Spending a week in Plett on a beach house with amazing views is probably one of the less onerous ways to readjust to South Africa after two weeks in Australia. My UK-based brother is out with his family, and coming here rather than going home to Joburg was the only way to spend any time with them. I know I am ridiculously privileged to be able to do this – to have the time without having to ask for leave (a big bonus with being self-employed), the funds to afford the air fare (paid for before I headed to Australia) and the access to a beautiful property.
Plett is still lovely, still Bahia Formosa: the beautiful bay as it was named by the Portuguese. Such a pity it was rechristened for a governor of the Cape, giving it a name that does it no justice at all. I saw many beautiful views in Australia, and the drive on the Great Ocean Road was magnificent, but I didn’t see a coastal town to match Plett’s setting. Robberg and the sweep of the beaches on one side through to the lagoon, the hills and mountains on the other offers a combination of vistas that is hard to match. It’s a pity that Plett architecture is largely rather banal, and far too much development has been allowed. And yes, in case anyone would like to forget that we live in a country of overwhelming inequality, there are Bossiesgif and Kwanokothula beyond the curio shop postcard views to remind us.
Seventeen years ago, when I was 21, I interviewed Lulama Mvimbi for Denis Beckett’s Sidelines magazine. He was then South Africa’s youngest mayor, posing for my brother on Central Beach in his mayoral chain and showing us his shack in Bossiesgif. He was very friendly and I liked him a lot, but he’s had a checkered history since then, marred, amongst other things, by allegations of intimidation and inappropriate spending, including employing a “private army”. He finally resigned last year.
This was the view I enjoyed from The Grand Cafe and Rooms where I had a drink with a friend from Twitter. He’s a surgeon and had to rush back to Knysna to operate on a patient after getting a call while we were sitting together. I told him not to worry about dropping me off; I needed to buy ingredients for a lentil bobotie from the Spar and would walk home.
Walking home with the shopping isn’t too much of a hardship when you have views like these. My heart was filled with lightness and I made a point of taking real pleasure in the moment, even as I meditated on the problem of how difficult it is for women to walk alone, especially in South Africa. Earlier in the day, my mother had an unpleasant experience when a building contractor working on a house down beach – who has effectively been stalking her for a couple of days – approached her when he saw her on her morning walk, told her she had a good body and that he would make a good husband for her (despite knowing full well that she is married). I didn’t encounter any problems, and I saw several other women walking alone – but it was broad daylight. I certainly wouldn’t walk alone at 11 o’clock at night as I did in Berlin.
Plett is filled with electric fences and ADT signs now. There are panic buttons in the house I’m staying in after someone broke in while my aunt and uncle were staying in it and took a handbag and a laptop. For the past two days we’ve had people coming in to fix the alarm and sort out the beams. That’s something you have to relearn when you come back here: constant vigilance. Mostly, things are fine, but you can’t take chances. I’d be lying if I said that not always having to be on my guard, not having to be fanatical about locked doors, was something I didn’t miss about Australia.
But yes, the views are lovely. This is the trick in this country, to always see the beauty, even though you know the truth behind it.