As I was packing up in Vancouver and getting ready for my long flight home, I heard the news about the brutal and senseless murder of the UK honeymooner, Anni Dewani last week in Cape Town. For a number of reasons, this story, of all bad stories you hear in SA affected me considerably. I thought I’d share some sentiments. For those of you that haven’t been following BBC’s hounding of the story, here it is in a nutshell:
A wealthy newlywed Indian couple from the UK were in Cape Town on their honeymoon. After a day at the wine farms, at around 10 pm, they were heading home in a hired cab when Anni asked the driver to show her some of ‘the real South Africa’. The driver took a detour through Gugulethu township, on the Cape Flats, a dangerous area. They were hijacked by some men who shoved the driver out of the car. A short time later, Mr Dewani was pushed out of the vehicle and the assailants took off with the beautiful, young Anni in the car. Her body was found in the backseat in another area of the Cape Flats afterwards.
Hearing the news really shocked me at first. I felt terrible for that poor woman, her husband and her family. After the initial shock, came the fear…I suddenly realised that Nyanga, the place that my Engineers Without Borders project is based, is right next to Gugulethu. I realised that I had been to Gugulethu, and often walk around the streets of Philippi and Nyanga working with people and gathering information for the project. I remembered that I often visit people in their humble homes, walking off major roads and into the shantytowns. I also remembered how fearless I had always been, despite knowing that Nyanga was the worst murder zone in South Africa!
I was suddenly terrified, shaking. Standing alone in an apartment in Vancouver, I struggled to breathe! I didn’t want to continue my work in Nyanga. I emailed the EWB Chair saying that I couldn’t go back there. Not after this! Why was this story affecting me so badly? Maybe it was because it was a young Indian woman, like me, and that it happened in the areas I so casually wander around…
It was only when I’d calmed down that I considered the facts. People are raped and murdered in that area every day. Nyanga is no more or no less dangerous now than it was last week. The reasons for the violent crime in South Africa are numerous and varied, but all stem from a history of oppression, slavery and violence. Gangs, drugs, violent crime: all products of an amalgamation of displacement, institutionalized poverty, and most of all peoples’ desire for a retribution that never transpired. Are the poorest in this country not still as poor as they were during Apartheid, if not more so? Was the dream of freedom and democracy not tainted with the severe lack of service delivery and corruption from our new government? Did I not already know this? Is this not why I was working in these areas in the first place, trying to put right the wrongs of the past, (a past in which my family also suffered under Apartheid) by engaging and uplifting? Did my parents and godparents not join The Struggle and fight against the evil that plagued their lives? Did I not owe it to them to continue their legacy?
A memory came to mind, one that I still hold as the strongest moment in my time in Nyanga:
An old man, coming home in his blue overalls. He stops next to our group of multi-cultural UCT students, and shakes each of our hands saying “Touch my blood“, a brotherly term used as a greeting in the area. He thanks us for being there, for venturing out of our false-first-world paradise, for caring enough and not being ashamed to “see the people”.
So I sat in the airport in Vancouver, downing a Scotch and feeling torn between the fear and the love in my heart, the hurt and the passion that drives me back to Nyanga each time…Sure, I never venture into the Flats at night, and never without an escort and well-known translator from the community. Sure I go in groups and take every precaution on the rare occasions that I send members out without me. Sure I trust the people in that community, sure they know me and know what we are trying to achieve. I was always so brave, or was it that I was just naive? My friend L.O. told me (bless him!) “Courage is not doing something in the absence of fear. Courage is knowing the risks, feeling the fear, and doing it anyway!”
And I guess that pretty much summed it up. I made a decision: I wont run away or turn my back on the work that is so important to me. I wont live in fear in my own country, the only place I call home. I will keep doing developmental work in Africa, because that is what I am the most passionate about, that is what motivates me and that is what I want to devote my life to doing. I will not run off the Australia and Canada or the UK like so many other educated South Africans do, because this is my home, and I want to do whatever I can to make it a better place for my people.
Ok, so thats the end of my rant. Please read the blog below written by Kevin Bloom. It really is very thoughtful, and is more factual.