(Please ignore my massive overuse of the word ‘mostly’. It’s because I’m a Quaker, mostly.)
I wrote the text below some months ago, but I wanted to ‘publish’ it because I don’t feel so much like that anymore. What I’ve started noticing is how quickly I’ve adapted to this place. Humans are remarkably adaptable. I’ve got used to not walking anywhere, not getting any exercise, the non-stop sunshine – oh, I love African sun – and I’ve even got used to living in an apartheid city. I don’t want to pretend to be an angel-of-conscience when I’m feeling more like a hedonist than an activist.
I’m still aware of all the stuff below, but it isn’t arousing such fierce passion in me any more. (Although I still hate that rich look and everybody is still drinking and driving.) I think this is partly because I’m having a great time here; because I have made lots of friends (though only one white South African friend, and I have to tread gently around her); because I love my job, which is where I do my passionate-cause-thing, and because I love the city. So I’m wondering if this is why there is little activism amongst the rich here – they’re just too happy to be unhappy? Don’t take me too seriously on this – it’s just a quick bit of throwaway-cod-philosophy before I spend an excellent night out on the town this Saturday night with my friends. I’m just too happy to be unhappy.
“I’m on intimate terms with a particular fidgety-frustrated-red-coloured feeling. It’s the feeling that there’s an ace party happening somewhere and I am missing it. I’ve had this feeling most weekends since I was about 14. It’s like the ‘grass is greener’, but it’s more red than green. It’s unfounded because most parties are crap. The problem in Joburg is that it’s true. The social apartheid infrastructure is still largely in place, which means that mostly white (mostly rich) people live mostly in the northern suburbs, black South African live in townships, mostly. There’s a bit of mixing and mis-matching but mostly the status quo has been maintained. This is compounded by the poor public transport, which makes it difficult for people to go home to the townships late at night. The ‘taxis’ (private mini busses) which ferry people to and from town don’t tend to operate at night. Taxis, as you and I know them, are scarce and very expensive, even by UK standards. So a trip from town to Soweto might clock up £25. Busses are mostly mythical.
One of the implications of this twisted-but-effective apartheid social engineering is that people drink and drive. Unless you can get a lift from a sober person, there’s no other way to get around. According to Drive Alive, 40 people die every day on South Africa’s roads.
Another is that, as always, the ‘nice’ parts of the city (ie the northern suburbs) are bloody dull. Sooo dull I can’t tell you. They’re actually offensively dull. For example, in a posh area near my house, they’ve opened a shebeen. Shebeens were (and often still are) illegal drinking places, often in people’s homes, in townships and rural areas. There’s a so-called shebeen in Greenside which is actually a pastiche of a genuine shebeen. The truly laughable thing is that you have to reserve a table and it’s full of posh white people, drinking wine and looking unashamedly rich. (You know that look: blond bobs, lots of beige-safe-inoffensive-labelled-clothes-that-look-shite, slightly pudgy, jewellery, the awful smell of expensive perfume. That’s the women. The men are even worse. They’re so remarkably dull that I can’t even get a picture of them in my head. They’re blobs.) And you know what? Even though the suburbs are so dull, I’m still really pleased to go there sometimes. It would be the equivalent of going to a wine bar in Clifton (Bristol) full of Sophies and Ruperts because I couldn’t get to a half-decent pub in St Werburghs.”