Offbeat 19 February 2016
It seems like I’m finally turning into an old guy. Given the incipient status, this week, I am almost tempted to begin writing grumbly letters to newspapers that begin, ‘Dear Sir’. But no matter how many decades I count, I still feel like I am twenty-five, or maybe twenty.
I prefer twenty. It was a brilliant year. There was the whole thing of the struggle, a righteous anger, that still reverberates with me. The protest songs gave shape to the anger, the hopeful idealism that begged for change, and a sense of belonging as well.
You have to think about it consciously. The cops were borders that gave cohesiveness to the people they believed they would contain. You can only be an insider if the outsiders are a threat. Here, and in South Africa, they had Casspirs, bullets and guns. The struggle would probably have petered out rapidly if they had just smiled and invited everybody over for brandy and braaivleis. But that was part of the glasnost that the struggle wanted to achieve in the first place. At least I think it was.
There were other angry songs. A guy who I sorely miss in my mind, Paul, gave me a mix tape of the Sex Pistols and the Damned. That, in hindsight, shaped me as well. It taught me that it is OK to be angry and rowdy. If it is a pop phenomenon it must be valid, and that anger is also danceable.
The mix tape, and the time with Paul and that crew, were also an expression of anger at the other side of things, the dumb brown uniform, the coconut and wingnut hairstyles and the idea that brain-dead muscle was all the justification that was needed to be right.
Paul was an easier challenge to ‘the Boers’. He got busted on some or other minor charge and chucked out of the country. It didn’t happen instantly. The going-away party lasted weeks. From that I learned that necking a bottle of cheap, neat vodka is an expression of rebellion. Fortunately, that particular lesson didn’t stick. At least not for long. Not more than a couple of years.
Unfortunately Paul didn’t make it back. He got swallowed by a city and a lifestyle. I lost someone I valued, short as the friendship was, and that bitterness remains.
The thing that makes me feel old is my understanding of the police. Way back then, the police were a horror. Like the majority, I feared them and hated them. I knew they were willing to take away my liberty. I was keenly aware that the degenerates might also kill to preserve their morally bankrupt culture of enforced separation based on a set of principles so confused that the saviour somehow became the only white guy in Jerusalem, as the expression goes.
The anger remains, but it is confused by my experience of the police today.
The Windhoek City Police have never been anything less than helpful, courteous and respectful. Some years ago, I once even gave them coffee when they came to help quieten my former neighbours, the dog farmers.
There’s also the person now known to me as Inspector. The fact that a drinking buddy is a detective inspector came as a shock to me. Then I realised I am no longer at odds with the law, and I relaxed. Then I thought about the fact that I am not at odds with the law, or at least what the law wants from me, and I was shocked again.
Now that I feel old, and shocked, I feel the need to write letters to the paper that begin with the words, ‘Dear Sir’. I’m just not sure about what. I still fire up the Pistols and the Damned on Youtube from time to time, but the nostalgia of punk rebellion, and the sight of middle aged punks trying to get their rambunctiousness on, doesn’t yield any clues.
Maybe I should write about the kids at UCT, remind them that rebellion wants a definite cause and an imminent threat. There are times when lives are in jeopardy and times to take a stand. Burning art for the sake of cheaper accommodation makes no sense, and seems like little more than a dumb way to blow off steam.
‘Dear Sir, with respect to the generation and student protests of today…’ It doesn’t carry conviction.