Come with me, down paradise road
This way please, I’ll carry your load
This you won’t believe….
Paradise Road eases out of Cape Town and bends South towards the long beaches of Muizenberg. It pauses at the crossing of Rhodes Avenue which leads to the gardens of Kirstenbosch and the wealthy residences retiring in the shadow of Table Mountain.
Life happens at these crossroads. Cultures come together. Warm bodies flow between cold metal. It makes no sense that South African intersections with traffic lights are referred to as “the robots”. The real robots are found in Western society, sitting in capsules, on pause, staring at the light, into Hal’s glowing red eye.
Not here. The Zimbabwean refugees, Mugabe’s scatterlings, bring life to these crossroads. Some motorists regard them as a nuisance but then they forgo a deeply entrenched facet of African culture. Since trading began crossroads have served, more than anything, as markets and meeting places for different cultures. From the dusty tracks of the East where goods were traded with Arabs, to the hot tarmac of Lagos, Bamako and Nairobi where peanuts can be scooped from head borne bowls, and phone chargers, water bottles, biscuits and bandanas exchange hands through car windows.
And here on Paradise Road, as you creep around that bend with all the work weary lemmings, you find art. And the paintings become a window into another world, opening our eyes to reality, reminding us that ALL roads are connected. As Kirstenbosch is to Khayelitsha. As Zimbabwe is to South Africa.
…Come with me to paradise skies
Look outside and open your eyes
This you must believe.
I immerse myself in the scenes they paint by visiting their township homes.
Xenia and Hugh from African Cartel, an organisation that helps the artists by selling their work online, invite me along to the township of Delft. On a wet, windy day we huddle in James’ small shack. Lawson paints by candlelight because the electricity has gone out. James entertains us with jokes about his “automatic” door that the wind keeps blowing open, admitting fresh squalls of rain.
This is just one of their bases. The community of Zimbo artists stick together and as we visit other homes there is a continuous flow of artists and friends who share brushes, paint and jokes.
Reggae is king. James’ head bounces to a rythm and he hooks me up with his headphones so I can take in Bob’s lyrical chant.
You’re gonna lively up yourself
And don’t be no drag,
You lively up yourself cause reggae is another bag….
And back at Lawson’s place, in the small room he rents from his landlord, we watch a DVD of the Sunsplash Reggae festival in Canada.
Graig’s small home is shared with his wife, Elizabeth, their two kids and his brother’s family. It is imbued with the colour and vibrancy of children that rivals the art that is made there. Other artists come and go and no sooner has one artist left his station in the living room than another has taken his place.
Elizabeth’s gentle touch is displayed in their bedroom, a sanctuary from the bright paint splashes, hammers, tin cans and copper wire that make up the artist’s materials. We linger in their home for the artistic energy, for the domesticity, for the innocent joy of children.
Before leaving, I notice Elizabeth has been studying a collection of postcards from Zimbabwe. Unwritten, un-posted, they are bare mementos.
The enduring backdrop to their art is Table Mountain.
The height and distance of that banquet table make it seem as unattainable as Everest. As long as Mugabe is accepted at the table of Africa, as long as the hypocritical power hungry gorge themselves, the promises they made are crumbs brushed from the table cloth for their people to pick at.
And here at the foot of the table, on Paradise Road, you will find them.
… There are better days before us
And a burning bridge behind, fire smokin’ the sky is blazing,
There’s a woman waiting weeping
And a young man nearly beaten all for love.
Paradise was almost closin’ down.