Writing

Aesthetic and Other Priorities

I am being sued by my new neighbour. New because I have just moved into an old complex in Goodwood. The neighbour is an elderly white woman who lives in the apartment below mine. She is chain smoker; the whole downstairs is consumed with tobacco fumes emanating from her permanently ajar front door. Occasionally she is standing in the doorframe, puffing out smoke, and more than just occasionally she is roaming around the complex, visiting similarly disposed trustees. Together they form a haggard quartet, past their sell by date, left behind by democracy and reminiscing about the heydays of apartheid. They really ought to be dead but since they are not, they have elected to perform various assaults of racial micro aggression, holding the block hostage, fully supported by the body corporate.

A Google search reveals that of the blocks’ fifteen flats: one is owned by a trust; four have changed ownership since 2016, leaving eleven that have had occupation from an unspecified period before 2007. Goodwood, mind you, is a suburb in the northwest region of the city of Cape Town and was established as an area for poor whites by the Cape Town Housing Company in 1938. The houses in this area were built to match the suburbs general purpose, to shelter and guard poor whites against poverty and assist them to construct “proper” white lives.

The street below is quiet except at rush hour when everybody is avoiding the main road. In the quiet times there are frequent police vehicles patrols, community watchers on bicycles, and just as frequently motorists and delivery bikes performing traffic transgressions. This block of flats, on the wrong side of the main road but the better side of the train tracks, with its large east facing windows directly overlooking the power substation and mouth to the underground entrance of the Goodwood train station, is built much later than 1938. From my window, at any moment that I look out, I notice women slowing down before entering the tunnel, looking around and quicken their step and hastily emerge on the other side.

The onslaught of unequal economic system in South Africa, black women do not enjoy their constitutional rights, including the rights to land, housing, health, education, water and safety and security to their fullest possible extent, socio-economic indicators of inequality evidence this. The rates of intimate partner femicide, and of men’s fatal violence against women is disproportionate both inside and outside the home, add the disturbing fact that it appears both the victims and perpetrators of this violence have grown up in the “new” dispensation. The humiliation of poverty, visited by apartheid’s spatial geography, remains exponentially higher in the former black homelands and townships, versus previously white only suburbs, and cities. On the 30th of November the city of Cape Town handed out 330 title deeds1, no where near the privileged side of the mountain, in fact by the same token, people are being forcibly removed from their homes in Woodstock as gets alluded to in the work of Ashley Walters, similarly titled.

There is almost no escaping economic precariousness and black indebtedness without residential desegregation. In the summons, the neighbour is citing “damage to property, R8000”. My calculation is that she is out to make a quick buck. Not only is this a power move, but she clearly views this as an opportunity to exercise her generalised animosity, and the ability to work the system to annoy and aggravate one made systematically vulnerable and taking my appearance in this block as a personal affront. One cannot afford to be diverted from all these priorities.

A report on News24 on the death of Peter Abrahams ends as follows : On January 18 2017, aged 97, Abrahams was found dead at his home in Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica2.

… at his home…

After all his literary success, what would be the likelihood of Peter Abrahams owning his own home in South Africa? Perhaps, he could have been one of the recipients of the deeds dispensed above. His chances at any rate, would far exceed the same probability for a woman his age, because customary law in South Africa is incongruent with the constitution so far as it comes to women and land ownership, disproportionally disadvantaging black women above all else. Traditionally, black women have been denied rights to property under customary law where, a woman was generally regarded as a legal minor under the guardianship of her father, husband or brother, incapable of owning or acquiring property.

So on the face of it I would like to register my discontent, as well as my discomfort for authoring a text that on the face of it reads as a catalogue of complaints. Reads as if, as a black woman I do not have aesthetic priorities and are instead trapped in an estranged revisionist timeshare, some kind of house keeping exercise exhaustively rearranging the furniture and changing the drapes.

Between this list of disclaimers and dissatisfactions, lies the accumulation of seemingly petty experiences of disrespect, humiliations, rejections, and hostilities that I must fight on a daily basis without respite. It is a constant assault, an un-abating falling through the cracks of social and legal protections through intersecting negative constructs and phenomena, the individual agents of racism, a continuous walking into concrete institutional walls and frankly I, collectively, am tired.

The invitation to the writers for this catalogue is not incidental, it is deliberate. The essays in this catalogue rally against the notions of a black collective unconscious that is pre-programmed for alienation, disappointment, and psychic trauma, despite all this we reinstate our right to aesthetic experiences.

From the correlation between race and the appreciation /depreciation of property value as comes through in Nomusa Makhubu’s essay, the ruthless gentrifiers in Simone Zeefuik’s paper, the vulnerability to everyday violence as demonstrated through Thulile’s Gamedze’s words and the sheer exhaustion with it all, in Jessica de Abreu’s words. This project in all its forms is an empathetic portal for you to arrive at all the violences and injustices that you are privileged to not have to confront.

1 Ndlendle, Songezo. 2017. “Hundreds first-time homeowners receive title deeds from City of Cape Town”. IOL News Online: 30 November 2017, 7:56PM. Avail: https://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/western-cape/hundreds-first-time-homeowners-receive-title-deeds-from-city-of-cape-town-12210421

2 Chigumadzi, Panashe. 2017. “Peter Abrahams: A life of telling freedom”. News24 Online: 29 January 2017 06:09 am. Avail: https://www.news24.com/Opinions/Voices/peter-abrahams-a-life-of-telling-freedom-20170129-2 2017-01-29

* Curators Introduction to Tell Freedom Exhibition Catalog, 2018