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A tourist’s guide to the weird and wacky people on South Africa’s streets

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Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @sage_of_absurd

Holiday season is upon us. And this year, unlike last, when the pandemic was rife with restrictions, the tourists will come. So, as my last attempt at serving society, I have compiled a succinct yet incomplete list of the weird, wacky and worrying characters that visitors may cross paths with on these streets.

From politicians, to picketers, to the different types of people you may find on the Sea Point promenade, to, of course, the peculiar. So, in no specific order, I bring your attention to:

The white vagrant. Be warned, it is almost impossible to tell these legitimately impoverished white people apart from the extremely wealthy ones who simply have the privilege to just look poor.

You will look at their trench-coats – yes even in hot weather – their bleached hair and burnt skin and try to figure it all out and then, as a last resort, you will drop your gaze to the name-brand shoes and still find it impossible to tell. But here’s a clue: if you see them clutching a bunch of pens, which they are trying to hawk with little effort, they are not boho-chic. They are just hobo.

The busker and the busker’s buster. During holiday season, Cape Town, especially, is filled with pop-up musicians. They’re well equipped. They come with mobile mics and amps and all sorts of fancy pedally things but do not let the paraphernalia fool you. Aside from the rare talent, they are often very, very bad. Especially since the latest trend seems to be playing stripped-down acoustic versions of trending TikTok songs.

But fear not, there will always be a person who will say exactly what you’re thinking but are too polite to say. Like: “Not even deaf people want to listen to that sh*t.” Yes. This has happened. I was a witness.

Promenade peculiars. Take a lovely stroll and you’ll be sure to run into peculiar people. For example, there are always a handful of people who are talking to themselves. Sometimes, if you listen carefully, they’re saying wise things or painting signs on public walls that say things like, “Where shall we spend our happy days” – a personal favourite. Then there are those who also treat passers-by as models on a runway and see themselves as judges of aesthetic. Just the other day, in a light drizzle, I was told I should have made more of an effort to cover my curly hair because the rain would make it “mince”. Thank you, sir.

The out-of-work working politician. Granted, if you’re not from South Africa, you will not recognise these people. If you are and you have chosen to travel cross-country for a bit of a break from your hometown, then you’re more likely to notice them. They’re easy to spot by their expensive watches, power suits and a cellphone in each hand: one to tweet nonsense on; and a work-specific one to send excuses as to why they cannot attend meetings, complete mandates or fulfil the most minor of tasks. You’re most likely to see these people in wine bars or restaurants.

The entitled cyclist. If you have opted to hire a car, you’re bound to get in the way of these entitled two-wheeling irritations while driving around. You will imagine that you are in a video game and that, if you knock one of them down, you can score 100 points. Obviously do not do this. But they will swear at you for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Choose to swear back.

The pointless picketing protester. What would your experience of South Africa be without being privy to a protest? Forget the Big Five; look for the “big fighters”, like the sad, sidelined anti-vaxxers who spent a lot of time on their placards with terrible spelling. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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