“…for me, Tales of the Metric System is by far his most accomplished. It is definitely one of the most profound fictional takes on South Africa’s transition from the horrors of the apartheid era to the uncertainties of the present. Spanning four decades between 1970 and 2010, the novel captures the spirit of all crucial historic moments of the period by focusing on the lives of a few people, real and imagined, whose stories are intricately interlinked.”
In the thought-provoking and moving novel Revelations (2010), Mongane Wally Serote writes:
“In the white areas where we were, Cape Town flaunted its homeless like dirty petticoats peeping out. Bra Shope said it was like filthy underwear flung in your face. It did the same with its teenage prostitutes, who now lifted their dresses beneath the streetlights to show off their thighs and genitals to passing cars. On street corners children – little girls and boys like week-old puppies – knocked on your car window, plucked at your clothing, asking for bread. Other homeless people hung words on cardboard boxes in the still night of this pretty city, in the silence beneath Table Mountain where the whispering wind smells of the sea” (71, my emphasis).
It is a terrible thing to say, but after living in Cape Town for a while one can get immune to the “flaunting”; you either stop seeing it all together, or your heart does not bleed any longer when you do notice. Yet, there are two street people in Cape Town who make my heart ache no matter how many times I encounter them in the streets: one sells “Funny Money” leaflets with jokes near Cavendish, the other one used to sell bead necklaces, second-hand books and similar on Liesbeek Parkway, asking for money or food in exchange.
I found out this morning from our Neighbourhood Watch newsletter that the latter’s name was Steve Busse and that he died last Friday.
I’ve never spoke to him, I’ve never bought anything from him. (I have been duped so many times since coming to South Africa that I have adopted a ‘don’t get involved’ stance. I used to help anybody I could. A few unfortunate incidents caused me to stop.) But I’ve always wondered what cruel fate had brought this particular man to the intersection near our home where I saw him nearly every day and could never pass without hurting inside.
Only his death brought with it his story: