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i remember the people of pfukani
whose huts were uprooted in 1968…
goats, dogs, bicycles and pots heaped onto the trucks …
leaving behind fruit trees and gardens
leaving behind graves of their beloved ones

—"Memory" by Vonani Bila

I was born a child of removal, the year after my parents married and the year after they were "removed." The victims of Forced Removals weren't removed to somewhere, only from. Nothing comes after it.

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Athlone was where they went after they were removed, and Claremont was where they were from. Athlone was … nowhere.

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In contrast to the fertile soil of their garden in Claremont, the ground here was the grey sand of the Cape Flats, deposited by the sea over the course of a hundred thousand years. A hundred thousand years of sand deposited upon the low surface of the sea around islands that are now the Cape Peninsula. This long history gave us soil through which water ran unimpeded, soil without worms, without richness, which kept nothing.

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A child of this ghost place, I didn't move again for twenty-eight years, living in a single-story house in Crawford for all that time. The house had to grow into itself, and not remain the ghost of the place my parents had lost. This took decades.

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Where exactly is Athlone? Is it in the semis of Bokmakierie, or the businesses and houses right next to each other of Belgravia, or the homes around Athlone Stadium, or the new flats overlooking Klipfontein Road, or the scattered double-stories of Crawford? Is it the corner café, the struggle monument, the roadhouse, the hairdressers, the sound system guys, the auto exhaust shops, the butcher, or the primary schools?

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White curtains flicker and flutter.

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Maybe it's the sound of the call to prayer or church bells or people wearing hats with yellow and white flowers holding hands, and the children walking behind them looking embarrassed to be so dressed up. [End Page 37]

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Or it's the bus stop on Thornton Road at 6:30 on winter mornings, with that lingering nighttime cold, rocking from foot to foot blowing on your hands and stomping on cement as the bus turns in slow motion around the corner of Belthorn Road.

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Maybe it's the ghost houses that lie beneath the houses you see today.

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For six days now I have woken in the middle of the night from jetlag and come into the kitchen to make ginger tea to ease the cough I brought from the plane, and still the light arrests me.

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Light through the net curtains in the morning in the front room. Was it this beautiful when I was growing up, dreaming of leaving on a plane? Did I notice the right-angle mountain through the glass that announces the weather through its own white curtains of mist?

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"Spine road," says the sign on Klipfontein, where it runs between Athlone and Stellenbosch, where I am living for the year. I think of that sign when I drive down Klipfontein, which runs parallel to Old Klipfontein, the thinner, more modest road that it displaced, both ghost and older sibling. I'm old enough to remember the new one being built. It cuts through what used to be a connected neighbourhood. These Klipfonteins, these twinned roads, are like a real spine, dividing the left side of the body from the right. Driving north to Stellenbosch, I see the Bridgetown and Silvertown neighbourhoods to the left and Belgravia, Belthorn, and Crawford on the right. One side poorer than the other, both sides Black.

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When it's still Durban Road, Klipfontein crosses a railway and the Liesbeeck River and draws a line, creating a division that has become almost natural, the distance between the well-off and the poor, between white and Black. Mowbray, Athlone, Hanover Park, call the taxi guardtjies. A road divides like a river, and never again can you run easily across to the side with the heart.

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On the weekends, I drive from Stellenbosch back to my mother's house...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2161-9131
Print ISSN
1053-1297
Pages
pp. 37-42
Launched on MUSE
2017-12-23
Open Access
No
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