Last week I attended a writers workshop in Katlehong. Before departing suburbia I felt a little fearful. A week later I remain unable to pinpoint the root of my sense of apprehension. On hearing of my planned outing a few people advised along the lines of “Don’t go into the township alone”. Not going was not an option as I had made a commitment. One definable source of my disquiet was the fear of getting lost. I don’t think that Bono had Katlehong in mind when he wrote “Where the streets have no name”. The streets in Katlehong do have names but my GPS only recognised 1 street name in the directions given and that wasn’t the street of my destination. My map book was useless too, no street names were marked at all.
I have put off writing this post for a week for 2 reasons. I wanted to identify the source of my fear (not yet achieved) and I am ashamed of my fear. 5 years ago I spent considerable time in other neighbouring townships. During my political romance with COPE (Congress of the People) I was usually the only whitey at political meetings and campaigns. Those meetings were often held at night. I felt no fear then despite the fact that we were often in ANC strongholds where there was a hostile feeling toward COPE. I often took Fjord along with me in his pushchair. In a way I have never felt safer than when surrounded by my ‘comrades’ filled with ideological passion. Being no stranger to the townships makes this recent fear harder to pin down.
The directions which I was given were perfect and I arrived at my destination without a hitch. All apprehension melted away the moment the ladies at the workshop embraced me. The morning flew by. On my trip home the bakkie in front of me was carrying school girls in the open back, they smiled and waved at me with warmth and joy which embarrassed me. I felt sad and ashamed, why should a whitey in their neighbourhood be such a novelty? Why do whites generally avoid the townships? In total I drove for close to an hour without seeing another white face, why is that? Fear plays a part and I guess whites generally don’t have a reason to leave suburbia. Friendships are formed across colour lines but generally even those are nurtured in the safety of the suburbs where all races are neighbours.
Leaving Katlehong I ached a little. The place had a sense of honesty, warmth and truth. I was struck by the lack of pretence which characterises ‘my world’ the bullshit of materialism and the glut of stuff bought predominantly on credit which reduces image to mirage. I will not fear visiting a township again, on the contrary I would love a regular dose of real, however there is unlikely to be an imminent return. I simply don’t have reason or cause to step outside my comfort zone.