“I will build a wall…I will build a great, great wall…mark my words”
~ Donald J Trump
After my sadly shortened visit to South Africa, I began to truly understand the world’s obsession with walls:
The Great Wall.
The Wailing Wall.
The Berlin Wall.
(just to name drop a few famous walls – no biggie)
Walls are incredibly symbolic.
On one hand, they are built as a sign of strength:
Walls can be seen as a form of protection
They project a sense of reliability
On the other hand, walls can be used to mask pain and weakness:
Walls can be used to hide behind
They can also be used to hide from
from our past – from our history.
But man, in South Africa, do they love a good, tall, sturdy wall.
There are walls literally everywhere.
These walls are adorned with shiny baubles that patrol the every movement outside and inside the walls.
They are laced with specifically sharpened tinsel, to ensure no one gets in (or out) of the allocated walls without permission.
I’d hate (or maybe I’d love) to see these walls during Christmas.
This relationship with walls stems from an incredibly complex history – specifically, the regime of apartheid that was used to govern the country for a period of time.
So complex, that if I was to give you a brief outline of it here, it would simply be offensive and not do the pain and suffering of the people any justice.
So instead, here are some links if you’re interested in knowing more:
That being said – the walls that impacted me the most were those that ran along the freeway on the drive from the airport to the place I was staying.
These weren’t particularly large walls – actually, not at all.
Along the freeway for miles, was township after township – overcrowded, cramped and thoroughly lacking in proper amenities.
(there are a couple blog posts coming up about two townships in particular that I visited – so specifics and stuff will be provided in those)
Every time we took this drive, my heart sank.
Because even though these walls were erected to create an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ narrative – the walls didn’t stop us peering in, or the people (and their resultant lives) pouring out on to the streets beyond the walls.
And in those moments where the walls failed to protect our consciousness, you could see – in plain sight – the ghosts of the past it was built to keep hidden.
The street hustlers – doing everything to make a dollar.
The desperate mother consoling her crying children.
The lady sitting resigned in the searing heat – wondering what became of the glorified movement for change, for equality.
The walls do nothing to mask the smell either:
of stray animals
of rotting food
of waste excreted in the streets.
Hardly conditions for any human.
After this, I don’t blame Trump for building his campaign around a wall.
It’s dualistic nature makes it the perfect product to sell to voters.
Both a sign of strength and a pallet cleanser.
Walls provide a sense of finality.
Once its built, that’s it.
We are separated & protected.
No longer intrinsically entwined by the common thread of human life.
Walls make our cognitive dissonance (shouldn’t we help others / those aren’t appropriate living conditions) essentially disappear – by hiding the stimulus that challenges our humanity.
I guess that’s why the speed limit is 120km/h down these roads.
“If your walls could talk, they’d tell you it’s too late
Your destiny accepted your fate
Burn accessories and stash them where they are
Take the recipe, the Bible and God”
~ K Dot
Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.
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