For the past week I have been travelling to different areas in and around Joburg helping to run auditions to get new actors for our NGO. We’ve been to the sorts of places that tourists never reach including Eldorado Park and Westbury Park. The first is about 20kms outside Joburg, while Wesbury Park is inside the city. They are both ‘coloured’ areas. (Under Apartheid where you lived depended on your colour, by law.)
I have to say that these were two of the grimmest places I’ve visited, ever. Areas like Soweto are poor and have rubbish infrastructure for their inhabitants, but they at least have a sense of place. I feel excited when I’m there. There are people on the streets, there’s a vibe. But Eldorado and Westbury Parks were devoid of any sense of place. I stood there, outside the community halls and watched bits of litter roll around the wide open desolate landscape.
I tried to take pictures of Eldorado Park but they were crap because I couldn’t capture anything that expressed the emptiness. It felt like a sink estate without the grafitti, skateboards, humans or high rises. No bleeding-edge fashion mag could ever give Eldorado Park a touch of street cool. I had a bit more luck with pictures in Westbury Park. Apologies to anyone from these areas that might read this – I can only see through outsider’s eyes.
Westbury Park with a fancy suburb in the far background
Kids playing in the open space in Westbury Park
Fantastic kids in Westbury Park
Today I was sitting around with various people in a Quaker meeting in Joburg. A couple of white people spoke. The first was an older man with grown up sons and daughters. He spoke of how he loved South Africa, its lands and people and its chequered history. He then spoke of how he loved his children and that they no longer live in SA. He spoke of how his heart is twisted with grief by their absence. His son was out of the country for political reasons. He spoke of how his grief has expressed itself in a physical paralysis he has in his foot – he cannot walk easily, but he has no medically identifiable problem.
Then a woman about my age spoke. She told of how her only brother lives in Ireland, and that he has three children, two of whom she has never seen, and how much she misses him and yearns for him. He was out of the country for economic reasons. She said that she thought he was doing the best thing for his family by staying in Ireland and that they were very lucky to have EU passports and ‘all the freedoms and opportunities that affords’.
And I looked at these white people and felt, probably for the first time, how much the apartheid-hangover continues to wound South Africa and all of its people, of every colour. How politicized people’s private lives are. It is unthinkable that anyone I know in the UK would leave for political or even economic reasons. When they leave it is through personal choice.
I find it impossible to imagine that my government’s policies could cause me to be separated from the people I love, and I’m profoundly grateful that I am a citizen of a country where politics is a gentle, largely optional, often imperceptible sideline to the main business of living the lives we choose with the people we choose in the way we choose.