White is not a Precious Metal

May 11, 12 White is not a Precious Metal

After much umming and ahhing, a friend and I finally got to wander around a penthouse at Ponte City on the outskirts of Hillbrow today, and boy, were we surprised! Melrose Arch, it is not – and no one ever pretended it is; however, Abuja extension (to use the pejorative) it isn’t either.

Now granted we would probably need to pop in on a Friday or Saturday night to get a more accurate reflection of the building and its surrounds, but first impressions were lasting… and not all for the good.

The lone encounter we had with a Ponte City letting agent was obviously a pleasant one, but almost every other pale South African had a look of shock and horror on their faces when the name Ponte was spoken about. Smash & grabs were mentioned, references to the three, four, no… five story rubbish dump in the centre of the building were made, and more often than not, that most precious of minerals was emphasised – that of our white skins.

This topic not only comes up when entering these outskirts of Hillbrow, but in almost area or topic of conversation where white people are not in the majority – which is pretty much most places in South Africa, if you haven’t noticed! Of course there are “safe havens” for the paler of the species, they tend to be the access-controlled suburbs and cluster bombs we stay in, as well as the bomb shelter-like buildings that we frequent so often known as malls; of course we feel safe here because we’re usually in the majority.

Given the rambling by twitterati as of late, mostly by younger generations who were not exposed directly to a pernicious apartheid-based education, one would certainly be curious as to the roots of this blatant racism. I would be at a loss to speak about it from a black point of view, for obvious reasons, but looking at it from my white side of the spectrum – that constant bifurcation between the cultures and people, the subtle racist undertones (like “non-swimmers” and “eish’s” racial references) and general lack of communication with people outside of one’s “safe” and familiar friend set certainly don’t seem to be helping anything, on the contrary…

The ongoing e-tolling saga has united South Africans in a strange way, it’s just a pity that the bonds aren’t enough to tie and in the not too distant future we’ll go our separate ways again, ensuring our “precious assets” are safely stowed away in our house-sized safes. If only our skins weren’t so precious – then we could actually interact with the other nearly 90 percent of the people in South Africa and give Ponte City a real look.