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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Gay > Artikels | Features

“Die Beloofde Land” – a young gay man’s experiences in 21st-century heteronormative Pretoria

Cobus Fourie - 2009-09-16

I arrived a wide-eyed young adult in Pretoria in 2001 and commenced studies at the University of Pretoria. I was, of course, inducted into the crowd of instant liberals who defied the culture of the heteronormative. I quickly examined and experienced the prevailing culture in the city. In retrospect I see it as a large Afrikaans colony and maybe this has lead to the topic. I am happy to report that I no longer reside there, but I did long enough to know its ins and outs.

I started jokingly calling the New East of Pretoria “Die Beloofde Land”, as a mass exodus happened de rigueur as the former Old East residents crossed the N1 Eastern Bypass to get to the land of the Fake and the Conservative – the sad substitutes of the proverbial Milk and Honey. The areas of Lynnwood, Brooklyn and Waterkloof became inhabited with foreigners ( Pretoria has purportedly the most embassies second to Washington DC) and of course the massive influx of the new so-called “Black Diamonds” ensued. I hate that term and see it as patronising, but had to refer to the demographic to demonstrate my point.

Sarah Britten wrote about the great “Northern Wastelands” of Johannesburg in her brilliant article, “Why oh why do I hate Fourways so?” She examines the total dishonesty of the architecture in said area and rightfully states that there is nothing authentic about it, nothing. Some comments on said article were priceless, especially this one: “aaah Fourways, where architecture and good taste went to die.”

I have heard many an affluent from the Old North in Jozi referring to the “Tuscan slums” of the “Northern Wastelands”. A friend of mine claims that he was the one who coined the phrase “Northern Wastelands”. Nevertheless, “ Die Beloofde Land” is Pretoria’s quaint yet much stuffier version of the “Northern Wastelands”. I hereby bestow ownership of that geographical parody of a name (“ Die Beloofde Land”) upon myself before some shrewd competitor uses it.

The east of Pretoria has expanded so much that the Netcare Pretoria East Hospital (well, almost everything east of Hans Strijdom Road) is no longer technically in Pretoria, but part of the Kungwini Municipality of Bronkhorstspruit, now part of the greater Metsweding Municipality. This is a rather sizeable area which consists of the “Tuscan slums” of Silver Lakes, Woodhill and the plethora of others to the really far east.

Now to tackle the horrid architecture. First my little preamble: I am a philosophical contradiction in terms as I fervently dislike postmodern architecture but concur with postmodern philosophy, however chaotic, contradictory and futile people may view the philosophy of Derrida et al. I think I have read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead many times more than I would like to admit.

I drove through “ Die Beloofde Land” recently and it has expanded even more since I left the city four years ago. It is LA-esque in the sense that it is a vast expanse of utterly depressing monotonous prêt-à-porter housing developments for the average Afrikaans young professional. There are endless theme parks of cluster homes, townhouses and duplexes all dull as hell. Then there’s the “esteemed” golf estates which are in effect just oversized versions of the theme park housing developments. I wonder if this is just lingering Pandemic 2009 Influenza A(H1N1) “swine flu” delirium. Alas, it is not. That place is just plain disgusting. I wonder what European tourists must think when they see this smite-inducing manifestation of our beleaguered Zeitgeist. The unfathomable and flabbergasting part was that I saw a KFC with a Tuscan roof! Now, do you get anything more deranged than that?

If Ayn Rand had to witness what I have witnessed she would have had an instant aneurism. What happened to decent Modernist architecture? Whom do we have to blame, the calculative architects or their equally deranged clients?

A prominent radio personality has said that you can build a wall around Pretoria and charge people money to the entrance of the theme park. I must concur with that sentiment.

If “ Die Beloofde Land” is a manifestation of the prevailing spirit and core philosophy of its inhabitants I cannot help but feel very sorry for them, and now I understand why half of them are on antidepressants and tranquilisers in any way. If you want to peek into the dysfunctional East, take a trip to Denmar Psychiatric Hospital in Garsfontein where I guess most of the delusional and despondent end up.

The disillusionment and cognitive dissonance is nothing new; I guess the Uhuru-mongering conservative populous just suffers more from the emancipation of the new South Africa. It must be very hard to live without nationalist demagogues telling you what to do with your life, what to think and sans the indoctrination of your children. Poor souls, keep taking those Prozac. If they keep on migrating east, soon they will end up in Mozambique.

Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead (The Bends, 1995, Parlophone/Capitol) is a poignant narrative of disillusionment and a sad reflection of our disposable consumer culture. It is also an apt analogy describing this uniquely South African context.