Six Mad South African Stories

Yesterday on Camps Bay beach two guys selling cold drinks decided to have a go on our swing ball set. I wish I could have recorded their giggling and the things they were saying to one another (Djy speel kak! Slaan hom! Slaan hon!). One of those lost-in-translation moments.
Yesterday on Camps Bay beach two guys selling cold drinks decided to have a go on our swing ball set. I wish I could have recorded their giggling and the things they were saying to one another (Djy speel kak! Slaan hom! Slaan hom!). One of those quintessentially South African, impossible-to-translate moments.

With this trial going on and on and the awful Nkandla scandal and that book that’s just come out about the crisis our education system is in it’s easy to get a bit despondent and start thinking, fokkit, Hermanus, what’s to become of us, and when that happens it’s good to be reminded that, while we live in a country where the future is every part of uncertain, the flipside of this is that hardly a day goes by without something mad/funny/ridiculous happening that makes you laugh out loud or shake your head in dismay or be warmed to the bone with the kindness and resilience of human beings. And, after all, we are not here to experience perfection; we came to experience love and humanness in all of its manifestations. Here are some true stories gathered over the past twelve months.

The Blind Beggar and the Lotto Tickets

My mom told me this story over chicken curry a few nights back. She was standing in the queue at Shoprite to buy her weekly lotto ticket (‘if you don’t buy, you can’t win’, as my dad always says), and ahead of her was a well-dressed, blind beggar – really smart in a suit and hat, being led around by a young woman who helped him empty the contents of a plastic packet onto the counter. The cashier looked horrified and like she was about to protest but changed her mind and proceeded to count out R72 entirely in brown coins. There was not a single piece of silver in the mix. With the entire R72 the two of them bought lotto tickets. That’s called faith. Or something. I hope they got at least a few numbers right.

The Naked Rastafarian in the Garden

We don’t have a fence around our property, and a while back my kids called me and told me there was somebody in the garden. I went out to have a look, and there, washing himself at the outside tap, was a young Rastafarian homeless guy in his late twenties or so. He had Tresemme shampoo and a loofah. I went over to where he was squatting and said, listen, dude, I don’t mind if you need to wash, but don’t let the tap run for so long, you make everything waterlogged. He stood up and faced me, naked as the day he was born, and nodded that he understood, but the next day he was back, and then he was coming twice a day and it started to get on my nerves. My polite requests that he didn’t come quite so often fell on deaf ears, and eventually, after a couple of weeks, I told him not to come anymore, but there he was, twice a day, and I live alone half the time and the whole situation started to get a bit problematic so we took matters into our own hands and replaced the tap with one that has a removable top. You can’t turn it unless you have the top bit, and we put the top bit inside. The next time he came he stood staring at the tap in bewilderment. Then he climbed up the steps to our deck where there is a working tap, but where all of Green Point would be able to see him washing his bum, so he just stood there for a while not really knowing what to do. I felt a bit bad and went outside and said, sorry, man, but really, it was getting uncool. He shrugged and went off on his way and I haven’t seen him since. Shame. He just wanted to be clean.

The Lady at Fruit and Veg City

All this cancer everywhere really freaks me out, so I’m trying to feed us all healthy food, and the kids and I have a little game where we each have to make sure we get 7 servings of veggies and fruit a day, and it’s quite fun, actually, seeing how many greens you can squeeze into a sauce or a soup. Or, before supper, I give them a ‘starter’ now which is cut up apple and blueberries and cherry tomatoes and carrot sticks and the kids think it’s great, and I feel like a less crap parent. Anyhow, Fruit and Veg have nice stuff lately – fancy mushrooms and tiny baby carrots and fresh, interesting salads so I try and go there more, and as the cashier was ringing up my stuff and I was looking over her shoulder thinking of something or other, she suddenly stopped dead, looked me in the eye and said, ‘where are my manners? Hello. How are you, and did you have a nice weekend?’ I was surprised, but also not, because you do get that kind of thing happening down here. I told her I missed my husband but that I have good friends who kept me busy. She patted me kindly on the arm and said, ‘it won’t be long now.’ And I walked out of a budget supermarket feeling like the world is a kind and gentle place.

The Day my Mom Got Mugged

Arriving home at about 6pm one winter’s evening, suddenly a young man with a knife appeared at my 68-year-old mom’s side and demanded she give him her bag. She said, ‘I’m not giving you my bag. There is nothing in it of value, but it is of value to me.’ He started to argue so she ordered him to sit down where she proceeded to show him her near-empty wallet, her old, worthless cell-phone and the punnet of mushrooms she’d just bought at the Spar. She said, ‘I’ll give you R100 but you are not getting anything else.’ He agreed and went on his way. When she told me the story a few days later I didn’t know whether to be proud or horrified. I still don’t know.

The Honest Granadilla Lolly Guy

Those guys on the beach are so freaking annoying with their cooler-boxes of ice lollies (a lolly to make you jolly?) when you’re trying to read your Heat magazine in peace, but a few months ago I took the kids to the beach and, just as we’d settled, I spotted a friend 50 metres away. Too lazy to go all the way over there, I phoned her and told her to join us, which she duly did. About ten minutes later, one of the ice lolly guys approached us again, this time with a fancy new Samsung smart phone in his hand, and asked us if it belonged to one of us. In the process of gathering her things, my friend had dropped her R8000 phone in the sand, he had spotted it and was doing the rounds. She gave him R50. He probably lives in a cardboard box.

The Jolly Christmas Bergie

On High Level Road about around Christmas time I was on my way to work and a bit stressed and grumpy because when you have young kids trying to get everyone fed and dressed and out of the house on time requires great reserves of patience which is not my strong point, and as the traffic slowed down there, just to my right, was a bergie going through a bin, and while there is nothing unusual about this, what was unusual was that he was wearing one of those red, felt pointed hats with the flashing lights and he had the lights going full tilt while he sang ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ at the top of his lungs. While you might be sifting through the trash for your next meal and Christmas will probably be a bottle of something cheap and lethal, aint no reason to be a misery guts. Big lesson to us all.


37 thoughts on “Six Mad South African Stories

  1. A local hobo rang my door repeatedly the other evening. Well last Winter. So after a number of big ignores I finally relented and answered. He wanted money for an ID. Yah right. No seriously merrem its strue. Okay I said if “its strue” come back tomorrow and I will take you to Home Affairs myself. At 6.00am in the pouring rain and howling wind the bell rang again. ‘Its strue’ was back. Neat and tidy and all ready for a trip to home affairs.Me and the hobo in my nice smelling, new car. Eating big humble pie. So off we went and I ended up paying for id photo’s, id etc etc. Six weeks later he was back ringing the bell for a lift to collect.
    As the Buddhists say.. “never let a beggar stand in the way of generosity”

  2. I really enjoyed these typically S.A. Stories.We had a robbery in our street and the two perpetrators were walking up the road with theirs ill gotten gains when a police car suddenly arrived on the scene….the police were called by the “Bergie” on his cellphone.His reason for calling the police was he was tired of being blamed for something he hadn’t done.He then went back to scratching in the black bags!

  3. Hullo Stranger!Been awhile! Nothing quite like an interaction with our marvelous motley crowd of essentially have-nots which keeps our sense of humour and wonder right up there with intrigue of how the Ozzie debacle will unfold hey? With the world peering at us from all angles as we amuse it with all our interesting events and scenarios, the ONE thing South Africans can never be accused of is being boring, don’t you think?
    I love it ! Keep telling us more stories!

  4. We South Africans might sometimes lack finesse, and we might not be garnering the gold medals in the corruption Olympics, but we sure are not boring. And when I look at what a Hollander friend calls 5+C temperatures warm, I count my blessings as the thought of 5+C freezes me.

    I console myself knowing that my country is not perfect, but then neither are any others.
    Crime was once under control and it can be done again and I have hope in that.

  5. Your mom’s story reminded me of my then 80yr old aunt’s, a few years ago. She was walking down a small Lane, when she was approached by a guy who wanted her bag. She got so mad and kicked him on the shin, he ended up on his back and she continued on her walk.

  6. Haha should trying living down here in Muizenberg.. this sort of stuff is seen as “normal” and not out of the ordinary….. but your story of your mom and the mugger is hugely amusing .. this happened to my mom outside her place in Rondebosch about 10 years ago .. I guess mom was about 77 then .. this dude tried to grab her bag and she hung on like grim death .. resulting in a tug of war over the bag ..then my mother bit his hand as hard she could and he let go and ran off. I really laughed and laughed …. I said the man must have been crazy to even try .. No-One gets money out of my mother …I could have told him this and saved him from losing face .. chased off by a 77 year old bird like lady who stands a little over 5 ft tall LOL what kind of moffie muggers are we breeding these days…

  7. How I miss all the interesting characters in SA society and how they all get on despite our past differences and often with a good sense of humor – UK is boring in comparison

  8. Thank you making me laugh once again. I somehow seemed to have lost my laughter along with living with serious people here. I can’t wait to come back end of the year and my sense of humour back.
    I lived at home in JHB for 9months in 2010 whilst my hubby worked in the UK. I constantly called my Gardner “love” thinking he was an older man and it was endearing. Until one day I heard him call for me from outside “love please come here” . My mother in laws face was a sight to behold and I never called him love again.
    Thanks you for sharing you humorous stories. I’m laughing aloud.

  9. Great blog today – really made me smile! I also love all the quirky stuff that happens on a daily basis here. Just a few weeks ago I was on the beach at Milnerton watching the world pass by full of dog walkers with their labradors, poodles and the likes when some chap sauntered by with a pig at his heels. And not just a little pink piglet of the ‘Babe’ variety but a great big feeking thing! Can’t see that happening in London’s Richmond Park…..

  10. The contrast between world’s is so poignant especially when you arrive to a Scandinavian airport filled with unobservant people including their even less observant children. On this trip we had spent the last month in Bali where everything is wonderful and yet heartbreaking. I had read an article about how the average woman cries 2.5 times a month which baffled me because I cry about about 2.5 times a year, usually when I am absolutely bat-shit angry and want to rip someones head off in a slow and painful twist. But, on this trip I cried on several occasions for completely the opposite reasons. I cried for the animals that the people couldn’t help because they were to poor. They were too poor to even have the luxury of understanding they should seek medical help for the dog standing on their porch mere seconds form collapsing dead from horrible mange and starvation. I cried because the poverty could at times be overwhelming, knowing that as a tourist I was both a part of the problem and the solution. And for the piles of trash and plastic clogging the beautiful water ways and lush jungles due to a lack of understanding of consequences, another luxury not afforded but imported by US. I had to stop the sobs after visiting one of the most amazing cat shelters I have witnessed. The woman who had started it had stopped us on the way out and asked to come back and took us on a tour. I wanted to cry because I was so happy that there was someone doing something so hard and so magnificent. I was so thankful for her and her courage, something I feel I lack entirely. I cried because in spite of all the sad things there were so many amazing things, deep family connection among the Balinese, hospitality and a beautiful culture. In spite of the poverty and all that entails, the people of Bali where by and large courteous, quick to laugh, happy to be of help and welcomed you the stranger into their lives with good will. Not for the sake of your money, they knew how to differentiate business from humanity. Mind you I spent 90% of this trip covered in a full body rash due to an allergy to the sun that I could not escape well because there was plenty of sun at all times. And while I cried and itched my way through Bali all I can think about is when am I going back. After 20 years of living as an expat in Sweden I found all of this emotionally overwhelming, I had been desensitised to the human condition. I had been conditioned to be less empathic in spite of my best efforts. Once upon a time, when I was a California girl, I was used to the ills of society in a way that was more manageable, I was able to face it head on because it was a part of my everyday and it made me more human. Then I moved to Sweden. Things are neat and tidy here for the most part, the standard of living is higher than most places in the world, even for the poor, and medical care is enjoyed by all. And yet, the luxury of humanity seems to have died, the longer you live here the more insensitive you seem to become. The less other people matter to you in a face to face interaction. This is a place living in a plastic bubble of security where people are culturally less interested in the unknown person because they have the luxury to be disinterested. They have the luxury of saying it is not my problem who am I to intrude with my help, there are organisations for that. They have it all right on paper but, neighbourly friendliness is as close to non existent as it can get, uncomfortable situations are to be ignored no matter the injury at all costs, excuse me is a word reserved for, Hey I want something from you rather than extending you the courtesy of a deserved apology after piling through you on the street without flinching. It is a world of de-sensitivity, where the only thing you need to know about is you. Being in Bali wasn’t easy, it was an emotional roller coaster at times bringing back my past along with it. But, it was a friendly, loving roller coaster and even with all the protection and security of Sweden I think I prefer the former even with all of it’s tragedy. It just feels right. It is hard to explain though to either party as well what you grow up with is hard to observe objectively until you have been moved from it for an extended length of time. There is no good guy or bad guy here, both are at odds with the world, but just in vastly different ways.

    1. Wow, dude. I don’t even know how to respond to this except yes, I hear you and agree 100%. You’ve summed it up so perfectly there isn’t really any more to say. Thanks for this insightful, sensitive and beautifully articulated comment. Much love to you, California girl xxxxx

  11. it’s not nearly as poetic or raunchy or wonderful on this side of the pond in the States, Susan, and I agree- it is about the human interaction and the weirdly wonderful that keep us bound to a place, not the bloody perfection. Cause perfection is just so, well, yesterday.

  12. Thank you Susan for sharing your quintessential South Africa stories.
    I just love the ice cream fellow in your photo who just won’t put his cooler box down even when there is a tennis ball to hit..!
    Walking out of a close loss springbok rugby game a few years ago vs the aussies a vendor on the street was dismayed to see the downcast faces of the fans who weren’t up to buying any more bokke paraphernalia …. Concered that we’d all go home empty handed her shouted out “don’t worry guys it’s zuma’s fault” which brought a cackle and ripple laugh through the crowd… Then someone broke out in ‘shoholoza’ someone whistled and we all smiled and the flags started waving and the vuvuzelas started trumpeting. That bokke vendor sold his heart out!

  13. Love this!!! I had a real pick me up the other day at Engen. It was not the usual… attendant surprised me with “and remember ma’am, with Engen you are number 1” when I left. It was amazing how it made my day. Needless to say, he is may favourite!!!

  14. I love these, thanks for sharing. I think they are particularly profound because they aren’t stories you heard from a friend of a friend of a friend – they are all profoundly personal and happened to you (and your awesome Mum:). If this is just what your little family experiences, imagine how many amazing things are happening everyday in our special little corner of the world.

  15. Hi Susan,

    Great blog! I was intrigued by this “book that’s just come out about the crisis our education system” – as a South African living abroad but hoping to return I am very interested in the eduction system and what my kids may face on our return. Do you have more details please?

    1. I’ll try and find out the details. The thing is (and it’s not a good thing, just a thing) your kids and my kids will get a great education in SA. The book looks at SA as a whole, which doesn’t apply in the same way to the middle classes. Good luck with your decision :-)

  16. A bit late to the party I know, but I discovered your blog through Facebook and just had to comment on this post. I have lived in Belgium for 12 years and my Belgian husband and I are moving back home (to Cape Town) at the end of the year.

    The other stories made me laugh but the Fruit&Veg City lady made me want to cry.”…she suddenly stopped dead, looked me in the eye and said, ‘where are my manners? Hello. How are you, and did you have a nice weekend?’ I was surprised, but also not, because you do get that kind of thing happening down here.”

    That sort of thing NEVER happens here. I miss that humanity so much.

    Not long now though… :)

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