You wouldn’t be happy with crops on your doorstep, so why the ...

Ideas

You wouldn’t be happy with crops on your doorstep, so why the outrage?

Why would the black elite and the educated be so vociferous in their support of Joe Nkuna?

Vusi Mavimbela

I visit my small rural town of Vryheid whenever I get the opportunity. That is where I grew up and attended primary and secondary school. Every time I leave to return to Johannesburg, I am depressed and depart with my heart in my mouth. Over recent decades I have seen the continuous deterioration of neighbourhoods, infrastructure and orderly, structured existence in many communities around the country. To see it first-hand in the area where my youthful consciousness was formed seals the reality of our country for me. In my mind, Vryheid has become the microcosm of what is bad in SA.

There, the once beautifully paved streets and pavements are now cracked at every turn. The crevices in the streets and pavements that the municipality has not bothered to fix are overgrown with weeds and grass. Leaking municipal water runs along broken gutters to meet abundant litter left behind by a community that’s unaware it is hazardous. In my youth in an apartheid municipality there was a waste drum every few metres with the inscription, ‘Keep Your Town Clean’. The sight of those neat drums helped to drill into my youthful conscience that I could not willy-nilly cast my empty Coca-Cola can into the gutter.

In my hometown today there is hardly any difference between the pavement and the shop beyond it. The former are not only broken and overgrown, they are also bedecked with all manner of merchandise from all corners of the planet. There is a township aunt selling sweets and vegetables out of tattered cardboard boxes. She competes for pavement space with a Somali who peddles nappies and sanitary pads, or a Pakistani touting fake leather belts and bags, or a Nigerian with multiple second-hand mobile phones, electronic calculators or illegally duplicated CDs and DVDs strewn across the pavement, or a Zimbabwean with bales of multicoloured African cloth hanging over his shoulders. To get into the shop beyond the pavement, one has to carefully negotiate one’s way through this informal marketplace that is governed by no bylaw or regulation whatsoever. If one happens to trample or kick a piece of merchandise by mistake, one might get an earful of unpalatable expletives in any language. It is a marketplace of fiercely contending interests where fake and smuggled contraband has flooded the space, ensuring a better competitive edge for the smugglers and producers of fake commodities. Because there are no longer any drums reminding everybody to ‘Keep Your Town Clean’ and no law or regulation governing the informal marketplace that has emerged, refuse emanating from all this informal and formal commercial activity clogs the broken gutters and drains. It is filthy...

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