The plane swoops out to sea and back inland displaying to perfection the concave of dramatic cape mountains and coast. The first time I came to South Africa was in
1996. Mandela himself walked free in this city. Cape Town. The wheels skid upon the runway to the tune _ I imagine – of stevie wonder’s “happy birthday.” I am in Africa my birthright and I am in South Africa the birthright of its free people.
It’s morning time and a white car with Africa Centre written upon it awaits. As the driver takes my bags I tell him today is my birthday. “It is mine too” he says with a spritly smile
on his face. We laugh as he displays his id and as I get out my passport. He is exactly ten years older than I.
It is a 6,000 mile twelve hour journey but Cape Town is only one hour difference than UK so I don’t feel jet lagged. We drive to the hotel on longmarket in the bohemian quarter of cape town near Greenmarket a cobbled square established in 1710 filled with stalls for the tourists. All around is Victorian architecture. It’s minutes from Parlaiment from where in the past few days a new government has been installed. .
I have been to cape town on various occasions to read poems on its fine stages. The first time was twelve years ago. I was resident on Robben Island when it was a living museum. I stayed there in the prison officers quarters with south African musicians and poets from around the world. It was a symbolic event and we then toured the country. It was called Echoes.
After I drop my bags and get the obligatory festival pack I go out for coffee on longmarket where I meet Eric Miyeni an actor radio presenter poet and writer. We catch up on old times and mutual friends like Megan whom I met in Johannesburg. Years later she met Brian Jackson when he came to Jo’burg with Gil Scott Heron. They fell in love. She moved to new York and had two children with him. I went to see them one time in Bed Stuy in NY. To know them both from such different worlds and see them together united was a gift.
As Eric and I sit drinking coffee the festival workers pass by and the poets from around South Africa and the world. They are all checking in and feeling out the area. We shall be meeting later for the official introduction. I go back to my hotel to catch a few hours sleep and the man on reception says “it’s your birthday today. It’s my birthday too.”. He’s the hotel owner. That’s two people so far. Three including me. In my room someone has slipped todays Cape Times beneath the door. There’s a half page article on myself with
the date May 21st 2009. I read the article and sleep for an hour or so. The Badilisha! Poetry X-Change is on. The day certainly wasn’t over yet but a siesta is good. This is my first birthday in Africa.