March 23, 2013. I was walking home on Saturday afternoon when I decided to take a route I had never taken before, explore more of the streets of inner city Johannesburg. And boy was there more to discover, right there slap bang in the cluster of buildings separated by widely narrow pavements cars, traders, nestled between President, Market and Joubert Street there in the middle was a park, with a basketball court.
A bunch of guys were shooting hoops tapering off what seemed to have been a very competitive game , while others grouped themselves in threes and fours chatting in English infused with different African accents – talks presumably setting up the next tournament. Watching them play reminded me of my first crush in high school on a guy called Randy- a basketball player amongst other things. Oh Randy, he was from Taiwan. “Taiwanese not Chinese” he told me once “there is a difference – the difference being that Taiwan and China are two different countries”. I didn’t know then how contentious the Taiwanese issue was for Main land China until much later when on a two-week marathon trip through the country I was advised not to mention Taiwan during conversations or formal interviews. “People might get upset and it’s just better if we don’t talk about it” Of course it was hard to resist recalling my crush on Randy, what would he think of me now? But I wanted to experience China while I was there so the “Taiwanese issue” along with the dangerous subject of Tibet was never mentioned in any great detail. We all preferred to “kampei” during long lunches, than to engage in unpleasant subjects.
Huang-cheng-tse was his Taiwanese name. His family called him Huang, he was the oldest and only son. His father called him Cheng they all seemed to dote on him. My crush on him was beyond embarrassing, for me but gave my family enough jokes for years. It was a passing phase we all agreed. Of course I secretly hoped we would have a happy ending but his “Dear Lindiwe, thank you for liking me but we can’t be together, it’s my family” words in a letter he secretly passed to me through our go-betweens uSibusiso no Patric crushed all my hopes and dreams for a red festive day. “They will never allow me to date someone from a different race” he continued with what seemed to me a sincere and heartfelt explanation. He was 14 and I was 13. None the less I used to watch myself walk slowly across the lonely overgrown school yard toward the end of the school fence, near the basketball court to watch him , Sibusiso , Patrick and other boys from school play ball. He was a good player, energetic – he practiced the slam dunk every chance he’d get. He loved basketball and winning – he was a straight A student. I always had a book in my hand and would escape into its pages every now and again during the game or the duration of the lunch break. Anyway it was not like my family would approve of my interests in him either. I was forbidden to be with anyone from a different religion, race was negotiable, religion not. I was from a born again charismatic Christian family and he was a Buddhist. Randy and his family seemed devout; they would often go to the temple a few meters from the school where on the opposite side foundations for Africa’s largest Buddhist temple ( the bronkhorspruit nan-hua temple) were already being laid and would take longer than my high school career to complete. The construction of the building was financed by Buddhists in Taiwan and all over the world. Buddhist Monks were common sights beyond the thin fence of the school yard, in light grey tunics, a touch of black, brown tunics, they walked in meditation, heads shaved and bent down each morning and afternoon. Sometimes they would be practicing some form of Kung-Fu or Tai-chi. Over time we started seeing more and more (black) African monks living in residence at the temple, many of them dark, very fit, beautiful and fluent in mandarin Chinese. My love for Randy was impossible.
At the Oppenheimer Park my gaze shifted to a woman sitting on a concrete chair under a large overarching lace like tree which seemed to invite visitors to the park to take a seat, breathe and relax for a little while. I closed my eyes as if to inhale the newness of the fresh air in this green oasis and as I slowly opened them I came face to face with it.
The Ernst Oppenheimer Rough Cut Crystal Diamond or at least a sculpture of it “In a playful spirit” the sculpture explanation notes read “the 236 carat Ernst Oppenheimer Diamond has been brought to life 3D scanned and scaled up 50 times to stand as a shining focal point of the park and central Johannesburg.” It continued. “Though people know of and frequent the park not many know that the park is named after Ernst Oppenheimer, a global mining/diamond magnet who discovered this rough cut Crystal diamond. “ Though not the largest diamond found at South Africa’s Cullinan mines, (such as the Star of Africa; now part of the British Royal Family’s Crown jewels) it is recognized as the most beautiful diamond worldwide.” The rough cut diamond crystal sculpture was unveiled in Johannesburg by Mayor Amos Masondo in 2011. The work is created by The Library and Trinity Sessions.”
I was happy to find it, and stepped back for a better look of the rough cut diamond blown up to a stainless steel shimmering blob in front of me. My heart sang pop-idol Rihanna’s hit single “Shine Bright Like a Diamond“right there and there as if in worship. The chorus “you’re beautiful like a diamond in the sky, so shine bright” got me up to dance, its rhythmic beats moved my soul and inspired me to look beyond the dusty brown horizon of Senegal’s Capital city Dakar. My feet which were cold as ice until that moment when I heard the song for the first time warmed up. The hit single, called me in an unexpected way, to believe – again.
But in another part the of the continent, a region that is home to one of the rarest diamonds in the world – my personal favourite -the black diamond – there is untold is untold turmoil. The Daily Maverick summarized events in Central Africa over the weekend thus: “Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, has fallen to rebel fightersfrom the Seleka coalition. President Francois Bozize has fled the country, according to reports, and the rebels are talking about forming a new government and planning elections. A number of South African troops have been killed in the fighting – it could be as many as 14, although reports are contradictory. What exactly were they doing there,asks Khadija Patel, and what’s going to happen next?
I took pictures of the park and its surrounds and as I near the exit, which is not very far from the entrance, I laughed out loud at a sign which was made for the park but seemed to have been placed there just for me to read in red and black letters: Jozi – Nothing is impossible.