On grim garden reminders of our past
There is always that point in a young white South African's life in which we suddenly get hit by the enormity of South Africa's past.
Mine was about two years ago, when I went from living in a block of flats to living in a complex.
Growing up I was raised with the idea that you can tell a lot about someone by how they act when they have power over someone or something else.
If you date someone who is nasty to the waiter, well ditch them because that will be you one day. If you meet someone who is cruel to animals, well chances are they are just practising for what they want to do to you.
That is why animal cruelty is such a taboo for me - aside from a distaste for those who inflict suffering it tells me exactly what you would do if you had the slightest bit of power over someone else.
Anyway I digress, moving into a complex for the first time since I was in primary school I was struck by the maid's quarters.
Now we don't have a maid living there - when my family moved in we took one look at it and decided it wasn't fit for human habitation and turned it into a library, but the fact that this was supposed to be housing for a human being still struck me.
There is one uncovered bulb to light it, and the only window does not face either the willow trees on the common property, or the back garden. It faces the door to the kitchen. It doesn't get much in the way of natural light.
The shower runs cold and cold, and would probably require standing on the toilet to use.
It is small and doesn't have a ceiling, just the corrugated tin roof.
It is essentially a dark musty hole that might have been considered cruel and unusual if we housed prisoners in it, yet it was intended for someone to live there. Heck it was intended as a perk.
What does that say about the people who built it? What does it say about present South Africa that there are people willing to work a day a week to live in a place like that?
The big horrors of apartheid never quite hit home quite the way just looking at that maid's room did - because big horrors always feel exceptional while that room represented the sheer casual every-day cruelty of our history of oppression.
On Heritage Day I went with calling it Braai Day, because there isn't much pride I can take in a heritage that is so gracefully and eloquently expressed by that little room by my back garden. That is not a heritage I want to celebrate.