Cape Town, My Love

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Cape Town, My Love
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                                  Accessed 21 Aug 2016 12:47 GMT   M  ARK   B EHR   ~ C  APE  T OWN , M  Y   L OVE   89  The seventeen-year-old blond boy with the promise of a smile. Initially, that photograph gets me. A small-town kid from the Free State. Here to nd a job. A hardworking boy, his father said. The future for him was bright. He called home every morning. First time ever the phone didn’t ring, his parents knew something was amiss. His body was found among others with names not their own, with years added to his age. How did the police come by this picture? I imagine a mother, ngers wrung numb, tentatively tracing the fam -ily album’s page. Which image should she extract for the messengers of state? By this, the world will remember her son.In the night of January 20, 2003, nine males—seven male-to-male sex  workers, a client, and the club’s owner—were murdered in a Cape Town sex club named Sizzlers. A tenth victim, with his throat slit, two bullets in his head, and doused in petrol, loosened the ropes with which he had been bound and escaped. Later, he was able to identify one of the killers from a police photograph relating to a long-forgotten vehicle theft. One black man and one white man were arrested. In court, the survivor testied: “I looked him in the eyes while he slit my throat.”  The accused maintained that a simple robbery had gone awry: they had not planned on killing. Only after one and then another victim resisted did they begin killing. The state countered by asking: if the murders were not Cape Town, My Love  Mark Behr From  A City Imagined  , edited by Stephen Watson   90 R  IVER   T EETH  11.1 ~ F  ALL  2009 premeditated, why had the killers brought with them a knife, handguns, rope, masking tape, latex gloves, a can of petrol, and balaclavas they never both-ered to put on? The surviving witness told how the accused had spoken on a cell phone midway through the robbery. The accused invoked their right to silence. The judge pointed out that the murderers had chosen to humiliate their victims before killing them. He expressed dismay at the killers’ refusal to speak and make understandable their actions to the victims’ loved ones.  The accused were found guilty of nine counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. Sentence was life without parole. In his sentence, the judge quoted lyrics from a song that could be heard on a video recorded by the po- lice upon arrival at the crime scene: “Don’t be ashamed, let your conscience be your guide. But, oh, know deep inside me, I believe you love me. Forget your foolish pride.” Questions abounded: Could a crime or drug-syndicate be behind it? Had there been a racial motive? If the objective were robbery, why not target one of the wealthier straight Sea Point sex clubs? Was it signicant that one of the killers in an early afdavit had stated that his girlfriend “had broken my heart  with another woman?” Were the murders related to the repeated bombing of city gay bars? And, I wondered: why didn’t they ght back?  The court record suggests that two of the murdered men did resist. They  were the rst to be killed. But there had been ten men in the club and only two armed intruders. Ten, surely, could have overpowered two? In court, the lone witness said the men in Sizzlers had been “promised by the killers” that they would not be killed. Jokes had even passed between them. Then they had allowed themselves to be tied up, hands to feet and face down on their stom- achs. Did nine men and a seventeen-year-old boy reasonably believe their assailants’ “promise” that they would not be killed? No sign of resistance as they slit their throats. In a city where most people live hand-to-mouth, it is fair to assume that any intruder is after money or something to sell. Why risk life or limb in ght or ight? Still, the question kept returning, are some men, often men who have sex with men, so accustomed to placating that even in the face of life-threatening danger they’re incapable of confrontation? What, I insisted to myself, compels anyone to believe a “promise” from armed men  wearing gloves, carrying a can of petrol, and not hiding their faces?But then, perhaps their passivity had nothing to do with appeasement. Instead, it had to do with betrayal: sure they’d struck a deal, the sex workers  were certain they would not be hurt; but their assailants had lied to them.  M  ARK   B EHR   ~ C  APE  T OWN , M  Y   L OVE   91 Deceived was what they were. But, can one be betrayed by people you know already disdain you?I frown over the details of a mass murder of gay men in the city (one masseur was said to be straight, had worked merely for the money) and am bafed by one so young in the newspaper picture, as other times and other  voices begin to speak in me. Remembrance of war and youth. Me at eighteen already trained to be a killer. Going to ght on “the Border.” Of rst love in  Angola. Pride’s proximity to shame. Of me and Joe on a Sea Point balcony. How far, I wondered, were we at that age in the army, from the boy-man in the Sea Point brothel? Nights in Angola, with our watch over and the next sentries on guard,  Joe and I lay in our narrow trench on top of a sleeping bag’s inner lining. Chest moved against chest. Our feet free of combat boots, heels against soil, toes touching toes, awkwardly and always silently fumbling, vigilant against discovery by our own even while ours rarely were the only sounds of the night. Once we returned from the war, we knew I would go to Cape Town to complete formal ofcer training in the navy. Joe was assigned to remain at Infantry School in Oudtshoorn. Wordless and barefoot on our last night together in the Charlie Company barracks, we dared not lie down on the dark shower room cement oor to make our goodbye. Next morning, with a dozen other ofcer hopefuls, I boarded the train for Simon’s Town. Passing mountains and vineyards, rattling through tunnels while laughing with my fel- low candidate ofcers, I cupped my nose to relive the night.  The Cape’s beauty exists outside the eyes of the stammering beholder. But, on this southern peninsula, I found a city and a landscape as captivating as any I could have imagined. For me, it heralded a reprieve from the dust and ochre of our northern war. The Cape spring was liberation from waterless patrols, ammo, webbing, rie, army rations, and the platoon’s mortar pipe;  Angola forever behind me. But for the separation from Joe, spring here made me feel light, as if life were breaking through for me too: to be eighteen years old and already chosen!  At Mum’s request, I had a portrait taken that remains framed on Dad’s desk: my white shirt ironed at and clean and hard as blank paper; on the shoulders the black epaulettes with the gold braided insignia; my short thick blonde hair is beginning to turn darker, hinting nothing of the balding to come; my wide-open blue eyes condently hold the camera, and at the cor -ners of my mouth, beneath light-pink acne scars, a smile waits, held back by  92 R  IVER   T EETH  11.1 ~ F  ALL  2009 something unnamed. The political and ethical signicance of soldiering for  white South Africa, like the burden of a soldier’s guilt and shame, would be a while coming. Then we were ghting communists and terrorists: on the border we kept South Africa safe. At the height of South Africa’s war in An- gola, forty thousand white boys per year went into the Defence Force. Dur -ing twenty years of conscription, only enough to count on one hand became conscientious objectors who went to prison. Others, mostly from moneyed backgrounds, left the country. Years passed before I myself became inter-ested in a different grasp of white and black, of rich and poor, of Robben Island, of the beloved city’s parasitic cord to the Cape Flats. Not far below my window in the Silvermine Ofcer’s Mess I could see Pollsmoor Prison,  where a dissident poet, now incarcerated, once wrote that Cape Town was a “charming arch-harlot, a slut, a hussy, a tart, a shrew . . . not even a mother.”  An anarchist, I believed then, without doubt deserving to be behind bars. Views described from Table Mountain have beggared a million postcards. Up there you’re under earth’s widest dome. Below you the city bowl whence suburbs, townships, and informal settlements fan out along roads and high-  ways of the sandy ats to the Hottentot’s-Holland Mountains. Turn your head and before you the continent reaches way down to Cape Point. Oceans glisten to turquoise coves and white beaches. Every season bursts in different ower. Here, you’re on top of the world. Phone calls to Joe on a conscript’s salary were out of the question. In-stead, swelled by our new status, our ability to inspire awe and even fear, we  wrote letters. Of the rst salute received and nonchalantly returned; of antici -pating the new January intake. As we had never spoken of what we did with or felt for each other, we believed we had little reason to fear the Defence Force censors. “Colour and water. And beautiful people. Such softness has Cape Town, Joe, after Angola.” Weekly my letters to him conjured the new place. What I could not imagine saying to him, about him or us, I said of the city: “This place wants to be touched and tasted. Nothing as narrow as a trench or a sleeping bag in this city.” We made a date. We’d meet during his rst weekend pass. He would collect me from the naval base in his battered  VW. We’d spend a weekend in the Sea Point at of a family friend. From our Simon’s Town classroom, you saw clear across False Bay. A par-ticular lesson, presented with the text of  An Ofcer and A Gentleman   open on our desks, on the etiquette of shore leave in female company: “You’re always on the street side of the pavement. Your girlfriend is always protected from
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