Monday, January 09, 2012

Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa

Today was a crazy day. We were supposed to get out about 10 this morning and ended up leaving the hostel at 11:50 a.m. The tour guide was angry that we were not paying full price for the tour, even though, we'd drummed up additional business for him. They made 800 rand which was a lot less than he would have made if he'd had the courtesy to call and tell us he was delayed.

So the guy pouted for most of the journey there and then at the start of the tour, as we were about to go to the visit some residents who lived in an abandoned factory, the factory had been the site of a large fire too, but was now filled with shacks. He sat in the car and yelled at us to pay him 300 rand. We said no.

He called his brother, Freedom, whom I explained the situation to. We were cut off and then Freedom tried to call me back, but I didn't answer the call. Finally his brother and the driver, a sister who understood our plight and told her colleague that the time he was to pick us up was going to conflict with the tour they were on in Soweto.


He had the nerve to say that this was the worse tour he'd ever done. I agree, he took us places randomly, it felt as we didn't know where we were. We went to a Catholic church, but I don't know why it was a part of the tour. There we met two priests from Washington, who were a part of a parish in Oakland, Sacred Heart. I know the church and school. After the earthquake in 1986 the church had to be rebuilt. We had a bakery, sandwich shop across the street from it, Delightful Foods, Marcus Books was down the street (still is) and Kwaku had a African Learning Center next door to us.

It was a Pan African block with an artist shop on the other side of 4026 Grove Street. The street was renamed, Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

I digress.

So we look try to find Bonginkosi's friends. He lived here with his sister. Our driver lived here with he aunt. She showed me where. This place was rough, no running water, wet areas between the shacks. One had to climb over rocks and up blocks of partial stairs. It was often precarious especially when one wanted to avoid rodents--I presume mothers keep special watch over their children.

I am watching a film, called The Bang Bang Club as I write this. The film is about journalists, white photojournalists who are covering the conflict between Inkatha and African National Congress. The problem is the war is between two ethnic groups who have the same enemy, the Apartheid government. This war, perpetrated by the white South African government is distracting the world from the real atrocities--that is, the theft of a nation from a people.

We saw the hostels where the men lived during apartheid, the men who lived away from their families, working most of the year in Soweto in the mines.

This film, told from the perspective of a freelance photographer who lands in the middle of the conflict, gets nominated for a Pulitzer.

Sunday, January 8, 2012, on the ANCs 100th Anniversary, the Xhosa and Zulu, Sothu, live separately, go to separate schools--it's not a war, but after the agreement struck between the two political parties relationships are tenuous.

People are so angry or bitter or something besides happy, all I get are frowns and teeth sucking as only a pissed off South African can make (smile). A kid made the sound when I didn't give him money.

Today in Alexandra, where conditions are the worse I've seen to date, the people are so warm and friendly. They possess a spirit that remains undefeated, even in the face of circumstances where boy children at seven cannot live with their mothers in the women's hostel. It is a big place with 1000s of single units were the women share a kitchen and toilet/baths. Many women, young and older, still make their livings as domestic workers, just now, instead of working for families, they work for the South African government municipality.

I see black women cleaning toilets at the transit station, sweeping the city streets of Jo'burg, heads tied or wrapped at restaurants, while the men guard stores, police shopping malls. There are malls owned by black men, one South African in Sowetho, the other one in Jo'Burg and another I saw today, in Alexandra is owned by a Nigerian as is the one in Jo'burg.

Men sit around unable to find work while liquor signs are the main topic on billboards. I am happy to see a few small stores in the community. We buy candy for the little children we take photos of. One mother tells us that they haven't had sweets for a while. I buy twenty lollipops and twenty packs of bubble gum at one stand and twenty at another where the poor fellow has to run to several stores in both directions for change 30 rand from a 50 rand note. I would have bought more lollipops but he didn't have anymore.

One lady asked what brought us there, would our photographs get them out of the "shit" they were living in. I said, I certainly hoped so. Alexandra is so much worse that Soweto. Perhaps its the concentration of shacks, juxtaposed with the hostels which look like large apartments. Made out of brick, they remind me of the projects in New Orleans demolished after the great flood. They also look like the artist housing in New York. I think its called co-housing or something like that. In any case, it is subsidized housing there and here.

Now in New Orleans residents cannot find enough affordable housing since the demolitions.

We saw Mandela's old home there. Someone else lives there now. A community center highlighting the history of the area is under construction, but it has been under construction for years now. We were going to have an African meal, but the houseteraunt we went by wasn't open today. I was looking forward to a South African meal or at least seeing what one looked like.

This would have been the first meal included with a tour. I think we were to see a village, but that didn't happen or the visit to Sandton to see Mandela's statue, but I am happy we found Salaelo Maredi, and I got to see Alexandra.

Did I mention the famous director who was in exile in the United States? He produced plays in Berkeley and along the Pacific Northwest. One time while he was traveling he asked me to keep his drum. Pat, from Vukani Mawethu told me to go by the Alexandra clinic and ask for him, which we did. The first question had to do with his affiliation, Inkhata or ANC. I told them ANC.

We had to ask a lot and then this really nice woman, who worked in maternal childcare, took us around the clinic introducing me to other expats who all know each other. Finally she called her brother, who'd lived abroad and he had been a roommate of Salaelo's, talk about small world. He was still in Bloemfontein, but I called Selaelo and he invited me to go to Pretoria with him in the morning to check out his new play.

I am still trying to decide if I am going to Durban and to Cape Town. It is supposed to be really beautiful, but I am not sure if I feel like traveling. I'd like to see the countryside and the rural areas of South Africa, but I am not sure if I will see them on the minibus experience. I'd love to take the train, but I am not comfortable traveling alone given my experiences here, so we shall see (smile). Cape Town is not going anywhere.


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