Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

Omens, visas and impossible life decisions

September 29, 2015

So, the world’s being weird to me. So weird it’s spooky.

Not quite the dream I had in mind.

Not quite the dream I had in mind.

Those who know me know I call myself an atheist. As in, I don’t believe in a godhead. The idea of a human figure running things is preposterous to me. Any spiritual force able to control and link all the world’s creatures is surely more ambiguous and more complicated than the dude in any of the books.

That doesn’t mean I don’t experience what other people call a spiritual life (I’ve seen a ghost), or enjoy religious rituals occasionally, particularly when it comes to the part where you eat and drink feel gratitude for the good things you have.

Being an atheist also doesn’t mean I don’t believe in forces beyond my control. Recently, I’ve been reminded that I have no choice but to do so, because I’ve felt like the world has been trying to tap me on the shoulder and tell me that I’m nobody. I’m nothing. I’m at the mercy of “It”, whatever “It” is.

I don’t know. I’m probably a pretty shitty atheist.

See, while I was trying to depart the USA for South Africa via the UK, first my sandles broke. Odd, timing wise, but no biggie. Then my other sandles broke, too. Then my car broke. But I found my way to the airport.

LAX Departures International

So close, and yet so very far.

Then, they didn’t let me on the plane because I lacked a UK transit visa. And then, just coincidentally, the UK visa site was down, so I couldn’t apply for a transit visa.

As a young twasa and soon to be sangoma who approached me uninvited in a bar once told me, you ignore messages from the spirit world at your peril. Two days ago, I decided to listen to what I think the world is saying. I was going to get a new apartment in Cali, and see how that went for a year or so. If I didn’t, I feared that the next thing “It” would do is break my legs to keep me here.

Of course, I didn’t get the apartment because they don’t take freelancers and I don’t have six months rent to advance the landlord – not after everything I’ve had to deal with recently. That’s the one landlord that replied to me at all. Most just let me twist in the wind.

So I’m back to nowheresville, limboing from day to day, wondering what the hell I’m supposed to do now. The world and people around me seem unreal, and I’m never sure where I’m waking up until I open my eyes and look around me.

this shit is bananas

This Shit is Bananas. No kidding.


Life’s full of bumps. Yes. And oddly, all the images on this post were snapped in the last 48 hours – as if some all powerful force feels the need to state the bleeding obvious every time I round a street corner.

I know things could be worse, so I’m trying to stay grateful, but I feel physically tired and heavy and very afraid right now.

I wrote about UK Visas and Human Kindness  (hint: they’re opposing forces) in my News24 column this week.

Nieu and old and new Bethesda

December 29, 2013

Being on holiday in South Africa is a chance to open your eyes, open your mind, and sometimes escape your worst fears. Of course, not everybody gets that.

It's hard to tell what century it is from here.

It’s in the middle of somewhere beautiful.

It’s hard to tell what year it is in Nieu Bethesda, at night. It’s starlight – bright bright stars like you haven’t seen for years. But in the day it’s differently populated, by latter-day hippies. The township and the town intersect much more than in most small towns because it’s all so close, and the houses are close to the same size. Easy to see why lefties love it there. There’s a gentleness to it. You can sleep with your doors open and mean it.

Or – you can if you leave your fears behind you.

I’d come freshly inspired by an amazing experience in Cape Town – read the column on News24.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 11.16.05 AM

This is where my bag went missing. Each of those little white dots is a minibus taxi that arrived / left full of strangers.

My mom and I took long walks around the small town, looking at things, talking about the year gone by, sliding around in the mud from the afternoon rainstorms. And we saw two sides of the town.

Honesty shop - you go take what you want, and put your cash in a tin by the door.

Honesty shop – you go take what you want, and put your cash in a tin by the door.

The shop is guarded only by this terrifying dog.

The shop is guarded only by this terrifying dog.

And then there was this ugly-ass house. Even from a distance, you could tell the people who built it didn’t understand where they were.


Why did they make a double story – ruining the next door neighbors’ view – when there’s so much space to build?

We went in for a closer look.


KKK overtones. Ugly. And as another resident says: “So unnecessary.” Not surprisingly, this brick box full of fear belongs to people from Joburg who, to the locals’ relief, only come to town for a few weeks a year.


For every sad story, there's a happy one like this.

For every sad story, there’s a happy one like this.

For every extremist with a gun, there's a tannie with ostrich feather dusters who appeals to your better nature.

For every extremist with a gun, there’s a tannie with ostrich feather dusters who appeals to your better nature. A photo from a coffee stop in the Karoo… Translation – “God says: You may not steal and that is that! So eat and drink, look and dig around and pay and drive safely on with a clean conscience. Amen! Amen!”

South Africa has been good to me. I know not everybody has it so lucky. But I wanted to put it out there, over the chorus of whining from homesick, paranoid expats all over the world. I’m in my happiest place on earth.

Don’t tell me this doesn’t look the way it is…

November 1, 2013

Are the recent UK Visa Laws a teeny bit racisty? I hate to say it – but is there any other way to see it?

I’m angry that I have to work so much harder now, as a South African citizen and holder of only a South African passport, to go to the UK or anywhere in Europe. I want to meet my niece and nephew. I want to go to the film festival in Paris where my short is screening. But I can’t risk booking the ticket. The visa process could take as long as 60 days!

So I started looking into when South Africa became country non grata, and wound up writing a column about it for News24 this week (will link when it’s live). Here are the bare bones of what I discovered when I researched this issue.

South Africa is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Commonwealth nations lie all over the map.

Commonwealth nations lie all over the map.

But all nations in the commonwealth are not equal in the eyes of the Brits. If you’re from Canada, Australia or New Zealand you’re welcome in the UK without an invitation. Just show up and you’re in. If you’re from South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland… Let’s see… Jamaica… India… you are required to spend a small fortune and up to 60 days applying for a visa before they’ll be kind enough to let you come to their damp island and spend your hard earned inferior currency. At one point, South Africa was on the English guest list. This was when we still had apartheid.

Have a look and see who's not welcome. Then think a bit about why.

Have a look and see who’s not welcome. Then think a bit about why. If you’re from the USA – not even a commonwealth member – you get a free pass too.

Here it is put another way… for the slow people.


And I think this probably means I won’t be getting a visa anytime soon!

Braai me a liver… my beef with barbecue.

September 27, 2010

Americans have many great things. Ok, a lot of them don’t really belong to them… like Ohio, or Michigan, for example, and half of what should be Mexico (what’s it called now – New Mexico? California? Oh, both?)… although thanks to the need for cheap labour and the resultant immigration, this injustice is gradually being reversed. But stop feeling smug, because this makes them no different to people anywhere in the world. All land has, at some point, been stolen. Yes, Shaka Zulu, I’m talking to you. It’s the top stolen item of choice worldwide, and how much you can fight about it only really correlates directly with how far back in humanity’s sordid history of violence you’re prepared to go. Doesn’t make it right, but who’s going to stop first? Not you, right?

One of the first T-Shirts I saw in the USA - at Atlanta Airport featured this poster. We're all immigrants. As one poster commented on, "I freaking love this! Give this country back to the natives, and forget the whole 1492 thing ever happened."

America has many great things. Great education. Great land. Great money. Great patriotic unity. A pretty cool flag. Amazing films and music. Even very beautiful places. Cheeseburgers. And a persona that’s made them the most popular kid in the world – even if they can be a mean girl sometimes.

But one great thing they do not have is the braai. Why no braai? Well it’s because the wild, wild, west is in truth just nowhere near as wild as the quietest suburban cul-de-sac in Cape Town. John Wayne has nothing on the average cop in Hillbrow. Africa is not for sissies, like Syd Kitchen sings. And braais are primal things. As I said on twitter today, I never thought for a second I’d wind up being one of those people that arrived in a foreign country and immediately started trying to find the biltong stand. But I am one of those people. In Atlanta airport, I was stuck waiting for hours, with no idea what to eat. I remember arriving in Madagascar and meeting a South African on an island. I knew he was one even before I saw him cutting bits of biltong off a stick with his knife. Turns out he couldn’t get cow there, so he’d been making it biltong with the local water buffalo. South Africans make biltong out of fish, Chicken, ostrich, crocodile, wildebees, buck, and ja, boet. Keep an eye on your pets, cause they’re next.

The American equivalent – beef jerky – is nothing like biltong, and despite some well-targeted Gorilla Advertising (the spelling is deliberate) on cool sites like, beef jerky will always taste like biltong that’s already been through a couple of guys, then just been glued together with corn starch.

All the way across the USA, my sister from another mother @lihle_z, who also recently moved to the states, replied to my mournful Sunday biltong tweet: “Same here! Lol!” Ah, how we lolled.

And then I started organising Braai Day USA. It’s a slightly smaller affair than South Africa’s #braaiday – an event so important that everyone from Helen Zille to AZAPO has to weigh in on whether it’s a bastion of racism or a unifying force, while 99% of South Africans don’t give a fuck provided there’s plenty of beer, boerewors, seshebo, and krummel/putupap to keep their mouths full.

So here’s a quick rundown of what separates the braai from the barbecue.

Braais are made on fires: This most important characteristic of the braai is what sets it apart. Wood fires smell different, generate human-seeking smoke that it takes a real South African to survive, and can go out or burn down your house. Gas barbecues are controlled heat sources, childfriendly, and for wimps.

Braais taste better: Food cooked on gas tastes completely different from food cooked on port jackson, under the shade of your rapidly blackening indigenous yellow-wood shrub.

Braais are macho: Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean they’re for men… although men are more easily suckered into doing the cooking at a braai than at any other occasion. At a braai, fighting for your place at the fire, and the placement of your bring-and-braai meat, is completely acceptable, and transcends social boundaries. It’s quite acceptable to tell your boss to fuck off and move up at a Braai, or to leave your potjie alone.

In some South African cultures, specially in the small Afrikaans towns, the braaiplek is the only place that men are permitted to decorate. Their wives tend to cover all other available space in doilies, and pink stuff, including the marital bed. Tuisnyverheid (hand craft) shops in areas behind what's known as the "boerewors curtain" (like the iron curtain) cater to male decorating urges as best they can with signs like these.

Braais are for sharing: Van-confusus say: Everyone who brung to braai must brung enough for everyone. There will always be way too much meat at a braai – for there shalt always be sufficient to sacrifice half to the gods of beer, and half to the fridge clean out next week – and although you fight for cooking space, you never, ever fight over cooked food. “Help yourself”. Unlike at BBQs where guests may contribute cash, cookies, salad, or booze – but rarely meat.

Braais take hours, even days: Braais are not about the food. Nobody has ever complained that a braai sucked because all the meat was blackened to death. Braais are about the primal experience of hanging around around a fire. This can and should involve food, but it’s not the point. I have been to braais that began only once the alcohol ran out. Barbecues are tragically efficient. No sooner have they turned the gas on than it’s lit itself. Then the meat is cooked. And within less than an hour, it’s all over.

Braais are for the whole farm: Meaning it will involve the death and marination of every animal in every isle of the supermarket except the dogs, cats and other pets. Expect Lamb, Chicken, Pork, Beef, fish, boerewors, small sausages like chippolatas, and the occasional veggie burger to share the grill. Barbeques are limited to pork things and burger patties.

South African meat is more lekker: It just is. In every way – how it’s farmed, how it looks wrapped up in a supermarket, and how it tastes. American chickens, for example, are free to range. But since they’re too interbred to walk… well they don’t range much. It’s ridiculous. That’s why America won’t let foreign meat in on domestic airplanes. Once Americans had tasted the stuff we smuggled over the border they’d never eat at an in-and-out burger again. My mouth waters at the thought of that chicken I wrapped in foil, that lamb chop with mash, that meat salad at Mzoli’s… that potjie that I cooked until the meat fell off the bones, and we could all barely stand.

Braais are served on china, tjina: There will always be exceptions, but the idea is usually that you try and sit around a table to eat, with proper plates, knives, and forks. This is serious food – so treat it with respect.

When you braai, accessoraais Potato salad, mielies (that’s not-sweet-corn), foil-roasted veggies (garlic, potatoes, sweet potatos, onions), beans, cole-slaw, garlic bread, putupap (krummel, ideally) and braaibrootjies… starch rules and should all be cooked on the braai, unless you have a British passport or something, you soutpiel. Plus (especially in Durban) you’ll need some hot sauce, usually ‘seshebo – tomato, onion, an d plenty of chilli. Guests should also be offered so many different chips and dips before the food is ready in an attempt to keep them sober, that they can’t really eat when their food is cooked.

And when it’s all over… it’s not over! It’s traditional for the drunken guests who haven’t yet bred themselves a litter of screaming kids to heap more wood on the fire as soon as the last meat’s off, open another bottle of wine, and sit around the fire until a) someone drags them home, or b) someone starts crying, someone or c) some bright spark realises that the hosts have gotten the moer in and gone to bed, leaving the guests to break all their plates while “cleaning up” d) a fight breaks out over politics. Eish – not again.

All South Africans braai: They may do it while watching rugby, soccer, cricket, or just while drinking. They may not drink. They may not eat pork, may eat halaal, or kosher, or perhaps only fish – like smoorsnoek – or maybe only veggies. Or they may just light the fire for no reason except for light to drink by. But we all do it. It brings us together, whether we do it together or not.

*Having said all this against America’s second-favourite way of cooking things (deep frying is easily the first), I’ll have to add that I’ve really enjoyed at least one BBQ since arriving in the States, and that it has its own charm… real guacamole dip, for one. Home brewed beer, for another. And someone brought soft, chewy chocolate chip cookies for dessert, which was truly awesome. The lack of drama is still foreign to me, but in time I’m sure I’ll come to find it refreshing in its own way.

What is it like? Where I’m from.

September 19, 2010

A friend (I think) from California asked me over a frozen yogurt what I missed most about South Africa. “Ah” I said, for my land is beautiful. Well it’s my land for now. Malema KAN LIKE 2 HAV. But for now… no I didn’t bring that up. I have realised that a lot of the expats’ whining is really boasting – an attempt to make themselves sound interesting by pretending that their rich, middle class lives were really more in danger than those of the millions of (yes, majority black, but not only) people who are so poor that they know the police won’t come if they call.

It was Friday night, and Orange pumped… like the last pulses of a dying aorta. Cars dawdled home in time for pumpkin hour. Cyclists broke the 25mph speed limit, their spokes hissing. My arteries pulsated with joy and pain in response to a dose of “cookie dough” flavoured sweetness. And actually, I was having a cool time, in my own weird way.

I told him I missed the mix of voices most. And that is true. Here are a few that make sense of it for me – just stuff I’ve plucked off my South African friends’ facebook profiles (with their permission) or been sent by mail by them (and yes, I did ask before blogging).

Sent by email. Malema is "youth" leader of approximately 40 years whom the media ridicule, but who has a surprising amount of support. He's awful. Like a post-mugabe-post-joke media monster... who just won't die. But he's funny!

This is not a joke. Recommended to me by Facebook, which as in very poor taste, given the source...

New U. New You? Is this a joke? Sent to me by an ex, who says he could never find this street again, or any information about the supposed union. Taken in Jozi somewhere. Down a side street. Somewhere.

And then there’s this – a conversation I found on facebook and am using with permission, on condition I change the names… so I went with A (for the African person, who really is black) and B (for the Afrikaans person. who really is African, too). This conversation illustrates the openness and fearlessness with which South Africans address racial issues. Something I really miss here. Because it’s not like there’s no racism here. It’s just prettied up with this veil of so-called good manners… which really means not mentioning it at all, unless you’re entitled to by being African American, or Mexican-American.

Well, from someone who’s actually kinda like BEEN to africa..


This is the shop, launched by an ex colleague. An upmarket shop for weaves and wigs and such.

Translations for Amerians:
1. Baas=Massa
2. the weird English is mockery of the way some people speak – sometimes because English is their third language, sometimes because they’re working in a servile personality they can leave at work. In this case, my former colleagues, of various races, are all taking the piss of course…

Someone posted the picture together with a comment like “Ohhh. This is why A left. Look how well she’s doing for herself out there…”

Quoted convo follows (only names are changed)

A at least am making a living rather than looting from people….like someone’s ancestors!!!
9 hours ago ·
M O I can supply some mopcaps to cover those afro’s !
8 hours ago ·
A ‎@ mark for free???
8 hours ago ·
W I would also buy hair if….
6 hours ago ·
A haaaaaaaaaa OMG W….well I was working in the fields (farm) and given no time to take care of my hair… can’t blame me!!!!
3 hours ago ·
W Did you say work?
3 hours ago ·
A yes that thing my aunt does in your mama’s kitchen is called work, that thing my uncle does in your garden is called……not sittign in the sun tanning ….WORK yes you read it right!!!
3 hours ago ·
WC You two need to get a room…
2 hours ago ·
A he started it…….I think W likes me….its OK W you won’t get arresred we can be a couple its allowed…..
2 hours ago ·
WC I think it’s mutual…Is that why you moved to JHB, A?
2 hours ago ·
WG You should have learned from you aunt and uncle.
2 hours ago ·
WC Ouch!
2 hours ago ·
A nah…I was weatching baas and now am using those skills…..thanks for alowing my aunt to bring me to work…i got a chance to watch how baas moves….look at me now!!!
2 hours ago ·

Maybe I’m weird, but this is the shit I miss.

“Were you there for the World Cup?”

August 27, 2010

“Oh wow… that must have been like amazing.”

I’ve been getting this a lot the last couple of days, because I’ve been meeting a lot of people at College-organised mixers for graduate film students, and my accent always attracts attention. I was wearing a BAFANA T-Shirt today. And it was amazing. Remember how amazing it was? As I always say when I’m asked, I was so lucky to have been able to say a (temporary) farewell to my country at a time when it was in such a damn good mood.

world cup mural on bronx wall

A mural of a soccer star painted on the wall of Bronx, Cape Town's most famous gay club, taken during a Soccer World Cup 2010 street party for Germany vs Argentina. Germany won.

Blast from the past: Die, lady.

July 28, 2010

Every day, on my way to work, or out, or out again – Sea Point is like a village or an African New York, so you walk everywhere and everything you need day to day is within 100 metres – I see this sign on the ladies toilet.

I’ll miss the way this sign has helped me track my personal changes. Once, years ago when I first moved in to share a flat for two months with a lovely lady, it seemed to say “just die.” Now, it’s just funny, and part of my life at Shelbourne – a slightly run-down old-style Sea Point block in which one of the lifts is always “under maintenance” for a week or two, the parque floor tiles clatter as you tip-toe, and thank god, because all this keeps the rent down. It’s also the block in which the famous South African Afrikaans poet Ingrid Jonker lived (not sure which flat) when she walked into the sea and drowned herself; deliberately, or drunkenly by accident.

I have years of archived signs on my letterdash blog, so will be collecting them here.

Football fever – we’re all down with it, with no sign of recovery

June 11, 2010

Brazilian doggies photographed on the Sea Point Promenade, Cape Town, South Africa.

It’s ceraaaaaazy. In our office, a bunch of chicks just ambushed some dedicated workers with their Vuvus. Everyone’s wearing yellow – even the white people who look universally crap in yellow. And I can’t help it. As my friend Selwyn said, shortly after buying a stolen car flag from a bergie woman, “It’s like the day before Christmas.” Selwyn LOVES Christmas even more than I do. I think being Jewish he gets all the fun, and none of the slight religious guilt. Anyhow, I gave him shit about buying stolen property, but when some people on a roof of the flats opposite the wine bar we were in started blowing their Vuvus at us, I waved the flag in response. It was already stolen, anyway, right?

Well, not EVERYbody.

Tweeted by @comicaltshepo and not because he agrees with it I don’t think – thanks for the photo.

Yep, there are always the people who don’t want to enjoy it, for fear that having a bit of fun will instantly transform them into Nazis when they feel that swell of patriotism, that opiate of the people. But I’m not going to let Hitler’s fuckups or whining South African afropessimists ruin my World Cup. If drugs were as harmless as this, I’d do them. Another friend (and colleague ) Anton Marshall agrees. As does Dorothy Black.

I hope we win. But even if we don’t, as Selwyn said, we do.