Like much of life in South Africa, this artwork is funny and wrong in equal measures – rendered all the wrong-er by the small letter ‘x’, and by virtue of its hanging on the wall of a R50-odd million home in Llandudno where I had dinner a while back. At the same time, it sums up many of our good intentions which get swept by the wayside amidst the Kaapse Vonkel, Jacob Zuma and the maid who never comes back after Christmas.
When I moved back to South Africa, one of my priorities (after finding an affordable house in town with a sea and/or mountain view – ha!) was to learn to speak Xhosa. After living in Sweden for eight years and hating that I didn’t understand what was being said around me, I was determined not to repeat the experience in my own country. Plus, how would I re-integrate into this new South Africa if I didn’t speak the language? How would black and white people ever relate to one another on the same level?
Needless to say, this never happened. What happened instead was that I encountered a quote by god aka JM Coetzee, which said something along the lines of since millions of South Africans speak perfect Xhosa, why would anyone need me and my bad accent? Indeed. I realized I had an exaggerated sense of my own relevance, and that the wheels of poverty and corruption would keep turning whether or not I was able to ask the petrol attendant for R500 unleaded in his own language.
And, un-PC as this may be, I started to understand South African politics in a tribalistic sense. Once, me and my kind were the umkulukulu chiefs. We lorded over this country like arrogant, self-serving colonisers do for as long as we could get away with it. Now, we are the underlings, at the mercy of the people we quashed for centuries. We were defeated by our own greed, and now we need to shut the fuck up and be happy for small mercies.
My learning Xhosa will not change history, erase the past nor give deserving people homes with sea views. But as long as we have Kaapse vonkel and a sense of humour, we should remain sharp-sharp for a ncinci while longer.
(Not that I don’t think this guy is the coolest thing since samp and beans).