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I love and hate Mitchell’s Plain

By Kirk Krotz

This has been one of the most interesting weeks of my life. I posted a music video on YouTube last week about my experience of growing up in Mitchell’s Plain and, for reasons unknown to me, the video has gone viral with over 200 000 hits.

For the first time in my life people are interested in what I have to say, my views on the world and, strangely for me, my personality. It’s been both overwhelming and flattering.

I wrote the song one night on my way to drop off a close friend in an area of Mitchell’s Plain called “Hell”. He has lived there most of his life. We chatted about all kinds of things – family, soccer, drugs and how bad the violence was.

The conversation left me feeling incredibly sentimental and disturbed at the same time. And it is this feeling that bore my song The Good and the Bad.

I realised I loved and hated Mitchell’s Plain equally. I loved it because it was the place I grew up in. I remember playing with friends in the “witsand”, the very same dunes where they found the bodies of the victims of the Station Strangler.

Mitchell’s Plain was the backdrop to some of the happiest times in my life. But I hated it equally because it is where I experienced so much trauma. I remember being about five or six and going to watch a movie at the Town Centre – the only mall in Mitchell’s Plain at the time – with my teenage brother.

I remember how excited I was standing in line outside the bioscope when about 20m from us a scuffle broke out and I witnessed my first act of violence. A man was stabbed and another hit with a belt buckle on the head, blood squirting from his forehead in a neat stream. I have never felt so scared and vulnerable since. But with time, this type of trauma would become normal. And it was only in adulthood that I recognised that this was abnormal.

Fortuitously, the launch of my music coincided with the release of the national crime statistics.

Due to my father’s heading up the neighbourhood watch in our area and also being an active member of the Mitchell’s Plain Community Policing Forum for a large part of my childhood, we were always aware of the crime stats and how they affected our lives. Mitchell’s Plain had at one time or another been the deadliest place on earth.

Violence has always been a part of my reality. I remember several instances driving along with my father when he would jump out to mediate some domestic dispute, or when the unexpected appearance of his bakkie would disperse a gang fight. I recall one incident when I saw a guy who had just been attacked by a group of rival gangsters, standing metres away from me, covered in stab wounds.

He was walking around shouting at the top his lungs, “Stiek my! Stiek my, julle n*****s, stiek my!” I remember thinking how different from the fight scenes in the movie this was. In the movies, one stab wound would kill the victim.

As a child on the Cape Flats, violence is a major part of your life. It is not something you choose. It is a daily reality you learn to live with. And today this is still true, maybe even more so than when I grew up.

I now live in the southern suburbs with my family and the one thing I have noticed is my white neighbours’ obsession with crime.

At every braai I have attended, two themes dominate the conversation – how bad crime is and how bad schooling has become.

It’s funny to me, because in the time I have been living here, a number of years now, I have not experienced one incident of violence. I regularly walk to the garage shop down the road at 3am in my pajamas, because it is that safe.

The police station in our area is helpful, clean and visible, patrolling the area alongside the local security firms.

It has become clear to me that my neighbours speak about crime and violence because they have never really experienced it.

The 2013 crime stats confirm a reality I have always known.

The majority of the crime in Cape Town is coloured people killing coloured people, black people killing black people. But there is a perception out there that white people live in constant danger in our country.

All the violence I have witnessed first-hand in my life has been at the hands of coloured people and the victims have been coloured too. And the crime statistics back this up. Mitchell’s Plain police stations still have some of the highest rates of reported murders nationally.

In the past week we also celebrated Heritage Day and once again the theme of my music video held some significance.

I had a media launch at the District Six Museum, significant to me personally in that my mother was from District Six, and I launched myself under the alias “The Boesman Project”, a name I settled on just one week before I put my video online. Initially, I was going to call myself “Boesman”, but almost everyone in my immediate (coloured) circle cautioned me against calling myself Boesman. There were some violent reactions to the name.

One person said: “You are too talented to be called Boesman.”

Are Boesmanne not allowed to be talented?

I should explain the significance of the name for me. I recently did some digging into my lineage and discovered that my mother, who was born in Namaqualand, is a not-so-distant relative of the Witbooi tribe, famous for its leader Hendrick Witbooi.

Witbooi was a revolutionary who fought against the oppression of the German forces in Namibia and Namaqualand and for the freedom of the Khoisan people. He is the equivalent of Nelson Mandela to me. Maybe even more so.

His face is on the Namibian $200 note and he is somehow linked to my heritage.

However, growing up I was never made aware of my link to this great tribe. I was told as a kid that we have German blood due to our surname, Krotz. And I would repeat this when asked about my heritage. I also remember conversations my parents would have about us not having a culture, a view that was common among coloured people who were educated or had good jobs (not doing manual labour).

I recall people saying that we were a mix between white people and black people. We were a nation of bastards, with no heritage, no culture. My mother hated the Klopse because she felt it fed a stereotype of coloureds, the stereotype of the no-teeth flower seller who speaks so funny. This was the one image they always seemed to use on the news.

I heard my parents change their accents when they were in a work context or speaking to white people, something I learnt to replicate when I attended schools outside of my area. I learnt early on that “sounding coloured” was a bad thing, as was “looking coloured”.

My brother mocked my school photos because he said I looked like a “plaas jaapie”. He meant I had the features of a rural coloured person, I looked like a “Boesman” (Bushman) with kroes hair, a big bum and fat lips, a combination of socially unattractive features.

I also remember that the word Boesman was used as a swear word by coloured people. When you really wanted to insult someone you would call him a Boesman. Or Hotnot. I was taught to hate myself. I was taught to emulate something else. Something white.

This was all challenged for me at Cape Town High School when in standard 6 (or grade 8, as it is now known) I was in one of the first classes nationally to trial the new history curriculum, which spoke of the Boesman being the original indigenous people of South Africa.

We had pictures in our textbooks of a Cape Town where the Boesman reigned. For the first time, I heard the word Boesman used in a positive context. And by my white teacher on top of it.

So with all of these contradictory messages about my ancestry, I chose to be called Boesman, though after some friendly advice about it being a little radical for the community I come from, I amended it to The Boesman Project, which still speaks to where I come from and is easier on the ear. Heritage Day for me has very little meaning because I live in a city that does not acknowledge the fact that Khoikhoi and Boesman people ruled the Cape.

There is no acknowledgment by coloured people that we are the living descendants of the Khoikhoi and that it is our heritage. There is no acknowledgement of the fact that the same genocide occurred with the Native Americans happened with the Khoikhoi in South Africa.

There is no acknowledgement of our heritage in the word “coloured” which is what the government still encourages me to call myself even though it is a label that was invented by the very people who put pens in my grandparents’ hair to determine their ethnicity. To me, Heritage Day is a farce.

This week has also seen a very good friend of mine, Ayanda Mabulu, censored at the Johannesburg Art Fair for a painting that deals with the Marikana Massacre. Unfortunately for Ayanda he paints what he sees, which is the obvious injustice around us that seems to grow worse day by day.

Yet, I live in a city that celebrates a group called Die Antwoord, which to my mind is one of the worst things to emerge from our society in a long time. To me they are worse than gangsterism.

I don’t know one coloured person who is proud of the culture of gangsterism or the impact drugs have had on our community.

Yet we give so much credence to Waddy Jones, aka Ninja, from Die Antwoord, who is taking the worst part of being coloured and celebrating it, saying it’s cool to use words like “jou ma se p***”, which in the coloured community has been a taboo phrase only used by gangsters in anger.

They are exploiting a people who have been exploited.

Gangsterism is something that was created by the apartheid government. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mandrax was pumped into the coloured community after the forced removals to nullify the “indigenous threat”. Die Antwoord choose to ignore the fact that 67% of South Africa’s male prison population is coloured.

They choose to ignore the fact that Pollsmoor is filled with men who would, if they were given the opportunity, do things differently. My best childhood friend is now a tik addict who has spent time in Pollsmoor for armed robbery.

I challenge Waddy to come and spend a week with me in Hanover Park or Manenberg. No security guards. No entourage. No fancy car. Live like someone from Manenberg. Feel how cool it is to live in a war zone. To take a taxi to work at 5:30am when the gangsters have been shooting in your neighbourhood a few hours earlier.

It’s easy to speak about that culture because you have no affinity to it. You don’t see the lives of the kids affected by your music.

I live in Cape Town. The most beautiful city in the world. The most dangerous city in the world. It’s the good and the bad.

Kirk Krotz aka The Boesman Project is a Cape Town musician.

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19 Comments

  1. Alan Alan 10 October 2013

    Wonderful food for thought here. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Pieter Pieter 10 October 2013

    Hi Kirk
    I grew up in Namibia and spend many holidays with only Boesmans as my friends. I can tell you that they are highly revered and respected in their communities.

    I can also tell you that I dont even stay in Mitchells Plain i have been robbed there 3 times. It is really a dangerous place and i do feel sorry for my friends and collegues that live there. I must also say that they choose to live their since we all earn the same salaries. Difference is i pay 3 times more on my rent.

    I pray for the day that all the coloureds in Cape Town realise that District 6 was a cesspool and that it had to close down. Read about it. Also the white government build you all nice houses. 1000’s of them. And hospitals. I spent a night in GF Jooste and that compares well with any other hospitals. I wish your Dad was still able to do the Neighborhood watch. In all my work related travels in the middle of the night looking for people that want to work i not once seen a neighborhood watch member. and i can assure you here where i stay all the men irrespective of colour sacrifice thier time to do neighborhood watch, Nobody else is going to solve the dilemma in the Plein except the people staying there. Your fate is in your hands.

  3. Mark Mark 10 October 2013

    I think the author needs to realise that white south africans are outspoken about crime because any level of it is considered to be unacceptable. That is why we b*tch, moan and hold the boys in blue accountable as far as possible. There may very well be reasons why communities who suffered police brutality under apartheid are sceptical or fearful of calling the authorities. BUT, I do not believe that the gangs comprise the majority of the population in these poor areas, so the fact that the good citizens keep very quiet and dont say anything ensures that criminals hold the upper hand.

    The proof is in the fact that the police canvas areas asking for assistance and nobody saw anything. I have been told first hand accounts of how the good people of umlazi (kzn) have special whistles to alert others to be careful when gangsters or criminals are out and about. Why not whistle this info to the cops?

    I would imagine that if everybody saw the perpetrator and reported them there would be more justice or at least a better presence by the police.

    This article is written in the vein of one upmanship and doesnt inspire any confidence.

  4. eldrieso eldrieso 10 October 2013

    Hi Kirk

    Your article was amazing reflection on our identity as so-called “coloured” people. It is about time our generation of Cape Creole’s reflect our identity and our role in South African history. To Pieter and Mark your insecurity about your privilege is somewhat amazing and annoying. Crime effects everyone its just that there is no Nat Government to protect you from us ‘savages’, ‘basters ‘hottentots’ and ‘boesmans’ from problems like crime. Coloureds never got good houses or opportunities we were dumped on the Flats with no housing whatsoever. I remember my parents telling me who they had to sleep on the grass and in shacks until they good afford better housing. The Flats were only a few anyway to cater for a quarter of the population that was moved to the Flats. District Six was destroyed not because it was a ‘cesspool’ (Upper Woodstock and many other ‘cesspools’ got to stay in the city pool but were renovated and turned into whites-only suburbs) but because it was multi-racial and was a threat to the Nats identity of having a ‘white’ city bowl. Not only were we moved but our families were divided and what little privilege we had was taken away. You will never know the feeling and that’s why you so nonchalant about the articles reflection. Gangesterism only occurs not when people wage war against the gangstersim but when there is a lack of opportunities in the neighbourhood. Ofcourse everything is our fault like you said because it will make you…

  5. Stephen Browne Stephen Browne 10 October 2013

    @Mark: you clearly have no knowledge of how things work in this part of the world. If you are seen to have informed on the gangs, you are instantly a target. The people who you should be able to trust with information, the police, are often working with the gangs. Witness protection is almost non-existent, and in any case the chances are your extended family is living in the same area. This is a deeply ingrained issue that is NOT solvable by the community alone, as some commentators suggest. Why do you think the army’s presence has been requested? Those who have a battle plan need warriors who are NOT compromised by their families or their own weakness. The cops are often coming under fire when conducting patrols, this is guerilla warfare, or something like it.

  6. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 10 October 2013

    I do not know why you were surprised that your video went viral – that is beyond good! WOW!

    You should get Ayanda to do a layout for you. His passion with a paintbrush and your passion with your voice would be a knockout. (talking of which, is there a CD of yours on a shop shelf we should be looking for?)

    Forgive me but I did have a (sad) smile at the “Stiek my! Stiek my, julle n*****s, stiek my!”. It is so quintessential colourd stubbornness – the original ‘come at me bro’. That ability to never give in and to taunt ‘fate’ may be wrongly directed sometimes but it is so very much the reason that the colourd folk can survive the horrors they sometimes live – well that and their superior sense of humour.

  7. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 10 October 2013

    Mark

    Gangs in colourd areas are a bit like the original Mafia. You join a ‘family’ to get protection. Without that protection, you are fair game for all the families and everyone else. Apartheid did play a big part because police were narfi about the concept of keeping people safe so they banded together to protect each other. Like all good concepts, it got kinda skewered off to the side after a while.

    There are families and individuals in gang held areas who are not gang affiliated. They stay alive by keeping their mouths shut. You never know which gang the cop you are speaking to is taking protection money from or who their family is affiliated to. The chances of even one of your distant cousins surviving you going on the witness stand is next to nothing.

  8. PrettyBelinda PrettyBelinda 10 October 2013

    thanks for the resepctable raw Kirk, telling it just the way it is.

  9. Your neighbour Your neighbour 10 October 2013

    thank you, an educational article.

  10. Gerhard Gerhard 10 October 2013

    Kirk, great music and thought provoking writing. I work with “coloured” people and have (as a white man) so much respect and empathy (for them) for what happened to them as a “first nation” people in our country…..

  11. Mark Mark 11 October 2013

    @Eldrieso and and Stephen Browne.

    Your defeatism about attempting to root out gangsterism by banding together will keep these communities in exactly the same position they were in and find themselves in now.

    So enjoy the crime, it will define you.

  12. rmr rmr 11 October 2013

    SJOE – thanks for this. (and I had better not express my views on Die Antwoord in print).

  13. Stephen Browne Stephen Browne 11 October 2013

    @Mark – how is pointing out the truth defeatism. I said ‘not solvable by the community ALONE’ not ‘not solvable.’ You’re the chop here with your:

    “I would imagine that if everybody saw the perpetrator and reported them there would be more justice or at least a better presence by the police.This article is written in the vein of one upmanship and doesnt inspire any confidence.”

    How do we solve the problem? Point out there is a problem (credit due: Boesman). Then identify ways of solving the problem, and that includes shooting down half-baked ‘plans’ from uninformed people such as yourself. Honestly, the people must ‘get together’ and get rid of the gangs? With what army? How about the South African army …

  14. santa adams santa adams 11 October 2013

    Thank you for people like you who give a voice to our people and celebrate our heritage. we are truly a South African Product, and no where in the world will you find a people of so much mixed heritage, The Cape is our heritage from the first ancestors to now this is where we belong.

  15. Lesley Perkes Lesley Perkes 11 October 2013

    Hi Kirk – Thank you for writing this. So moving and insightful, devastating even. And I like the way you write. I think it is an important story and good you are telling it. Strength to your arm. Please write more.

  16. jlc jlc 12 October 2013

    I currently live outside of South Africa in a place where mixed-heritage is problematic for people struggling with identity and have referenced “coloured culture”, along with things like Metis culture, as examples of mixed-heritage groups successfully claiming distinct identity rather than trying to slot members into other categories (being the case in places like the USA).

    The coloured people I know personally seemed to have a really strong cultural identity, we’ve talked about it in passing but not in depth.

    I had no idea that coloured people themselves were, at times, questioning the culture so much and you writing about that has just changed my view.

  17. Zest 4 Life Zest 4 Life 14 October 2013

    “I live in Cape Town. The most beautiful city in the world. The most dangerous city in the world”

    Presumably this guy is talking about non-war zones, but it’s a contentious statement. The only surprise is it hasn’t come from a white South African, who unfortunately have a terrible and worldwide reputation for being drama queens.

    Is Cape Town really more dangerous than San Pedro Sula or Caracas? Laugh-out-loud hilarious. It is VERY dangerous (on the wrong side of town at least). It is up there. But one, maybe two tiers below the absolute top tier.

    I disagree with Mark’s comment about the SAPS. I’ve travelled around. South Africans are pretty trustworthy of their police which surprised me as I was told confidently and repeatedly (on internet forums) that nobody reports anything to them. I didn’t get the impression that the people were at war with them, like they are in many Latin American or Caribbean countries for instance.

  18. Roshan Roshan 15 October 2013

    Hi, would like to arrange for an interview with you on our radio station, please can you reply with an email address to reach you

  19. Ella Ella 3 September 2014

    Hi,

    Kurt i salute your bravery for “Telling it like it is” for those who are of a different”skin colour”
    Only those who have lived and still live in “Die Plain” will understand your writing.

    It is 39 yrs later and the streets of Mitchells Plain has become more dangerous compared to original plans of moving coloreds to a “better” environment.A city created by the then government to keep us in a “kraal” in order to control our movement.

    We were one of the first families in . I was part of the original youth before the Soweto Riots . I agree the “better life” for coloreds was a lie devised by the apartheid government to give coloreds their own homeland. It is time people acknowledge the injustice done to our people.

    Give honor where honor is due. It is time to stop portraying colored people as drunkards and gangsters.
    Many lawyers, doctors, engineers, actors, musicians, teachers, mathematicians were born and raised in the Plain.
    It is not your environment that makes you human it is your position as a human being that matters.
    People like Die Antwoord is a typical example of “whites” trying to be colored. We are a unique people with a unique history.

    Our “Story” is yet to be told. Great writing Kurt. Loved it.

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