Hibberdene, South Africa: a snapshot

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June 28th 2008
Published: June 28th 2008
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Hibberdene SunriseHibberdene SunriseHibberdene Sunrise

This is the view from our room at the Khaya Lamanzi B & B.
written Sunday, June 22:

At long last, Viktorija and myself slept in a real room with a real bed last night. Since our arrival, we had been sleeping on a mattress in the living room of the Thanda volunteer house where all of the foreign volunteers live. We used two bookshelves, a line of string, and a pink sheet to create walls. Every morning we were awoke by Mike, one of our eagerest volunteers, who would wake up a quarter to seven every morning (though he swears he uses no alarm clock, we would hear him at exactly this time without fail). The first noise we hear would be his door opening, then silent shuffling down the hall, jingling of the keys, fumbling with the keys in the front door lock, then the squeal of the front door opening, more keys, front gate latch, and then the sounds of the cars on the highway and the waves just across the way. Mike enjoys writing in his journal as he watches the waves, being outside in the morning.

Relative silence for the next hour or so until the rest of the folks begin to wake up.

Yesterday two more
Mini Golf at the Jolly RogerMini Golf at the Jolly RogerMini Golf at the Jolly Roger

the Jolly Roger is the pub right by the beach. We spend much time there eating, playing mini-golf and hanging out on the weekends.
volunteers, Alyssa and Travis, arrived, which brings the number of volunteers to 16 and pushes us beyond the limits of our four-bedroom volunteer house (though we were already well beyond that limit). We arranged with a local bed and breakfast to have four volunteers, including myself and Viktorija move into an apartment owned by and adjacent to the B & B.

A quick run-down on the town of Hibberdene:

Hibberdene is like no other town that I have been in before.

It is a small town with just a handful of shops in the town center. It looks similar to any strip mall in small-town America: There is a SuperSpar, which is a grocery store, a gas station, a pharmacy, a surf shop, a Wimpy’s (burger joint), a hardware store, a liquor store and a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yes: a KFC. Upstairs in the SuperSpar there are several small shops including a ‘Blockbusters’ (a knock-off of ‘Blockbuster Video’ from the US) and a small hardware store called ‘Build It’. In the middle of the shopping square is an ATM, and a building with many P.O. Boxes. A post office also. Out in front of the SuperSpar there is an armed security guard from the ‘Gladiator Security’ company (whose office is across the street). He is decked out in boots, a blue suit, and with a semi-automatic shotgun over his shoulder. His presence in the parking lot creates a very bizarre ambiance.

Across the way from the parking lot there is a row of two dozen open-air market stalls where people come to sell their veggies and other goods. There is about a dozen pay phones. Just to the left of the open-air stalls, and some in the parking lot as well.

KFC is a hot spot, and one of the foreign volunteers’ favorites. We eat there atleast once per week, sometimes more. People are always looking for an excuse to go into town just so we can get KFC. It is much like any KFC you might find in the US……except there are no restrooms. Their soft serve ice cream costs 2.50 SAR (South African Rand), which is about 35 U.S. cents.

There is a Laundromat where for the first two weeks we took all of our laundry; it went in smelling dirty and sweaty, and came out neatly pressed and packed in a sealed plastic bag, smelling of artificial roses and potpourri. We have recently gotten the washing machine at our house up and running resulting in 15 less customers at the Laundromat. Next to the Laundromat there is a shop that is both a Café and a florist.
Down the street there is a shop run by a Chinese family. I have yet to go in. Next to this shop is another combo shop: Funeral Home/Rental Car Service.

There are so many things here that are different from life back home, or from any other homes I have been in over the past months and years. For example everywhere you go in Hibberdene and all towns there are parking guards. In some places they are formalized guys whose job is to watch the parking lot, but in most cases it is just random guys looking to turn a quick buck. At the main beach access in Hibberdene, for example, there is a crew of about a half dozen teenage boys who hang around, and when you pull into the lot, they begin directing you where to park. Many of them don’t wear shoes and their clothes are very raggy. Whether the lot is full or completely empty, there are there to direct you safely into a space and give you a big smile and big thumbs up. Most folks give them money to protect their cars, though it is unclear to me whether we are giving them money to protect the car or to not steal it (**money is given to the guy as you are leaving the lot, i.e., after you leave without being robbed). Rain or shine, they are there. They will wash your car if you tip them well enough. They are not beggars; they are Car Guards. It is totally bizarre. Equally bizarre is the fact that everyone gives them money and no one questions the system.

We have been hearing for weeks about the ‘Sardine Run’ that is coming, and finally we saw them today. We saw them from our window in our new place at Khayalamanzi.

It is truly striking the division here in South Africa between different races. Let me correct myself—I can only speak for what I have seen here in Hibberdene and what I have learned from speaking with locals of various races. There are four categories of folks: Indians, whites, Blacks, and coloreds (people of white and black descent). Within the white category there are Afrikaaners and Anglos. The tension and division between blacks and whites in particular is so evident in daily life. There is the Jolly Roger, which is white-owned and has 95% white customers. There is the short golf course, which is all whites and Indians as well. The car guards are black, as are all of the taxi drivers in the taxi park. It appears that only blacks take the taxis; we have been told over and over not to take them because they are extremely dangerous. All of the janitors and cooks are black. All of the whites we meet here in town seem to not quite understand the work we are doing at Thanda and why we are doing it—when I tell local whites I get answers like “well I hope you can get to them cause no one else can” or “ what you doin’ that for” or “Huh”. I have never once heard from anyone in the white community here a ‘wow that is great’ or ‘wow you know that is really wonderful that you are all taking time out of your lives to do this’. You hear all the time from whites comments like ‘black people have babies so they can get grants from the government’ and ‘blacks have spoiled this country’ or ‘the ‘ratio’ in this country is truly horrendous’. So many more comments that I can’t even begin to recollect.

I notice that when I am in a bar or restaurant or shop and find myself in such conversations my natural reaction is to shut off. I stop listening. I sort of zone out because the remarks that the other person is saying what I would consider far more racist than anything I have ever personally heard anyone in the US say. I don’t exactly know how to navigate such a conversation with someone whose perspective is so different from mine. The hatred of blacks runs so deep, and the history of Aparthied is so fresh and recent.
I must say that I naively did not anticipate this type of interaction here in South Africa—I naively expected to not even communicate with many white people outside of our circle of American volunteers.
But what a bizarre situation: here we are, 15 white foreigners running an afterschool program in a poor rural black South African community, hanging out largely on the weekend with whites who could care less about what is going on in those black communities. It is as if there are two South Africas; the one in the rural village and the one found in Hibberdene.

it seems to me that just as important, and even more difficult and tricky, as the work we are doing out in the rural communities is the ‘work’ or communication we have with the white community, to learn about their perspective, to keep them informed about our work and why we are doing it. There is so much reconciliation that needs to happen between races and communities here in South Africa; it is a complex issue, one that I must learn much more about. How cool would it be if we could get some of the white folks from Hibberdene out and working at the Thanda Afterschool Program??

**DISCLAIMER about this blog entry: there are plenty of poor white, Indian, and colored folks in South Africa as well-I am by no means implying that all blacks here are poor and all whites are rich. It is not just black folks who are poor and underprivileged, though the percentage of blacks in poverty is much higher than in the Indian or White community.


19th June 2009

Hi Will, I have recently built a house in Hibberdene and would like to know more about your program at Thanda. regards Richard
18th August 2009

email did not work
Hi Richard, I got you comment. you can find out more at www.thanda.org/afterschool including an email address and phone number for them. I am now in Lithuania, I have moved on but it is indeed a solid organization you should connect with. Best of luck, Will

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