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  • Thandi Sebe

Cape Town Stories 27

Updated: May 17

There is an old bric-a-brac shop on Woodstock main road, lodged between another second hand store and a shop that sells everything from occapipes to blankets and pepper steak pies, not far off from the area’s police station. The store has been there for decades, selling a range of miscellanaous things, but this was my first time to enter the dusty room of hidden treasures. I went in looking for a glass vase for my fireplace countertop, which I found soon enough amidst other glass containers and a large grey container which upon my enquiry turned out to be a farm device used to seperate cream from milk. Or something like that. I have forgotten, or did not quite understand in the first place. After finding what I came for and placing the vase on the counter I suddenly remembered a whole list of other things that I probably needed for my new home: picture frames, plates, little decorative things that serve no other purpose but too attract dust and, perhaps more importantly a soup ladle because I had been using one of the two cups in my possession to scoop creamy coconut pumpkin soup into a fruit bowl the last days. As I squeezed through dusty isles in search of these necessities, I started chatting to the young Rasta who had been watching videos on his phone. If the conversation that I was striking up with him came as an interruption to his viewing pleasure he did not make me notice it and so I continued commenting on the gadgets that I found and enquiring about things that looked unfamiliar. When he got out the card machine for me to pay he told me he would gift me the soup ladle. Something he said while he punched in the total amount made me wonder if we knew each other from back in the day and so I asked him his age and we quickly discovered that we actually must have met in the past; he was friends with a lot of Woodstock locals that I had spent time with in my younger years and I had probably even spent some of those hours in his home, sitting, chatting, smoking weed, way back when I was in my mid teens and discovering that there was a world outside of my school. As these conversations go with people you have probably not seen in over a decade, Young Rasta filled me in about some of the tragedies that had taken place over the last years: short Rasta now had twins, no job, was struggling with a tik addiction while feeding his family on the meager earnings of working as a car guard sporadically. So and so’s sister, also battling with a tik addiction, was feeding even more mouths, so and so had died, so had his brother and a whole lot of others who by comparsion were doing well, were still struggling nonetheless. The conversation turned primarily to the destructiveness of drugs; I had just recently seen two men shoot up heroin in the middle of the day on a sidewalk of the CBD, something I had never before seen in public during business hours and something that had shocked me and made me wonder whether drugs were becoming more easily accessible and who was selling them to the youngins on the streets. As we spoke, a tall Coloured man entered the shop. I could not tell you his age, but I suspect it must be somewhere upward of 50, although probably older-looking than he actually was, with a face and demeanor that reveals a life lived full of ups and downs but perhaps harsher downs than the average person has experienced. As he entered with the sunlight falling in behind him, he caught a scrap of our conversation and immediately related his own personal experience with drugs: he had sent his sister’s daughter to rehab three times, three times she came back out and relapsed almost immediately, thousands of Rands down the drain for healing that never happened. After the third time of money wasted on centres that did nothing but eat your money, he sent her to Mauritius for 2 months and said that, „she is fine now, no more drugs“. No more drugs, not even weed. Understandibly he had nothing good to say about rehabilitation centres. Young Rasta also had no faith in the system, his system and approach to getting off of drugs was a different one and entails mere willpower and nothing much else. He explained to me his own personal journey, one of extreme determination, of sitting himself intentionally into a circle of friends passing around a pipe or lightbulb or whatever it is that is used to fill lungs with the white smoke of tik. When it reached him he would decline, shivering as his body craved the hit. He did this again and again, intentionally, for a whole month, until, he told me, he was finally „over it“; he had overcome his addiction by testing himself. As much as the story impressed me, I wondered where the ability to draw such willpower comes from – I myself have succumbed to the temptation of a few slabs of chocolate in the middle of the night too many a time and if some refined sugar can make me raise myself from the comfort of my bed in the early hours of the morning just to satisfy that craving, then I can only call myself lucky that I have never dabbled in drugs stronger than cane sugar, because I clearly have no access to any sort of willpower. The conversation turned from drugs to community, from community to gentrification, although no one ever used that word. The older Coloured man was a Gympie Street resident, one of the few original residents still living there today after years of development in the area. He told me that many of those who left Woodstock during this period have over the years returned, only to now sleep on the streets in front of the houses that they once called home. He relayed the story of the day the white man came with his bakkie, a suitcase of money with him, bundles of R 10 000 notes neatly piled one on top of the other. He handed a bundle out to everyone willing to relocate to Blikkiesdorp and start a new life in the place that they soon will have discovered to be a triste camp with one-room shacks strewn across sandy land. The older Coloured man who works at a church not far off said that he regularly buries bodies of former Woodstock residents who moved to Blikkiesdorp only to die a horrible death some years later – rape, murder, drugs; this new place that they were lured to is not a home but a hell-hole and not fit to house human beings. There was a point during our conversation that I no longer wanted to listen to it, I had entered the shop to buy a decorative vase and some other utensils, not to listen to sad stories set in the neighbourhood that I grew up in. I left rather abruptly, mumbled something about having to send some emails before Eskom turned off the power again, waved goodbye and wished them well and then hopped on to my scooter. I sped off, the vase dangling in a plastic bag blowing in the South Easter wind that is said to clean the city of it’s dirty air. But there is no South Easter strong enough to blow away the pain and suffering that people have become so used to living with. Perhaps a bit too dramatic, but sometimes I wonder if the mountain that this city leans against, the Devil’s Peak, carries this name for the evils that have been perpetrated here. Sometimes I suspect it might be so.

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