AS we entered Greyton, it hit me in the stomach. The enormous gardens, the beautiful houses, the cosy feel of a welcoming country town. There are many descriptions for such a place: pretty, pleasing, picturesque, beautiful, attractive, charming.
Yet something made me feel uncomfortable. I dropped off my luggage at the house that a friend had rented at great expense. It was a nice double-storey with a swimming pool, braai area and several large rooms.
I'm deeply grateful for my friend and his hospitality. It has been a long friendship and I don't want to appear unappreciative, but that's not the point of my article.
Out of curiosity I went to look at the main street and back alleys. The homes with their large gardens full of pruned trees and topiaries are like the places that appear in Architectural Digest's glossy pages. I even heard a rooster crow. Delightful.
I was surrounded by laughing people on the verandas of restaurants, the smell of freshly ground coffee and oven-baked pizzas. Wonderful, businesses create jobs and it is important that our country's towns look proud and beautiful.
I have no problem with that. But what struck me were the people: white. Everywhere. The coloured people were like extras in a play, walking around in the background as if they were invisible.
Where you do see them, they work as waiters or gardeners, at reception counters, the subjects of white customers and residents. Their body language is that of the downtrodden, the oppressed. That hat-in-hand-at-the-back-door-for-a-cup-of-coffee-in-an-enamel-mug type of feeling.
The sound of “ja baas" and “nee miesies" can still be heard. Once again, I must make it clear that they should probably be “grateful" that they have work; it is ipso facto better than being unemployed.
That is not the point. It is crystal clear for anyone with an eye for posture: the white people here are in charge. They walk with courage, ease, confidence.
At the peak of their careers, they were probably the captains of industry who made their money thanks to white affirmative action when the Nats still wielded the sceptre. Or they inherited money.
I posted on Facebook: “In Greyton for the night visiting an old friend. Nice to see him. Still making up my mind about this place. But the mountains are nice. Pretty. Yet, what hides behind the facade?”
A friend replied: “Get yourself a white panama hat, a pink golf shirt, khaki cargo pants and boater shoes with secret socks. You'll fit right in. Oh, and speak Bishopscourt English.”
I couldn't have provided a better summary. Oh, and many of them drive large SUVs. Outside the OK I noticed a black Hummer with fat wheels. (I see on the internet that one tyre costs an estimated R12,759, much more than the monthly earnings of a waiter who told me she earns R4,000 with tips.)
Inside the idling car an impatient-looking white woman was waiting. I watched her out of interest and because people who sit in cars with the engines running baffle me.
Then a coloured woman in a pink uniform came running. It was hot and she was sweating. She handed a paper bag to the woman. Madam took a bite of the pie she pulled out of the bag and put her foot down.
Too much of a “grandee" to turn off the air conditioning, get out of the colossal Donald Trump-esque armoured vehicle and stand in line with ordinary people to buy a pie.
I can hear it: “Our Lizzie doesn’t mind my dear, she’s part of the furniture in our house.” Yes, domestic helpers are often compared to pieces of furniture.
Don't think Greyton is unique. This village is a microcosm of others: Yzerfontein, Stilbaai, Gansbaai, to name a few. On Facebook I see that more than 1,000 people attended the Christmas morning service of seven congregations in Kleinmond.
In the video, everyone seems to be white. As Andrew Geland comments on this post: “Only whiteys going to worship, for a white Jesus, with their sly thoughts. Now they pray — for what? Why don't they return the stolen land to the people it actually belonged to. Now they pray."
Towns as a refuge for white people, someone needs to write a thesis on that. White enclaves and bubbles where the privileged who, because of their skin colour, were able to get good jobs in the previous dispensation and can now live generously off the fat of apartheid.
As Prof Ronnie Donaldson writes in Small Town Tourism in South Africa: “Greyton is a sought after place of residence for elite immigrants, turning the town into a jewel tourism destination while reinforcing racial segregation.
“As a consequence of apartheid spatial planning, the town of Greyton is spatially and economically polarised: there is the area called Greyton village where the residents are primarily white, wealthy and retired and/or entrepreneurial and/or second-home owners, and there is Heuwelkroon where all residents are coloured and most are impoverished.
“In modern public policy the marketing of towns as villages has become a powerful tool for successful rural regeneration where it builds on the rural mystique — and the idea that villages are idyllic and pastoral is particularly applicable to Greyton.”
Yes, during three decades the ANC has cared very little for poor people, perhaps out of self-hatred or shame, and of course the shady urge for self-enrichment. Nevertheless, pinch your skin if you are white and realise it has opened many doors for you.
The white people prancing around should remember: with the implementation of the Group Areas Act, coloured families who had lived with neighbours of all races for a century were forced to “sell" their houses and farmland.
Some left Greyton for good. Others moved to houses outside the town in Heuwelkroon. Those houses on the “crown of the hill" (how ironic) were rented out at high prices to the residents, who suffered financially and often could not pay their accommodation costs.
Take a look at this Top Billing insert, where the only coloured person appears for a few seconds as a “handler" of a horse.
Heuwelkroon’s anonymous people
I wake up at 5am because I hear something in the garden outside my window. I walk out and meet the gardener. I'll call him Jan. It's not his real name because he doesn't want his employer to know he's talking to other people.
He lives in Heuwelkroon. Jan is poorly dressed and his back is bent. He lived in the village as a young man and when they had to leave like rats he started doing seasonal work on farms at the age of 12.
First, he milked cows. “But then the machines came and milked the cows," he says. Then he began watering, irrigating and fertilising wheat. He went from farm to farm, and when the work was done he had to leave.
His boyhood home in the village is a restaurant today. He lives in Heuwelkroon and works as a gardener. He remembers the gardens in which he works from his young days, when coloured families lived there.
“Yes," he says, “there might still be wheat in Egypt, there may be a chance for better things." He lights his pipe, looks at a hadeda pecking among the flowers.
The man with a real name
In 1975, Johan Strydom's parents and his relatives were driven from the town to Heuwelkroon. He is also a gardener.
Johan is outspoken about the land issue and believes there is space in Greyton where housing can be built as compensation. There was also an eight-hectare plot that the Theewaterskloof municipality wanted to sell for R100 so a private school could be built there.
“Fortunately it was stopped," says Johan. “No one will change my way of thinking regarding the land issue in Greyton. I was three years old when my parents were kicked out of Greyton village because of their skin colour.
“We had to go and live in Heuwelkroon in a municipality house for which they had to pay expensive rent. It impoverished my parents.
“I now live in the backyard of my parents' house; we are three households on one plot. And still the municipality refuses to provide us with land."
In retrospect, it must be nice to be white and have a house with a garden in Greyton. A garden with a gardener whose family or friends have been driven away — perhaps from the very place where you live.
As mentioned, if you're coloured in Greyton you should probably be “grateful" for any old job, right? Matthew 23:27 declares: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”
♦ VWB ♦
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