City Diaries: Of Saints and Hawkers

The entrance to Saint Georges Mall began with a rectangular concrete slab with graffiti on. I thought it was like every other vandalised wall, the first time I saw it. But – like most walls – it was not insignificant. This was a piece of the Berlin Wall. Whether the graffiti was vintage or contemporary, I did not know.

Berlin Wall in Cape Town
A piece of the Berlin Wall in St George’s Mall. Photo credit:

St Georges Mall was a long paved lane running perpendicular to some city roads. Newspaper House was situated here. So every morning, I updated myself with the city’s news through A4 posters screaming the latest headlines in bold print from the Cape Times and the sensationalist The Voice.
In the morning, hawkers would be handling various lengths of scaffolding. These poles would become their erected stalls.
One afternoon, I enquired about the price of a kaftan to a West African stall holder. He must have thought I was a foreigner because he quoted a price that was entirely too high. I always thought that my localness stamped itself upon me like a passport.
Then I passed a fruit-seller wearing a kuffiyah. “Pwasa jy vandag, Tietie?” he called after me. Are you fasting today, sister? He had asked. I noticed he used the Malay word for ‘fast’, conjuring up a mutual linguistic history of ours that was now mostly obliterated.
And yet the walls remained. Built from the rubble of the ones that had been demolished. Walls erected whereupon ‘for sale’ signs swiftly followed letters of eviction. Walls fought about, fought for. Walls of division, of derision. The city had no need for imported walls from Germany. The city itself was a fortress.

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