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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Congolese waiter

Saturday night saw me happily ensconced behind the checkered plastic tablecloth of one of South Africa’s many franchised seafood restaurants, eagerly awaiting my chance to devour what I guess was about a quarter of my weight in shellfish. Our waiter seemed amiable enough, and after a guessing game as to his origins he revealed that he was in fact from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

My heart immediately fell for this poor chap. I mean, you can’t really blame him for fleeing the DRC to go in search of cooler climes. For heavens sake, the country is suffering from a major economic crisis brought on by the advent of two major wars, not to mention the rest of the socio-economic and political chaos that’s going on. Serving tables in a fish restaurant in Cape Town must be his idea of paradise.

He also turned out to be a bit of a character. Shortly after we placed our drinks order he deposited a basket of rolls in front of me which I moved aside. After all, I was there for a gigantic mountain of prawns, not bread rolls. A few seconds later he returned to put the rolls back in front of me. “You must eat them, they are very nice.” he said in thick English. I don’t know how much experience he has in the service industry but I thought it was quite sweet how much interest he took in what I got to eat. It was like being waited on by my dad.

This process was repeated again at the end of dinner when we were told, almost forcibly, to take our after dinner mints. I imagine that back in the Congo our waiter might have been a mob enforcer, or bodyguard to someone important. I bet that somewhere in Central Africa, someone is very sorry that they didn’t finish all their food.

It makes me worry about the good, ordinary folk, like that waiter, who have been forced from their home to search for work in South Africa who are now in danger from Xenophobic attacks. I’m sure he’ll be able to look after himself though. There was definitely a “force to be reckoned with” quality there but what about the rest of the foreign asylum seekers who are being displaced, hunted down or worse?

So few of us see the humanity hidden beneath the headlines. You might be surprised by what you find.


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