On the importance of choosing the right grocery store.

We are two days in on our run of concerts at Baxter Theatre, Rondebosch, Cape Town.

Some songs are, as they should be, harder to sing and listen to than others, but they are important ingredients in our stew of bitter and sweet. Some songs bring sweet memories of victories won and some courage for victories to be won. But to have the opportunity to express it all in music and words is precious. A human right that this part of the world has taught me all I know about.

I had to go and do a little shopping just before yesterday’s concert. I asked where the closest grocery shop was and got the answer Pic’n’pay in Rondebosch. I went there, for the first time ever, but still had a flashback of memories…

Almost 40 years ago when I came to do a volunteer year in SA I stayed together with two other young foreign men in a house in the designated “white” area of Rondebosch, trying to come to terms with the absolute madness of its racial laws in our daily routines. The first day we met we organized our little household and it fell on my lot to do the grocery-shopping. I asked the previous house-dweller where the closest grocery shop was and I got the answer Pic’n’pay in Rondebosch…

But there was something in that answer that did not satisfy me; surely there must be something closer on the other side of the railway tracks, outside of our “designated area”? I went there, the first time clearly outside my comfort zone, but realized with a defiant joy that yes, it was a lot closer, and yes, it was cheaper and above all yes, yes it was a lot more fun when you had conquered your initial fears and questioned the upheld belief-systems.

There were many more railway-tracks to be crossed after that. Behind the “colored” area, in the intricate geo-politics of the apartheid minds, waited the “black area” and behind that those that weren’t designated at all; the “illegal” black women and children who defied all the systems by their sheer presence, and of course that was where most of my lessons were to be found. That’s where I found the most beautiful songs. Songs of victory that rose from the most humiliating defeats by the voices of the most voiceless and songs of hope where hope seemed like utter nonsense. My own life’s ground zero, my own place of death and resurrection.  

All of a sudden I see my life as a series of bridges in to the unknown and unsafe areas which finally leads me full sphere back to where I am. My life – along with Rondebosch’s and South-Africa’s – has changed a lot since those days but I pray that I will still find courage to take that less travelled, lit and recommended road. There awaits the greatest gifts. The joy of now conducting a small choir with members from across the railway-tracks in a united Cape Town is still such a wonderful and priceless award it makes my heart swell and sing just thinking about it. This is what we hoped for and fought for… And now the songs from that other side of the railway-track is sung all over the world as it is a song the world hungers to hear; “Akanamandla!” “Thuma mina!” “Siyahamba!”.  The darkness has no power, send me, as we walk in the light…

We need to practice these songs again and again. Rondebosch is not any longer a place only for whites. It is now a place where the fight for human dignity and equality is stark and absolutely essential. And we in the rich North, which in a global context has a lot of similarities with Rondebosch in the 80’s, fearing the scrapping of its white-only exclusivity, have a lot of lessons to learn.

After my first months here in the 80’s I got a request from the editor of the yearbook of the  society that I worked for to write something about what it was like to land and navigate in Apartheid South Africa. I wrote about that agony, and the small but priceless gifts - the songs - I picked up from the others from the other side… 

The biggest agony proved to be to read the printed article later in the yearbook. All the parts that was critical to our own work and presence was edited out in an impossible task of trying to maintain a sort of status-quo.

I guess most of you who read this, at least if one can trust the statistics of “Blogger”, find yourselves in the North geographically, if not all in spirit. We have a lot of work to do, to dare to challenge an unequal and dangerous world order and to walk that talk, and take that not so recommended trip over the railway-tracks into an area that is not designated to us. Where we feel uncomfortable at first, where we experience fear but also where our fears are proven unfounded and finally laid to rest. And where the songs rise instead.

Our small choices are important, be it only what store we do our grocery shopping in. Those choices, all put in a row, will take us far. We all have those choices daily, no one is excluded.  

For those of you who are physically in the vicinity of Rondebosch and Baxter Theatre… You are most welcome to come and sing with us, cry with us, dance with us. “Freedom is here now!

20.00. Friday and Saturday. Tickets still available at least for Friday... 


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