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Thabo Meko, Langa

When the subject of problems facing South African townships randomly pops up in a conversation ensuing between patients in a doctor’s waiting room, it can get very interesting, in a jarring way sometimes.

And so it happened recently, all sparked by my apparent seemingly mindless handling of my palmtop. “You’d not dare walk about with that in your hand in the townships,” remarked an elderly lady clearly bemused by my sheer disdain for high security of own property in a public space. I was just using it to read a book to kill off the waiting time.

“Those youths,” she said excitedly, “They would take it away from you just like that, and tell ‘you don’t deserve it old man.“ That cut deep.

Why she thought it mattered much in the particular environment we were in possibly highlighted the high mindedness and concern or fear some people have of the challenge – the blatant absence of individual freedom of the person even to basic lifestyle issues such as openly reading a book (electronic or not) in a public space without worry of it being forcibly whisked away from you.

How do you survive in constant fear of your own people for their sheer presence in your own homeland?

The ensuing conversation reminded me almost immediately of Thamsanqa D. Malinga’s take on the subject of townships in 2021.

The landing page of his recently published book, Blame Me on Apartheid is without mercy on the subject. Thanks to colonialism and apartheid legacy, he says: they are “peripheral spaces for ‘non-beings’.“