Cape Town’s reality is ‘actually ugly’
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Eusebius McKaiser writes likes he talks on his different platforms of radio, television, academia and newspaper columns. And his new book of essays is a conversational work aimed at discussing uniquely SA “issues”.
In some essays, McKaiser loses this reviewer because he can become rambling, but in others he is clear and engaging talking about race, sexuality and culture, using personal stories “as tools and writing devices”.
Asked why his mother hardly features in his essays, McKaiser says it is because they had an incredibly simple, straightforward relationship.
“When you write you focus on complications and that is why my father features more,” he says.
In the section on sexuality, McKaiser writes about his conservative father and his reaction to him coming out as gay.
He argues that there is a lack of self-criticism in our private actions and personal choices and the intimate links between the different spheres in private and public life.
When tackling Cape Town and coloured identity, McKaiser does not hold back. He describes his experience of this city’s “aggressive and persistent feral beggars” and how they assail you when you get out of a taxi.
But he is also at his sharpest when he nails down what most visitors and some Capetonians feel when the bergies approach them.
“”Mister! Mister! Something, please?” They looked about 20, or perhaps slightly older, but with the bodies of eight-year-olds, and certainly not taller. They looked and behaved like feral animals. I felt a mix of emotions: anger, annoyance, sadness,” he writes.
McKaiser, who is a political and social analyst at the Wits Centre for Ethics and also a radio talk show host, a debate coach, a master of ceremonies and a public speaker, says he is annoyed by the picture of Cape Town in brochures and other promotions as “a cosmopolitan and integrated city” because to him this does not reflect the truth.
“I am coloured. I love the coloured community, and it hurts to see how they live in Cape Town. Cape Town is brutally honest. It is inconvenient for wealthy (read liberal) Capetonians to be confronted with the truth in naked, unmediated brutal language. Yet what they miss is that I feel the fate of my cousins, siblings, uncles and aunts,” he writes.
He adds that Cape Town’s reality is “actually ugly” because it treats the coloured underclass like dirt and is still a city left with deep scars of apartheid – geographically, socially, materially and psychologically.
For McKaiser, Cape Town also brings back painful memories of his childhood in Grahamstown where the coloured community lived in pervasive poverty, lacked mobility and lived in ignorant bliss.
During the interview McKaiser adds: “Cape Town is another world, good for the blood pressure but (this city cannot handle) black people being upwardly mobile. In Joburg (where McKaiser lives) you get a sense of urgency and opportunity… it is the closest city to a London or New York, which feeds my restlessness – Cape Town slows me down.”
He says the essay on coloured people was most personal and he used the strongest language in it.
“There’s little pressure for coloured people to pull themselves up, they are fatalistic, downtrodden. Coloured people would do better by not feeling defeatist, they can do with a change in attitude to rise up and be successful. (But) there is nothing in social structures on the Cape Flats of can-do-ism,” he says.
McKaiser says there are no genuine liberal parties in SA. “Parties like the DA say they are liberal but they are not, they lack consistency – the ANC is more liberal than the DA.”
l A Bantu In My Bathroom retails at bookstores for R190.