Why I live in a stockade

By James Clarke

I was asked in Cape Town recently, “Are you a typical Gautenger?”

“A coat hanger?”

“I am asking, are you from Gauteng?”

“Ah! You mean a real dyed-in-the wool, typical Gauteng resident?”

He nodded.

My head filler bubbled and churned before I was able to sort out an answer: Yes, I suppose I am.

After all I don’t know the name of the mayor, or my local councillor. That’s typical enough.

I never speak to my neighbour unless, say, I noticed his house was on fire and even then I’d only shout “Fire!” once. I wouldn’t get chatty about it.

Anything west of Randfontein is theoretical and I have only been to Boksburg once in 50 years. I can never remember the new name for neighbouring Edenvale. If you said it was Ekurhuleni I’d believe you.

I get into prolonged arguments about how to get from Sandton to Auckland Park and can’t find Dinwiddie on a map.

The most frequently used part of my car is the hooter.

I consider Pretoria foreign and Cape Town overseas.

Although I haven’t yet been mugged or acquired even a single bullet hole I have been burgled four times.

I now live in a typical suburban stockade which, for an outsider, is about as difficult to get into as a nuclear weapons research establishment. It is protected day and night by a dozen security guards.

Most people I know outside my stockade have unfriendly dogs named Satan and two different reaction force signs on their walls.

There are 790 posters on my daily, hour-long route of 15km. They are tied to trees and to specially erected posts for holding posters three-at-a-time; posters are fixed to litter bins, on walls and on illuminated hoardings the size of soccer fields.

At every robot I have to avoid eye contact with crowds of people giving out pamphlets from “doctors” or “professors” who can fix personal problems from sex inadequacies to “winning back lost lovers” or winning the Lotto or curing anything from compound fractures to hair loss. Others hand out pamphlets from estate agents, plumbers, electricians, garages and restaurants.

Robot retailers sell everything from wire sculptures to flags and caps to wall maps.

One must avoid meeting the eyes of beggars tapping at one’s car window holding their cardboard “God bless” signs.

There’s always six local traffic lights out of order.

Half of my extended family now live overseas.

I have a dozen different take-away menus next to the phone.

I am suspicious of strangers who smile at me.

My garden service man is Malawian, next door’s man is Zimbabwean and the fellow on the other side is from Mozambique. The manager of my local supermarket is a Xhosa; the butcher is a German, the local café owner is Greek and my favourite restaurant is Portuguese.

Yes, I’m a typical Gautenger.

Maybe this is why I bristled when my acquaintance claimed Cape Town had a better class of criminal than we have up here. He said thieves ask, politely, “Please give me your cellphone.”

He’d even been approached by one who said, apologetically, “Excuse me Sir, I need money for a meal because all I have in the world is this 9mm pistol”.

Yes, OK, I’ll confess, ours are not nearly as polite.

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