I’ve written several times in these features about the idea of history being very close to the surface in the countries I’ve visited — the legacy of the Derg in Ethiopia, the Mozambican civil war, and of course Egypt, where history is happening right fucking now, as we speak. But even so, there’s nothing to quite compare to the burden of history that South Africa has to bear: the weight of apartheid.
Curiously enough, it doesn’t seem to be a sensitive topic that up until 20 years ago, South Africa lived under a system of institutionalized racism that was enshrined in law discrimination against non-white residents of the country. My taxi driver from the airport discusses it quite openly, but the most extensive and interesting discussion of the topic comes during the most unlikely of sources: a winery tour.
Since this is my last stop in Africa, I decide to treat myself to a half-day tour of Cape Town’s wine country. My tour group consists of me and a young couple who’ve recently moved from Boston to Johannesburg and are visiting the Cape for a break, and the driver is a quiet moustachioed gentleman in his mid-50s by the name of Basil.
Only, the thing is that once we get going, Basil isn’t quiet at all. And once we get out of the center of Cape Town and head out toward the vineyards we’re visiting, it becomes pretty apparent that we’re driving past what could only be politely described as slums. Basil raises the subject before we do: “You can ask me anything,” he says. “It won’t offend me.” It turns out to be the catalyst for a fascinating discussion.