Easter Sunday. A woman in her late fifties, sunglasses wedged into yellow hair, is wearing tight white jeans and a tight white T-shirt over a thick white bra. She staggers to the silver Mercedes, weighed down by two rustic baskets full of cooked food covered in silver foil and gold Lindt bunny rabbits from the Hyde Park branch of Woolworths. By the passenger door, she turns indignantly, and stares at the back gate through which she has just passed. He appears, shortly, holding a lemon cheesecake in a large fluted china dish for flans. We pass clipped verges and sidewalks transformed into chequerboards of thick white gravel and grey paving stones, where large cactii are placed like pawns. A large woman wearing a red baseball cap and red dungarees with STAR printed in white down one leg is jogging and dashing between polished white saloons, engorged four-wheel drives, and silver soft-tops driven by women with ironed hair. A young man leans between heavy wooden crutches at the bottom of a hill, looking at the cracked pavement infront of his feet. In a passing blink, we exchange hiyas.
Ten minutes later. Up on the rocky open hill. Above the neat cul-de-sacs and criss-crossing lanes. We look out at the houses. Just like Surrey, I say. When I go home, I’ll visit Surrey and I’ll remember this bit of Johannesburg. It’s hot. A steady sweat as we scuffle between orange rock formations. There’s no one here. This is the best bit of Johannesburg, we think. You can see the whole city from up here. Almost. We walk on, further into the original rock, along gravelly paths and high grasses. I hope there isn’t a snake, I shout and clap my hands.
A young man ahead approaches, off the paths, across the open rock. When we passed earlier and said hello, he barely responded. Hi, he muttered under his breath, resentful of company in the seclusion of nature. But now he’s coming straight towards us. A hand in a pocket. I imagine a knife there, and wonder where to turn. As he comes level, he starts to speak:
I wouldn’t go that way. A couple of kaffirs just got me. Got my camera, my wallet with ten Rand, and my mobile phone. I wouldn’t go there. One of them had a revolver. And they had a knife. They told me to walk in the opposite direction. I wouldn’t go that way. These blacks here. I’m from Pretoria, and the blacks there are harmless. Here, they’re dangerous. Racists. They hate us. They’re racists.
(We turn and begin to follow him.)
Has everyone heard of apartheid? Has the whole world heard of apartheid? Have they? I suppose they have. Has the whole world heard of apartheid?
Well, yes, I answer, like the whole world has heard of Israel and Palestine.
But you know what they don’t know? You know what they don’t know? More blacks were killed by other blacks under apartheid than by whites. You know that? You know that? Now we’ve got a group of thugs running the country. A group of thugs. Blacks running the country.
I say: But weren’t the apartheid governments just a group of thugs? Aren’t all governments groups of thugs, on one level? Look at George Bush?
Agh, George Bush is ok. Here, you’re not safe. We’re not safe. I go to RAU, I’m a student at RAU. Rand Afrikaans University.
I interject: You mean, Johannesburg university? The name changed.
Whatever. I’m at RAU. I’m just here in Johannesburg for a bit. The blacks here are dangerous. When they rob someone, they torture them. They’re racists. If they just want to rob and kill quick, that’s different. But they kill them slow and torture them. All the farmers, the Afrikaner farmers, they’re having to leave the land. But we feed them. We provide food for them. And they try to kill us. My father was a farmer. I’m related to one of the most important Afrikaners in history, a leading Voortrekker, who tried to negotiate with the blacks. And they killed him. You know they think they should have the whole continent to themselves!
Didn’t the Afrikaners just want South Africa for themselves too? I ask.
We came here because there wasn’t enough land in Europe. That’s why the Voortrekkers came. But the blacks want it all to themselves. We came here and helped them. The land was empty. We set up farms and produced food. We’ve got to teach them, the blacks, how to farm. But we’re feeding them all, and even feeding the illegal immigrants. And they want to destroy our rugby. It’s always been a white man’s sport, but now they want a piece of that too. They’re destroying our rugby. It is for white men. And you know, the Americans were much worse. What they did to the native Americans! Much worse. The Afrikaners weren’t like that. That video, you know the video at Bloemfontein. You know I saw it. I understand those guys, I come from the same kind of culture. But it was bad what they did. They’re bad. But bits of it were funny you know. But it was bad. But the whole world goes crazy when a group of boys make a video – and no one says anything when a white is murdered in his own farm, or a woman like you gets raped. That happens all the time and no one says anything. The world is interested in a video. The video was bad, but they didn’t murder someone did they. They didn’t kill.
So, I ask, will you stay here?
I don’t care about the people. I care about the land. I’ll go to Australia. They’re looking for men like me with my qualifications. I’m going there. My parents, well they’ll stay. It’s hard for them. What would they do if they left? But I’m going. If Zuma comes in, I’m going.
Back on the main road. Nothing to say. We all shake hands. I feel sorry for him, deeply sorry. He looks scared, maybe even petrified, and terribly bitter and lonely. We say goodbye. He walks north, towards the garage, but I’m not at all sure that’s the way he really needs to go. He’s just walking trying to find purpose, trying to create purpose, trying to be sure, to be confident that he’s doing the right thing, making the right decisions. But he’s totally lost.