional – apart from reading the one newspaper article on the case, I have no knowledge of Rajen Moodley, the others involved in this case, nor any other fact pertaining to the case. I was simply letting my imagination run wild.

****

Danny Naidoo was always looking for a way to make a quick buck. He was from a long line of down-and-out Naidoo men who somehow managed to evade gainful employment and yet remain marginally solvent through the hard work of a long line of Naidoo women. But even Danny knew he couldn’t rely on the females in his family for every meal, and had therefore perfected a system that ensured he was reasonably well fed without severing those already tenuous relationships. For Danny’s siblings were not impressed by his chosen lifestyle, which often saw one of them bailing him out of jail in the early hours of a Monday morning – having spent the weekend languishing in the cells, a warm place to lay his exhausted body, which was continually on the move as he outwitted the police bent on chasing vagrants from every tourist spot in the city.

Despite the fact that Danny was as long and thin as one of the many palm trees that dotted the promenade along Durban’s Golden Mile, he walked the streets with swag and a smile, waiting for the next best opportunity to present itself. For Danny believed that if one had the right attitude, and his uncanny ability to recognise the suckers from the street savvy, then a person could do rather well for himself on the streets. Nothing was considered an insignificant win for Danny; a cigarette bummed from a surfer, R2 flicked from the hand of a faceless driver – the car idling at a red light, R10 from a tourist still unfamiliar with the notes of a new destination, enough for an infrequent night in the local shelter. All small fry in the grand scheme of things, but they kept Danny alive to see another day. His optimistic outlook on life meant that he truly believed that one day his ship would come, steaming into Durban’s harbour, banners flying, steam billowing, to pick him up and transport him away from this life of frugality. He’d show them all that Danny Naidoo, perceived loafer and waster of space, was actually capable of great things – he just needed someone to offer him a hand. A hand that when stretched out towards him, he’d grab with every ounce of strength in his wiry body – he just hoped the hand was strong enough to lift him out, rather than be pulled down into Danny’s disreputable existence.

One hot and humid Durban day, the tar shimmering with peculiar visions that hovered in the muggy air, Danny saw his marks before they saw him. He was standing with his back resting against the wall of the local Chinese Mall, a cigarette drooping from his lip as he stared at the duo through a curtain of greasy hair. They looked completely uncomfortable as the roar of Durban’s city centre engulfed them. Two country-bumpkins ripe for easy pickings; a large duffel bag suspended between them, their hands gripping a handle each. Danny figured they were either from some rural area on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal, or some one-horse inland town. He peeled himself off the cool concrete and sauntered in their direction; acknowledging a slow approach was called for, and with that he gently eased himself into their worried huddle with a friendly Zulu greeting, “Sanibonani”. Without looking up from the piece of paper they were examining, they responded automatically with the customary response, “Yebo, sanbona.” It was only when they lifted their heads that they saw the man they’d expected to be a Zulu, was actually a skinny Indian with a perfect Zulu accent. Danny grinned at their surprise and smacked one of them on the back as he made his introductions, welcoming them both to the beautiful city of Durban, asking them if he could be of any assistance.

Eish, brother,” said one, wiping beads of sweat from his brow with a well-used facecloth, “we are completely lost.”

The other proffered Danny a scrap of paper, the pencil markings smeared with the oil of the many fingers that had brushed its surface. Danny took it, studying the address with an air of concentration. He knew this place, it wasn’t a stone’s throw away. As he folded the piece of paper, he raised his head, his face a picture of concern,

Ey cuzzies! It’s lucky I found you. You’d have wandered in circles for days trying to find this place. Come on,” he said, grabbing a handle from the smaller of the two, pulling them both into a wildly convoluted tour of the city.

Danny made an hour pass quickly enough as he showed them the ocean, letting them taste the salty water for the first time, the cool ocean water washing over their tired feed. He let them gaze in wonder at tall buildings made of glass and steel, tentatively step on an escalator, and ride in a lift for the first time. By the time Danny’s tour was finished, not 500m from where he’d met the men, all three were the best of friends and made plans to meet up for a beer later that evening at one of the local taverns on Point Road.

***

That night, the three men sat closely together on sticky faux leather stools around a table that listed to one side. Much of the evening was spent ensuring that large quarts of Black Label didn’t slide right off the table to join the river of beer and broken glass that already soaked the men’s shoes. After a few beers and the usual banter, the conversation turned to the reason the two men had travelled all the way from the small town of Manguzi in northern Zululand, to the bright lights of Durban. Danny told them that he’d met many a man from rural backwaters who’d come to Durban to make his riches, only to find that he quickly became even poorer than when he arrived. Most had no connections and mistakenly thought that on arrival jobs were easy to come by, and cheap clean accommodation was available on tap. Only to realise that a life of even worse poverty awaited them, forced to live in hijacked buildings with no electricity or water, rubbish filling up disused lift shafts; the police knocking on doors at all hours. No, this was not the place for those with big aspirations and empty pockets. The city would swallow you up and spit you out in no time.

Jah baba, this country is littered with ruined men! Just angry wives and hungry children to go home to,” nodded one of the men.

A silence descended on the table, as each man considered what an angry wife might do to such a man. Equally, a humiliated man could react in unkind ways, so perhaps it was best that these unfortunate men remained in the city of broken dreams.

Danny, never one to dwell on unhappy thoughts, looked up at the men and said, “So laanies, what’s your story?”

They leaned in towards the table, drawing Danny in with them.

“Rhino horn,” whispered the older of the two.

“Rhino horn?” Danny cried.

The younger man clamped his fingers around the tender spot above Danny’s knee, silencing him immediately.

“There’s big money to be made in rhino horn.”

“I’m sure there is,” said Danny, “but I sure as hell didn’t see any roaming around the city today.”

The two men shared a glance. They needed someone with imagination and street smarts, and currently, Danny appeared to be lacking in both.

The older man traced a pattern through the droplets of water beading his bottle of beer, “Where are you sleeping tonight, Danny?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” he mocked, “maybe my mansion in Morningside or my penthouse on the beachfront.”

“Stick with us Danny, and that mansion in Morningside won’t be a dream for much longer,” said the other.

Danny took a long slug of his luke-warm beer, studying the two men around the bottle. There was about a ten year difference between the two. They appeared to be related; maybe brothers, but possibly cousins. The younger man, Mandla, spoke excellent English. But Khaya possessed a calm confidence, while nervous energy flowed from the fidgeting hands and dancing feet of Mandla. It was obvious that neither man was in rolling in it, but then looks could be deceiving.

“Okay cuzzies, you got my attention,” said Danny, “how you gonna make me rich?”

The three men leant in, their heads almost touching, and the older man began to share their story.

One afternoon, as they walked home, they passed an isivivane, a pyramid of stones created in memory of the deceased, which had grown in size as the years went by. As was customary, each picked up a stone ready to throw it onto the pile, when the younger noticed a piece of fabric and what appeared to be greying bone, poking out the bottom. They’d both reared back in fright, imagining the bleached bones of a long deceased freedom fighter, rising up to attack and dispatch them with practiced ease. Then they’d remembered that it was a symbolic resting place of the dead, and a heated debate ensued listing the pros and cons of vandalising such a site, with the older mentioning the likelihood of retribution from the ancestors, highlighted by a lifetime of bad luck. The younger felt less strongly about traditions and secretly did not believe that ancestors had any say in current matters. What if, he said, they uncovered the body of a missing person, and the police offered them a reward for their troubles? Surely the ancestors would not object to the reunification of a missing person to the family burial site. They should, in fact, be quite pleased. So as the original pile diminished, and a new pile grew to its left, the anticipation was palpable as the last layer of stones was removed. And there, at the bottom, wrapped in a dirty, threadbare blanket was not the bones of a man or woman, but rather was the unmistakable sight of a large rhino horn. The two men sat back on their heels; a horn was not exactly a lucky find.

They knew there would be no reward for finding the horn. If anything, they’d be locked up in jail, the police more likely to believe that the men had poached it, and having failed to sell it, were looking to make a quick buck for their troubles. So they took it with them, wrapped in the dirty blanket, hurrying as fast as they could, as though the band of poachers themselves were in hot pursuit. The horn was hidden under the bed of Khaya, and stayed there for two years. It only ever came up in conversations late at night, the smell of Black Label on both their breaths, their hopes pinned to the possibility that one day they would sell it and make their fortune.

A month ago, the men had been drinking in a local tavern. The small room was filled to capacity, and people were jostled up against each other in their determination to get to the bar. It was impossible not to hear the conversation between three men next to them. The men were boasting of their great financial windfall and were buying drinks all round. One of the men, particularly loose-lipped after his fourth quart of beer, was draped over one of the lovely ladies purposefully positioned at the bar. He was leaning over her, retelling a well-worn tale of great danger; the poaching of a white rhino in one of the nearby private game farms. Although he hadn’t pulled the trigger, he had the risky job of sawing off the horn as the beast breathed its last, paralysed from a shot to the spine.

“And, was it worth it?” she said, wondering whether she’d be rewarded for enduring his yeasty breath and wandering hands.

“Yebo sissie, come outside and check my ride.”

“Hm mm,” she said, as she stood up and readjusted the length of her skirt, “then you can show me the back seat.”

As the two left the bar, one of the other men took up the story, explaining how they’d smuggled the horn out of the reserve and into a waiting car. From there they’d driven to Richards Bay and met a middleman who would transport the horn to Vietnam via a shipping container leaving the harbour. The three men were paid very well for their part in the plan, but not nearly as much as the middleman, who would put all three of his children through university with that one transaction.

***

To be continued

If you can’t wait to read the next two instalments, click here for the full story: A Rhino’s Revenge (Full Story) http://wp.me/pYnie-fY

We’re incredibly excited about our very first community event called: GENERATE IDEAS FOR YOUR FUTURE!

The purpose of this event is to introduce grade 6-9 learners to the concept of thinking about their future and the various options available to them. This is not a career day, but rather a day that fosters in children a culture of thinking for themselves, thinking about their environment and context, thinking about the challenges they face and finding solutions to these challenges. Our intention is to show the children that it is very possible for people in the communities they live in, to come up with ideas for solving problems and meeting the needs of community members. I Learn to Live follows two main schools of development: community mobilisation and asset based community development. Both of these schools promote that change can only truly be sustainable if community members are fully involved and engaged in changing their own lives and communities.

Plan of action

We have invited 80 children from grade 6-9 who live nearest to the centre to attend the event. These children are attending local schools in the area. The day will involve the following (described in detail after this section).

The activities for the day include:

  • Video room: we have created a 15 minute video that showcases ideas from grassroots entrepreneurs across Africa and other developing countries.
  • Stalls: we have invited a number of people to man stalls that showcase different small business ideas (these are confirmed stall holders).
    • Paintage: a painting company in Durban. The owner is a refugee from Burundi who walked to South Africa. He began doing odd jobs at an architecture firm, and through hard work and initiative taught himself how to use CAD and the company then paid for him to go to Draughting school. He now runs Paintage with his wife.
    • Poultry farming: Rick and Anita will talk to the children about poultry farming and introduce their bible study group model that leads to poultry farming small business opportunities.
    • Hair braiding: Zikulise Community Uplift Project will offer a hair braiding demo and encourage grade 9 learners to think about attending a 3 day course that teaches the basics of hair braiding. Hair braiding is an easy first business to start as it does not require capital outline or many tools.
    • Sbongile’s succulent gardens: Ma Sbongile will show the children how to use rubbish, like tin cans, to create beautiful succulent gardens. These gardens use old fabric off cuts to decorate the cans, and plants such as rock roses, which grow quickly and abundantly in hot climates. She will show them how to make the garden and then each child will be giving the opportunity to make their own garden to take home.
    • Sizah’s farming project: Sizah, facilitator at I Learn to Live, through her own initiative and hard work, began a farming project and now sells spinach to Five Ways Mall Spar. She will share with the children how she became involved in farming to producing quality crops that are sold at a grocery store in town.
    • Innovation hub: two ladies who work in the field of entrepreneurship will host an innovation hub with the children. The purpose of this hub is to give children the opportunity to think about their lives and the challenges they face, and facilitate the process of learning how to think about how they can address these challenges with the resources they have. This involves the children working in small groups of five.

 

(In the forthcoming months, most likely during school holidays, I Learn to Live will be hosting a course called Creating Futures: Supporting Young People in Building Their Futures. The purpose of the course is to “enhance the ability of young people to think more critically in evaluating opportunities and challenges related to their lives and livehoods”. This course will provide a platform for more in-depth entrepreneurship programmes in the future).

If you’d like to support us financially to make this day a huge success – please donate and use the reference: Generate.

Thank you!

Recently my research company began working on a very interesting project regarding buildings in the city of Durban. Part of our research was to visit various buildings in the city – in various degrees of disrepair. One of the buildings was particularly bad and it was a complete eye opener for us to see that people are living in what I would describe as the worst type of poverty – not even my experience of rural living in South Africa comes close to this. Ten or more story buildings with non-functioning lifts, no running water, no electricity. In some cases rubbish and human waste isn’t collected and the stench is unbearable. Those living in the buildings include foreigners who have come to South Africa to find a better life but have instead found xenophobia, exploitation and obstacle after obstacle as they search for work, pensioners who lived in a once beautiful building and are now trapped on the top floors because the lifts don’t work and they can’t walk down the stairs, and others who simply had no idea that owning a flat included additional monthly payments of levies and rates.  The following are some fictitious accounts of the lives of some of the inhabitants:

His ears are tuned to the sounds of the city orchestra; the blaring hoot of taxis looking for passengers, the whoop of a police siren – like a demented city hyena on the run, the high pitched screech of a woman in the middle of a domestic dispute, the dull thump of feet running up the crumbling cement stairwell outside his flat. He longs for silence but this orchestra never stops, never ceases to play a new tune.

He arrived in the city as the rising sun washed a warm glow over the tallest buildings he’d ever seen, turning the grey cement into burnished bronze, leaving him mesmerised by the freedom and independence he thought he saw reflected in the faces of those around him. He’d begun his journey in his homeland of the Democratic Republic of Congo, after fleeing his ruined village when militia wiped it and his family out. He joined the long snaking line of refugees united in their desire to find somewhere safe to rest their butchered souls. He walked for weeks, his bloodied feet wrapped in banana fronds, and followed some ancient path, which the others seemed to be drawn to. He gave no thought to the outcome, he just put one foot in front of the other, and walked. Along the way he acquired new friends and lost others to different routes and destinations. Until finally, his small band arrived in Mozambique and then crossed the border into South Africa during the darkest hour of the night. They had chosen this country because of all they had heard over the years from relatives and friends who had moved here to study, to seek their fortunes, to find peace.

And now, some years later, he finds himself uneducated, poor and at war with the city he calls home. He longs for the jungles of the Congo, for the misty rain that sweeps down from the mountains covering the village in lacey swaths, softening the voices of family and friends, obliterating the reality of the civil war raging around them, creating a cocoon in which they hide. But he is not there, he is here; sweating as he trudges a 20 litre bucket of water up the stairs, because the lifts have not worked in years. He shares a room meant for two with eight other refugees and hustles in the streets every day as he fights for his patch of road, watching cars for their owners, so that he can earn enough rands to pay the rent each month. His life is on repeat, and the track doesn’t seem likely to change.

****

She tsks her tongue against her teeth, her lips purse automatically; they no longer have a will of their own. Every day she stands at the window and surveys the streets below; her routine is the same, nothing changes here on the inside, but on the outside the change is so rapid, she can’t keep up. She is alone. Her children left the country years ago when she was still young enough to get by without them.

But now her husband is long gone and she lives alone in this flat meant for two. The views are spectacular; the ocean stretches from north to south and she can see the stadium when it lights up like a halo at night. Oh, the fun they had back in the good old days. You could walk the promenade at two in the morning, or run down to the shore to let the ocean wash over feet aching from dancing in high heels all night. The cool air caressed your skin as the salt settled in your hair – but who cared when you were young and in love! The mellow notes from the local jazz band at the Edward accompanied them as they made their way back to the home they’d always dreamt of.

You can’t do that these days though she thinks – you’ll get mugged before you can scream, and even if you could, no one would come to help you. Oh yes, she sees it all from up here. She watches the thugs and the gangsters, the prostitutes and the vagrants – up to no good. All of them. She longs for the days of her youth, when the city was off limits to those who now seem to inhabit it in their millions.

The block she lives in is no longer the beacon of prosperity that it once stood for – now it is filled with foreingers from every corner of Africa, the smell of curry permeates the air and neglect is draped across the once gleaming facade. And she is afraid. Afraid of the strangers that surround her, with their foreign clothing, strange tongues, and loud vibrant music. She hasn’t been onto the street below in years. The new tenants don’t understand the concept of levies and rates, so they don’t pay them. So the lifts have stopped working and the electricity’s been cut. Her knees, along with her confidence, have grown frail and she now depends on her neighour to do her shopping and keep her company. How she longs for her children to come and fetch her, to take her back to the land they now call home. But the letters are few, and their concern is lacking.

****

Here comes the man. He strolls the streets with an exaggerated swagger, eyeing up the girls and spending his fortune as fast as he can make it. And boy can he make it – there’s a sucker born every minute, and he knows how to find them. Life’s been good since he moved to the city – no more rural back-of-beyond living for him. The day he stepped off the bus and onto the Golden Mile, he knew he’d left that life behind. No ways was he ever going back, but if he did – he’ll go back loaded and build himself a mansion overlooking the valley. And everyone who walks past would say, “That’s Lucky’s place – he’s the man!”

If he’s honest, it didn’t start out so well out here on streets. He had to graft hard, running errands for gangsters, but he had little choice – if he wanted to live, he needed to hustle. Many nights he slept in doorways, down manholes, up trees and on the beach. And each morning he’d get a boot in the back or a club on the head, and told to move on. Little by little, job by job, he made his way, he earned his keep. And now he’s in charge of one of the biggest buildings in Durban – who would have thought! That small boy from the location is now a giant of the city, he rules the roost and no one dares cross his path.

He’s blacked out the walls of the building entrance, taken out the lights and barricaded the exits. He makes the lives of the inhabitants’ hell, and if they can’t pay the outrageous rent he demands, he breaks knees and noses. He’s not interested in sad tales of job loss or old age – he wants his money, and he gets it, one way or another. He’s stitched up the police because he’s got something on enough of them – prostitution, gambling, drugs – he knows their vices and he uses it to his full advantage. No one comes near him – he’s Lucky, the man.

2014 Year End NewsLetter - ILTL (hw)

Maboneng Precinct

Maboneng Precinct

Over the past while I’ve been reading Resident Alien, a collection of articles written by Rian Malan (author of My Traitor’s Heart, a book I bravely tried to read in my angst addled teens, but gave up after chapter 1) spanning twenty-something years. It’s been an education. I think as South African’s, we forget, or at the very least, are blasé about what we’ve been through, and what we managed to achieve. Has it all been good? No. But has it been exciting? Without a doubt. What I really love about Malan’s writings is that he isn’t afraid to put it all out there; sometimes messy, often negative, but always honest. But then he’s as brave to admit when he was wrong, and when his white, male South African-ness was just a tad too quick to judge, too quick to expect the worst.

I remember sitting in a bus, on the way to the beach, in 1994. It was one of those perfect Durban summer days, and the beach was calling. The bus was full; whites standing alongside blacks, jostling against Indians, swaying against all of humanity. Next to me sat an old white man, in fraying shorts and leather sandals. As he watched another black passenger embark, he turned to me and said, “I don’t think you’ll ever quite understand how hard this is for some of us.” And to be honest, at the age of 14, I didn’t. I’d grown up in a fairly liberal household, with a black sister, attending an all-girls, ethnically mixed Catholic School since Std 1. And before that, a multi-racial primary school. This was a pretty normal experience for me. But for this man, who’d been raised to believe in an ideology of superiority and separation, it must have been hell. Every fibre of his being must have been screaming out in bloody protest. Nearly 20 years later, and I still have moments of utter revelation at how far we’ve come. I see it when I sit in one of those wonderful Woolies café’s, sipping on a gingernut and honey cappuccino, and at the table next to me is a young black family; little girls in frilly dresses, mom looking like she just stepped off of a catwalk in Milan, dad looking every inch the successful businessman. Or when I head into the more unsavoury parts of Jozi and find, in an old parking lot, a roaring food market and a completely racially mixed crowd, chomping on oysters and chucking back glasses of champagne, tucking into steaming plates of paella and waiting for handfuls of exotic mushrooms to roast and layer onto their freshly baked sourdough loaf. It’s amazing. Here we all are, together, merging and actually enjoying it. Who would have thought.

In Malan’s article, Kind Words for a Mean Town, he talks of his fondness for his hometown, Johannesburg. And how, though strangers and foreigners will probably never understand it, he loves it. It’s a city of contradictions and surprise; of old Africa and the new world, “witchdoctors entering one building, accountants exiting the other” (p.268). And I feel the same way, not necessarily about Jozi, because it’s not my hometown, nor do I feel particularly drawn to it, with its beige and tan coloured gated estates, and its obsession with money and status. But it is how I feel about South Africa. As broken and dangerous as the rest of the world may perceive it, I love it…it makes me feel alive. I’m rarely bored, hardly a passive spectator, always a participant in some aspect of life (often someone else’s). Malan says to foreigners, and I’ve thought it enough times myself: we may not live as long as you, and we may never be as materially wealthy , but man will we live on the edge (p.269), on the cusp of something wonderful and dangerous and exciting. And I don’t know if this in an unhealthy way to live, but I couldn’t think of anything worse than being perpetually safe, nanny’d and unchallenged by the sheer ferocity and unfairness of life, which is dished out in a seemingly random lottery in our neck of the woods. Because as Malan says, “it’s a jungle out there, the most dangerous city in the world. But also the most interesting, if you have the courage to go.” (p.267). And courage we have aplenty, and go we did, into the heart of darkness.

Myself, and two friends, recently returned from our bi-annual cultural pilgrimage to Jozi; South Africa’s crime-ridden den of iniquity – and it was awesome! Durbanites are considered lazy, backwards and far too cool to actually buy a ticket to an international concert or play 8 months before the artists arrive. Instead, we find ourselves excluded from virtually every tour, spending three times the amount on accommodation, and flying or driving up to Jozi. So, to make it worth our while, we really go out of our way to explore the city. This time, we stayed clear of trendy and “safe” Parkhurst and Greenside, and headed straight into inner Johannesburg.

Maboneng Precinct main change

View from the Main Change building

Our first find was the Maboneng (place of light) Precinct, which can be found under a freeway, just off of Fox Street. It’s part of a regeneration plan for the less than desirable parts of the city, and has been upgraded to encourage urban artists to flood the inner city with their creative spirit. We headed into a courtyard of pebbles dotted with lemon and olive trees, and walked through to an old building filled with art galleries, edgy clothing stores and photographic exhibitions. It was a Friday, so it wasn’t exactly humming, but apparently the weekends are great, with a little market pulling in the crowds. We walked up the street, past gritty walls covered in graffiti, and were greeted by private security guards standing on each corner; letting you know that you are safe here in this once unloved section of the city.

At the Main Change building, we took a lift to the fifth floor, to check out a rooftop venue called Living Room, an eco urban café,  and walked into a fresh, green oasis of calm, succulents hanging off of and out of every available space. Nedbank was hosting a “green” event, but no-one seemed to mind our intrusion, so we sat and drank revoltingly healthy fruit and vege smoothies, and watched as small succulents were tenderly separated and replanted, as take home gifts for guests.

Maboneng Precinct

A walk through the Maboneng Precinct

The next day we made our way to Braamfontein, to find the Neighbourhood Goods Market. The market, can be found inside a building on 73 Juta Street, and is based on the successful Cape Town version. It’s apparently a landmark building, and again, the concept is based on regeneration of urban areas; getting people back into the city, claiming space that had fallen prey to misuse and crime. As we walked up the street, we passed a little corner deli and coffee bar; the scent of roasted coffee beans spilling out the door. Next to it is a retro camera shop, selling lomograph cameras and showcasing an exhibit of images taken on an iphone across South Africa. If you look closely enough at the detail, you’ll find small cement turtles making their way up the sidewalk, ready to cross the road, and explore the great beyond. You’ll also find a bustling, noisy, wonderful crowd of hipsters, students, foreigners, locals, buyers and sellers, all under one roof. The market has the feel of an underground car park; cement floors, harsh overhead lighting, and pools of water bought in by sodden feet and dripping umbrellas. But inside it’s also alive, with the scent of community spirit and optimism.

Juta street

Unconventional art on Juta Street

I left Jozi feeling a little less uneasy about the city, and more inclined to continue our exploration on our next trip. Walking those streets, I got the strong impression that the people that now inhabit these formerly avoided areas, did so with confidence and with sense of belonging. They were staking their claim and creating a new space, filled with movement and purpose, and a love for their city.

Place of Shades

place of shades

She sits alone on a bench of roughly hewn timber; her gaze sweeping over the vista before her. From her perch, high in the undulating folds of petrified rock and long grass, she watches the world unravel below. To the untrained eye, the land is mostly silent and empty. The only signs of life — the most obvious: the belching roar of a baboon troupe bouncing off the quarry walls, and the swoop of a hawk as it flies in low to catch a scurrying mouse. But to her the land lives and breathes, and in it, she finds comfort. She has sat on this bench, for months now. Her time spent learning the habits and patterns of the creatures that live in it, on it and above it. She has sat from sun-rise to sunset, and this is her favourite time of day, that magical hour between the suddenly rapid descent of the setting sun, and the onset of the darkest of nights; it is called the gloaming, and with it comes a sense of another time and place.

It’s not that she’s been lonely, up here on her hill. For each day He joins her and they sit together; sometimes talking about her life and her dreams: both realised and unfinished; sometimes sharing the hopes she has for her family as they continue without her. And He tells her that she was always loved, even when she felt so separated from His presence. No, she has not been lonely, but she has grown restless of late; a sense of longing wells in her chest every now and again, which she does not quite understand. There is something deep within her; a memory perhaps. A feeling of expectation, that she knows must soon be resolved. She lets the spiced scent of the veld wash over her like the gentle eddies of a lazy stream, and she watches.

Across the veld, caught in that soft light, a long line of elephant sway gently as they make their way home from the water hole. When she first arrived, the smallest elephant was fragile in its bumbling gait; she feared for its safety against predators. But now, these many months later, she can see he has grown in confidence as he chases a small warthog, trumpeting with glee as his quarry flees into a burrow. His trumpet unleashes a flock of tiny birds, which move as one in a wave of flight, their bodies swerving in and around the acacias and lala palms.

It is then that she notices she is not alone. There is a subtle shift in the density of the air, and she feels a presence add weight to her own. Her gaze moves across the breadth of the veld, and then down into the depth of the quarry. At the base she sees a small knot of people, who look both familiar and foreign. She stares hard at each one, trying to place them in the landscape of her mind, which feels like it is no longer her own. And slowly, the memories start to filter through; a vivid reminder of a life once lived, a life of colour and character, of love and friendship. It is a motley crew, for this small band of warriors have all fought a war of body and mind – some for months and years, others for but a few minutes. Their bodies display the scars of battle, and their weary heads are bent low as they make their way up the rocky path. She is standing when they reach the top. She understands now why she has been waiting here all these months; waiting for something she couldn’t quite explain. But now she knows that she is here to welcome them home, to have them sit their shattered souls upon a bench of roughly hewn timber, to have them rest from their fight for life, and the fight to convince their loved ones to feel strong enough to let them go. As the six of them sit, facing the soft orb of light that sets their hair alight; their bodies begin to mend, their souls begin to heal, and hearts — destroyed by sadness and loss — begin a beautiful reconstruction. And all the while He sits there, the heat of the day radiating from his open hands, and suffusing them all with His glorious light and enduring love.

(This past year has seen many dear and wonderful friends and family lost to us. When my mom passed away from cancer in August last year, we scattered her ashes over one of our favourite places on earth. High up on that hill, the wind swept through, carrying her spirit over the land and into the heavens above. I like to imagine that she sits there, watching over her domain, welcoming in the new arrivals, as they are born into life ever-after. This post is in remembrance of my mom – Geraldine McCarthy, of our dear Aggie’s sister – Tiny Sheshange, of Simi Harrison – friend to so many, of our childhood American dad – Rowan Caderet, of the wonderful and soft hearted Joyce Samuels – friend and helper to Kate, and most recently of Mrs Searle – my long-time friend Kerry’s mom.)

 

 

 

May 2013 newsletter