Hagen Engler and Comrade Baby
Comrade Baby and the Gateway To Hell
It was only the conversational Gateway to Hell. But it can be just as uncomfortable. Let me explain.
I’m married to a magnificent black woman of glory, strength and wisdom. A lot of people who don’t know her, and with a simplistic idea of how marriages work, assume that we must share each other’s views. That’s not how it works.
When a black person marries a white person, they don’t stop being black. And not this lady. Baby is one of the most militant black women I know.
Me… Look, I’m not apolitical, but my political views vary with the weather, my mood and the headlines. Also, one’s whiteness is hardly an asset in any political debate, so I tend to follow a path of discreet armchair liberalism.
I’ve voted for five different parties in my time. I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool anything. Once I even voted DA, although that time I had to get drunk first, and scrub my hand afterwards. Baby has never forgiven me.
She, on the other hand is so militant there’s barely a party in the political spectrum radical enough to deserve her vote. Her political heroes are Biko, Sobukwe and Chris Hani. She still hasn’t got over the decline of Azapo.
So there we are. It’s a bit like Justice Malala being married to Joe Slovo, except one of us is a white liberal.
If ever the conversation lags, it’s fun to drop in little bombs like, “But we achieved equality in ’94, mos”, or “There’s lots of blacks in the Protea’s team. They just mostly coloured.”
Living with a militant positions you at the coalface of flammable race relations, which is why I’ve learnt to keep the banter as secular as possible and to say, “Yes, Baby” whenever she gets up a head of steam. Like, say, when Lindiwe Mazibuko comes on TV. Or during Third Degree.
Other people don’t quite appreciate this aspect of our relationship. So, for instance, some of my Twitter followers will follow her, drop one thoughtless Malema reference and within minutes join Comrade Baby’s graveyard of blocked followers.
Dinner parties are great sport. There are certain statements that are pretty much par for the course in Joburg’s northern suburbs. Say them to Revolution Baby and it’s like a red rag to a bull. You unleash all the fury of an oppressed nation upon yourself.
Another time we were on a road trip with another couple to the Cradle of Humankind, of all places. We were driving through the countryside, so our friend OR – he’s with a black woman too. We sometimes find ourselves on the mixed-couple circuit.
Anyway, OR… we were in the country, so he thought it opportune to raise the land issue. Cue the most heated outburst since that one journalist got tjatarag at a Youth League press conference.
“It is our land! It was stolen from us! They must give it back!” Baby was just about toy-toyiing in the passenger seat as she bellowed it.
Meanwhile, I winced to myself behind the steering wheel. “But the boere know how to farm,” was her opponent’s response. “This country needs food security.” Then he added, a touch unwisely, “Willing buyer, willing seller…”
And so the gates of hell were opened. There on the road to the Cradle. Just after that T-junction near Krugersdorp. “Willing buyer, willing seller” is the worst trigger, marginally more incendiary than “There were no proper blacks here when the whites arrived”.
Baby was turning puce and hyperventilating. She was making fists. Things had gone beyond a joke. We needed to change the subject. I put the radio on Umhlobo Wenene FM and said, “Yes, Baby. Do we turn left or right for the Cradle of Humankind?”
Just then we hit a pothole. There was a pause, Baby rolled up her sleeves, and within seconds we were arguing over service delivery.
Boom! Flaming conversational hell. Discussing politics and race. But hey, we’re South Africans. Most chats go there sooner or later.