Rage, rage against the partying of the lighties

After hearing about the Matric Rage going down this weekend, I knew right away I had to be part of it. When I finished school, we didn’t have such a thing. On the last day of school, our teachers gave us a final farewell beating and sent us home to be beaten by our parents who sent us to the army to be beaten by our corporals. Good times.

I am delighted to see that school-leavers are finally venting their rage. They must be full of it. Rage against a derelict education system that left them ill-equipped for life on the outside. Rage against the puritanical purveyors of pedagogy who denied them the opportunity to experiment with sex and drugs and other essential rites of passage during break time. Rage against the parentals – against tyrannical fathers who maintain their tight-fisted grip on power by controlling the cash flow and cosseting mothers who merely extend instead of sever the apron strings. And, more than anything, rage against a government that has pocketed their inheritance and kicked them in the teeth.

I, too, am filled with unrequited rage and shall be expressing it at Plettenberg Bay. To be sure, I would rather have been at the Ballito Rage or the Umhlanga Rage because the constabulary in that region is a lot more laissez-faire and the weed is of a better quality. However, the holiday from hell is drawing to a close and I will be nearer to the Plett Rage. Since I am passing through the Transkei, perhaps I shall purchase several kilos of primo from one of the mendicant vendors who traverse those dusty boulevards and share it among my fellow ragers. On the other hand, perhaps not. There is nothing that dispels a good head of rage more than a good head of Transkei rooibaard.

During my research, I came across a rage page on the internet. Instead of extending an open invitation to anyone with rage bubbling in their hearts, it said quite the opposite. “To attend you have to have finished school and be no older than 25.” What? For a start, it was school that damn near finished me. And while my behaviour frequently exhibits tendencies that fall squarely into the realm of the juvenile delinquent, my well-travelled face will betray me when it comes time to demand entrance to this elitist, ageist gathering of the doomed.

The website promised bands, DJs and “beach activities”. You can keep your bands and your DJs. I want to be part of the beach activities. No. I want to spearhead the beach activities. American troops pulled it off nicely at the Omaha Beach Party in 1944, even though several thousand died at the after party. Since then, security has improved considerably and I expect fewer casualties at the Plett Rage.

In fact, ragers were reassured that an experienced security team “with close ties to the local law enforcement” would be on hand. Yes, this is exactly what rampaging mobs of pheromone-crazed teenagers want – surly bouncers on braaing terms with the local cops trailing them through the vomit-stained streets and breaking their legs whenever they showed signs of over-excitement.

The site also provided this coded message to ragers: ‘As you embark on your road trip to the paradise of Plett, say goodbye to exams, stress and deadlines and say hello to freedom!”

It must be code because if Plett is paradise, give me hell any day. As for entering a shiny new stress-free world full of fabulousness and frilly cocktails, well, I hate to pour acid rain on your dreams, but the best you can hope for is the chance to sign on the dotted line and work for fifty years.

And that’s if you’re lucky.

The Prodigal Son Returns

Hello, Durban. It’s good to be back.

No, I haven’t been in prison. I was living in Cape Town for a while. This is my hometown. I’m from the wrong side of the Umgeni. It’s where I grew up, lost my virginity and was arrested for the very first time. Good memories.

Life and death conspired to deposit me in Westbrook, a settlement tucked away in the bush between Ballito and Umdloti. I beg your pardon. eMdloti. Does it really matter if it’s an upper case U or a lower case e? A small m or a big M? If so, then I insist we call our city d’Urban.

It was, after all, named after Sir Benjamin d’Urban, an excellent soldier and a vile human being. When the darkies refused to be ground into submission, he called them “treacherous and irreclaimable savages” and had them killed in large numbers. As far as I know, Umdloti never harmed anyone.

Westbrook, I have to say, is a bit isolated for me. For a start, it doesn’t have a bottle store. Then again, I was previously living in Fish Hoek, a town not exactly known for its plethora of bottles stores.

The only shop within 10kms is a café called Seagull’s Roost. I am on far better terms with the monkeys than I am with my neighbours. And on Saturday nights the only entertainment is provided by Tongaat’s finest spoilt brats, spinning the wheels of their triple overhead cam-shafted daddy-bought cars in the parking lot there by the beach.

Speaking of the beach, Beach Bums is only a few hundred metres away from me, but I need a machete to get to the bar on weekends. I also have to shout to be heard above the rave music and I must take care not to jostle any of the heavily tattooed steroid junkies who lurch about in their baggies and tight, white wife-beaters clutching jam jars full of liquor.

One of the reasons I prefer d’Urban to Cape Town is that the ocean doesn’t actively try to kill you. I have surfed in icy seas infested with kelp and great white sharks and let me tell you, the Indian Ocean is better.

When the surf gets big, my home breaks are deadly. You ain’t in Muizenberg any more, I tell myself as I once again fail to get to my feet quickly enough to avoid being slammed into the Westbrook sandbank. The waves in town are more forgiving. Which is more than I can say for the local crew. I have surfed at New Pier and had children shouting at me for getting in their way.

What I hadn’t done was gone into the city, proper. It had been a while. I was a reporter on the Daily News when it still had offices in Field Street. That was before Field Street became Qonda ngqo khona-manjalo jikela ngakwesobunxele Street.

When I told my family I was going into town to have a look around, you’d think I had said I was off to Mexico to bag cocaine for the Tijuana cartel. My sister wept and clung to me. My father begged me not to go. My mother turned in her grave.

“At least wear a bullet-proof vest,” implored my father. My sister pressed a Swiss army knife into my hand. I put it in my pocket. On a mission this dangerous, I might well need to open some kind of medication to steady my nerves.

I parked outside Zack’s on North Beach. The building is so run-down it should be called Cracks. Joe Cool’s is not much better. The only two places offering sustenance and libations to weary beach-goers look as if they were designed by the North Koreans. If you were a tourist who happened to be looking for a research facility that conducts experiments on animals, you would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled upon it. Their kitchen staff probably experiment on animals all the time. Why do you think your beef bourguignon tastes like shikken? Don’t complain. Hybrids are good for you.

Heading south, a sign put up by the Parks, Leisure and Cemeteries Department – they fit together so well – informed me that I couldn’t fish on the North Beach pier. You can’t do anything on the pier at the moment because they are preparing to stuff it with giant bags of sand. Good luck with that, comrades.

I parked outside the Beach Hotel, had a quick beer at Harpoon Harry’s, then hailed a rickshaw. I asked him to take me down West Street.                                                                                                                “Pixley kaSeme,” he said.                                                                                                                           I put my hand out. “Ben Trovato. Pleased to meet you.”                                                                              Oh. I see. It’s now Pixley kaSeme Street. Presumably because West was a bit of a bastard.

I sensed things had changed when I saw a surgery sharing a wall with Mzamo’s Fast Food. Handy if the burger lodges in your throat. Or if you wake up hungry with a pig’s heart in your chest.

I thought I’d have a beer at El Castilian for old time’s sake. I was the drummer for a band called the Slaves of Janet and we played there one night but the crowd turned on us and we had to run for our lives.

El Castilian is now either the Miss Des Miss Hair & Beauty Salon or Zulu Palace, which probably doesn’t form part of King Goodwill Zwelithini’s burgeoning empire.

I took a left down Point Road. It’s not called that any more, of course. Point was even more of a bastard than West. Now it’s known as Mahatma Gandhi Road. What a brilliant idea. Let’s take the filthiest, most degenerate, street in the country – one that is infested with whores and junkies – and name it after one of the most enlightened leaders the world has ever seen.

I turned back after being offered heroin, coke, ecstasy, weed, crack, acid and ketamine in one city block. Where did they think I was going to put it all? I told the dealers I’d be back with a bakkie and ambled on down Smith Street. Sorry. Anton Lembede Street. However, a sticker over the name said it was Sutcliffe Avenue. The work of a right-wing nut? I don’t think so. It’s an honour to have a street named after you. So who benefits by sticking Sutcliffe Avenue over all the street names? I’m just saying. It wouldn’t hurt for the cops to have a word with the former city manager. I bet you’d find a ladder in his garage.

I walked past the Downtown Holiday Lodge – offering upmarket luxury accommodation plus free adult movies – and rated my chances of survival if I nipped in for a beer at their pub. They weren’t good.

I passed a man selling feather dusters and catapults and a tsotsi carrying a pair of handcuffs. You want my wallet? Fine. Cuff me and take it. Better than being stabbed. Later, after the mugging, the police drive past and shoot you in the head because you look like an escaped prisoner.

Then I got lost and couldn’t tell my Florence Nzamas from my Monty Naickers. “Don’t get your Naickers in a knot,” I said aloud, laughing at my own pathetic joke.

I could get away with this kind of behaviour because the only other white people on the streets were vagrants and vagabonds who looked as if they had drifted down from the hinterland on a river of mayhem and misery. I saw one wearing Crocs and socks and wanted to give him money. That’s not true. I wanted to give him a smack.

Realising that the people all around me already thought I was just another mad, homeless mlungu, I began shouting at the taxis. “Stop fucking hooting!” It was pointless. Do the drivers think everyone on the street is mentally impaired and that only by repeatedly hooting will they make people realise they need a taxi?

I found a market selling good quality pirated goods and, even better, a quarter chicken and chips for R20. I bought a quarter mutton bunny instead and ate it on a bench in Farewell Square, right there in the unsmiling face of the City Hall.

I got a few strange looks, sure, but only because I wasn’t eating like a white man. I was up to my elbows in curry juice. Half my face was stained orange. What the hell. If the Royal Hotel could let itself go, then so could I.

Anyway. My family’s worst fears never came close to being realised. Nobody was doing their laundry in the Medwood Gardens fountain. No one was slaughtering a goat at the foot of the Cenotaph. There was no stick fighting on the steps of the Post Office. No boys having their foreskins chopped off. No girls having their virginity tested.

I have been relentlessly hassled and hustled in Maputo, Lusaka, Harare, Accra, Gaborone, Maseru, Mombasa, Nairobi, Dakar and Banjul. But not in Durban. Not once.

If anything, it felt as if I was being allowed back in. As if I were some kind of alpha male monkey who had been expelled from the troop for bad behavior and was now being given a second chance.

On my way out, I wanted to stop at the Butterworth Hotel for a beer. For old time’s sake. Back then, it was the only hotel within walking distance of the Daily News that allowed black people to drink in the bar. I looked for parking but there was none. Probably for the best. Time hasn’t been kind to the old rebel.

* This column first appeared in the Sunday Tribune on July 8th, 2013.