Wednesday, December 25, 2030

#7: Klawer Turnoff to Springbok

I stayed at the petrol station for a while, relaxing on the grass, reflecting, taking photos of lights  and watching a guy arc-welding as it got proper dark.  I may have used my phone, I may not have.  

At about nine-thirty or ten I got back on the road, walking away from the station as there was another hiker on the open road, a middle-aged, haggard and sad thing.  It was beautifully hot and a privilege to stand out in my country's dark.Cars passed, and after a time a Renault Clio type car pulled off quite a way before me, about thirty or forty metres towards Klawer, stopped then accelarated and came to rest close to me.  I got in. Chris was a young law student going home to his father's farm in the Keimoes area during a study break before exams.  His back seat was piled with dirty washing, everything thrown in.  We got to talking.  He tried his English on me, me my Afrikaans on him.  I told him that my mission was to go up to the border and just stand there, point at the spot that the border is, the actual line, and say 'there, that's the border', before coming home again.  I thought that would be enough.  He says he isn't going up to the border, he's turning off at Vanrynsdorp to go through to Keimoes, close to Upington.  I'm not sure exactly what he means, not being familiar with the country, but I say that's grand, I have no time limit and may as well go up that way.  I ask him of his knowledge of the Karoo, does he know the route to Ceres via Sutherland, because I'd like to see my girlfriend in Ceres this weekend.  He replies that this is the Karoo.  I say yes, but it's just the side of it, I want to get right in there.  He nods and names a string of towns, trying to answer my questions as best he can, but we're both uncertain, and so we drop it.  
'So, what are you going to do with Law?' I say after a silence.
'I'd like to work for myself,' he replies, 'I want to stay in Stellenbosch, I like it there.  I'll probably stay there my whole life.'
I tell him I know what he means, as the other day I arrived in Cape Town after some time on the West Coast, and knew I didn't want to be there.  I had to think faster and of more things at the same time than I'd like. 
He says he understands.  He's grown up on a farm, his father's wine farm on the fringes of the Kalahari
'How's it going with farming in South Africa at the moment? Does your dad want to stay?'

'My father works with the new government,' he replies, 'with creating jobs.  It's tough.  He doesn't get the support he needs.  The colored people that live close to us don't want to work, they lazy.  We use Tswana's that come from the North.  They work hard.   They're the best people.  Really, really the best.' 

I visualise what he's saying, trying to see all the angles, give all of them their due.  'I reckon the reason they don't work as hard is because they're local,' I say, 'they don't have to work.  They've got houses and families to support them, the guys that come from somewhere else have to work because it's all they got.  They can't afford to be lazy.'

'That's interesting,' he says.  'Ja, I suppose you're right.'
We rumble along.
'How old are you?' he asks.
'I'm nineteen.'
I watch him as we're talking.  He's big, your classic Afrikaner country boy.  Young, but fully a man, fully used to being in charge of himself and the things he owns.  The way he drives, he understands his power over things, his ability to mould and shape things, to stand firm.  That's something I've always admired, that self-assured way with things, that way that comes naturally.  But he's also more than the stereotype.  There's something in the way he answers me.  He's trying,  stretching himself out to something, wanting to understand more than he's been told he needs to.  He wants to be better. 

'Do you watch cricket?' I ask.

'Ja, ja.  For sure.'

'What do you think of Graeme Smith?'

'He's arrogant,' he says, 'he talks big, but then he chokes.'
'I like him,' I reply.

'Ja.  I worked on a commercial with him once.  I was supposed to look after him, offer him water, food, that kind of stuff.  He told me not to bother with him, he knows I'm busy, I mustn't worry about him.  He didn't seem arrogant.'


'I think he's given the team a lot,' I continue, 'he became captain when he was twenty-two.  I think he put his career on hold to become captain.  He did too much too fast.  Now he's a fucking good captain, but he's struggling in his head.  I hope he can sort things out, because he deserves it.'

Chris himself doesn't swear.  
'What sort of commercials do you work on?' he asks. 

'All sorts,' I say, 'but I don't really do it anymore.' 

'I've met Jared Leto, and Nic Cage,' he tells me.  'You know the movie Lord of War?'


'They shot on a farm close to us.  Nic Cage came driving up in this big, fancy 4 x 4 like he was somebody, speeding on the farm, and gets out and he's surrounded by body guards and goes into the house, never talking to anyone.  Jared Leto was much nicer.  He came fishing with my friends and me at the river.  He just bought his bodyguard with him.' 
'I wonder what it's like,' I say, 'being recognised pretty much anywhere you go, anywhere in the world.  I wonder what that's like.'
The country-side passes.  The dark desert. 
'What is it to you to be a South African?'
He thinks for a second, mustering all his years for the answer.  
'I'm irritated that I'm always penalised for something I didn't do,' he begins, 'I mean, that's the thing that might get me to emigrate.  All this affirmative action. That's racist, not to get a job because of what someone did way back when.  I mean, thirty percent of South Africans didn't know what was happening, they didn't agree with it. All the law that I learn, it's around how the law has changed, and how me as a white man must pay.'
He thinks some more.   
'South Africa, for me, is braaing, long evenings.  My culture is Afrikaans, being with my people.  We like to drink, braai, play rugby.'
'So you think you're going to have problems getting a job?'
'Yes.  Definitely.  They tell us directly.  If you're a man and white don't even bother filling in the application.  One attorney told me, it was at a law weekend, people will promise you certain things, but they won't be able to deliver, because they have quotas to fill.  They'll say to you you'll get a car, and a cellphone, a good job, but they can't give it.  And there's no bursaries for whites.' 
'For me,' I say, 'what I think, generally, is I got more because I was white.  My education, generally, was better, my house, generally, was better.  We didn't have much money when I was growing up, but even if we didn't have much money, I could learn. I had good teachers.  There were only 25, not 40 people in the class.  I was privileged because I was white.  I wasn't part of apartheid, but I still benefited.  My philosophy is I must make work for myself.  But it does affect me.'
I think some more.  He waits. 
'If I do a funding application,' I say, 'I have to make part of it a social upliftment thing.  I did a project with a young black guy from the township. He's got his own theatre company, they rehearse every day, but they didn't know what they're doing, they didn't know how to do it right, but they have passion.  He's working hard, and he wants to learn.  He can't speak English well, he doesn't know how to learn like I know, because my whole life has been like that. So I worked with him, and it felt right.  If I don't do that, I may as well be somewhere else.'
'Ja,' he says.
'The best guy,' I say, 'should get the job so that the job is done the best.  But there is space to somehow make things more equal.  The only difference between the old and the new government is that the old one was only looking after twenty percent of the population, the new one is trying to look after everyone.'
'But...' he struggles, 'Julius Malema.'
'Yes,' I say, 'he is a poes.' 
'He influences so many people to be negative in our country.  Why is he there?  He gets away with everything.  He shouldn't be allowed to be there. And he's one of many.  Unemployment.  There's so much opportunity, just look at the land, but there isn't the space to create jobs.  The government doesn't allow us to work, we can't just get on with it and work, there's too much red tape, too much 'rights'.'
'The ANC's men were soldiers,' I say, 'and now that they have what they were fighting for, it turns out that those soldiers aren't necessarily governors.  The fight's over and now we see that some of then weren't in it for freedom, they were in it for power.'
'Wouldn't it be great,' I say, 'if someone just removed Malema, anyone who was just after power and was happy to destroy rather than build, wouldn't it be great if we could somehow just force everyone to act justly?  But then, that's the opposite of democracy.' 
'But what gets me,' says Chris, 'is the people on the ground level, they're let down by their leaders, abandoned, but they still vote for them.  If you hit a monkey with a stick he's not going to come back to you.'
We hear a strange sound in the car, some kind of flapping, or something.  Chris looks around.  
'Is it anything you have?' he asks.
'No, I don't think so.' I'm craning round too, trying to see.  'It doesn't sound mechanical.' 
We sit back, quiet as he drives.  It doesn't sound mechanical. 
'Helen Zille hits the nail on the head,' he says, suddenly.  'People don't have food, but the politicians are flying around in private jets?  I want people to do things that make sense, make opportunities for themselves, things that make sense.  The government is not creating these opportunities.'
'I was doing some research once,' I say, 'I went to the civic centre in Cape Town and sat in on a ward councillor's meeting.'
'There were about five different languages being spoken, and it was amazing how everyone worked together.  There was a guy in charge who kept the meeting on track.  Whenever it went off, say someone from the ANC was attacking one of the other parties, he'd come in and say, come now.  Let's stay on the topic. We're not here to attack each other.  These people don't have toilets. What are we going to do about it?  And everyone accepted that, got together and moved forward.'
'Ja,' says Chris, excited.
'Everyone was working together, it was nothing like the newspapers.  Government is full of good, normal people, working together and getting things done.  TV and newspapers distort things, a lot.'
'I'm going to pull off,' he says, 'I want to know what's making that sound.'
We stop on the side of the highway in the dark, walk in the fresh, night, desert air, and have a look through the back, finding nothing.  We drive.

'So, how come you're going home?'
'To study, it's exams.' 
'Do you stay in a koshuis?' 
'What's it like?'
'Lekker.  Very lekker.  Everything is nice.'
'And initiation?'
'Ja,' he says, 'we do that.  They don't moer the guys, but there are traditions.  Our hostel was built for guys coming from the army, so we have lots of army traditions. It's good.  When you're in matric you think you're a big shot.  We get guys with these big attitudes, first team boys from the big schools, Paarl Gym, Paarl Boys.  Then they break you down and you don't feel so good about yourself, and you all pull together.  We do it.  We don't want guys there who don't want to take part. I wouldn't do it any other way.'
'I agree,' I say.
'If you keep it firm and fair, it's positive,' he says.
'It's when it becomes cruel,' I say, 'then it becomes ridiculous. I read Rainbow Warrior, Francois Pienaar's book.  He said he also believes in it, but it gets out of hand.  When he was initiated into the Transvaal team he had to get a smack on the ass from each player, but some of them just used it as an excuse to hurt him, to really fuck him up, rather than just do the ceremony.  There's a line, basically, where it becomes something else. Guys start using the ceremony for something else.'
'Did you stay in res?' he asks.
'Yes,' I reply, 'College House, at UCT.  But I didn't have spirit.  I didn't really want to be there.  It was just a place for me to live, I wasn't there to be a part of something.  If I think back, though, perhaps I would have liked to be more involved.'
We're quiet.  He's too polite to judge.  A rabbit streaks across the road.  The engine hums.
'I've done a lot of hiking,' I say, 'It's crazy.  You have the best conversations.  It's always surreal, in a car with a stranger.  It's surreal to think it, but it's not that surreal when you're there, and everything's real.  I've been thinking of doing this for a long time, saying to people that I've got to write this book, I've got to write this book, but I've kept putting it off.  This week, finally, I said, just go, just go, see what happens, let it build from there.'
'When I was in matric,' he says, 'one day we decided to drive to the sea for the weekend, me and my friends from my school.  My parents still don't know about it.  We packed in a case of brandy, just a shirt and one pants each, and slept on the beach.  We met these great people, we had no money, just bought brandy and petrol.'
'Ja,' I say, 'once I hitched to Grahamstown with R2,50 in my pocket.  I had been going for about 36 hours, I was hungry, tired, pissed off, man.  I was walking out of PE, I just had my hand out while I was walking, not even caring if anyone stopped, the roadside was rocky, walking sucked.  A truck stopped far ahead of me, but I thought it wasn't for me, so I just kept walking.  When I finally got there the guy said get in.  He tells me he can see I'm hungry, so he gives me this curry he bought somewhere, still hot, not even opened.  It was the best curry I've ever had. So good.  Those moments only happen when you get out of your normal life.'
'What color people pick you up?' he asks, 'is it mostly whites?' 
'I don't know.  I don't know the percentages.  Probably mostly white, but all kinds, actually.  Color doesn't really matter.'
'I've been thinking about it lately,' I say, 'I am a racist.'
'Ja.  I judge people according to their skin color.  I have to admit it to go forward.'
'Okay,' he says.
'My friend was telling me this story the other day.  He was at a trance party and there was a dam there.  So he and some other guys are all in this boat on the dam, rowing around drinking with different people around, everyone having fun, getting drunk and all that.  He says they came upon a black guy in the middle of the dam on a lilo, and the lilo's sinking.  Wait, wait, wait, I say, why do you have to say he's a black guy?  What's the point of that?   He gets what I'm saying, but tells me he does have a point, he's not being racist.  Black guys generally can't swim, he says, so he's saying that he thought the guy might be in trouble, because he probably can't swim.  I say that's kuk.  He says it's not.  It's true.  I say that's kuk, because, if he hadn't told me he was black, and had just said the guy looked like he couldn't swim, it would have been the same.  He thinks I've made a good point, but then he says, yes, the meaning of what he's saying would be the same, but would it still be honest?'
We both think about that.  Is it right?
'So, I'm saying,' I continue, 'color doesn't matter.  It's got nothing to do with reality.  What matters is that I'm a racist, it's in me.  So, if I think it matters, and if I want, I've got to change.'
'Ja,' he says.  'Ja.'
We both go quiet.  The dark.  The speeding car. 
'What movies do you like?' I ask him on impulse, not comfortable to sit in silence. 
'Ah... Black Swan', he says.  'Most people said it's stupid, and if I hear people say it's stupid, then I watch it.'
'What did you think?'
'Jaaaaaa... I don't know.  It was good, it was good.  But I like Shutter Island more.  That was hectic.'
'Inception is quite similar,' I say, 'I love all that director's movies.  Christopher Nolan.  He also did The Prestige.'
'Ja,that was flipping good.  Which one was that?'
'The one where he's a magician, he builds that machine, that makes new men?'
'Oh, yes, yes!  Shit, that was intense.'
'Every night,' I say, 'he doesn't know if he's about to die, or kill.  And then the twins.  Fuck, it was insane!'
'Ja.  It was mad.'
We drive. 
'Shit!' says Chris, suddenly, looking all around the road in the dark.
'Did you see a sign, for Vanrynsdorp?'
'No,' I say, 'I don't think so.'
'Shit,' he says, 'I think I missed my turn.  Are you sure?'
'I'm pretty sure.  I haven't seen any big signs yet.'
He looks at his odometer.  He knows he's gone too far.  We must have. 
'Ag, so what,' he says, 'I'll just go by Springbok.  I'm going to take you your way now.  Through Springbok, Pofadder, all the way to close to Upington.'
'Cool,' I say, I'm enjoying the talk.  We drive.  It's after 11 now. 
'When did you leave Stellenbosch?'
'About quarter to five.' 
Long silence.  Long, long silence.
'I dont want to be racist,' says Chris, 'as you say, it's just a human thing, but, working with 3000 people, trying to keep them all happy, I get frustrated.  I have the opposite personality as my Dad.  He's good with them, but I get too frustrated.  You feel like you're creating this opportunity for somebody, and a lot of times they're letting you down.' 
'Does your dad know the language?'
'Did he grow up there?'
'No,' he replies, 'he spoke Zulu where he grew up, in Natal.  I was born here.  He's eccentric.  He's busy with nature conservation.'
'Okay,' I say.
'We didn't get on while I was at school,' he says, 'but it's much better now.'
'Like how?'
'I'm just getting a bit older, he's respecting my opinion.  In the past, if I say it's blue he'll say it's light blue.  But me and my mom was tight since I was little-little.'
'Ja,' I say, 'my dad and I also didn't get on.  But since I was 26 or so, it's a lot better.'
'Our personalities are totally different,' says Chris, 'he paints.' 
'The problem I have,' I say, 'is we're so similar.'
'Oh, ja, that too,' he laughs.  'There's a lot of things I get pissed off with, and then, before I know it I'm doing it myself.'
'Ja, fuck,' I say, 'for me its weird.  My arm is just like my fathers. If I look at my arm, I feel like I'm young looking at my dad's arm.  And he's got this weird way of standing while he's cooking, and I used to think, what a weirdo, but now that I'm older I find I'm doing it myself.  Because it's comfortable, I think because we're built pretty much the same.' 
'I always know who's walking in the house,' he says, 'you learn the footsteps of somebody, like the way they walk.  And, if I walk I sound exactly the same as my father.'
We both laugh.  
'Why did you decide to do law?'
'I decided I was going to do it when I was in grade eight.  I like it.  I don't like injustice.  I know it sounds stupid, but I want to make a difference.' 
I look out the window, and tell him I haven't been up to this part of the country, ever. 
His phone rings.
'It's my dad,' he says, and answers.  'Hallo... Ja. Pa... als is reg.  Ek het verby Vanrynsdorp gery, perongeluk... Ek gaan nou deur Springbok... Nee, ek het n hitch-hiker opgetel, n Engelse ou.  Ons praat lekker hierso.  Nee, ons het gesels toe ry ek verby...'
I watch him as he's talking.  He's got deep roots in this country, he cares about things, he's going to make a life for himself.  I think he won't give up until he creates a life for himself.