I might have inadvertently given my neighbours a bad rap. Last month my daughter celebrated her 21st birthday and her sister organised a good old-fashioned house-party on the Saturday to celebrate (the financial times being what they are it was a relief not to have to worry about hiring a hall, organising the key, getting a cake, buying an outfit and all other things traditional!). Eight DJ’s, some lethal punch and guests bearing gifts (beautifully baked cakes amongst them) later and everyone agreed that a brilliant time was had by all. Personally I was very impressed at the behaviour of the young people – no wild drunkenness, not a single fight or argument and lots of good vibes.
The problem started at about 9.30pm when the police arrived to turn the music down. They said they had already had five complaints from one person in the neighbourhood. A couple of hours later they were back, saying that by then the entire neighbourhood had complained. At around midnight I had 10 police officers in my kitchen and five police vans parked outside my gate. The police informed us that our neighbours were ready to attack our guests. It all turned out to be a misrepresentation of the facts, there was not a single person in sight.
Why the police had chosen to be so heavy-handed about the loud music, I’m not sure. Hopefully all this will be revealed during the investigation (someone from the next street lay a charge). I still struggle to understand the flow of man and vehicle power to my house as the police are familiar with the fact that I live there. I’ve even in the past performed at a party for elderly people that the police had organised.
There was lots of ribbing about this being what I get for choosing to move to a ‘traditional’ white area and also many discussions around how different this would have played out in the township. There would be loads of condemnation of my neighbours for their lack of neighbourliness and plenty of articulating of how this is indicative of what is still wrong with how we engage in this country.
Before you write my neighbours off completely though, let me come to their defence. I don’t consider the woman who laid the charge at the police station my neighbour – I don’t know who she is and I don’t know where she lives. The young man who phoned me the next morning to complain about his girlfriend’s migraine, is my neighbour’s son. I appreciated the call – I’ve always hated the idea that the first time you know your neighbour has a problem with you is when you hear it from an official source. His mother the next day assured me, that the issue was her son and the girlfriend’s alone and that her and her husband had completely understood the need for celebration.
One of my other neighbours, having been informed of the party happening, had told us to turn the music up loud so he could also hear. He came out on the night the police descended and demanded to know from them whether they didn’t have work to do and why they weren’t trying to catch real criminals. My immediate neighbour; who is well over eighty years old and has never once complained about anything we’ve done (and I do believe the once she reversed into my car was accidental!) had not complained about the party at all.
So before this gets turned into an issue, let me assure you that even though I’m the darkest (in terms of skin colour) person in my road, I feel that race had little to do with the reaction of the folks living on my street. The old lady living next to me engages with us in a way that most old people engage with younger folk. The neighbours next to them are the nicest, most polite people in the world (even with the husband’s slightly naughty streak). The people on the other side are friendly, have even opened the door of their home to our kids in the past and have never indicated that they are anything but happy about our presence in the neighbourhood. The lady further down who so sadly lost her husband last year hasn’t even mentioned the party, same for everyone else in our stretch. Yes, we have our issues; the people behind me will insist on fertilizing their lawn with the foulest smelling compost on earth which brings hordes of flies, my dog once bit my neighbour in a flurry of over-excitement and there are intermittent issues around parking and access but if you want to use us as an example of how South Africa is integrating, I’m going to have to confess that we’re doing a lot better than people would like to extract from this last incident.
There are some of my neighbours I love, some I don’t feel quite as warmly about and others around whom I remain plain and civil. And like good neighbours we sometimes indulge one another. Like with the party. Yes it started off loud, yes it went on till late, yes parking was a problem, but understanding the context they allowed for it. And that makes for good neighbours... as for the lady from the other street who laid the charge - complainers you will find in any community. As neighbours I don’t think we’re doing so badly.
I am however still a lot more perturbed at the police’s response...