A sleeping beauty discovered

Khanyi Magubane

I am a fully fledged and proud citizen of the concrete jungle.

The noise pollution, bumper-to-bumper traffic, bright city lights, the fast-paced life, a quick lunch here, a Long Island ice tea cocktail after work with a friend, which makes way for a book launch at 6pm and soon after that I have to dash for a dinner appointment at 8pm, get home around 10, check e-mails, Facebook and send messages, watch a bit of late-night TV and, before I know it, it is after midnight on a work night. I am a self-confessed city-slicker.

When I recently had to travel to East London, or eMonti as it is popularly known, for a friend’s wedding, I was initially excited at the prospect of leaving the home for a few days, but also panicked at the thought of being bored stiff in a small town where, I had been forewarned, nothing happens.

When I arrived there I was pleasantly surprised to see my name scrawled across a board held by a smiling airport shuttle driver. In the car Luvuyo wasted in no time telling me East London was great fun, and I was going to enjoy it. I didn’t want to offend him, but I wasn’t so sure.

Driving through the town and watching the locals going about their business, it was wonderful to reminisce about the carefree joys of small town living. Having grown up in Benoni, east of Johannesburg, I know it too well. Although no-one could ever tell, now that I’m completely urbanised.

I decided I would put away my city snobbishness and explore the town.

With only 880 000 residents East London, I discovered, boasts the best of rural, cosmopolitan and coastal beauty.

This makes it easy for visitors with eclectic tastes like myself to find something appealing which, in this case, was a type of contemporary country living.

First all, I learned that East London is not a town, as I had patronisingly called it, but is, in fact, the sixth largest city in South Africa.

It has an interesting history. The British set up the city in 1836 as a military post, used during the frontier wars with the Xhosa people. The arrival of German settlers gave the area a much-needed economic boost.

In 1873, East London was given town rights, which have since been upped to city status. Lying on the coast of the Eastern Cape province, it now forms part of Buffalo City, one of South Africa’s six metropolitan municipalities.

It is South Africa’s only river port, set on both the Buffalo and Nahoon Rivers with the Gonubie River flowing around it.

The local township of Mdantsane is reputed to be the second-largest in South Africa after Soweto.

Many of Mdantsane’s inhabitants are people who were forcibly removed from what was then known as East Bank in East London. East Bank was a multiracial residential area, similar to Sophiatown in Johannesburg.

When apartheid laws forbidding people of different races to live together came into effect, the blacks of East Bank were moved to Mdantsane, which was situated within the former Ciskei “homeland”.

My home for three days in East London was a brightly red painted bed and breakfast guesthouse called the Red Pepper River Lodge.

Overlooking the Gonubie River, the lodge was first class … a city slicker like myself finally felt at home. I had all the amenities I deem necessary for basic living: an ADSL line for internet, a wide flat-screen TV, a cellphone charger adapter, a feather-soft bed, clean towels and top it off, a beautiful view.

By now, I had to admit it, I was relaxed. My host was gracious and left me to my own devices. I took the opportunity to swim and read an epic novel had I started many months ago, without considering time. I chastised myself for underestimating the calming effect this city would have on me.

The day of the wedding, I was hungover and could hardly wake up. My cousin and I, accompanied by two good friends also attending the wedding, had managed to find a nightclub for “a drink or two” and some music. What was meant to round off a nice quiet dinner ended up being a nightlong extravaganza. We danced and drank until four in the morning to extremely good music – a mixture of new songs and old ones we hadn’t heard in a long time.

At one point we decided to get disciplined and leave the club, but no sooner had we reached the car park than an old favourite tune came on and, without even discussing it, had to go back. We were hopeless and happy.

Fast-forward to the wedding, there we were, the four of us standing outside the wedding chapel, hiding behind our sunglasses, feeling extremely tender and wishing for no sudden movements.

After what seemed to be forever, our friends were eventually pronounced man and wife and we were only to happy for the reception to start so we could sit down and get some food and drinks into our dehydrated and famished bodies.

On the flight back home the following day, I reflected on the past three days in East London. It felt like I had been there for a really long time. It’s funny how time can take on a different dimension when there is no pressure to be anywhere or do anything.

I must spend more time outside of Johannesburg. I get so entangled in its hustle and bustle that I forget that there is a world of beauty in my country, waiting for me to discover it.

There’s one thing I would change, though. I couldn’t find a single place that made Long Island ice tea in East London, so next time I’ll travel with a blender and a book of cocktail recipes. A girl needs her comforts.

Khanyi Magubane is a journalist, published poet, radio broadcaster and fiction writer. She writes for MediaClubSouth Africa, and brings with her an eclectic mix of media experience. She’s worked as a radio journalist for stations including Talk Radio &702 and the youth station YFM, where she was also a news anchor. She’s been a contributing features writer in a number of magazines titles including O magazine and Y mag. She’s also a book reviewer and literary essayist, published in the literary journal Wordsetc. Magubane is also a radio presenter at SAfm, where she hosts a Sunday show. She’s currently also in the process of completing the manuscript of her first novel, an extract of which has been published in Wordsetc.