Thanks to Mike Wood, the author, for his first contribution to Knysna Keep. It is always welcoming to find someone who can see both sides. We have to bridge the divide between Knysna central, its islands and the poor areas that surround them. Concordia, Khayalethu, Smutsville and Hornlee are Knysna suburbs too!
Last night I had supper with departing friends at a well known, up-market Thesen Island restaurant. It’s the first time I’ve been back for a year and a half. Why? Because I’d imposed a personal boycott. How so?
Well, the last time I took my other half there (in the company of a visiting United Kingdom Ambassador in Addis Ababa, and his wife) they nearly poisoned her with a plate of manky prawns which smelled so awful that it caused, let’s say, a physical reaction at the table.
The management dealt with the matter in a manner which is unfortunately characteristic in our lovely town. No direct profuse apology. A different dish was offered but refused. Poor ‘other half’ felt so ill that only an ice cream could take away the disgusting taste of rank prawns. The icing on her cake was that the restaurant charged us for the ice cream! And still in a state of mild shock, we were daft enough to pay. Last night’s meal was much better, so for the moment the restaurant is forgiven. But don’t ask me to eat their prawns please.
This morning, as I was driving along George Rex Drive, I responded as I often do, to a road-side appeal for a lift. I have for some time ignored remonstrations of friends and acquaintances who consistently urge, ‘You must never do that! You don’t know what these people will do when they get into your car.’ In jumped a perfectly nice ‘general worker’ (his euphemism for painter, decorator, plumber, electrician and Lord knows what else). He hadn’t had any kind of employment for five days yet he asked me for nothing. We got talking about football, often a good starting point with local people. And we chatted happily about Chelsea’s superb achievement on Tuesday night in conquering the best team in the world (Barcelona) in spite of being a man short for other forty five minutes (Terry red-carded for kneeing a wimpy Barca forward in the back).
I asked my ten-minute-companion about the World Cup back in 2010. Be patient! I’m now going to connect this conversation, with those who entertained me last night.
The ‘general worker’ started to castigate our politicians. ‘They lied,’ he said.
I wasn’t about to stop his flow with a peremptory ‘what did you expect?’ question. He was referring to the crud we heard in advance of the big event of 2010. You all remember now, don’t you? South Africa was to be transformed into the centre of the universe. The investment in huge stadium and infrastructure was essential. The debt the nation would incur and suffer, was manageable. The return on that investment would be massive. There would be jobs forever. Everything in the garden would be rosy from now on. And, in Knysna, our Municipality told us the same. The presence of French and Danish football teams would transform the town into a global mecca for the fans of both teams. Business would swell.
Spending millions of rand on turfing, re-equipping and generally modernising the stadium at Lourie Park was a necessary condition of that business expansion. Zillions of football followers would make us all rich. Yeah, yeah!
Since those heady days, many but not all of the propagators of those lies have left the scene with their miserable tails between their legs. Should these decision makers have been the subject of an Inquiry into their rash judgments? Rather like that investigating press and police involvement in phone-hacking in UK (the Leveson Inquiry). Of course not, dopey! This is South Africa.
Anyway, what is the connection between the quiet discontent shown by my ‘general worker’ and something which my restaurant hosts were insistent upon during our meal. They both point to a noticeable decline in Knysna’s economy. Everything is closing down, they both say. Knysna’s life blood is draining away. Cinema gone. Car show room, never opened. Building projects suspended. Distinctly mediocre restaurants closing. FOR RENT signs everywhere in the most prominent down town buildings. Impossible to sell your house, even to the dreaded foreigners (who only a couple of years back were condemned far and wide for ‘driving up Knysna property prices). Now, house sellers would cut off their ears to get hold of foreign money for their property.
There is. of course. a world recession (except perhaps in the hell-hole of manufacturing they call China). But it is wrong to imply that ‘we are all suffering’ in equal measure. Because there’s no comparison between the life that many of us lead here, even in these depressed times, and my ‘ten-minute-companion.’ For up-market restaurants still seem to be packed with ‘revelers.’ We consume a meal which costs the equivalent of two days pay for the average ‘general worker,’ if he’s lucky, and then hand over a couple of rand to the car guard, the likes of whom we occasionally grumble about as they lurk around our vehicles. The golf courses are well attended. Those of us who can, take frequent long weekends ‘away’ – a little break to cheer us up. We shoot off on our extravagant holidays, don’t we. Our dogs (which one person responding to my recent blog (see ‘Dog Fart Tax’) told me ‘they’re here to guard us, idiot’) are well fed with imported food and little treats.
And, occasionally, when we have time to think about it for a moment, we sadly acknowledge (yet somehow continue to fear) the presence of that mass of humanity ‘on the hill’ – as if it wasn’t truly part of our community – a disfigured society where perhaps for the most unfortunate, even the bins of up-market restaurants might be raided for their next meal.