This has been a tough year for me and I’m spending its end in rustic incommunicado Platteland. Your last four Stoep Talks of 2018 do a sneaky thing and rerun some old Stoeps, or portions thereof.
To anyone who wonders if I am breaching the social contract, three things. First, I’m selecting bits I know at least one person finds re-readable. Second, I doubt you’d know they’re reruns if I hadn’t said so? Third, we select unabashedly from the cheerful.
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One I liked was the story of mlungu fading out of the hearing of what the new racists persist in calling my “demographic”. There was never anything rude about mlungu, contrary to hysterical scare-stories that do their paranoid rounds, but it’s race-fixated.
You can’t blame the person who says it - Zulu doesn’t have a term for “person”. It only knows “our kind of person”, umuntu, or “other kind of person”, umlungu. But you can rejoice in the way people grow out of it.
Only a few years ago, “father” was unthinkable and even more so its more familiar synonym “daddy”. Now they’re routine, sometimes in vernacular - baba, tata, ntate, rra. Sometimes they vary into grandpa (khulu), uncle (umalume) etcetera. Where once the act of greeting carried a built-in estranging element, embracing is the order of the day.
This is a prime exhibit in my case that South Africa is an amalgam of spectacularly inadequate politics full of race-type paranoia and an increasingly pleasant, often lovely, human-to-human relationship. Even while the politics descends from farce to disaster the foundation keeps ascending. It was okay being mlungu; it’s nicer being daddy, father or the equivalent in whichever language.
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Then the time I thought the police station was ignoring me. Was this the anti-white thing that we keep hearing about? Eventually I got a bit uptight and banged some counters.
It turned out that for rational reasons each of two branches believed I was safely being sorted by the other. Plain mistake. But there’s not mere apology, there’s a large shared laugh. Everyone’s day is made by an apparent offence being a non-offence.
It’s a bigger day-making because a slowly blurring barrier is being crossed. If we’d all had the same nursery rhymes and the same historic heroes this would have meant a minor chuckle. Because we come from different tributaries merging into the big stream it’s an outpouring of relief and togetherness - “whew, to think that for a moment it seemed we’d treated you rudely for coming from a different place!”
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Not to forget the driving licence eye-test: A hundred people moving one seat up at a time. That means 99 descents upon wood warm from someone else’s butt, yuck, but also means a dozen brief warm friendships, not least with the eye-inspector. Are there other places where getting your eyes tested has the by-product of getting your heart warmed?