AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

Weekend in Stellenbosch
Duane Jethro | April 7th, 2014

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Interesting that Africa’s a Country published a piece on Stellenbosch, since I just went out to stay there last weekend. To be honest, I did not like the piece, but I do think it touched on things that I also observed. The generalisations regarding the race dynamics and the monochrome casting of the population groups living in the town were a little stark. But they were also starkly true, and, in broad strokes, they captured the weird, discomforting social undertones that shape life in the town So, here’s my own take on why I found Stellenbosch so strange, so interesting and also so very sad.

We checked out the Slow Market at Oude Libertas, one of the more popular places on the hipster artisanal food circuit. Peter our car guard ushered us into a parking bay and we were off. The market was great, with all the delicious delights and craft goodies that you would expect. There were also many, young Afrikaner boys manning the stalls, selling all kinds of things. My girlfriend remarked that many of them were so confident and self-assured going about their business.

Confidence is a quality that stands one in good stead. The feeling of being free and assured about the ability to grab opportunities in the world is remarkably powerful. It’s the kind of feeling that does not pervade the lives of black men like Peter, a middle-aged man living in the township of Khayamandi, out of eye-sight of the lush green Stellenbosch valley, where the daily reality of exclusion, marginalisation and poverty often inspire feelings of anxiety. I had a bit of confidence, taking the opportunity to ring the Slave Bell to signal the end of the day’s trade. Strangely, it felt kind of liberating.

On Sunday, walking past the Exclusive Books store, it was interesting to see Kees van der Waal’s new edited text, Winelands, Work and Wealth: Transformations in the Dwars Valley prominently displayed in the window. I found it striking because it brought to the fore something that is so obvious but so well hidden in Stellenbosch town. Walking through the oak lined streets steeped in Cape Dutch vintage, it’s hard to tell that all of it was built up by the sweat of black slaves and workers over roughly 3 centuries. I could not find a slave or workers monument in the town, despite noticing how rich the public art culture was.

Later, we went into a Café that, from the number of people queuing outside, looked very popular. Schoon de Companje is compelling when you first walk in. It has a barnhouse feel of rough wood and rusted, worn metal and stocks everything from meats to bread, coffee, wine, cheese. Slowly, as we worked through our way through the store it dawned on us the theme was not a barnhouse, but a colonial goods store. Specifically, a Dutch East India Company (VoC) colonial goods store, since the walls were emblazoned with the Dutch flag embossed the VoC logo, images of Dutch maritime corporate imperialism, leading Dutch historical figures, and maps of the Cape Dutch period. Here Dutch colonial history is celebrated. The irony of such a stylised, easily consumable Dutch Imperial history in relation to questions of slavery, land dispossession and labour reform in the contemporary agri-economy is of course very bitter.

Stellenbosch is a fascinating place and it’s clear that Afrikaner folk are doing well preserving its heritage as a pristine, privileged centre of knowledge and culture. We had a good time there otherwise, and found some new and interesting places and met interesting people. But in saying that, the town undeniably represents one exclusive part of the larger post-apartheid story that I still find very difficult to come to terms with.

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2 thoughts on “Weekend in Stellenbosch

  1. I am trying my level best to come to grips with the submissions on Stellenbosch, but I still fail to understand the basic premise. Am I just simple minded or part of a world not shared by the authors?

    Yesterday I was walking some of the mainly black areas of Paris (is it political correct to use such a term?).

    The shops were frequent by black shoppers. In the restaurants no whites were also to be seen. On the sidewalks a lively interpersonal communication process was taking place – again sans any signs of white participants.

    On the other hand: One cannot (after reading the Stellebosch submissions) help to notice how white the restaurants in other areas are, with an abvious influx of (white) tourists swelling the body of white Parisians.

    So, will the authors also do a Stellenbosch take on Paris? Or on any other tourist town or city in the world? It will be quite easy to do so. But, what will be achieved and where will it leave Stellenbosch? Except situating Stellenbosch where it is: In a global village, not very unlike any other pre- or post-colonial place where historical forces play their role.

    Yes, Stellenbosch is troubling in many ways, but to paint it with a tar brush to identify and even perhaps smear it as something politically, economically and socially uniquely wanton, is to my mind to miss the bigger picture all together.

  2. “It’s the kind of feeling that does not pervade the lives of black men like Peter, a middle-aged man living in the township of Khayamandi, out of eye-sight of the lush green Stellenbosch valley, where the daily reality of exclusion, marginalisation and poverty often inspire feelings of anxiety.”

    Yeah you know the feelings of black men like Peter, what a patronizing bullshit. And Khayamandi is out of sight? Maybe just open your eyes and look towards Onderpapagaaiberg.

    “I could not find a slave or workers monument in the town, despite noticing how rich the public art culture was.”

    Well you should have gone to Pniel (that is the place van der Waal wrote the book about) there are three of them right in the center.

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