There are eleven official languages in South Africa. Our guide for the half-day township tour spoke Xhosa, and explained that Cape Town’s centre was designated for the whites. All other ethnicities (coloureds, blacks, Indians) were moved to separate areas around the city. There was a bench at the museum for ‘Europeans only’ and during apartheid, he said, Africans viewed white people as the boss of them. I tried to think whether I’d ever heard Nicky say my name, and suddenly it seemed vital. I didn’t consider myself anyone’s boss.
There are five black townships and seven coloured. Nicky lives in one of the coloured townships called Mitchells Plain, in an area known as the Cape Flats. We were shown around Langa, and the school was disappointing. We watched the children sing and dance, but soon afterwards, our guide was urging us to leave. He didn’t translate for us, and one child appeared resentful when someone took his picture. Any presents we brought had to be given to a teacher, which makes me question whether the children actually received them.
We were allowed to join in some African drumming, but the most interesting place was definitely the pub! The ladies would prepare the fire and the African beer (called Umqombothi) in its five-litre container. Only the men were allowed in to drink it. The same container would be passed around throughout the night, as each man blew the froth off and tasted the beer.
Our discussion moved on to husbands and wives. Our guide told us: “You can marry as many times as you want in South Africa. You pay for your wife, and if you can keep her, you can marry her.” He said a man’s family sent negotiators in to the woman’s family to agree the payment. This seemed so foreign to me that I asked Nicky about it when we met. She called it Labola and said it was mainly within the black cultures. After a lot of searching online, I came across this short programme about how it can involve paying up to six times a man’s monthly salary. Sadly, fifty-five per cent of South African divorces are caused by financial pressure.
Lastly, our guide took us to what he called a ‘Traditional doctor’ – a witchdoctor, in other words. I waited outside. I didn’t want to hear about his practices and Traveleyes were fine with that.
The following day, after we’d hugged and laughed and just enjoyed finally being in the same room, I asked Nicky about witchdoctors. Was that something her church prayed against? Having also heard about Labola, I wondered if her church would have vastly different prayer-needs to the ones we have here. I was surprised to hear their main concerns are unemployment and drugs.
On Sunday, I went to Nicky’s church and back to her house for lunch. Her mum told me that during apartheid, white people called the Africans Kaffir – an extremely insulting word meaning ‘No belief in God’. It was a real shock to her that in the UK, some people are proud to say they’re atheists.
Nicky has a little niece called Mackenzie, so I discovered “Baby Shark” (which had totally passed me by, but it’s popular worldwide). Nicky’s mum started to tell Mackenzie: “Sarah’s here today” when she changed it to: “Auntie Sarah’s here today.”
I came away feeling I had a family out there where I belonged, and wondering how I spent so long having known so little. You can’t truly appreciate a country until you’ve experienced it, and I hope to travel more in the future.