I sat down in seat 75k of an aeroplane parked at Heathrow and wondered to myself why I had chosen to fly 6000 miles to a continent where the only soul that was known to me was an individual whom I’d met during a three-hour meeting - nine months previously. I sat patiently, wringing my hands whilst waiting and perhaps hoping that the seats next to me wouldn’t soon be filled by passengers as a young South African man flopped into the seat next to me.
I turned towards him and gave him a strange nodding head gesture that you would give to a stranger in a pub whose pint glass you’d accidentally nudged. “Hello,” he said stretching out his hand towards mine: we shook and I mirrored “…hello.” He looked at me puzzled and asked me where I was from; “…..England…” I said. “But you’re coloured like me aren’t you…” he asked? He rolled up his sleeve and held his arm next to my uncovered arms and said, “…look they’re the same”. “Well, no…I replied. He said nothing and this perhaps was my introduction to South Africa.
Cape Town seems so far away now, and yet strangely like the fading aftertaste of something sweet, it is made real only by memory, nostalgia and by the longing and loss left in the wake of something that has gone forever or perhaps never was.
In a mind equally now distanced by time, as it is by geography; the distorted, looped and stretched memories of images and sounds live on. As, at this precise moment in time, as I sit here typing; the vision that I would see from my window of the gently swaying leaves of a palm tree, resides in the same mind that is also attempting to process the intricacies of the QWERTY keyboard. This is where South Africa lives; in flashbacks that rise from nowhere and then dissolve into nothingness and within the iconic and indexical nature of images that have been scanned, sorted and sequenced; to remind me that I was once 6000 miles away from where I sit…and from the people I met out there.
This is a work about the nature of chance and the random and arbitrary intersections of life that cause you to meet people and share moments that will never leave you. But it is a work too about the group of young people who I lived with in Cape Town who are seen as the Born Free Generation.
Perhaps there is always a divide between the young and the old. Between those who look towards the past and those the future. Yet in South Africa, the divide appears greater. The older generation feels that their sacrifices and losses are wasted upon the young who care only about consumerism and hedonism. That the young are squandering their gains and without caring how they were won.
They are seen as the group of young people who, free from the ideologies of the past, are the first group of South Africans free to choose who they are...but of course the reality is not as easily drawn.
These images are a very brief examination, that someday I would like to conclude, of their separation from the generation before them; as well as the burdens that befall those who unwillingly have become the torchbearers of a nascent nation where half of the population are under 21.