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Saturday afternoon

10 October 2010

It looks like one of those photos where you are asked to think up a caption.

Saturday afternoon in Nellmapius

Suburban life on a Saturday afternoon. Nellmapius is a fairly new housing area, east of Silverton, named after the man who held the dynamite monopoly in President Paul Kruger’s time, about 120 years ago. An upmarket suburb to the south is named after his daughter, Irene, after Irene Nelmapius. Most of the houses have been built there since the end of apartheid, but nearly all the residents are black. Is that an example of colonisation of the mind.

I read an article in a book about photography, documentary photography, documenting your community. Documentary photographs are not taken to be pleasing, visually, but rather to be a visual record. This is what things were like. So who are the people and why are they standing there, and what does the picture record?

They are standing there because I asked them to, because I wanted a photo. I asked them to stand there because I thought the rose bush was quite pretty, and the green lawn. It’s a while since I’ve been in Nellmapius, and the trees are growing quite tall. It’s clean, and looks rather nice in the afternoon sun. We were there on a pastoral visit.

I thought of the title of a blogging friend’s blog: Urban ministry live and unplugged.

Well, this is suburban ministry. And because it was a pastoral visit, the people have names, so I’d better put them in the picture. Father Frumentius came because he speaks North Sotho (Sepedi), which, in spite of having been involved in the area for over 11 years now, is one of the languages I know least about. They teach it in schools, or used to, but you can’t buy a teach yourself course in it for love or money. Zulu, yes. Xhosa yes. Tswana, sometimes. But North Sotho, no way.

There’s Lawrence Malahela, who lives over the railway line in Mamelodi. He’s come to show us the way to people who have drifted away from the church. And Glenda Rakabe, the widow of Johannes Rakabe, who died last year, and her young niece, and her father, Alpheus Matlala, a delightful old man.

After visiting them we drove a little way away to visit some of their relatives who had built a new house behind an RDP house. The RDP houses were built after the end of apartheid, and the name is all that is left of the ANC’s much-vaunted Reconstruction and Development Programme. But within a year of the ANC being elected, the RDP was lured down a dark alley and quietly strangled, and all that remains is a nickname for sub-standard housing.

And Nellmapius, whether you go to the upmarket end or the RDP end, is 99,9% black.

Have we really reached the end of apartheid?

Glenda Rakabe, Fr Frumentius, Elaine, Lawrence Malahlela, Alpheus Matlala

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 October 2010 9:26 pm

    Australia is re-gurgitating policies in a modern form for Aboriginal people which are recognisable from past years before the 1967 Referendum which gave Aboriginal people the right to vote.

    The so-called Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), popularly known as The Intervention, enforces “Prescribed Areas”. People on these “Prescribed Areas” have their social security income controlled (shades of the “book-up” system used on cattle stations years ago); is intent on herding people into “hubs” away from outstations and the country of individual clans (shades of herding Aboriginal people into ration stations 60 years ago); the misspending by whitefellas of money allocated for Aboriginal housing – no-one ever does or has done a breakdown of how much of so-called Aboriginal budgets goes into whitefella pockets) and so on.

    Aboriginals who chose to live in communities whether traditionally or in the inner-city suburbs are not given the same services as citizens in mainstream communities. In spite of strife on Aboriginal communities, there is not always a consistent and sufficient staffing of police. Similarly, health and educational services.

    There is much talk of getting Aboriginal people off welfare. The way to do this is to explore ways of developing (difficult thought it is even for whitefellas in remote Australia) localised economies. However, I have yet to discover in this day and age a place where a satisfactory economy can be developed without an all-weather bitumen road. Very few, if any, Aboriginal communities in the NT have a bitumen road. In some places the bitumen road finishes not far the community – clearly at the whitefellas convenience. And while people speak of all sorts of needs for Aboriginal communities, roads never get a mention as a high priority.

    So you see, discrimination whether it is called apartheid, assimilation, or an intervention, doesn’t end with the stroke of a political pen. Political representation is part of the answer and you in South Africa certainly have that opportunity with the ANC in power. How evenly distributed among the political parties is black representation?

    Australia has just seen its first Aboriginal person elected to the House of Representatives (the seat of national government). He represents the Liberal Party – the party of conservatism in Australia. There have, at different times, been two Aboriginal people in the Senate (one for the Liberals and one for the now defunct Australian Democrats, a tiny third party). The Labor Party has never had a black representative elected to the national Parliament.

    Things are better in the Northern Territory where Aboriginal representation in the tiny Legislative Assembly is about the same as Aboriginal representation within the total population. However, the Aboriginal representatives have come to the NT Parliament via one party, the Australian Labor Party. It is a pity that there are not Aboriginal representatives on the other side as well.

    Years ago an interview was conducted by Australian journalist, Jana Wendt, with Toni Morrison the black American writer and Nobel Laureate. Morrison made a point which has stuck with me through the decades. She said that whites always have to have centre stage. I have found this to be true. For instance, in this country the number of television programs which have actors other than whites (i.e. Aboriginal, Asian, African) one at a time in support roles. We whitefellas always have to be centre stage and dominant. The one television exception to this has been an Australian television production called “The Circuit” in which the star is Aboriginal and there is a diversity of colour and accent. The sort of diversity seen in “The Circuit” is rare and remarkable in a nation that spouts multi-culturalism!

    All goes to show that our biggest hurdle is to get over ourselves!

    • 11 October 2010 6:30 am

      In some places in South Africa there have been regurgitated policies — near Mooi River, a small farming town in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, for example, an apartheid-style urban black township was built. In the apartheid era therese were built near big cities to provide a storage place for labour (or “human resources” as they now like to call it). But there is no employment at Mooi River, so it’s a dystopia from the start.

      But Nellmapius is not like that. Yet even though there are no longer any laws to say white people can’t live there, white people don’t.

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