Constantia is a scary place. You might mistake this statement for satire. But it’s not.
Despite history placing me on the same side of the tracks, the side of Us, the place makes me nervous . And I’m pretty sure it makes a lot other people nervous too. Like people who live on the flats. Funny thing is, people living on those leafy streets are also nervous. We’re all nervous. No matter how secured, how enveloped we are, we fear the lawlessness of anarchy. Shit lapping at our door. Yet that ‘shit’ we so fear, which took the form of Ses’khona activists carrying empty porta-pottis and campaigning for improved service delivery in informal settlements, on Monday rang the intercom we’ve installed on a high wall, a wall possibly topped with barbed wire, or electrified, and asked to speak to us.
All but one of us, according to the report in the Cape Times 29 April, a ‘born free’ teenager, showed enough humanity to open the door and engage with the activists who were, essentially, asking us to employ a little bit of imagination. Walk a mile in their shoes. Day in. Day out. No matter the demands of employers or public officials who can with the swipe of a pen destroy the flimsy stage which their life is constructed upon.
Of course, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for utility services, Ernst Sonnenberg, fans our fears by calling the activism to improve living conditions in informal settlements “thuggery”.
But who was being thuggish when Them asked for a conversation, and Us declined?
Oh. I know most of us were at work or, if home, engaged in work or the work of socialising, or doing nothing. It takes a lot of energy to make enough money to maintain so much property. Or manage all that debt. Especially when it’s at the expense of others. Or is it, at others’ expense?
But that’s no excuse. The fact is we help build the edifice that makes it impossible to have – not take – enough time to speak to another human being who we know we, or our forebears, or our generation, has exploited in some way. There’s also that fact that, despite how privileged we are and the networks and resources we have and have accumulated, we’re not sure if we’d be capable of getting to work ready to work the day if we had to line up for our morning shit on a porta-potti and wash ourself with cold water lugged from a standpipe and get children and general family to do the same and see them safely off to school (on public transport that is by no means safe) and have them all having had breakfast, and catch public transport ourself in time to get to the job we’ve got that’ll never pay us enough to escape our situation.
Ever wondered why that cashier may have been too exhausted to return our cheery 10am ‘hello’ with sufficient fervour? Think again. Think that if the situation was reversed the people at our door would be just like us.
It’s not easy walking in Constantia’s streets (sorry Constantia that you have the unfortunate honour of becoming a metaphor). They loom with lurking menace. Armed response prowls the suburbs, and then there’s the overzealous neighbourhood watch guy too stressed by making money and keeping his shit together. Too much caffeine. A bad stomach. And before you know it, just from trying to assert a little bit of dignity: “I am a South African citizen and I have the right to stroll down any public street I like,” and things have escalated so quickly you’re not even sure where you are anymore. Next thing you’re in a holding cell.
It was a Freedom Day holiday, for Mandela’s sake. Really!
Constantia’s dangerous man.
It takes courage, however misdirected by politics, to walk into those guarded and paranoid suburbs with a porta-potti in your hand.
You go try do something like that in Khayelitsha and see what you feel like. A target. That’s what. But they did it. Not to pour shit on our doorstep. But to ring our bell and ask us to speak to them – ’cause that’s what the survey was for, an introduction.
And we pissed on them.
That. Is a kak thing to do.
– Steve Kretzmann
According the Cape Argus report on iol.com Cheryl-Ann and Ivan Attenborough also engaged with the activists at Constantia Village shopping centre.