Monday, August 27, 2007
It should be safe to take a walk. But not here. Not anymore. Not for a while…
The greenbelt at the end of my road lies on the edge of the motorway linking the suburbs with the city. On one side of the motorway is a dairy farm with a small lake and an old Cape Dutch homestead. On the other side is a river, horse paddocks and the edge of pine plantations which go on to rise halfway up the mountain. The view from the hill looks out over rolling vineyards and towards the towering granite face of the side of Table Mountain. It’s beautiful. A picture of God’s grandeur and verdancy.
My two elderly Golden Retrievers and I liked to walk there.
We walked slowly, SJ with his arthritic bones couldn’t go very fast. B, the older dog, still thought he was three… We reached the top of the hill, paused to admire the view and sniff the scents. It was three in the afternoon. There were no other walkers. Not a good thing. It is wise to be wary when taking a stroll. It is not a time for reflection or meditation. This is South Africa…
I looked around - my eyes followed the path along the riverbank. Two men – about five hundred metres away from me. Black guys. This is not a statement of race. It is one of pragmatism. Most instances of crime are black on black and black on white. They looked up - saw me standing on the hill top. I watched them. They gazed back.
Turn around and go home now. The voice in my ear could not have been any clearer.
But the boys need a walk.
Not here. Not now.
Look, just because they’re black guys doesn’t mean they’re trouble. I don’t want to be another paranoid whitey.
You’re not being paranoid and your race is irrelevant.
I tell you what, I’ll go along a little way and if it doesn’t look good I’ll turn around.
No. Turn around now.
I know you don’t want this to be race issue. But this about your safety. And you aren’t safe. Go back now. Put distance between yourself and them.
I was torn. I knew the voice was right. But I was so conscious of my paranoid whitey label. This is South Africa…
Contrary to every inner prompting I walked on.
As I descended the hill, one guy started to pee. Perhaps it was a call of nature. Perhaps it was a form of territorial behaviour. Perhaps it’s meant to cock a snook at the whitey. This is South Africa… He kept his eyes on me as he peed. Facing me. Defiant. His friend watched me too.
Finished, he turned to his friend. The friend nodded, they shook hands and the friend started to run. Towards me. At me. Gaining pace. I should have known. This is South Africa…
“SJ,” I said, “we need to go home. I need you to run, baby, please. Try.” Fear snaked along the leads.
SJ look up at me. He understood.
Don’t look back.
Up the hill. B bounding at my side, me dragging SJ. He couldn’t do it. I knew he couldn’t. He tried - so hard.
The guy was gaining on us. SJ was stumbling. My heart pounded. Fear throbbed in my ears.
I should have listened.
SJ tripped, fell onto the path.
The guy was close - maybe a hundred and fifty meters away.
I couldn’t leave my dog. Wouldn’t. I would take my chances.
I dropped to me knees. I stroked SJ’s head. “It’s okay, baby, it’s okay.”
He gazed up at me, despair in his eyes.
The guy raced towards us… and stopped – as though he’d hit a wall.
A look of puzzlement flickered across his face.
He stared at me.
“He’s old,” I murmured, “old man, sore legs.”
He tried to take a step towards us – faltered... His eyes widened. He seemed held - kept back.
He glanced around. His friend was no where to be seen. He looked at us again, confusion flooding his eyes. He muttered something - and took off – dashing towards the freeway.
I have no doubt that my boys and I were protected by an angel. I have never stopped saying thank you. There are greater things in this universe than the criminality of some South Africans…
The telling of this story was prompted by a recent report that a woman narrowly escaped rape whilst walking on the greenbelt...