Universal suffrage finally came to South Africa in 1994. Not everyone cheered. Many whites hoarded beans, rice, rusks, canned protein, candles and gasoline, etc. They expected societal breakdown, if not mass violence committed by blacks in retribution.
Thousands of whites emigrated, but, this is often overlooked, thousands also returned from overseas, so the "chicken run" was balanced out by repatriation. Foreigners also arrived to join the Rainbow Nation. Here in Cape Town, I've met two Americans who are still here, though their children have left.
Chicken Licken is a South African fast-food chain. Founded in 1981 by the son of a Greek immigrant, it has 259 branches in two countries. In 2010, it aired a classic ad that begins with a snapshot of suburban tranquility. We see a pleasant house in Krugersdorp boasting a landscaped front yard, date palm, arbored entrance, stone chimney and handsome muntined windows. Its fence is low, with no razor or electric wires above it.
A young male voice narrates, "In 1994, we moved from our house in Oranje Street, number 30, to our new home, under Oranje Street, number 30." From warm, natural light, we shift into a darker world that's blueishly lit. Long rows of steel shelves hold boxes, bags and cans of food. Brilliantly cast, a ghostly pale, moon faced boy with a bowl haircut seems incredulously at his new abode. A thick steel door slams shut.
"But life in our new home was very fine" for a while." The mother is shown lounging beneath several lamps, with an electric fan behind her. She's sunning herself at a mental beach, to the strumming of an electric ukulele.
As soul sapping boredom sets in, they become zombie like. Dead eyed, the boy throws a ball repeatedly against a wall. He presses the vacuum cleaner hose against his mouth or cheek. Their meals always feature Vienna sausages. They welcome a baby girl into their tiny, suffocating universe. We see her blowing out two candles on a Vienna sausage cake.
Above is a cheery Chicken Licken franchise, next to the old date palm. He comes out through the garbage can to a heavenly chorus, "Gloria" Gloria"" Basking in the normalcy of it all, his face is angelic. Suddenly, he sees his pa at a Formica table, pigging out and looking guilty. Golden fried chicken fills the final shot, "IF YOU HAVEN'T TRIED IT, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?"
In 2010, it's easy to laugh at the hysteria of 1994, but some of it had been justified. A lot depended on where you were. By 2010, over 3,000 white farmers had been killed by blacks. It's a problem that's especially serious in the eastern, more Zulu-dominated provinces, such as Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.
In the three Cape provinces, it was less of a problem. Cape Town based J. M. Coetzee, though, has seared us with the horrific black-on-white gang rape in his 1999 novel, Disgrace.
Coetzee also describes "cardboard-and-iron shanties clustered on the fairways of the golf course." Shacks and tents have certainly become common all over Cape Town. Bits of the black townships have encroached into civic spaces and formerly all-white neighborhoods.
Many ramshackle dwellings or just ragged people sleeping on the ground can be found outside the Castle of Good Hope or Saint Mary's Cathedral. The Grand Parade opposite City Hall has turned into a third-world bazaar, with shoppers rummaging through steel bins for used clothing.
Coetzee is off, though, with this prediction, "Inexorably, he thinks, the country is coming to the city. Soon there will be cattle again on Rondeborsch Common; soon history will have come full circle." Cape Town hasn't devolved that far yet.
An Oriental immigrant tells me Cape Town has gone steadily downhill through his two decades here, yet he won't go anywhere, for he still loves this sophisticated beauty. Plus, can you deny that the US, UK, Australia or France, for example, hasn't suffered maybe even worse decline?
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