Words

“You see those houses over there?” he asks, pointing towards a cluster of tall white stucco structures with tiled roofs and a looming gate. “Those are for home-based care too, for old people.” Mr. M explains. “Do people move there from Qolweni when they get old?” I reply, doubting the likelihood. “No,” he affirms my suspicions, “those there are for White South Africans. It’s very expensive to live there.”

I am with one of my students seeing how she spends each morning here in Plettenberg Bay. She shadows Mr. M— a caregiver for our partner organization, PlettAid— as he visits patients at home.

Mr. M works in the community in which he lives, Qolweni. It is one of several Black and Coloured communities surrounding Plett’s central town. Commonly known as townships, the stain of apartheid makes this an outdated term. The more accepted descriptor is informal settlements. This name comes from the fact that many of the homes are “temporary”. Built from whatever materials are available, the wooden frames are filled in with stapled cardboard and sheets of plastic— anything to protect from the elements. They are places to rest one’s head while waiting on a list for the government to build you a home. The houses get thrown up haphazardly and frequently. They usually remain occupied for years.

Standing with Mr. M, I stare at the same ocean-view I wake up to every morning. In the midst of several of these makeshift houses with only the White folks’ convalescent community between the waves and me, I am overwhelmed. Looking out, I feel certain that the origins of “juxtaposition” came from a view like this one. The phrase economic violence makes sense on a new level as I meet it face-to-face.

I’m struck by the way that a scene or experience can capture the totality of a word or phrase. This makes me wonder: what would it look to stand where justice was captured in full?

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