by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers
Here in Troyeville we engage with thieves. Our thief came three times and relieved us of a camera, various bits of steel and bicycles before we caught him walking out of the garden with a security gate on his head. We called the cops and got him put away for two months. When he returned to the street, we greeted him every day. We let him know that if anything went missing, he’d be the first to be questioned. The mood of these encounters was mellow but firm. Where I grew up, ignoring
people was the way to punish them. That won’t work in this South Africa we live in now. We have to identify the bad guys and keep them in our sights. Check their movements and for signs of them improving or getting worse.
Last year as we sat under the olive trees at Arts on Main, Victor told us that he won’t engage with the Democratic Alliance because they are liberals who see no shame in their past positions of rejecting blacks buying homes on the same street because it would bring down property values. They are unforgiven because they’ve never moved to correct their position. And Lindiwe Mazibuko is the worst kind of quisling. On a Right to Know march last year I met a lovely young black woman who
told me that since she moved into the block of flats other people are selling. She didn’t say that the others were white but I knew what she meant. I felt shame and guilt and I had to remember that I too, used to think like that. It was seen as responsible middle class thinking to protect the value of property, more responsible than taking care of relationships with the people around us. The way that we learned at our parents’ knees, people would sicken and die, whereas property would remain as an endless reservoir of resources sustaining the generations as they unfolded from the ancestors arms. This sense of continuity was taken for granted: property was a long, tranquil river, interrupted only by the happy and unhappy accidents of birth and death. It was stability, which nobody ever questioned, normality which everyone sought. Something to be preserved.
From the beginning I knew that I had to be grateful to the white family that adopted me. Like any child, I was loyal and fought the battles that they felt were worth fighting. Until I realized that I didn’t care about the same things. Like Don Cheadle’s character in Hotel Rwanda, I realized that protecting my own skin would mean turning my back on other values: compassion and care for others. And in any case, they didn’t care about me.
Returning to my upbringing helps me to understand why so many people are still stuck in this paradigm. It is mostly fear that holds people hostage, the fear of losing their delicious illusion. The house that FNB owns that I supposedly co-own was valued at 700 000 in 2010. Now I’d be really lucky to get R500 000 for it. And you know what? I DON’T CARE. It’s just a house. I’m lucky to have it. The relationships with the people around where I live are my priority at the moment. Our thief yesterday told one of our householders that he wants to go and learn something. She told him about some courses in town where people can go and get skills. He lives in one of our problem properties: overcrowded, and known as a tik house. I’m not sure how to proceed. But the values of property won’t really come into the solution. Other values will have to.