The Day Grace Came

What enlightened employers, I thought when I heard that their domestic worker lived in their house with them, and not in servant’s quarters. Now their parents were coming from overseas for a two-week holiday, so they were booking her into our Air BnB round the corner for that time. They forgot to mention her name.

She stepped out of her employers’ car on arrival, huge and stately, carrying herself with aplomb. Her hair was beautifully plaited and arranged mainly on one side of her head. In South Africa one needs to mention – none of them was white. When I stepped towards her, she touched my shoulder and inclined her head towards me. I felt an enormous need for acceptance, warmth. Her name was Grace.

Two days passed, and I didn’t see her. She was gone when I got up at 7, and came home after I’d taken Irang out for her last wee walk at 9pm. When she came home on the third day, still looking groomed, I mentioned that she was working hard. “Yes, my schedule is hectic,” she smiled, so dignified. Hectic? I thought. It’s exploitive, and now I know why they want you in the house. But I bit my tongue because I’m running the BnB for someone else. Don’t stir.

The next day Puseletso, our house helper two days a week, was scheduled to clean that room and change the sheets and towels. However, she came to me to announce, “I can’t clean that room. It’s too untidy. Clothes everywhere. And she’s only slept on the sheets for two nights, so she’s all right.” Now Puseletso is experienced and I’m a stand-in. Also, when I’m taken by surprise, I tend to react on the lenient side, a fact which my children exploited brilliantly. So I didn’t say, No it’s three nights, or Let me check with the owner. I said, “Oh. All right then.”

The next cleaning day was Thursday, which was Human Rights Day. Puseletso would not be working, of course, but of course Grace was. So I was on cleaning duty, and when I went into Grace’s room, I saw what Puselesto had meant. It looked as if a bomb had hit it, but I tackled it with determination. Pick up one tissue at a time, I thought. Fold the clothes and put them in piles on the desk – blouses, underwear, socks.. The really dirty clothes were in the laundry basket – it was full. I didn’t think about it. Too much to do. Ah, here’s the lid for that open jar of cream. Ah, this must be the net that keeps her gorgeous hair in place while she is sleeping. Another plastic shopping bag with left-over KFC. It was clear to me that she took all her rage out on her own body. I told myself not to judge. With hours like that, all she could do was eat take-aways for comfort and drop into bed to sleep at night.

Eventually the towels and linen were on the washing line and I could vacuum and dust. I brought the fresh sheets and made the bed; replaced the towels. Now that looks welcoming, I thought. She deserves it.

Then my eye fell on the corner of the laundry basket sticking out from under the bed. Our policy is that guests may use the washing machine. We show them the ropes, and it’s over to them. That works well with vacationing Parisians, but when would I show her? When would she do it? I remembered my childhood – there was always a black woman to pick up after me, do our laundry, cook our dinners… Mom never expected them to work hours like Grace’s, and we were taught to be respectful and say please and thank you. Big deal. Where were her kids? I had never asked. And this was Human Rights Day.

I took the basket to the scullery and put on another load of washing, hung it out and folded it neatly when it was dry. Thank you for the chance to pay it forward for one day. I hoped she wouldn’t be too grateful. I wanted her to be the madam – this was my Madam and Eve moment, I smiled to myself. It occurred to me that she would not know what usually happened at an Air BnB; how should she?

Indeed, when I saw her that evening and mentioned, “I didn’t iron any of your laundry,” the queen could not have been more gracious. “Never mind, dear. I appreciate it.”

That weekend I was out for much of Saturday morning. When I got back, I heard Grace talking in the kitchen area; I thought she was on her phone. I’d been looking forward to a swim, so I put on my swimsuit, wrapped a towel around myself and headed through the dining room towards the pool. Around the dining room table were five people. Grace happily introduced me to her two sisters, brother-in-law and niece. We had a pleasant chat and I went for my swim. While I was swimming, I remembered that one of the house rules the owner had mentioned was No Visitors. I’m not suited to doing this job, I thought. Surprised again, and too lenient again, but what should I have said? Walking back, I exchanged pleasantries again and noticed the glasses of sugary cooldrink, KFC boxes and more all spread out for their little party. Back in my room I worried. Could Grace think the Air BnB services included this kind of cleaning up? If they did clean up themselves, would they use the recycling bin properly?

I was still wondering how I would deal with the situation when I fell asleep. I woke up to a roar. Good heavens, that sounded like our vacuum cleaner. Yes, for sure, and it got so close to my door that Irang gave a protective yap. Grace must be vacuuming the entire house.  She must have, like the pro she is, easily found the vacuum cleaner in the owner’s linen cupboard and taken it out to use. Wow! When I’d changed, I went to make a cup of tea. First, the dining room – oh great; spotless. The glass on the table shining without a smudge. What about the kitchen? Ditto. I opened the waste and recycling bins – nothing. The visitors had taken all the scraps and litter away with them. Bless their hearts. Grace is never going to hear from me that visitors are not allowed, I vowed. She had mentioned that they hadn’t had a chance to see one another for the longest time.  I realised how ugly my thoughts had been, that she might not clean up when she had a chance. Shame on me.

Next Thursday I will do her laundry again, although Puseletso will object. I am so grateful for the day that Grace came into my life and heart.

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Homeless in Cape Town

Homeless in Cape Town
          by Melanie Steyn

I saw St Christopher today
I see him almost every day.
He strides around the Southern Suburbs
And waves at every single car.

No one gives a second glance,
His default begging mode ignored.
He crosses mountains, waving, blessing
Waving, his household on his back.

Reclining on the Sea Point wall
Is Francis talking to a bird
That tilts its head to hear
That beatific voice of love.

Cecilia is lost in song
And dances on the twilight beach
With the groom she’s serenading
In her intoxicated heart.

For thirty coins of Friday’s pay
The bottle store has got its cut
And in the Mowbray Main Road gutter
Lies Christ, out, spread-eagled.

Photo by 2|Oceansvibe.com

My Festive Season


A sailor walking among African captives in the hold of a slave ship. From the book Revelations of a Slave Smuggler published in 1860. 
Sasha

According to the newspapers, Clifton would seem to be the only thing that happened in Cape Town this festive season. Well, I experienced it differently. During the week of the Clifton saga (See   https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2018-12-30-clifton-4th-beach-of-slaughtered-sheep-drowned-slaves-and-collective-rituals/ ) I had these interactions with brown, white and black people. Doesn’t matter which is which.

On the Monday morning we heard that security men had told people to leave the white sandy beach at Clifton.

I was outside and I heard a voice shouting, Merry Christmas, Mama! I turned and saw Zaid hanging out of a car window up to his waist, in time to yell his greeting back.

When I met Zaid he was a beach bum, a hustler, an addict, but smiling and ready to help. He would help to pull boats across the beach, wash your car or have a chat. His girlfriend lived with him on the beach, and he told us they loved skinny dipping after dark. Once when I started looking for some change to give him, but he said, No, Mama, you give me enough.

Then the city locked the toilets, and winter came, but the rain did not. They could no longer wash cars, but they offered to wash the sand off people’s feet in buckets of sea water, before they got into their cars. He was popular. A group of divers sponsored him to learn diving, and he was loving it, he told me.

Later, he said he had joined the Simon’s Town initiative that was coordinating the homeless people, and he was emerging as a leader. He beat the drug habit, and stated studying properly.

On the Tuesday, our heads were whirling with accusations and lies about Clifton.

I went swimming in Gelncairn’s tidal pool. I was approaching the water across some rocks when a stranger offered me advice on a better place to enter. Once Sasha and I were swimming, both adults and children discovered that she would run and dive after a stick of seaweed. She was a great animal ambassador, giving some kids their first feel of a dog’s coat.

On the Wednesday, the Clifton story was developing with the mentioning of businessmen’s names and various denials.

I went to the mall but realized it was too hot to leave Sasha in the car, even for a short visit to Clicks. It must have been 30 degrees; there was no shade and she is a black dog. I couldn’t do it. So I found Loveous, a trolley guard who has helped me often before, and asked if I could hire him to hold onto my dog for 15 minutes. He readily agreed and took her leash. When I came out of Clicks, there was Sasha, waiting for me at the door, and Loveous beside her. He told me she had absolutely insisted, No, we must go! Come! Until she was at the right door to wait for me. We had a good laugh and I was very grateful for his sweet good humour.

On the Thursday the City of Cape Town still said it had no unwritten agreement with any private security company about Clifton.

We went walking around Kirstenbosch and a man who had his two young daughters with him, asked where the fairy tree was. My friend Jean pointed and advised them to sit very quietly under it and maybe the fairies would come. He thanked us seriously, and we all went on our way.

On the Friday I was walking in Pick n Pay when a member of the staff wished me an early Happy New Year. She saw that I was quite willing to give her a hug, and we both loved the exchange of goodwill.

That was the day a sheep was sacrificed on Clifton to ask for purification. I’m glad I didn’t see it, although I understand how intensely they were provoked by behaviour reminiscent of the methods of centuries of slavery, oppression and apartheid. My point is, on 2 June 2015 there had already been a solemn spiritual ceremony on Clifton Beach, a cleansing and healing ceremony that involved no shock tactics or slaughter. (See https://mg.co.za/article/2015-06-02-sa-beach-service-to-honour-slaves-drowned-in-1794-shipwreck) It was to honour the memory of the two hundred slaves who drowned there, when a slaver ship, the São José Paquete d’Africa, sank on 27 December 1794. Three hundred slaves survived, and were sold off to “free burghers”. Those 300 Masbiekers, from Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Mozambique, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Swaziland and KZN, are an integral part the African heritage of people still classified by the Apartheid terms ‘Black’ and ‘Coloured’.

 I just hope all the prayers for cleansing and an end to racism are answered. As my experiences this week, and those of thousands of other ordinary South Africans show, South Africans know how to do it if they are given half a chance. And a word of advice to the animal activists who were so concerned for that sheep: before you say another word about it, do investigate the conditions at your local abattoir. Do it before you have your next rack of lamb or leg of mutton with mint sauce.

[Thanks as always to Tariq, who shares his knowledge so generously on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/melletpt. ]

CAPE TOWN: Build a city that reflects our history

This is my opinion piece, which appeared in the Cape Times this morning.

Dear WhatsApp Security Group

When I arrived at Simon’s Town, I imagined that I would enjoy friendly neighbourliness. Instead, our WhatsApp security group has brought out the worst in us.

The first time I saw a post about passing “vagrants” I was horrified, because they were not given the benefit of the doubt, even for a moment. They were not men, not homeless people, just a menace. When I dared to post something about not losing our humanity, a neighbour nearly bit my head off. If I “needed to be perceived as” liberal, why didn’t I buy them tickets back to the Eastern Cape? I was apparently starting a ghetto.

Actually, one of the men told me he came from a Boland farm and during the drought he regretted it, because now he was often thirsty. He said that the Grootbaas, pointing to heaven, must know what he was doing, but he didn’t understand it. He was like a child.

I remember my Cape Town childhood, with the flower-sellers in Adderley Street and vendors selling fruit and fish from their horse-carts. I remember District Six alive, and how easy it was to exchange banter in the streets. What bitter irony, now that apartheid has gone, that our city is moving towards more perfect apartheid – and by design. I would have expected far more happy integration by now, with skin colour becoming ever less important.

Instead, I am assaulted by images of families weeping for homes they are losing; still being evicted. Hang your head in shame, Cape Town. What monster could conceive of a place like Wolwerivier, while at the same time the powerful are assisted? It is an open secret that the present authorities have a plan: Cape Town is to become a city for the rich.

Salt River and Woodstock are the District Sixes of the DA. Quaint and beautiful semi-detached homes of working class people are a hallmark of that area, and should be protected for their historical interest. But then, incredibly, not even the Bo-Kaap, our beautiful little Malaysia, was granted heritage status.

Further evidence of the nefarious plan to gentrify the whole of Cape Town is the neglect of the established areas for people of colour.  The on-again off-again promises to develop the hopelessly over-populated Masiphumele is a case in point – it has been dragging on for 15 years since the first promises were made!

On Heritage Day I heard Felicity Purchase talk to people in St Francis Church, Simon’s Town. Most of the people in the packed church had been bussed in from Gugulethu to commemorate the forced removals about 50 years ago. She said, “We should never lose the love we have for each other, even if you have been moved far away.” It was breath-taking hypocrisy. She said that apartheid had been “indefensible” but did not offer a shred of comfort or recompense from the present powers-that-be. She was prepared to exploit the generosity of spirit of the people and not prepared to examine her own behaviour for what was indefensible or lacking in love.

Cape Town was inhabited by the Khoena when Europeans arrived, and its history is one of streams of arrival: from Europe, from further north in Africa, from India, from West Africa and Madagascar, from St Helena, from Indonesia and Malaysia, and all these streams of diverse people, whether they came as servants of a commercial company, slaves or free men and women, built up the city we know today.  Who are we of this generation to decide that it will now be a playground-cum-dormitory for the wealthy of the world? Every one of the groups that were thrown together here should have a space, and our city should be helping them all, but especially those who need it most. Let us build a city that reflects our history, and our post-apartheid heart.

Melanie Steyn
Lecturer, Cornerstone Institute

 

The Tenth Voice: Simon’s Town Heritage. Camissa. For Patric Tariq Mellet.

Camissa
   for Patric Tariq Mellet
                    by Melanie Steyn

Martello Tower sparkles white. The gull
that perches there can see our past:
A bird’s eye view of all the streams that flowed
To reach this very minute. Come and fly
We’ll navigate the streams. After all,
We’ve seamen and sailors enough to help.
No knot too hard to tie: the blends and splices,
Whatever we need to secure the ties that bind.

And now, with Roman rock astern, we swoop
More distant years away to see the lXam,
The Khoi, both kinds of saints, and friends
Like Mary Kingsley.   Africa, Europe,
The East, all fed the waters that carry us.
We have a fleet of figureheads to choose.
Our strength is in diversity, the streams
That flow across our water-challenged land.

Our gull can see the future too. It looks
Ahead but has no voice to give advice.
Is it our albatross, and will it live,
Or die? Our diverse rivers can save its life
If they recognise their strength and run
Together, converge, become a flowing force,
A new Camissa, that hitches our hearts in a knot
To weather all storms, a blessing of Sweet Waters.

Today Patric Tariq Mellet calls himself a “heritage whisperer.” He has been fighting for equity and justice in South Africa since his early teens and spent many years in exile as a cadre of the ANC. Remaining true to his liberationist calling, he is aggrieved at the poor state of governance, endemic corruption and lack of adherence to the goals of rolling back poverty and improving the advancement of those trapped in hopelessness by the Political Estate in 21st century South Africa.

He does research into the peopling of South Africa and pays special attention to the “Coloured” group – a label that he rejects. His argument is that the group is African and heterogeneous, with many strands enriching its identity. His shares the fruits of his research generously a visit to his blog, Camissa People, https://camissapeople.wordpress.com/, is highly rewarding.

 

You can read about him on the SA History Online site: https://www.sahistory.org.za/people/patric-tariq-mellet.

Ninth Voice: Simon’s Town Heritage. Klawer Valley.

forced removals ruin

 Klawer Valley
                   by Melanie Steyn

Remember once we lived in paradise.
We were a perfect, live, community.
It’s not that life was easy. It was joy,
That quiet joy that means your home is yours,
That you can manage your daily work, and sleep
A sleep much like your children’s, sweet and deep.

Remember once we lived in paradise,
In Klawer Valley near the naval base.
We ran between the fiery aloes to see
A neighbour half a mile away, to take
Some milk, and we’d come home with fruit or meat.
Oh yes, it was like that in paradise.

Remember once we lived in paradise.
Remember edible mushrooms came out after rain,
The pink klipblom, and sometimes a sweet red disa.
My favourites were the protea pincushions, gold in
The golden light.   Oh yes, it got cold and dry,
And just like anywhere else, there were problems and fights.

But don’t forget that once we lived in paradise.
They came and told us they needed that land for a dam,
Evicted us and dumped us in the dust.
When we commemorate our homes each year
We see no dam. Each visit shows our homes
More derelict, more desolate.

Some tiny violet fynbos grows where once
We laid our heads, with yellow Cape weed at the door.
The parent rocks are claiming our stone-built homes.
These haunted ruins, broken like our hearts,
Will soon become a hill, no more, but we
Remember once we lived in paradise.

Simon’s Town was declared a white area on 1 September 1967. Forced removals had started two years before, with residents of Luyolo (a township established in the early 1900s for workers from the Eastern Cape who were extending the rail line from Simon’s Town to Kalk Bay) were removed to Gugulethu in 1965. About 1500 people had been living there at the time.
Other families affected by the forced removals were from Red Hill, Dido Valley, Glencairn, the Kloof, the Kraal, Seaforth, Goede Gift and Simon’s Town central, as well as Noordhoek, Sunnydale and surrounds. They were forced to move to Ocean View, Retreat, Heathfield and Grassy Park.
The ruins on Red Hill in a beautiful area called Klawer Valley, en route to the Lewis Gay Dam, are particularly poignant as the land was never used for anything else and the families return every year to commemorate what they had and what they lost.  As in so many cases. They are still fighting for restitution.

 

Source:

News 24 City Press: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/Local/Peoples-Post/remember-our-past-20170918 (2017)

The Eighth Voice in the Simon’s Town Heritage: The Saints

The Saints
by Melanie Steyn

I’m one of the saints, my name John Cotton,
From Tristan da Cunha we came to fish.
We came in our numbers to flee collapse:
The economy they said was bust.

We came with our knowledge, our trek-fishing skills,
We worked till we dropped, then worked some more.
And land skippers help us to this day
Locating the shoals we trawl with nets.

The waiting and hope, the pain and sweat,
And oh the sweet joy when we beach the cod end
The silver katonkel and yellowtail
That give us our supper, our cash, our life.

We sell our whole catch to human sharks
And these days the plastic harvest is good
But bring down our boats, let’s try our luck,
This fishing is in our blood and hearts.

St Helena island and its two dependencies Ascension and Tristan da Cunha islands feature in the history of the Western Cape. St Helena island was unpopulated when the Portuguese landed there 1502. From 1588 the British began to use St Helena as a port of call for all of their vessels travelling to the East. Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth at the time, granted the British East India Company a charter to govern St Helena as though it were part of England.

In 1795 as a result of the conflict in Europe involving England, France and Holland, Governor Brookes and his Council of War in St Helena, assembled a St Helena Force of 600 settlers and slaves to attack the Cape using ships of United East India Company, as it was now called. The British Crown had also assembled an invasion fleet and the St Helena Corps joined the force and took part in the Battle of Muizenberg in August 1796. The first ‘Saints’ to stay on in the Cape probably go back to the time of this invasion.

The largest group of ‘Saints’ to arrive in the Cape were those that became unemployed as a result of the economic pressures caused by the changeover from UEIC rule to direct Crown rule in 1836.

 

 

Source:

Camissa People: Cape Slavery and Indigene Heritage. PT Mellet.https://camissapeople.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/the-saints-in-our-heritage/