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Monday, 30 April 2012 02:00

From the Margins

By  Andie Miller
I have been wondering where Lovey got her name. A nickname, I assume, from an English-speaking person; perhaps an employer of her mother's when she was a child. No, she enlightens me, it is short for her real name: Lovedalia. I hear 'Lovedahlia'. After a flower, I think. How beautiful. Again, I couldn't be further from the truth.

'My mum was at Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape,' she tells me. 'And then my father proposed to her. And she didn't want to get married because she wanted to study. She wanted to be a teacher. But in the old days, you know, if the man came and proposed marriage and went to your parents, you could never say no. And then she got married to my father, when she was in her second year of college. And then she was expecting a girl, me, and she called me Lovedalia.'

Lovedale has produced some famous names, including Thabo Mbeki and Chris Hani. Mbeki's father Govan was named after William Govan, the Scottish missionary who was the first headmaster of the Lovedale Institute, as it was originally called. 'But they would never allow you to study when you got married,' says Lovey. 'They would think that, when you married and then you study, you would be over your husband. Your knowledge... you would be brighter than your husband.' Consequently Lovey's mother never taught. She followed her husband to Cape Town, where he 'was working at Lever Brothers, in Salt River, who make the Sunlight soap. He worked there from 1944 and he retired in 1986; at the same firm all his life.' Lovey has been working as a domestic worker for forty-four years.

'I was born here in Cape Town, in Kensington,' in the northern suburbs, 'and we moved in 1958 to Guguletu' ('Our Pride'); 'it was called Nyanga West in those days.' What she doesn't say is that they were forced to move when Kensington was classified as a white area. 'I was doing Sub B when we left Kensington, and I finished Standard Six in 1964. I was going to do Standard Seven but my stepmother didn't want to let me. She said, "You must go and work." I thought I'll work for a year and then I'll go back to school, but then she said there's no money.'

'We moved to Khayelitsha' ('Our New Home') 'when I was already married. I stayed at my parents' house with my husband, and then they built the houses in Khayelitsha for the people who were living in the backyards. So we were moved there in 1985.

'We were living in small houses. We used to call them the matchbox houses. There was only one bedroom and a small kitchen, and the bathroom, just a basin and a toilet, so if you wanted to add more you had to extend it yourself. And there was no electricity. We only got electricity in 1992.' Her children stayed behind in Guguletu to finish school, living with her brother and sister-in-law, and going to Khayelitsha over the weekends.

'Moving from Guguletu to Khayelitsha, the transport... it was far from where we work.' She says it in the past tense, but of course it is still as far. She says it like someone who has become reconciled to it.

'One of the most devastating and ineradicable traces of apartheid,' wrote architect Lindsay Bremner, 'will be its planning of the city. The marks apartheid left on human lives will fade in the course of time. But its special logic will continue to affect people's lives daily for generations to come.'

Just how far it is from where she works is almost beyond my comprehension. On the day that we meet up, I have travelled by public transport from the southern suburbs to Kommetjie, where Lovey works one day a week, and it has taken me almost three hours (I had budgeted for two). Admittedly I timed it badly, and watched a train pulling out at just beyond sprinting distance - after my half-hour walk from my family's home in Kenwyn, between the suburban and Cape Flats train lines - as I approached Kenilworth station. (A timetable was last available for purchase in 2001.) That meant another half-hour wait.

When I arrived at Fish Hoek station, I had been warned that I would not find any taxis to Kommetjie; the last one is around 8 a.m. It meant getting a taxi to Ocean View coloured township (which of course does not have an Ocean View) and a half-hour walk to Kommetjie. Lovey seems astounded that I have made this walk. I am astounded that she travels out here to work once a week. But when her employer moved from Newlands to Kommetjie she weighed up the checks and balances and decided it was worth making the journey. 'I am happy with them,' she says.

Her day starts at 4.30 a.m, 'because I like to do my things in time, I don't like to rush. If I come by taxi, I have to take a taxi from where I live to the taxi rank at Site C,' the area of Khayelitsha closest to the city, 'so that I can get a taxi to Fish Hoek. And then I get a taxi from Fish Hoek to Kommetjie. I have to leave home about 5.50.'

While the birth of the minibus taxi industry provided a miracle to the previously immobilised - travelling to areas where municipal transport did not go, frequently, and stopping almost anywhere you ask them to along the route (to the frustration of other drivers) - compared to other modes of public transport taxis are expensive.

'When we were travelling from Guguletu,' Lovey recalls, 'there were more buses.' Since the bus service has been 'corporatised' in the new global economy, state subsidies have been cut, and there are fewer buses now than there were during the apartheid years. When steps are taken by government to improve public transport, like the Bus Rapid Transit, there is often resistance (sometimes violent) from taxi drivers, who seem to believe they should be a protected industry, and other developments will kill their business.

'It's still better using the buses when you can, though,' says Lovey, 'because it's much cheaper than using the taxis. Because for the taxis you can't buy a weekly or a monthly ticket. If I take the taxi to Kommetjie then it costs me R42 a day. When the taxis prices went up then I decided I rather take a bus to Wynberg, and from Wynberg a train to Fish Hoek. That saves me a lot.

'When I come here then my bus is at 5.30, sometimes it doesn't come and then you get the next one at 5.40. Sometimes it comes full, so you must be there before.'

Three days a week she works in Rondebosch, on the southern suburbs line. Though Wynberg is five stops further than she needs to go, 'When I go to Rondebosch I take a bus to Wynberg - then my bus is at 6.20' - and backtracking, 'then from Wynberg I take a train to Rondebosch.' Wynberg, like Claremont, is a hub of commuter and economic activity; a 'modal interchange' where taxis, buses and trains converge. They are also often sites of opportunistic crime.

The cheapest way would be to get the train from Khayelitsha into town and then change to the suburban line all the way to Fish Hoek, but apart from the time it would take, Lovey says this is not an option for her. 'The trains are so full, the people they hang over the door. And it's not safe, you get mugged on the trains. I don't like travelling by train.

'And on that side, from Khayelitsha to town, there's no security on the trains like these suburban lines. Even the security are afraid of those lines. With those trains, the Khayelitsha train, Langa train, Mitchell's Plain, even if the train is full, if the thugs want to target people they target them. They mug people, even if the train is full. You never think they are going to target you. People squash, and you can't even move.' Violence follows when people resist. What is certain is that many of the security personnel guarding the suburban trains live in Khayelitsha.

Lovey is no stranger to violence. In 1997 her youngest son, Lonwabo ('Happiness'), was killed in a gang shooting in Khayelitsha. 'He was eighteen. At that time there were gangsters in the township, and they were forcing the other boys to join. They were calling themselves after that man called Tupac,' the rap artist who was shot and killed in 1996. 'The Tupacs... He's not even a South African. They don't even know Tupac. They heard it over the radio and saw him on TV. And the other one, they called themselves the Dog Pound' - a gang taking its name from the rap duo Tha Dogg Pound who, like Tupac, was signed to Death Row Records. 'They were forcing the schoolchildren to join them, and if you don't join there was a group who would inform. He didn't want to join, he didn't like it.

'It's quiet now,' she says with sadness. 'Some of them were arrested, but there were a lot who died. They would go to schools and go straight to the classroom, and then they would shoot people in the class...

'So, I don't like to travel by train,' she says finally. 'I rather use the bus.' It seems that travelling, for the poor, involves endlessly juggling time, money, and the lesser of evils. 'When I go to Rondebosch I don't get up early,' she tells me. 'Then I get up at five o'clock.'

For the domestic staff travelling to Kommetjie, there are no taxis all the way there from Fish Hoek after 8 a.m. 'That's why we leave early, otherwise if the last taxi's eight o'clock and there's no more people - maybe there's three or five people - they say we can't take five people to Kommetjie.' If there were taxis later, Lovey says, she would come in later, 'but now I go back early'. She is not asking for much. 'I think if we would have more taxis from Fish Hoek to Kommetjie, if they could have them hourly after eight o'clock, it would be better. Just to come back and check if there are no people.'

And she is not just thinking of herself. 'For the people who start work later. You know some people, they get up early, but first they have to take their kids to the crèche and things like that before they come to work so they can't come so early, and they have to be dropped at Ocean View and walk. And if you miss the seven o'clock bus, then there are no buses from Fish Hoek to Kommetjie until nine o'clock. And that's the last bus until the afternoon. And that nine o'clock bus doesn't come straight to Kommetjie, it goes from Fish Hoek to Long Beach Mall, to Noordhoek, and then to Kommetjie. It gets here about 10.15.'

There is also the issue of Cape Town's 'big-clouded winters', with its months of rain. 'It's very difficult,' says Lovey. 'You get wet from sitting and sitting. By the time you get to work you are sopping wet. We put our clothes in the dryer, if there is a dryer. Otherwise we just hang them up and we must wear them again wet. When it's windy you can't use an umbrella because the wind turns it inside out. And the rain gets through to your clothes, through your raincoat. You just have to walk in wet shoes.'

In the afternoon it is the same dance. 'I finish here at three o'clock, and then I can be standing there for an hour and you don't get a taxi. Sometimes it comes, and sometimes it doesn't come. Sometimes the taxis that come are going to Site 5 - you pass Ocean View and then it's the next township, Masiphumelele' ('We Will Succeed') - 'they don't go to Fish Hoek. Sometimes the 3.20 doesn't turn up, or sometimes it comes later and has filled up with people on the other side. And then when it comes here it's full already, and it just goes straight to Fish Hoek. And it doesn't come back. The next one is 3.45. That's the last one.

'We have been asking the drivers, "You bring us here but you don't want to take us back?" They tell us they're busy with people going to Ocean View and Sun Valley, Long Beach Mall. They say the people are not going back at the same time, so it's of no use for them to come and collect three or four people.'

There are buses, but in this instance getting the bus is more expensive than the taxi because she doesn't have a season ticket. 'It's only good for people who come here every day. In the afternoon they run every half an hour. The last bus is 4.15. If you haven't got money then you walk to Ocean View.'

Lovey says she dislikes walking. 'I used to walk but now I've got diabetes and high blood pressure and I get pains. The walk is tiring. Especially if you are walking on your own. If you are two, three, then we chat, you don't feel it, and then we are there.'

It is also not safe. 'The people who work at the garage always warn us not to walk on your own. These young ones from Ocean View, they target you, grab your bag and attack you.'

On my way over, the road between Ocean View and Kommetjie was one of the few places I've walked in Cape Town where I've felt uneasy. It was broad daylight. In fact so much so that it was blinding - there was very little shade. And no pavements, just gravel paths on either side of the tarred road. There are lots of cars, I told myself, it isn't deserted, I shouldn't be afraid. But there was no pedestrian traffic. In half an hour I saw two other people on foot. A young boy ran up behind me shortly after I got out of the taxi, and asked me where I was going. After two muggings, my wary-pedestrian default setting kicked in. Rather safe than sorry, I greeted him but didn't engage - momentarily imagining two others hiding in the trees, about to circle me as soon as my guard was down - and pretty soon he ran off ahead of me. Later a man passed me in the opposite direction and asked for a cigarette. (I don't smoke.)

It was a strange experience, because even in the pedestrian-unfriendly suburbs of Johannesburg there would be domestic workers in the streets. Here, obviously nobody is expected to be walking. The walking will be done on the beach once your car arrives.

I wonder, given her early start to the day, if Lovey gets to bed early. 'I go to bed at eight o'clock, past eight,' she says. 'I watch Generations,' her TV soap, 'and then after Generations I just go straight to bed.'

Thelma ('Buyiswa, but everyone calls me Thelma') travels from Khayelitsha to work in Maitland four days a week, and has no option but to get the train. Her English is poor and my Xhosa in nonexistent, so our conversation is more difficult.

'I'm not safe,' she tells me, 'but... I can't do anything. I'm forced to take a train, I haven't got money for the bus. I haven't got money for the first class. You must hold your bag. Specially December time. It's very very very bad. The security stay there on the station, they don't get on the train. They just stand on the platform. They don't know what is happening on the train.'

I'm reminded of the growing trend of 'women-only' coaches on trains in many parts of the world - Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Tokyo, Moscow, Cairo - and wonder if that would work here. Or is it, as some argue, treating the symptom and not the problem?

Since Maitland is on a different line from Khayelitsha, Thelma goes to Ysterplaat, 'the closest station by my job', and has a twenty-minute walk to Maitland. 'They haven't got a straight bus from Khayelitsha to Maitland. That would be better. And no taxis from Khayelitsha to Maitland, it's only train.' Her other option would be to get the train all the way into town, two stops from Ysterplaat, and get a taxi back to Maitland, but she can't afford it. 'With the taxis you can't get monthly ticket, then you pay every time. I am walking because I must save money.'

She leaves home later than Lovey, but gets home much later at night. 'I am leaving home ten to seven. About quarter past or twenty past seven I am on the station - I am walking a distance. Late afternoon, five o'clock I go to station. From station to Khayelitsha,' though the journey itself takes about forty-five minutes - 'the trains, every day it is so full, there are a lot of people using the train to Khayelitsha, sometimes you have to wait for a train - it can be about seven o'clock. I get to home at half past seven.

'If you take a train from town, it's better, it's not full.' At Cape Town station you will most likely get a seat, but once the train has passed through Salt River, the industrial area just outside of the city, the third-class coaches have filled up and you're lucky to find standing room. If you don't get a seat you will be standing for forty-five minutes. 'They need to put in more trains,' she says.

All in all, Thelma walks close to two hours a day, on each side of her train journey at both ends of her working day, and it gives her no pleasure. 'It makes me tired. Specially in the afternoon after I have been working.'

Thelma is also from the Eastern Cape, from the former so-called homeland of the Transkei. A single mother of two, she came to Cape Town to find work in 1994 because 'there was no work in Transkei'. She and the father of her children, 'we have never been married. He is in Transkei, he married the other lady. He has never supported me. That's why I'm working for myself.' Her impressions of Cape Town are not positive. 'Cape Town is too hard, too hard,' she says. 'But I am still working.'

She has been with the same employers for fifteen years. When I ask her if she is happy with them, she hesitates, and a 'better the devil you know' expression crosses her face. 'I haven't got a choice,' she responds.

For Thelma, life has not improved since 1994. It has actually got worse. 'At least in the old days the youth had respect,' she says.

Over the holidays she is happy to go home to the Transkei for three weeks, 'my sister and brother are there'. Her return bus ticket, just for herself, costs her about half a month's salary.

In 2007 Metrorail introduced the Khayelitsha Express. For more than four times the price of a third-class ticket, you can sit back and enjoy a complimentary cappuccino and only three stops along the way, all the way into the city. For the poor, who can't even afford a first-class rail ticket, this 'premier class' train is in another world. According to the transport minister at the time, Jeff Radebe, it 'is aimed at a customer prepared to pay for a superior and exclusive service offering comfort, convenience and speed'. This starts with a separate ticket counter at Cape Town station so you don't have to stand in a queue. Both Lovey and Thelma tell me, independently, that it's good 'if you are in parliament'.

In Planet of Slums, Mike Davis's sobering examination of the growing divide between the rich and poor globally, he observes how 'the colonial template provided a basis for the almost total segregation of state officials and African professionals from their poorer compatriots.'

A passenger reports on the Khayelitsha Express: 'The stewards wait outside and welcome you in at every stop... Even before the train departs a stewardess comes along and gives out newspapers and takes everybody's order. You have a choice between: Cappuccino, Espresso, Mochaccino, Hot Chocolate, Black Coffee, Black Coffee with Milk, and Hot Water... The seats are made from a type of suede... At the one end of every coach there is a table with a few stools and power points that one can use to power a laptop, with double adapters and the lot. No wireless network/internet connection yet, apparently there are negotiations with MTN to make the train into a wireless hotspot.' Blits, Metrorail's commuter newspaper, assures us that 'a total of 22 security guards and 16 waiters are employed on the train'. There are security guards on the train twenty-four hours a day to protect the interior from theft.

One thing is certain, neither Lovey nor Thelma will be on the Khayelitsha Express any time soon.
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