GAIL BOWERS-WINTERS takes a day trip into the old homeland, and gets caught in the tangle of road works
The day starts and ends in darkness. As the setting sun seeps behind blue hazed mountains, you realise there’s no place to hide in Africa with a white skin. Come prepared. Be prepared. It’s STOP, GO, STOP, GO. Roadside vendors see trade in stationary vehicles forced to stop.
I watch a toddler inserting an empty plastic bottle into his navel. Perhaps he’s filling his trunk with imaginary fuel. I’m charmed before I realise he is syphoning urine from his bladder into the bottle, then like a jelly-nosed elephant at a water hole, spraying it into the air.
I wonder if some of the bottles of water for sale have been filled with roof top water and decanted in unsealed bottles. Wheels begin to turn, dust chokes life. You know you’re in Africa because of the grit between your teeth.
Cows anchored with short ropes from horns to hoof, walk shackled like prisoners on Robin Island. Apathy hangs in the dust. Chiefs select the local fortunates for work. Too much work, they complain. They demand that eight hours are reduced to five, and then to three hours, with full day rates. With outstretched hands they beg.
Mothers with babies strapped like corsets to their bodies in thick blankets, balance buckets on their heads. The sound of vehicle engines attract small children in abundance who cry out like cicadas, “Sweeeeeets”, “Sweeeeeets”.
Cows stand on beaches. Chickens exposed in dusty white plumage, their feet clasped by human hands, hang in vertical suspension. They are alive but helpless; hopelessly surrended to their fate. In town, as the ANC pump the music and dance in streets, the chickens diminish in cages left empty and the road becomes an open-air butchery. And so our wheels turn, onwards, forwards.
How far? Still far. Further. Three kilometres turns to 30 km, road signs pass. Even with a short cut, 29 km takes an hour and 57 minutes. We turn and turn, rattle, shake, and roll into the land that unfolds but in the light there is darkness, for this is Africa .by