go: Platteland

The push and pull of platteland life

I grew up in a small Northern Cape town – okay, technically a small city – and it was wonderful. I knew all the local heroes and villains, played cricket in the streets until it was too dark to see anything, rode my bicycle everywhere and stole fruit from neighbours’ gardens.

One of the local villains went by the nickname Papbek. He and his gang would ambush me at the bottom of our road whenever I cycled to the local shop. His gummy scowl always signalled a fight – or at least an exchange of bloodcurdling threats. That stopped when I spread the word that my muscular Afrikaner friend named Julius would sort out Papbek and his hangers-on if they didn’t back off.

“Papbek” might sound strange, but in keeping with ancient small-town traditions, we didn’t call one another by our given names. So my friend Julius became Caesar (obviously). I also knew people named Dagga, Slug, Duckie, Whitey and Toad.

In my mid-teens, I’d steal my mother’s car while my parents read the Sunday papers, joining my friends for an exhilarating half-hour of smoking rubber and two-wheeled cornering that drove the neighbours mad. I also rode my motorcycle to the local girls’ hostel, where it was rumoured all manner of interesting undergarments would be thrown from the windows in recognition of my courage. It didn’t happen. Not once.

Of course all these references to illegal activity make me sound like a career criminal. In fact, I was doing what came naturally to kids in small towns: ignoring the teachings of my parents and yielding to the urges of

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