African-style bossa nova played from a sound system near the back of the pub. I keenly listened as I gave the room a good look. It was filled with men, young and old, merrily conversing with one another as they guzzled their pints. The pub was simple in decor. A few canvases lay hung on the walls, paintings of European landscapes, oil paintings of animals native to Africa, and one of Nelson Mandela hung high on the wall behind the counter. There was a pool table which six men gathered around. Small bands of men all ’round the pub under dim lighting, drinking to their heart’s content, I was the only one who happened to be alone.
The young men talked about leaving Cape Town, about women, politics. Furiously they spoke of the Purple Rain Protest which had occurred a week prior to the day I visited the pub. Thousands upon thousands of anti-Apartheid protesters joined in unison, setting out to march on South Africa’s parliament. The endeavour was short-lived and largely unsuccessful as South African police forces took immediate action, and hosed down masses of the protesters with a water cannon dyed purple. The police were relentless and at times needlessly aggressive. 52 journalists were arrested as well as the hundreds of protesters.
The old men, too, grunted over politics and the country’s state. Then they talked about the old days. And spoke of their wives and children, and how nice it was to get away from them for a few hours.
The barman approached me.
“Evening, sir. What can I get you?”
“One bottle of Budweiser, thanks,” I replied to him with a narrow smile.
The barman was of old age. He was a tall, hefty man with a large round stomach. Layers of lines and heavy bags hung beneath his big eyes, these same lines and wrinkles impressed across the rest of his face. He was in his late 70s perhaps, but he looked strong and active. He kept his face shaven clean, there was only grey stubble under his chin.
Once he set my drink down in front of me, I thanked him and took three huge gulps, then let out a long and loud sigh of pleasure.
“Never seen you around here before,” the barman suddenly said to me as he dried off a pint glass with a cloth. He raised his red eyes and looked me in mine after he said this.
With my glass in my hand, I replied,
“That’s because I’ve never been here before. I live locally, about seven or eight blocks down that way. Around my area there’s a bar I typically go to. But tonight, I went out of my way to find a new spot to drink.”
The barman nodded twice with his eyes on the pint glasses he was drying. I took a sip.
After 30 seconds or so, the barman asked me,
“So what do you think of the joint so far?”
“It’s decent. Has everything a pub requires, it has a nice communal air to it. The building is well looked after. And the people seem to be enjoying themselves.” I said this and enjoyed another gulp.
The barman nodded a few times again as he did before.
“Yes, the men really enjoy themselves. Especially the young ones. The old ones come mainly to get away from their troublesome spouses and because they have nothing better to do at their age except drink, chat and play cards. Most of them, say 90 percent, have been coming here religiously for over a decade. A few times a week,” he said in his dull, raspy voice.
The barman then gathered another batch of wet pint glasses which he’d washed, and continued his drying process. Randomly, he let out a small laugh.
“The young men, they are the entertaining ones. They talk about politics and women they’ve slept with or are trying to sleep with. A lot of the time, they have discussions, which turn to debates, which in turn become arguments. Occasionally, these arguments turn to fist brawls. That’s when I have to step in. Me, in my old age, can’t fight off these young men. So I simply threaten to stop serving drinks, and all the old men who want to continue drinking ward them off with shouts and aggression.
“The thing is, they get very passionate in these debates. Too passionate, I might say. All sides are trying to make their point clear, all at the same time. It’s fine if you’re out drinking and just debating, but there is a handful of them who want to be politicians, and they even have the potential. But what they lack is the ability to listen to others, and take on their point of view. And to execute their own argument with simplicity, comprehensiveness and gentleness.”
Looking over at a group of young men around a table, I think over his words.
“South Africa needs educated, fearless young men with a plan. Protesting is a voice, but entering the political arena, that, is their hands and feet. Working from the inside and deconstructing the oppressive system,” I throw out.
“Yes, but you see, for a young coloured man to get into politics takes hard work and something special. You have to convince them you’re not just another black democrat with half-baked ideas. They hate democrats and pay little to no mind for the coloured. You have to be geared. To push them into a corner. You have to show them you’re somebody.
“What needs to happen, I believe, is coloured people need to establish and support Black and Brown owned businesses. Coloured people need to build themselves financially and economically first before we think of challenging the political arena. We need to pull together and circulate our money around ourselves, rather than spending the little we have making the Whites richer. You see, economic and financial relevance gives you a political voice. Money talks. The Whites can’t ignore money. That’s why they came here and stole everything we owned. All the gold, diamonds. They can’t help it.”
The barman stopped here and took some orders. I noticed for the first time he kept an eye contact with me for some considerable amount of time. I, too ordered another Budweiser. The barman placed my chilled drink in front of me, and then I said,
“So we build ourselves, which subsequently deconstructs, or at least changes the financial flow, giving us power and taking it away from them. How do you get a message like that out to coloured folk? And would they adhere?”
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I pray to God it happens someway, somehow, because… As long as we don’t have a real democratic government, a government whose concern of the people, all the people, is at the forefront of their decision making and actions, then there will be no future for South Africa. For Blacks, Asians, all of us. Only the Whites will have security and thrive in this land. And eventually, they’ll be swallowed up by their own greed. Babylon always falls. Always.”