One of the most important things about living in a community is that you are a part of it; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer, to steal a line from the somewhat ironic litany of the Christian wedding vows. This is true of Clarens, which, if I think about it, is a bit like a large, fractious family. No matter how much we fight and snarl at each other, and we do, we tend to pull together when we are threatened or when our lives and futures are at stake.
Dismiss these platitudes at your peril however, for they have some force and conviction to them.
For example, the village of Clarens is about to initiate an October Classics festival, which will involve the translocation of thousands to see and hear great music and fine entertainment – and celebrate a bookfest; well, the four or five surviving Free State readers anyway. While this is an early stage in Clarens’ development of arts and culture as a spectator sport, it promises much. Imagine the reaction of the City Fathers of Grahamstown when some palooka first suggested an arts festival to swamp the town? Yet look at their festival today, corporate sponsors and all. The point is that, as stakeholders in Clarens Inc., we are potentially at the same point of lift-off, awaiting a trigger-finger to start a fire in the hold. Well, a smouldering ember at least.
Yet in the same week, as we rush manically about trying to play catch-up against shrinking festival deadlines, one of our respected senior citizens is done to death for a cell-phone and elderly Toyota.
South Africa’s reality is our own and upon our doorsteps. We can focus our attentions on the business of tourism and have a gay old time (sorry!) dancing the light fantastic around the square to raise money for Kgubetswana charities, but the truth is that we are as vulnerable as the rest of our benighted land. Certainly, the incidence of crime in Clarens is somewhat lower than the rest of South Africa’s, as too is its severity. But the hard truth is that we have just lost a friend, colleague and fellow-citizen to the madness of need and greed. And surely, we will lose others over time, albeit at a fractional proportion of the country’s losses. The victim of this murder was a gentle man who grew and gave away vegetables, who minded his own business and who gave a great deal more than he ever took.
So, as we gear up for a party celebration, we will be looking over our shoulders and wondering how this could have happened in our little village. There will be anger, belligerence, threats and more. Hopefully, the police will do what they are paid for and catch those responsible. Calm heads will no doubt prevail, but there will be a sense of betrayal to deal with; a social compact broken and unwritten agreement dishonoured. The question is whether we can rise above this jolt to our sense of security, and deal with being South African rather than merely Clarenites. The answer is that we have to grieve and celebrate in equal measure – not just for the death of one man, but for the end of an era in which we all believed that we were somehow invulnerable here in the mountains.