South Africans go to the polls next week in perhaps the most important election since 1994.
While nationally politicians are bombarding South African voters with their election messages, it is really very quiet in the Southern Cape. At Stilbaai (which means a ‘quiet place’) it is very quiet this year with just the odd poster scattered on a few lamp poles in the town. Therefore it seems as if these national and provincial elections, which is so important to determine who governs the country over the next five years, will pass us by.
Naturally we hope for strong government and an end to corruption. It is also, quietly, generally accepted that the future of the country will be determined more by what happens after the election than the actual result of the election. These developments will be closely watched by us here in the Southern Cape, as well as investors around the world. How this pans out, will have a profound effect on all of us.
So here we are more interested in the news that our very own very quiet place has been named Town of the Year. This was proclaimed on a banner at the little fishing boat that marks the turnoff from the N-2. Here all visitors stop and take selfies Is this perhaps because we have a new tar road that makes travelling the last 20 or so kilometres to the town pure pleasure. We still however ponder the question – why, of why the Quiet Place?
In our opinion Stilbaai is too quiet for such an honour. In Afrikaans some will say it is ‘gevrek’ – which means half dead. As we travelled down to our home we decided to stop at the butcher at Droë Vlakte – maybe he knows. “I only recently bought here – came from Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape – there it was too violent and unsafe. We like the Quiet Place.” Quietly, deep in thought, we travelled further to our home. What is that song? ‘Silence is Golden! It could be the national anthem for this place. Give N’kozi e Sikelele i Africa a break – listen to the silence!
The character of Stilbaai
This brings us a bit closer to the character of Stilbaai. It is a place where people come to rest – retired judges, doctors, advocates, other professionals. If you walk down the street and greet someone with a ‘Hi Prof’ you will not be far wrong. These people are streaming to this coastal resort from the North of the country – escaping violence and unsafe neighbourhoods there. As one person puts it – ‘they left in Ox wagons and are returning in Boeing 747’s.’
These people are keen to keep this place quiet and their neighbourhood watch groups are hectic. Here you have to have a good reason to stroll up the street without attracting attention. Here they do not sit behind high walls as in the North of the country – no, here they sit on their porches and take in the world. Who can blame them if they want to keep the place quiet?
But then – where does Town of the Year come from? There are reasonable services in terms of shops, two retailers and one petrol station. Also, the Goukou River offers great fun for the holiday makers, but they are also a nuisance. The beaches are magnificent and the deep sea fishing good.
Near the town is the ‘Gin Place’ where the holiday makers make merry – according to one official it is putting Stilbaai on the National Map. At R500.00 a bottle of gin they probably do. But they have also created many jobs.
Outside Stilbaai is Melkhoutsfontein – a little former fishing village caught in the past. There is not much fishing left and most people here are poor and have a hard life. Above all, they cannot live in Stilbaai, not because the laws prohibit them as previously under apartheid. They simply cannot afford it. The people from Melkhoutsfontein still live there, travel to Stilbaai every day and then come home at night. Stilbaai is still for the privileged – as this developed over many decades.
The title of Town of the Year is certainly not because of transformation and integration practiced since South Africa became a free country 25 years ago. One can also not see that things will change much in the next decades.
The search for the reasons for Town of the Year does not bring us closer to an answer. As the voters in this region we do not have a clue!