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Beneath the Surface of South Africa (Part Two)

Linda Brogan


  1. Kruger National Park


Fear. It was there before I left the UK. Oozing. My family don’t want me to hire a car. Carjacking! I’m shitting myself. 

I don’t hire a car. Until it’s scarier to get in their ‘taxis’ side-by-side with who-knows-who. Shitting myself.

Johannesburg. The first morning. Put on my new pink Levi t-shirt. Lucy & Yak denim dungarees. Sunshine. Pink rimmed sunglasses. ‘You look cool,’ say the black guys on 7th Street. ‘You need to put your phone away. Someone will take it from you.’ Shitting myself.

I sit on the folding chair outside at the café table. Everyone inside De La Crème is staring at me in disbelief.  The nice, black waitress comes out. ‘You need to come inside. You’re exposed out here.’ Shitting myself.

On the way back to my Melville B&B, I notice on every enclosed electronic garden gate — ARMED RESPONSE. I walk faster. Shitting myself.

Hire car. I drive six hours through amazing Lion King scenery. Arrive at the safari foyer. I’ve gone mad and paid £350 a night for a private lodge. ‘20km that way. Turn left at crocodile pond.’ ‘On my own? You’re kidding me?’ Shitting myself.

I’m a city girl. In a red Ford. With ordinary wheels. On a red dirt path. There’s a leopard. A giraffe. A family of giraffes. A herd of water buffalo. Warthogs. Zebras. Wildebeest. A rhino. And no signs. Fucking shitting myself. 

Driving. Driving. Driving. There’s a gate up ahead. COVID means I am the only guest. They’re lined up like Downton Abbey to receive me. My own chef. My own lady-in-waiting drops my mosquito net. I run my bath that looks out onto the jungle. I’m in heaven. Until my ex-husband rings when I’m sat on my candle-lit, private log balcony enjoying a fag beneath my Jungle Book tree. ‘Leopards hunt from trees like that.’ Fucking hell. Now, trapped in my round, vaulted, wooden log suite. Shitting myself.

Three sunrise and sunsets, hippos and crocodiles basking, one hyena skulking past an elephant rustling the night bush later, Lady Muck of single occupancy jeep rides, it dawns on me, in the real wild those lionesses suckling their cubs would devour us. They’re used to the engine. It’s not real. A glorified zoo. They are the sedate Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. ‘If one does kill a human, we kill the entire pride.’ My guide Simon explains, as the rising sun swallows the mist. 


  1. Underberg


I realise I am in rural country when I notice the little shacks selling their wares. It reminds me of St Elizabeth, Jamaica, where my dad was born. I relax. I almost get out to buy something. But then I haven’t seen any white people for miles… 

Blue/green mountains. Huge distances. Now a forest. Deep and thick. Now a little isolated huddled corrugated iron stuffed-with-plastic township. Why don’t they farm the land? No one is here to stop them. They could agree to grow enough food to feed everyone. Enough to barter for wood to build one good house. Then gradually make their life nice by repeating this for everyone. Like in a Jamaican pardner, build for themselves. I park and watch them from a safe distance. 

I focus. See, of all things, a little open-air café. A guy is lighting the fire in the centre of a cut steel drum. Two old ladies sit on two of the four chairs. Gossiping.



A little old lady climbs out of her caravan. It will collapse if she slams that door. She sits on the third chair. Some youths are gathering. I get out of the car. Are you fucking mad? There’s no one for miles. I cross the road.  Fresh fruit and veg on stalls for pennies. The youths ask me to take their photo. We have loads of attempts, but our Bluetooth won’t connect. I promise to send them by email when I get to Underberg.



Another old lady walks up. I am expecting to be asked for money. She tells me about the state of her legs. The treatments she’s tried. She takes the fourth chair. The café owner throws the ribs onto the grill. I smile at the ladies who lunch. They smile back. But don’t open a gap. 

It’s when I am driving away, I realise all the glorious scenery is behind the village. Not one of the villagers is enjoying it. Every corrugated iron plastic-stuffed house, the café, their chatter, all face the ugly potholed road. Jim Carrey is being held in a beautiful white world he should never leave. They are being held in an ugly black world they should never look away from.


  1. Stellenbosch 


Thirty-two years hasn’t happened. Stellenbosch. White ladies who lunch. Fabulous cafés. Their faces ashen with that constantly dissatisfied look. Nothing is good enough. Not the way the blacks wave them into a parking space. Not the way the blacks open their car doors for them. Not even thinking thank God I don’t live in their sprawling Mad Max township on the other side of the bridge. Again, the township faces away from the ocean. Yards from the white painted homesteads. Dutch. Where wine is bred. Generations of it. Not interrupted by thirty-two years – the official start of the ending of Apartheid.

I’m at the Fat Butcher restaurant where I’ve booked to meet Frank, the District Six Museum guide. The museum is an old church over in Cape Town, near the docks where the whites stole the land off the blacks in 1966 and went on taking. There are photos of evicted people wheeling away their goods on prams. Towers of street name plaques on display. Artefacts of their forgotten land, where blacks dressed like the rest of the beatnik world with radiograms of jazz, and bars and house parties, and their Indian neighbours were just their Indian neighbours in brick houses like theirs. Reminds me of old Moss Side in Manchester. A real immigrant, working-class community. Where you know who-is-who and who-is-good-for-what. Frank was busy when I first met him guiding African Americans, the lawyer kind. Maybe it is the rich that have that dissatisfied look on their face. 

‘I’ve booked.’ The maître d’ looks confused. It’s a new ploy of mine. Book online. Then they can’t tell you they don’t have a table. ‘Give me a minute.’ She goes in. Comes out. Puts me in the empty boring bit on my own where no one can see me. She puts the Chinese couple there, too. Even though they also request to be in the garden. Where everyone is laughing. Oddly, when you catch them inanimate, that same dissatisfied look takes over their ashen face.

Frank texts: I’m going to be really late, order your dinner. Which I do. I am going through the front door for a cig when Frank turns up. Tall. Black. Dark. Not so-called coloured, like me. Really intelligent. The way he layers interesting details. Big. Muscular. Runs his own guide business. The dad of sons at university. Owns his own land in Stellenbosch. I reach the door, just as he does. They mobilise. All six male waiters are at the door.


 ‘This is Frank.’ 

‘We’re fully booked’ 

‘You’re totally empty.’

‘We’re fully booked.’

‘I already have our table. You’ve just served me there.’ 

‘We’re fully booked.’

‘My things are still at our table.’ 

‘We’re fully booked.’ 


This time it is not directed at me. Frank drops his head. It’s only that makes me stop. 

We’re sat in a burger bar. He’s not wonderfully intelligent anymore. I ask him to tell me about his sons. But the shine has left his heart and his face. Now, a crumpled, paid supporting actor in The Truman Show, he tells me, so he won’t be sacked, ‘You need to leave soon. You don’t want to be passing Kayamandi township at night.’

Dutifully propagating the fear that the whites have propagated for over a hundred years. South African blacks are dangerous animals. They’ll shoot you for your car. Knife you in the street for your phone. They have the worst jails in the world. Each image rolling into my head like the waves coming in on my left and the sun is being swallowed by the dark up ahead, as the Mad Max township on my right becomes luminous. For miles. On an unlit empty road. 


  1. Cape Town


I have spent the last day I will be in South Africa in the Zeitz MOCCA Art Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. An architecturally renovated grain silo. Enormous. Four floors dedicated to black South African artists. All their art dictated by the shit whites have dished out. Understandably. But that still sets whites at the centre of the story. I’m dissatisfied as I cross the quay to the Cape Grace five-star hotel.



It comes as no surprise when the three black doormen reply, ‘We’re full’. Maybe I was looking for a fight.

Maybe it’s the way the Stellenbosch-type white man is agitatedly holding his umbrella out for one of the black doormen to take and cover him as he walks the few feet from his Porsche to the entrance that makes me militant. Yeah, I do walk away for a minute, my tail between my legs. But then I stop. Turn. ‘How would you know?’ In front of the white master, the black doormen are mortified. ‘I want to see reception. Now!’

The Indian maître d’ comes out. 

‘I am a successful UK artist. Researching South Africa. I am not nobody. I want to experience your restaurant. Now!’

In The Truman Show this is the moment the helm of Jim Carrey’s tiny yacht pierces the painted blue sky of his oppressor, Ed Harris. And Jim Carrey delivers his catchphrase ‘Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!’  Walks up the painted blue stairs. Opens the painted blue door… 

This is the moment the summoned butler-like restaurant manager, tall, measured, coloured, treating me equally, politely, gesturing for me to go first, opens the door.