The road to the local library didn’t seem that long to me on this day turning altogether balmy as is typical of Cape Town weather at the beginning of the summer season because I had set myself the unenviable task of finding out what the word “Apartheid” meant. In between enthusiastic strides and the odd greeting to the older folks along the way I tried again to define the meaning. This was no easy task because it shared no morphology with words I was familiar with. It had no phonetic cousin so far as I could tell and I prided myself with possessing of a considerable lexicon, having been a voracious reader since I crawled out the caves. My parents and grandparents often showed me off to the neighbours because I seemingly lacked the distinctive accent and dialect of the Cape flats, which helped support their belief that I was smart.
My excitement increased considerably as I neared the library and I almost stumbled across a familiar lump in the sidewalk, compliments of the City workers and the long lunch breaks amply lubricated by quarts of cheap wine. By the time I hit the steps, I felt like a redeemed sinner about to be welcomed into Nirvana with Lord Brahma eagerly awaiting my presence after preparing a feast in my honour. I swung through the batwing doors and was greeted by the chilled library air and a cultured silence that provided me with respite from the noisy violence and hustle and bustle outside. This was my sanctuary, where I was respected and admired, often times helping the younger kids with their homework and imparting helpful study hints. The familiar lady at the counter greeted me with a knowing smile as I slid my card across to her. She waived me off in a casual manner in recognition of my status as one of the members of “the club.”
I strolled over to the section that I was sure would help in unlocking the mystery of the word “Apartheid,” so Garth and I can continue our self-imposed stratified friendship. This is the leveller, the onetime Garth actually knew more than me, and it took a trek to the local library to correct that injustice. By the time I had managed to glean through a dozen books, it surprised me that I had failed to find one that could repair the unsightly gap in my arsenal of knowledge. It dawned on me that I should try one of the old Oxford English Dictionaries, the trusty OED had saved me from a red face many times in my battles with puffed up intellectual foes, and most were vanquished by her musty pages of knowledge, carefully laid down by as I imagined ancient, wise lexicographers who pored over the different morphemes and fought the other even older colleagues over local and international context and lexemes.
It seemed to jump out at me, as if I’d unwittingly sprung a snare, and there it was the word that separated Garth from me, “Apartheid.” I cautiously read through the meaning and at first the blood in my veins became frigid then turned to ice. “The separation of people in South Africa on the grounds of race,” from the Dutch word, Apartheid, which means “separateness.” I quickly gathered that it must have been the policies or the laws of our country, the country I so loved and cherished, and then an equally strange thing happened. Hidden tumblers as if in a safe, fell in my mind exposing a vast chasm I never knew existed and suddenly everything made sense……………to be continued