Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Fear & loathing in KwaZulu-Natal

Durban beachfront at dusk

A plaintive question from my cousin’s children, “Do houses in England have security walls?” gets me thinking about the sorry lot of many white South Africans, particularly those who live in the urban areas that, like Durban, have become more violent and unpredictable over the last twenty years.  What must it be like to live always in fear?  To be ever watchful and suspicious?  To be on the beachfront in Durban on a beautiful, warm July night and look around the bar and not see – as I do – a cosmopolitan crowd enjoying Friday evening drinks, but an invasion.  My cousin turns to me and comments, “when we were growing up, this was a white hangout,” apparently blind to the fact that in the 80s, when she was growing up, there were nothing but white hangouts here in the centre of Durban, it being illegal for black people to live or work in the city (apart from as servants).
I’m reading a book I picked up at Ike’s in Durban, Midlands by Jonny Steinberg, author of one of my favourite non-fiction books of recent years, Three Letter Plague.  It’s a book I struggled to find in the UK and was pleased to get hold of, but it’s a bleak read.  Dealing with the tension of the years immediately post-apartheid, it focuses on the story of the murder of a young white South African farmer.  What is even more bleak is the realisation that KwaZulu-Natal is still riven with tension, even 18 years after the first democratic elections; and if there is not exactly loathing here, there is plenty of fear. 

1 comment:

  1. Contrast this to my sister growing up in 80s Britain: showing my dad a class photo, she comments that her friend Christopher is there. My dad asks "Which one is he?" and Clair replies "He's the one in the blue jumper".
    Only black child in the class. She was as any 5 year old should be - completely oblivious to the fact his skin was a different colour.