Good ol’ Durbs and dirty politics

Defs not Durban: A woman walks past murals romanticising sectarian murder on the Falls Road in west Belfast, where cannabis costs an arm and leg and a good curry is impossible to find. (Paul Faith/AFP)

Defs not Durban: A woman walks past murals romanticising sectarian murder on the Falls Road in west Belfast, where cannabis costs an arm and leg and a good curry is impossible to find. (Paul Faith/AFP)

Wednesday. It’s hardly daybreak but the sun already appears to be ahead on points in its battle with the bank of rain clouds hanging over Durban from the previous night. The street has been hammered clean. There’s a carpet of leaves scattered across Clark Road where it suddenly drops away, a few metres past St Augustine’s Hospital.

It’s a breathtaking spot. Suburbia gives way to a 180˚ view of the city. There’s a sense of distance, mixed with the slight panic that comes with vertigo.

To the right is the southern part of the harbour and the Bluff. The freight trucks on the railway line look like the scale models at Mini Town, the replica of the city on Snake Park beach, which somehow survived the revamp of the Golden Mile before the 2010 World Cup.

To the left is the central business district, all shiny and clean from the rain. City Hall isn’t visible.

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Behind both is the Indian Ocean, a bit discoloured by the recent downpour but inviting enough despite all that.

It’s great to be back.

Two weeks in Belfast visiting my parents was marvellous but it feels right to be here, not there. Northern Ireland was cool but I don’t belong there. It’s too cold. Rainy. Grey. There are too many people that look like me. Wit ous all over the place. Like Cape Town. Country and Western music everywhere. No jazz. Fokol swimmable ocean. Too many street murals romanticising sectarian murder. A church or a pub sits next to most of the homages to hate. There’s no good curry. Expensive-for-nothing beer. Extortionate cannabis prices.

Getting in and out of Belfast was a problem. But a laugh, now that I’m safely back home.

Belfast is part of the United Kingdom. I gave back my UK passport in 1994. I didn’t need it anymore. I still don’t.

As a South African passport holder who gave back my UK passport, I can’t just get an ordinary visa to visit the UK. I have to pay R15 000 for a five-year right-of-residence visa. Presumably for being uppity and giving their passport back.

R15 000 is a lot of money to give anybody. Especially the UK government, which will spend it on rubbish like royal weddings. Or Brexits. Or illegal invasions. I would rather give it to my wife and kids. Or drink it. Or burn it.

There was one problem with this fiendish plan to make me cough up for the next time some English won’t-work gets married. There’s no physical border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. No passport control. South African passport holders are welcome for three months in the Republic. No visa is required. Dublin is a mere 20 hours from Durban, via Dubai. Dublin is a two-hour bus ride from Belfast by bus. It’s a scenic but paperless route, technically illegal, but R15 000 is R15 000 and there was something suitable about being paperless in the place where I was born.

The highlight of the trip was wandering into a Republican march in protest against the genocide in Gaza two Saturdays ago.

I tagged along as citizens flew the Palestinian flag along Falls Road and called for a boycott of Israel outside Belfast’s City Hall. It was designed by the same cat who did the Durban one, so marching there made me feel strangely at home for a few moments.

The other half of Belfast was too busy getting ready to watch the wedding of the offspring of their former colonial oppressor to give much of a toss about Gaza though.

The cellphone goes. It’s one of Durban mayor Zandile Gumede’s fixers, punting her state of the city address on Thursday. Mama, as she’s known by her followers, is jammed up, facing an investigation by the auditor general into backhanders paid to the business cats who helped her to get into office, allegedly on her orders. The heavies have leaned on the auditor general’s’ team. The wrong move, it seems.

It’s great to be back.

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