House Shopping
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This is not a decapitated dog

Turns out Number 1 Son (who is also Number 2 and 3 son as he is in fact the only son. He is also Number 1 Child as I have no other. I mention this because I will be calling him Sunwun throughout.) needs a new house. Not that the old one in Oranjezicht is falling down or anything, but relocation became necessary when a concatenation of unavoidable events required that Sunwun, from being one of a pair, became a single. This is not something I choose to go into here, though I will certainly fictionalise it at some point in the future, when it has stopped hurting.

So roped into the process as the indulgent parent, I went, accompanied by Number 1 Daughter of Sunwun, to inspect a house to rent in Hout Bay.

Hout Bay: Pronounced, dear Brits and Yanks, ‘Hote’ or, if you are in the mood to anglicise it, ‘Howt.’. ‘Bay’ is pronounced Bay. ‘Hout’ means wood. So this place name joins the ranks of the daftest and least original names in the world. For example, ‘Cape Town.’ Being the Town that is situated on the Cape. Great name. In fact the whole province is called ‘The Cape’ which is spectacularly boring. Why ”Table Mountain” – it looks like a table…What was the original Khoi or San name? And the best example, ‘South Africa’, because the country is in the south. Yes, of Africa.

Uh, wait a minute. ‘Wood Bay?’ Huh?

Once a precious little fishing village, the town is a few miles south of Cape Town on the M63, a journey of about 40 minutes along one of the most awe-inspiring roads in the world. Once the hump between Table Mountain and Lions Head has been surmounted, the road swings merrily along the Atlantic seaboard on the right, mountains on the left past some of the prettiest beaches you can imagine. It’s the African Cote d’Azur, much more physically grand than the French version, and with cheaper food. Bigger mountains. Bluer ocean, with whales.

Hout Bay has gone from a period of white middle class expansion to a sudden stop. The expansion halted. Stopped. Started to reverse. Because with a suddenness that threw all the balls into the air, a squatter camp appeared just off a roundabout and right near the main road.. Called Imizamo Yethu which means “through our collective efforts”, this raggedy corrugated-iron and scrap wood township houses around 20,000 mainly black or “Coloured” (mixed race) residents on about 44 acres.

And so the preening middle-class white residents proceeded to lay eggs and allegations, mainly to do with the increase in the crime rate.

So yes, there is crime in Hout Bay. Apparently. I wrote about how the ice cream parlour lady faced three gunmen a couple of weeks ago, and all the white smart houses have fences topped with electrified wire. Signs proclaiming ‘Armed Response’ and ’24 Hour Surveillance’ are attached to each gate. The roaring of horribly betoothed hellhounds permeates the air.

And yet – and yet –

The house on xxxx street is a typical bourgeois South African bungalow. Spread over a hillside, with a sparkling swimming pool and Khoi Carp pond, surrounded by razor wire and electric fence, “three bedrooms, , and thoroughly modern state-of the art capacious kitchen and dining room, this is a home built for entertainment and luxurious living. Your comfort and safety are assured in this exclusive part of Hout Bay…At only R25,000 per month…” (Estate Agent’s description)

“Very nice”, said Sunwun daughter.

“Very nice” I agreed.

The next day we had another appointment, this time to view a house for sale. Only R2.8 million. “So cheap!” said Sunwun. This time daughter was not present; she had gone off to Summer Camp to be indoctrinated into some arcane religion or other.

The appointment was rather convenient, as we had been invited to a ‘Braaivleis’ – barbecue – by a dear old flame of Sunwun, an Italian of delightful dottiness and a streak of purest power, who lived in Hout Bay. The viewing was at three, giving us plenty of time for lazing by the pool and doing splashy things, chatting in the 29 degree sun or hiding from it, with a small crowd of adults and kids with a distinctly Italian flavour. Just a bunch of friends by a pool in South Africa, 2016.

So we did that, and what was going through my head was this: actually what is the difference between 2016 December Cape Town and 1990 December Cape Town? Could I transport this lot back in time to pre-apartheid SA and notice any difference? Apart from the iphones?


In 1980 if you’d asked me what the difference might be in 2016, were Apartheid to have been peacefully dismantled (and who would have believed that could have happened?) I would have painted this word picture:

A beautiful suburb of Madiba City, Tambo Bay, in the world heritage country that is Azania. The sun sits up there like a fat ginger cat on fire. Below, the Townlet is a thriving community, having a Sunday the way a gourmet has each course at a Michelin restaurant. The streets brim with bright-coloured peacockery, friends wander from restaurant to bar to café to home to the swimming pool…

In this fantasy world the garden would be filled with a jolly chatty crowd of all colours – and none of the individuals in the crowd would think for one moment about the colour of anyone’s skin. Just, as MLK said, “the content of their characters”. There would be all the genders. All the sexualities. The conversation would be about arts, about the Just Society, about how to distribute wealth. The main topic would be how to counter climate change. Not how much everyone hates Mr Zuma. There would be no electrified fence. There would certainly be no squatter camp…

I said this to Sunwun whose response was, with a tinge of annoyance, “much too soon! You still see everything through the lens of race!” and I guess that’s true. All of us, all who grew up in the Apartheid era, are damaged. Wounded. Our minds are forever tainted. “My daughter, your granddaughter – “ he continued, “she doesn’t see race. She just sees people.”

“And appreciate, “ he added, “how far we’ve come. All those lovely people at the barbecue hate racism as much as you do. That’s progress, that’s evolution. They are proud to be South African. And their children will take that to the next level…”

So yes, he’s right. Evolution away from something so perverted, so abnormal as Apartheid has to be slow.


I just wish it would bloody hurry up.


The house for sale was the direct opposite of the rental property of the previous day.. While it had the same space, the (totally algaed) swimming pool, it was grubby and shabby and neglected. There was no electrified fence. “What’s the point?” the lady of the house asked, “We keep windows and doors open. They can see in. They can see we’ve got nothing worth stealing.”

We asked her why she had no dog. “They just throw poisoned meat over the fence,” she said. “So we don’t bother.”

Depressed, we went into the shopping area to seek out Perroni beers as requested by our host.

Suddenly I felt as if I was in Africa. The streets full of all races, all classes. An atmosphere of bustle and business. When smiles erupted on children’s faces, the world lit up. I felt totally safe. My son greets people, any people, with a charming brotherliness that gains instant love from strangers. By the time we track down some Perroni I’m feeling strangely high, stupidly happy.

I love this place. I love its present, and I love its future.


In my LAST letter, which will probably be tomorrow – depending on jet lag issues, I will sum up…




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