The sheep slowly raised its head from off the dirt floor and momentarily looked ahead at its future. In front of him was another sheep that had had it’s throat cut and was now being disembowled. It lowered it’s head slowly in resignation and began to cry and shake uncontrollably as a mournful braying filled the air. I looked down at it and Fanie walked over to me and said, “It’s the stress of knowing that it’s going to die.”
Nobody raises their heads here apart from those who know it’s too late.
This is Guguletu on a vibrant Sunday morning at Christmas. The braies are happily burning wide assortments of meat that send hot swirls of smoke into the already hot and oppressive air. Everywhere ‘smilies’ are to be found; smilies are sheeps heads that are cooked ‘straight up’. The heads are simply cut off the sheep and cooked - or burnt to be more precise. As the flesh burns a ghoulish smile appears on the sheeps face - hence the term ‘smilies’. Nigella Lawson and Gordon Ramsey could learn a lot here….
Gugulethu or Guggs or ‘Gee Gee le tois’ as it’s sometimes known, like other Townships, are unreal places that are unfortunately real. Fanie Jason my friend and guide who has photographed in Rwanda, Bosnia and the West Bank told me that everytime you come to the Townships that you must treat it like a war zone…you must be prepared for the worst. Every time you come to the Townships you take your life into your hands.
I’m not saying this to prove how brave…or foolhardy I am…but in a way to explain how nothing makes sense here. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m basically a coward - and yet I’m drawn to the Townships…I can’t explain it. Even though once I’m there every bone in my body is telling me to leave. I think sadly it’s the rush you feel when you leave - that comes from the knowledge that you’ve made it.
But it’s easy to become the exploitative voyeur that descends on the poor and leaves with their image appropriated for one’s own ends - I try not to be this but I ultimately I am. But it’s hard walking around poverty with thousands of pounds worth of camera gear strung around your neck.
It’s so irrational: having a conversation about football with someone who you know has no future. If they get ill they will die - they are born here and they will die here and they are are only 17. I tried to persuade my new friend that Aston Villa was the best football club in the world and that he should put a Villa poster up on his wall next to his Barcelona poster but he was having none of it. Especially when Fanie came over and explained that Villa are the best losers in the world. After our loss to Bolton, it was hard to fight him. And then we left.
On Thursday last I was again in Guggs and taken to the house where a few days previously a young girl was kidnapped by four men who raped her before gouging out her eyes and then murdering her. Her body was dumped 400 yards from her home. I’d walked to the house with Jackie, Fanie’s niece. As we walked we talked about what it’s like to live here. Basically, she told me that every thought that she has is to do with crime or the fear of it.
What you wear or what phone you buy are important choices. Don’t buy anything that makes you stand out as you will be robbed. Jackie has had four phones stolen - the last time a gun placed at her head. What time you leave out in the morning and what time you come home can get you killed….everything you do will have an implication on your life. But effectively people will kill you not because they hate you or because you have what they haven’t. They kill you because they can.
As we walked past the dead girl’s house Jackie made a ghoulish sound and said I bet you’re frightened now….I laughed and tried not to raise my head.