Snapshots of the South Peninsula #2: Masiphumelele
After a decade of Mom’s DIY efforts, one of Zola’s 11th birthday presents was his first professional hairdressing experience. On the advice of my eMzantsi colleague Yandiswa, I took him one afternoon to her neighbour in Masiphumelele, who runs his salon out of a storage container. ‘Rasta Brian’ surveyed Zola’s current mop of +/- 250 dreads and nodded approvingly, murmuring “old school”. I’ll settle for that.
(Our new hero Dustin Brown should come down for some maintenance in Masi. Did you know Dustin’s folks bought him a camper van to drive himself round European tournaments on the cheap – trucker!)
Zimbabwean Brian has more than 20 years’ experience and, with his self-produced high decibel reggae thumping out of an amp, got to work. He started at the back and combined every two or three of Zola’s raggedy dreads into one smooth dense one, working so deftly with a tiny crochet hook that his hands blurred in all the photos. Despite this impressive speed, Zola’s hair is so thick that, three hours later, Brian wasn’t even half way done and Zola had what I can only describe as a dreadlocked mullet.
I went to the doctor’s. I said “Whenever I pass from one country to the other I have to get drunk”. He said “You’re borderline alcoholic”.
The 13 year-old girl in the chair next to him having the same job done cried solidly for 2 hours. But Zola stoically didn’t complain until bedtime when I found him silently weeping into his pillow and had to give him paracetemol to ease the headache caused by the tightness of the new dreads. Sampson took him back the next morning for the next shift; in all it took EIGHT HOURS to complete the job.
Sampson insisted on paying Brian an extra R200, which still only brought the price to R500 – less than I used to pay for a roots touch-up and trim before I left. THANKS Brian, you are a true ARTIST.
Sitting next to the tearful girl, I chatted and tried to take her mind off her pain, but was quite unable to comfort her. I’d been reflecting on the case of Rachel Dolezal, the seriously deluded US white woman who adopted a black identity but was outed by her parents. The African-American community were outraged that she had hijacked (limited) opportunities available for black women (she is president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Spokane, Washington; part time professor of Africana Studies at the Eastern Washington University and chair of the city’s Police Ombudsman Commission). It’s difficult to understand her motivation without knowing more details about the dynamics of her transracial family (white parents, adopted black siblings) but no one can deny she made some serious effort on the hair-do front.
They say before you condemn someone, you must walk a mile in their shoes. I have been wondering whether her willingness to embrace the pain of the ‘ethnic hair’ experience counts for anything? She’s certainly walked a few hundred metres further than most Caucasian folk…
Remember the sad end of Happy Sindane? ‘The boy who tried for white’ as the Guardian has it. His motivation was more easily understandable in the heavily-weighted South African context, but no less revealing of how completely arbitrary and nonsensical so-called ‘racial’ identity is. Who could forbid this Ndebele-raised lad choosing to call himself either black or white?
How bloody disgraceful that the debate over a non-dichotomy ended in his early grave. Still wrestling with what to feel about all these sliding identities? This will cheer you up.
Conjunctivitis.com. That’s a site for sore eyes.
Soundbites from South Africa #2: the deafening silence of our President regarding his protection of genocidal Sudanese President al-Bashir
It is a truth universally acknowledged that you never appreciate what you’ve got till it’s gone. This month I’ve been pondering this in relation to health, electricity and democracy. Despite the euphemistic application of the term ‘loadshedding’ here in SA, the bottom line is that a lack of any one of the above may result in potentially scary power cuts. That’s cuts to your power over your own fate, people.
President Zuma’s hubris surpassed itself this month, as he extended his disregard for the rule of law from domestic affairs (Nkandla) to international (Sudan). Others better informed than I have commented comprehensively on the impact of the SA government’s decision to allow President al-Bashir to slip out of the country despite a High Court order and an ICC arrest warrant. (Check out the Mail&Guardian’s editorial and awesomely arse-kicking Eusebius.)
What with false dichotomy massacres in South Carolina, Tunisia, and Kuwait, there’s been a helluva lot of kak happening since I last posted, but thankfully for you perhaps, I caught a killer chesty flu and was flat out for 2 weeks unable to reflect on it in the heat of the moment. Confined to bed and quiet, a comforting perspective was regained. ‘Amidst all the noise and haste’ about looming financial catastrophe in Greece and China, I’m trying to hang on to that empowering sense of distance. A little illness reminds you that all these political earthquakes are both ephemeral and peripheral to the greater themes, both more devastating and more consoling in their timelessness: love and death.
This bloke said to me “I’m going to attack you with the neck of a guitar”
I said “Is that a fret?”
So it’s 20 years since SA won the Rugby World Cup and Madiba made South African hearts proud wearing a number 6 jersey, 2 years since we left SA to go Africa Clockwise and 1 year since we nearly tipped the truck over in Côte d’Ivoire. I think it says something about me that I sighed most wistfully at the latter memory. I miss truck life so much, even though (or perhaps because?) truckulence is so imbued with turbulence. It’s never dull; you never look back and think “But what have I been doing this last month?”
This year Zola’s birthday was the day after Father’s Day. My Dad sent the kids a long letter inside a birthday card, bless him. When I say long: 7 pages of lined A4, both sides. It was my Dad’s usual blow-by-blow account of his recent life (see where I get it?) of the kind he’s been sending me regularly ever since I left for college, handwritten in blue biro, interspersed randomly with Tim Vine one-liners written in red biro. In tribute to my Dad, and the sense of humour that makes Duke so loved by his grandchildren, this blog features excerpts from his letter in his style. For full effect, you have to imagine him sniggering to himself as he copied them out for the kids’ delight.
I saw this bloke chatting up a cheetah and I thought: “He’s trying to pull a fast one”.
On 30th June it was revealed that Ebola had been identified in the corpse of a 17 year old in Liberia, the first death since the country was declared free of the virus on 9th May. The resurgence is mysterious but not unexpected. There have been 4 more cases since, and 120 people have been quarantined. We pray for Liberia, and for Sierra Leone and Guinea, still battling to bring infection rates under control.
I had a dream last night that I was cutting carrots with the Grim Reaper – dicing with death.
Go Go Gola
This week Sampson and I braved the hideous Grand West Casino to check out Loyiso Gola, South African’s favourite TV comic, host of the satirical show Late Nite News which has twice been nominated for an Emmy. He was performing at Roxy’s Revue Bar, the casino’s bijou theatre venue which has wonderfully plush seats and, inexplicably, paintings described here as ‘Styled in the traditional French-inspired 1920s fashion’ but I would describe as more in the traditional soft-porn-style of ‘White women with their tits out’.
We hadn’t seen Loyiso since Ruby was a baby. He first came to Sampson’s weekly free Comedy Lab workshop in Woodstock (est. 1999) when he was 17, to join the bunch of wannabe stand-ups engaged in mutual mentoring. He did his first Open Mic spot at the club we founded for the Cape Comedy Collective to let rip on Sundays at the Armchair Theatre in Obs back when our mantra “Comedy, for the people, by the people” was a radical proposition. For two years we used to drive him home at midnight to his Mum’s house off Lansdowne Rd on our way home to Kalk Bay.
I recall his first gig on a ‘proper’ theatre stage, Artscape’s cabaret venue ‘On the Side’, as part of the CCC’s Christmas 2000 show. I was producer and promoter of the CCC’s 6-nights-a-week comedy circuit, and pregnant at the time. That night I was on the followspot and remember throwing up into the firebucket shortly before Loyiso abandoned the opening line of the 10 minute routine he’d been practising in the Lab for months and instead greeted the 99% white audience with a cheap crack about having “just come from stealing car radios in Constantia”. Predictably they laughed, but afterwards I was incandescent with rage: “Don’t you EVER do that onstage again… pandering to their prejudices… you’re letting yourself down, the CCC down, your mother down, your culture down….” Words to that effect.
Loyiso’s become a lot less apologetic since then. It was gratifying to have him address all the issues that had pissed me off in the last blog in his ‘State of the Nation’ show he’s taking to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown this week. I loved his routine reflecting on his childhood in Gugulethu, about how black youth use language differently according to context, and are constantly having to switch voices and update their Suburban/Ghetto Software. A modern, South African take on DuBois’ double consciousness. He should be given an Order of the Baobab for services to satire and democracy building.
Now aged 32, he displays both the effortless ease of one who’s spent half his life on stage and a superb line in stylish anoraks. No, really. It was so wonderful to witness him fulfilling his potential – and see he still has long way to go. His star will rise far higher yet, on a trajectory clearly visible to me, as it always was.
Velcro? What a rip-off.
Just before the show, I bumped into his Mum in the toilets, so then we felt we couldn’t leave without saying hello to him, although we hadn’t planned to. MakaLoyiso, who retired from her job at Fish Hoek Standard Bank last year, was looking as elegant as ever as we stood with her friends waiting at the bar. She’s certainly aged better than me! Loy came out and greeted them but he only recognised us when I opened my mouth; his shock and awe was touching, if a little disturbing (just how haggard am I?). He gave me a hug, all 6’6” of him, (my arms only reach round his waist) and was kind enough to post this on Instagram afterwards.
Hamba kahle Mr Schwim Schweng. I love the courage of your convictions and dare you to take them much, much further.