There were all sorts of ways of being taken for a ride at the first Cape Town International Book Fair.
There was no parking to be had if you were foolish enough to be late by more than 10 minutes for this crazy, excitable fiesta, which meant that you had to tack back into the traffic that was inching towards what was called the overflow parking.
The overflow parking was several kilometres away.
Luckily the weather was unusually beautiful for the time of year.
That was, the thing of finding parking, in itself an exciting project, worthy of a novel of its own. Without distinction of race, we crept towards the place where we could snuggle our 4x4s into appropriate spaces. I wasn’t driving a 4x4, but it didn’t help.
I ended up way out on the outfield, and had to walk all the way back to where the supposed book fair was supposed to be. On the way, in the midst of an open tarred field, we were stung for R10, just to tuck our cars in, by a couple of guys who had the initiative to see an opportunity—the same way the whole event seemed to be an opportunity for other people to make money. As we inched painfully into the outfield parking lot, they stopped us one by one, telling us that we had to pay R10 to get in there. So we paid. We didn’t know we were being stung. It was just one of those incidental things. Hey, ho, we wanted to get into the fair.
After finding our way, me and Sandile Dikeni, who spotted me as I was parking and asked me if I knew what this whole thing was about, found a relatively safe way of crossing the dangerous highway that they hadn’t taken into account when they were establishing the overflow parking situation. Sneaking into the underground parking so that we could get closer to the book fair, we came across a couple of security guards who pretended to be amazed that this scam was going on in the overflow parking area. They made a big show of radioing their colleagues to go and deal with the guys who had been scamming us for that R10 business.
I have no idea what happened thereafter—whether there was a shoot-out in the usual South African tradition, or whether the guys just saw what was coming and took flight, taking our precious R10 notes with them, never to be returned. But at least, finally, we got into the fair.
The fair was a busy and obviously successful business, packed to the various levels of its multiple ceilings with publishers, traders, and ordinary and extraordinary people from all over the world who were interested in books.
That alone was a good sign for what the book fair will become in the future—and hopefully, as president-in-the-making Trevor Manuel had said in his speech at the opening banquet the night before, a sign that we might actually be steadily defining ourselves as a nation of readers and, insha-Allah, thinkers. You are not only what you eat—you are what you read.
Then I came upon Zebulon Dread. I realised that I was about to be subjected to another hit, from an angle none of the international publishers gathered here at the first Cape Town International Book Fair had ever thought about. They had all come here to hit on the public, sometimes for the public’s own good, sometimes not. That is what a fair is about.
Zebulon Dread is a walking book fair, although he doesn’t allow anyone else to exhibit their books at his fair. He carries his own output with him; offensive magazines and tense books about himself, and sturdily, widely, blackly, thrusts his own ideas into their faces at every opportunity.
We have a relatively long history, me and Zebulon, but only because, wherever I have been—on the beaches of Cape Town or at the Grahamstown Festival or the luxuries of Camps Bay or even, intrusively, up and down the streets of Melville, Johannesburg—he has somehow always pursued me. Or maybe I’m being paranoid. He just pursues people generally.
But that is what he was doing, in his own inimitable fashion, at the Cape Town Book Fair. Another day. Another scam.
On the day I was getting out of there, he showed me, dangling on one of his many dreadlocks, the VIP badge that he had been given, giving him unrestricted access to the fair, allowing him to show his wares like the best from anywhere in the world, even if his wares were only what he was carrying around on his chest, bumping around on his long purple vest that goes down to his ankles.
“They gave me a VIP badge with unlimited access,” he said. “But that’s only because I threatened them ...”
True. Don’t mess with the Zeb. He comes from the Cape Flats, and it is a wonder that anyone could ever have thought of messing with someone like that.
But with the threat of potential violence comes a beautiful sense of humour, and a sense of irony at our situation that is unique.
So I watched Zebulon scamming white people relentlessly with his pithy black nonsense, and had repartees with him about it from time to time.
He says he is leaving Cape Town and going to India, where people will understand him.
I wish him the best. But South Africa, and the Cape Peninsula in particular, will miss him.