Chapter 3- Bergie (Sarah)

Chapter 3

It’s a Monday, almost 1pm. Still impaired by weekend hangovers, longing for lost sleep or just restless from being bound to an office; everyone is glad to be out for lunch. Some people, however, are still on the grind,capitalising on the hour that brings all the office workers out to get food, smoke a cigarette, chitter chatter or even spare some change.

I too am out at this hour in Company Gardens taking a break, scripting some thoughts before I head to the grocery store. As I scribble my third sentence into my notebook, a woman approaches.

“Sister, can I have a 20c.”

That was the first time I had ever heard a bergie(Cape town slang for a vagrant) in Cape Town ask for 20 cents. Was the economy really that bad that even homeless people were lowering their begging fee from R2 to 20cents?

I always thought that the homeless people here were more expensive than those in Joburg. For the first time as a child I was confronted by a person begging and it seriously played on my emotions. My mom and I were in Village Walk, there was rugged man singing, using the coins at the bottom of his half cut bottle as an instrument. I remember lagging behind staring at the man. Eventually I reach into my pocket and pull out a shiny R5 coin my mom gave me a few weeks ago. I walk towards the man with the money in between my fingers. It’s as if my mom had a signal transmitted to her because she grabbed me and the money, scolded me for even considering giving her hard-earned money to a hobo (South African term for a vagrant) and walked with my small hand tightly squeezed in hers.

Pocket money is something that did not exist in my family as well as many other black families. So getting money to spend on myself was an extremely rare and special occasion. I think this is what angered her most. That day as a 6 year old stuck with me as I shrugged with open palms in front of the beggar standing in front of me today.

“Ah sister, 20cents?”

“Anginayo sisi.” (I don’t have it).

“Ok sharp. My name is Sarah. What’s your name?”

Feeling as if she would pester me, I give her my pseudonym.


“I don’t have children. I live over there by myself. I do things my way you know.”

“Oh.”,  I respond.

“Ja, I see it all from my prime location. The white tannies (aunties)in their fancy cars, on their iPhones shouting at someone on the other end while their kids stare out of the window on their iPods looking mad at the world.  For what eh? And then you see the darkie tannies still walking to their office jobs with their pumps almost worn out. But who am I to judge.”

I give a half- hearted response,”You’re very observant.”

“Ja, sister I have to be. The other day, you know what I saw? I saw a young guy jump to other side of the street with a knife towards a pretty girl like you who was BBing on her phone. You know what the girl did when she saw him?”


“She smiled, thinking he’s kidding. The boy tried to grab the phone but the girl was made of tough stuff. She fought him for it. I yelled YEY! He saw me and ran away. The poor girl was shocked, trembling and couldn’t speak. I helped her call the cops and told them alles (everything). Yes, me the bergie on the street was a hero that day but no one takes notice. All I got was a thank you, I guess it’s better than nothing hey?”

“I guess.”, I answered.

“Ja sister, I need to go back to my room with a view. Watch out for the skollies (criminals) hey.”

What a strange interaction. She actually had a point, even though she didn’t have much, from where she stood her life was far simpler than most of us. She was still concerned about the fragmentation of our society and was willing to help in whatever way she could. You don’t meet too many people like that.

I called her back.


Handing her some money, she responds, “Awe my sister, I was just giving you my 2 cents worth. Thank you.”

I wonder what my mother would have said to me doing this. I pack my notebook away and walk off to the grocery store.

I grab a basket. Shock of my life, I spot my arch nemesis, Sindi, all the way here in Cape Town. Damn, this town is way too small. We went to school together and one thing I shall never forget about her is that she was very good at backstabbing people. Posing as a concerned friend when my phone was stolen in the classroom she hugged me and promised to help find it. I found out later in the year that she stole and sold it at Ghandi Square to some boys from another school.

Forgive, I could had she asked but forget? Ha, never. In my mind Goldi prompted me to perk up my ladies, lift my head up and drive my Naomi Campbell walk past her.


Was that a female mosquito I hear out for blood? I keep walking but she calls out again.

“Sanele, it’s me Sindi.” She walks up to me and hugs me.

Where was my crucifix, garlic or holy water at this stage? My skin was crawling, pleading fora repellent to rid me of this leech.

“Oh, Sindi, I didn’t see you there.” (Of course I did)

“Oh my seems like your growth spurt finally kicked in. What are you doing in Cape Town Sanele?”

“I live here.”

“OH. What do you do?”

“A little this and that.”, trying not to sound unemployed.

“Ok, I work at Ogilvy as a Social Media Manager. We’re always looking to pick the brains of little people on the street  if you’re interested.”

Bitch, I could feel her rubbing it  in. The ‘I made it and you didn’t’ tone in her statement felt like the grinding of the knife she left in my back some years ago. What is it with people from your past that feel they need to prove something to you? It’s called the past for a reason, move on, do you and I will do me. Being the better person I calmly try conclude this unwelcome conversation.

“I’ll see if I can think of anyone ‘on the street’ and refer them to you. For now I have to go.”

“Cool, here’s my business card. Ciao.”

Was all of that really necessary? I knew exactly how I could improve my mood. On my way back I found Sarah and gave her the business card.

“Sarah, you should take this business card and call this lady. She could put all your valuable opinions on Facebook and Twitter. Who knows maybe people may like your comments so much that you have your own website one day.”

“Serious? Sister you’re the one!”

I went home. While in the taxi my mood shifted. I felt bothered by the rate at which my career was escalating. I did not feel the need to compare myself to my peers but as an individual there are ambitions that I wish to fulfill and the worry that I was not where I needed to be sometimes crept up. I may have been one of the first few in my family to acquire a degree but I had but no means ‘made it’ yet. There was still a backlog in what I needed to achieve. I needed a supplementary source of income, so I sat in front of my computer and decided to find a part-time job.

“Ok, let’s see. Google ‘Part Time jobs Cape Town’. Hmmm, Entertainment Therapy, what’s that?

The ad reads:

Top quality young lady/student entertainment therapy for men-high income [+R90,000 pm]must be new to this[not experienced]part or full time-high respect to you and your own conditions at all times assured-only firm & shapely[can be buxom,well built or not but must be shapely ph.Steve 071-000-000 in confidence.

90 grand for entertaining men? Why is Steve’s punctuation questionable? If he has 90 grand to spare, surely he can use it to better his grammar. Ooh this sounds dodgy.

Next ad:

Junior / training photographers required to assist us on  Saturdays.

Must have own car.

Must live in the near the CBD area.

Must have own car? Why do these people think that everyone is privileged enough to own a car? Some people like myself work in order to buy possessions such as cars. I’d only be so lucky to have a mommy who bought me a car in 1st year of university. Anyway, why would I want to use my car for the benefit of someone else’s company? Petrol may be accounted for as a company expense but I don’t think they’d be paying for any damage that my car endures during office hours.

Moving on to the next advert:

Looking for a well groomed, presentable White South African Lady between the ages of 22-35. Must be energetic, reliable, trustworthy and hard working.


Need to speak Afrikaans and English fluently.


Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 5pm R4000.00 Plus commission.


No chancers please.


Non Smoker.


Own transport essential


This is an amazing opportunity; high earning potential.


Must be available immediately.


Please email your CV to:


Really? Am I the only one who realises we are still stuck back in time? Why is whiteness still part of a job description in 2014 Democratic South Africa? How would they have responded if I showed up claiming to be white with just a very dark tan or even called them out on their racism?

Why is does it seem like posts advertised in Cape Town have no consideration for employment equity? I mean I have real skills but I seem to be ruled out because my name is Sanele Mthonjeni instead of John Brown.

This was all very frustrating, I had no answers, all I can do is focus on finding more freelance writing gigs because at least at that discrimination as a black woman meant very little if my writing was good.

I receive an email from UCT about an Alumni Event: The power of the Humanities Degree. Great topic, I’m still searching for the same power post studies. This is the perfect opportunity to write about it. As I RSVP,  I hear a knock at the door. It’s Mike.

“Hey, I’m out of sugar. Can I come in?”


Don’t you just love our neighbourhood? You can knock on the door and be sure that your neighbour won’t turn you away when you need something.”

“I don’t think it’s that kind of neighbourhood, you’re just really forward and know everyone here.”

“I’m not forward Sanele, I’m just a really nice guy. Why don’t you like me?”

“It’s not that I don’t like you. I just don’t throw myself at you.”

“Oh, that’s what it’s about? You should really learn to relax. You’re always so ready with an answer as if it’s a shield. What are you hiding?”

“There’s nothing cloak and dagger about me. This is just how I am?”

“So you’re protective of yourself? Guarding your heart? Some guy messed up and you’ve been cautious ever since?”

“Ok Mr. I think you should go. Here’s your sugar. Goodbye.”,  I gave him his sugar and frog marched him to the door.

“Bright Young Things.”


“I see you’re reading it, by Josephine Edgar?”

“You’ve read it?”

“Yeah, it’s a classic. I enjoyed meeting the various bursts of personalities in the book. I immersed myself in the mind play between the characters. Their innocence, their lust and conviction… Anyway, you’ll enjoy it. Thanks for the sugar.”

Had this man shed his vapid caveman mentally and indulged me on a snippet of classical literature? Forgetting what I was doing before, I felt myself get wet. I rummaged through my grocery bags, found the batteries, disappeared to my bedroom, brought the Rabbit to life and lusted over his words. My word, I’m such a sapiosexual…



Have you ever experienced discrimination while applying for a job, course, bond application etc? Share your experiences.


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