Today is my first national holiday in South Africa. This holiday had a very different nature under the Apartheid government; it originally was called the Day of the Vow (also called Dingane’s Day). It remembered the 1838 Battle of the Blood River, where a terrible battle between Zulus under Dingane and Boer settlers under Pretorius erupted. The settlers prayed for deliverance, saying that they would always commemorate the day if they survived. When the first democratic government was elected in 1994, the government changed the holiday to commemorate a spirit of reconciliation between the races. At essentially the same time, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission led different racial communities to settle their differences through open discussion of the awfulness of preceding decades.
Today marked my first visit to a car dealership in Cape Town. My last two cars have been Hyundais, so I paid a visit to the Parow dealership. All the local dealerships have a good supply of 2014 vehicles from the fleet that has been leased out for the the last year. The set of cars available here in South Africa is considerably different from the set in the United States. The Accent is essentially the base model for sale in the U.S., but here the base model is the i10, featuring a 1.2L engine. The next up is the i20, in which one can buy a 1.4L engine. The Accent is the mid-level, with a 1.6L engine, just like in the States. of course, my Veloster is available here, too, with the same 1.6L engine. At the moment, I am unsure if I want to cope with the small rear window of the Accent.
The trip to the dealership was the first time I drove a car in South Africa. Adjusting to the left lane was not so bad for the short drive. I was a bit nervous at the right turn, though, since I was watching for oncoming traffic and aiming for the far lane. Honestly, the worst thing was the position of the turn signal on the right and the wiper switch on the left! I know I will adjust with practice.
After the dealership, I drove to the Parow Centre (the sales agent returned the car to the dealership). My only shopping experience before was Tyger Valley Shopping Centre, and the two serve very different communities. Since Tyger Valley is in the middle of some upper-income suburbs, they have a predominantly white and coloured customer base (the coloured population represents a melange of the Asian, Khoi-San, and original Dutch populations). I had read that the size of the middle class in the black community dwarfs that of the white community. I saw evidence of that at Parow, which was wall-to-wall with shoppers on this holiday. Everyone was nice to me, and I felt comfortable there.
I did a little spot of shopping at Woolworth’s at first. I saw short-sleeve dress shirts for 300 rand and T-shirts for 150 rand. Another shop was running sales at even lower prices. I talked with the folks at Vodacom about switching to an Android phone, but the franchise only had two models in stock. At Checkers, I took care of some necessities (2L of UHT milk, a couple bags of muesli, some potato chips, and a bag of carrots for 116 rand). When I was in the half hour queue at the Checkers grocery store, I talked with my neighbor, and she made a joking reference Tyger Valley as “my” mall, indicating my skin color.
I decided to try the Steers restaurant for lunch (bypassing all-you-can-eat pizza for 75 rand). For 49 rand, I bought a cheeseburger, fries, and a can of sparberry soda. Sadly, the experience at Steers was less than pleasant. I placed my order at 1:23 PM, and I was standing around with my little slip of paper until 1:45 PM for my food to be ready. At least the meal was a tasty one. I’d challenge people to find a flame-grilled burger meal in the States for just over three dollars!
For my big finish, I went to the Ster Kenekor theatre to watch “Spectre,” the latest James Bond movie! Like American theatres, the company makes it money on the popcorn, soda, candy combo (75 rand) rather than the ticket (38 rand for a 2D movie, 65 rand for a 3D). The tickets are assigned seating. I was in the back row of theatre 8; in retrospect I could have asked for a row halfway back (I didn’t see any charge for sitting closer). The movie was delightful. After that, I caught a cab for the mile-long ride back to the Tygerberg campus (80 rand plus tip).
How did I celebrate Reconciliation Day? I went to a mall that serves a community different than the one I see every day. My new home will be closer to the Tyger Valley Mall, but just the same I am glad to get a glimpse of the society that lives in Parow and Bellville, close to where I work! This may be a facile observation, but it’s worth saying, nonetheless: we can be reconciled to other communities by spending time with them as people. In that sense, my time at the Parow Mall was a good experience for this holiday.