COLUMN: Changed lives - from the Ciskei to the Metro’s


Having grown up in a small village in King William’s Town, moving to the big city (East London) was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do in my life. Unfortunately, after watching many people go away to seek opportunities in other bigger towns – it was only time before I also joined the great trek in search of my own fortune.

Life in the rural Eastern Cape is the proverbial paradise. The clean air, the peacefulness and the genuineness of the people can never be found anywhere else. Children were taught to respect every elder in the community as their parent and every elder treated every child in the community as their own - I could go on and on.

However there are very few opportunities for us, the young people – the born frees, in the villages. Even getting through to Matric is a huge achievement. Hence, as soon as one finishes their Matric, the logical thing to do will be to move to the cities and try your hand at something. 

Armed with a good Matric certificate, I could have gone to any city, but I felt East London was the best place for me to further my studies. Not sure though why East London seemed the perfect choice, perhaps, it was that subconscious longing to be closer to my roots – meaning I would simply pack my bag and leave the city whenever I missed the scent of my home. Besides, I have heard people who had either lived or were still living in East London from my village praise it as the best city they had ever been in. I guess a huge part of me wanted to experience how other people lived in cities.

That was the beginning of 2013 and I remember feeling very anxious about relocating. For starters, I was just a girl from the village and I was in panic as to how the city society would receive me. Back home you are always reminded to look after yourself and not become prey for the city’s many ‘monsters’ that will look to exploit you at every turn. Not that I had never been in a city, I was born in Cape Town, and moved to King William’s Town when I was just one and I had also been to other places for school holidays. However, relocating to the city was something else-something permanent.

Arriving in the city was more like visiting a foreign country where you are the only outsider. The cultural differences alone were so obvious – it seemed like the big city had a way of taking people, breaking down their original selves and spitting them out with new personalities that suit its purposes. There was no sense of closeness. I was worried how I’d “fit” in to this new life I was embarking on; the life in the city.

I had heard from my friends, who would come to my village from East London for holidays, that life there was very different. Unlike in the villages, where homes were separated by big wired yards, houses in the cities were closely built next to each other. The irony, however, is that often people often never exchanged words with their neighbours or worse; did not know them.

Upon my arrival at the University for registration, I immediately noticed how everyone, almost mechanically, moved and minded their own business – there was not even an opportunity for proper human contact. I remember walking up to a group of other young prospective varsity students to enquire about the process; I noticed that they could not even greet back when I greeted them. I wondered what had happened to our humanity – being courteous towards one another being one of its cornerstones. It was then that I felt moving to a city was going to take its toll on me.

I was allocated in a female-only residence where I had to share the room with two other students. I did not mind sharing my space; after all I grew up with my cousins who I shared almost everything with. What became a challenge though was how I had to be “extra” careful about my belongings in the flat that I was staying in.

Apparently, fellow students had, on numerous occasions, lost their valuables “within the blink of an eye”. You can imagine the shock of hearing that some students were known to hang their laundry in the sun and staying at the laundry lines until the clothes were dry – in case someone would try to steal the only clothes they had.

For the first time in my life, I had to learn to always lock my door each time I went out. You begin to live in a state of paranoia where you cannot trust everyone around you - even the people I was sharing my space with and they also do not trust you.

My paranoia was even worsened when I witnessed people being mugged. It was something that I have had to adjust to as it happened very often in the city streets – and it seemed like the perpetrators often got away with it.

Back home when someone was robbed, the whole community would go out and find the culprit, but not in East London. Someone will get mugged in full public view and people will carry on with their lives as if nothing happened. People seemed to simply not have sympathy. I think they had grown a sort of numbness to it that it did invoke a reaction in many people – not even a sense of helping others in need.

I come from the village, where the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” still applies. A place where a neighbor can send you to the shops on their behalf without your parents complaining about how their child was being abused. Where, unlike in the city, it’s a common practice to greet everyone you walk past whether young or old. A village where culture, tradition and humanity are still highly valued!

But now I have had to adapt in city life as I am not going back to my beloved village – but at the expense of my humanity. Now, I have stopped greeting everyone I come across. I do not go to my neighbours’ house in case something goes missing there and I become the suspect. I distrust them. I do not accept food from them in case they put poison in my food with intentions of killing me... the list goes on and on.

I often wonder, how many more people, before me and after me, have had or will have the same transformation that I have gone through…