“See when I grew up there was no Apartheid” He squinted as if examining his own words. “there was no apartheid”. This I had to hear: a fifty year old liberal looking white guy who runs a bookshop telling me that when he was a child there was no apartheid. “Look we didn’t have television until 1976 in this country.” This was his memory of 1976 whereas for most it is the pivotal moment in South African recent history The Soweto Uprising.
Was I really talking to a third rate Holden Caulfield. “Then in 1979 I was conscripted into the SADF and I hated it so I went AWOL. You know who shopped me? My own family.” And thi sis how he realised it was political? ” So I got imprisoned in the barracks at Pretoria and I kept running away from there. To be honest it was a great time. Finally I was out and I went to live in Hillbrow. Aghhh It wasn’t like it is now.
I dived in to the conversation “it was sort of bohemian then not like it is now?” he agreed “yes yes In the 80’s. It wasn’t like it is now are words employed to discriminate against change. But there is a reason he’s telling me this story. “So I go to Hillbrow and you sense change there and it's all going on underground. And then the organsiations start to become visible like ANC and anti- conscription. I join the anti conscription rally. Not for any great reason. I wasn't in the army any more but it was something to do.” he sounds so reasonable because he believes he is.
“And so 1994 comes and now we’ve had this government for what fifteen years yeah and you know what yeah – the way things are going. I feel I have become more racist now than I was before” . he's shaking his head and does that squinting thing again as if shocked at his own discovery that government had made him “more racist”. I slide the book back into the shelf and sense its shoulders rub the books on its left and right. Someone enters the shop to continue a discussion with him and I leave.