Whatchamacallit 46: My Khayelitsha Township Painting


In November 2016, I went around the world heading west – although my first stop was distinctly south: Cape Town.

Cape Town is, hands down, one of my favorite cities on the planet – favorite enough that I could totally imagine buying a summer house there. I’ve never had a bad experience in South Africa (save for a parking space incident that was not my fault but that I should have seen coming) – the people are friendly everywhere.

Specifically, Cape Town is blessed with beautiful scenery and a wonderful climate. My first visit, which included stops at the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Agulhas, and Robbin Island – along with visiting penguins at Boulder’s Beach – was fantastic. It was not, however, complete.

I did not visit a township.

This could be a long term regret or, as I did, I used it as an excuse to head south: I spent a couple days in Hout Bay getting over jetlag and doing nothing; then I headed to Khayelitsha to spend a couple nights at Lungi’s Bed and Breakfast.

Honestly, it was one of the most rewarding things I did on that trip: seeing how the family lived was priceless, walking around the area – where I was a distinct ethnic minority – delivered more tacit knowledge in 15 minutes than a lifetime of reading about apartheid and South Africa could ever provide.

I picked up this painting while on a walking tour of Khayelitsha, not too far from the B&B. The painting is on a piece of lumber, the back is labeled “AAEMC” – which does not yield any quick, useful, hits on Google. It’s entirely conceivable that the artist/shop where I bought this no longer exists.

I have no idea what I paid for this, but would guess that it is a sum that I consider trivial but they consider a fortune, say 10€? I wish I had recorded the price. I do know that it was at the beginning of my trip around the world – meaning that the painting is probably my most well-traveled piece of art, having visited Virginia, Seattle, Denver, Micronesia, Guam, and China before making it home.

What I love about the painting is that it shows Table Mountain, it shows the water pumps, it shows mom with a baby on her back, and it incorporates what would otherwise be waste materials.

While the community is clearly poor, they have a sense of community that is amazing. I’m a quiet individual, a loner, who is relatively detached from the people that I live around. My solitary lifestyle would be impossible in Khayelitsha: kids watch each other and neighbors stop by — a regular, involved, community.

The painting leans against the wall on the shelf behind my couch. I look at it fairly often, remember the good times I had not jut in Khayelitsha but in Cape Town.

I hope to return.

During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

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