One Sunday morning (September 28th 2014), My partner & I had a leisurely breakfast with a friend of ours, let’s call her Liza, at Munch, the one in Parktown North at corner Jan Smuts & Bolton in the nursery at Garden Shop. After ordering our coffees, a waiter came through to our table asking for the Tabasco sauce which was part of the condiments. We had no savouries yet, so we let him take it.
We ordered our food, and when it arrived, I asked for Tabasco sauce – on scrambled eggs, with crispy bacon, it really hits the spot especially after a Saturday of ‘social drinking.’ The sauce came and I began eating, applying sauce to my food as I ate.
A waiter came through to ask for the Tabasco sauce, I politely declined saying I was in the middle of my meal and still needed it. As he left, I picked up the bottle to season my food further, and as I was doing this, a man approached our table and loudly demanded the Tabasco sauce, without a greeting or pleasantry exchanged. Without looking up at him, I calmly told him I was using the sauce and continued seasoning my food.
He demanded it again and without looking up at him, told him I was still using the sauce. We were taken aback at this man’s gumption to the point that Liza asked him if he was the manager, to which he replied that he was not. Both my partner and Liza were agitated, wanting to jump in and tell this man to eff off, but they held their cool.
This man continued to demand the Tabasco, saying that he needed to season his food and would bring it back once he was done. At this point, Linda commented that this was ridiculous, to which the man replied, “Many things in life are ridiculous now hand me the Tabasco!” To this, again without looking up at him with the hope that the disregard would sink in and he would leave us alone – I declined again, raising my voice and asked him to give me space so I could enjoy my food. He stormed off muttering loudly, much to the attention of the restaurant which was now quiet, watching this spectacle unfold.
Munch by the way is a family friendly chain of restaurants in a quiet nursery setting, complete with a jungle gym, play pen and child minders for the little ones and on weekends, a lot of families come through. In fact this very man was with what I’ll assume was his wife and kid. At this point, his wife actually, in a way that lacklustre but loud enough to show support for her irate husband said, “It’s a family restaurant.” I heard that and as I had seen her before this debacle, in my mind I saw her face cheerleading this savage behaviour. This surprised me.
Everyone at the eatery stopped watching and the waiters continued with their business, waiting tables or anticipating new patrons at the entrance. The patrons resumed chatting away, possibly about this incident, or not under the pretence of it not having happened – if we don’t talk about it then it didn’t happen then we can carry on and avoid this discomfort we feel.
I scanned the eatery as this man walked away. Waiters in their denim shirts and black pants and skirts stood by the entrance and a few other by tables, obviously having been stopped in their tracks by this man’s behaviour, while waiting their tables.
I was tempted to refer to this man’s behaviour as tomfoolery but I do not believe the whole restaurant saw it as that, perhaps just our table and a few others. Not even the manager. My partner, after I had finished seasoning took the Tabasco and banged it on an empty table next to ours.
Startled, we continued our meal, discussing the nerve and astounding level of self importance this man had shown, and unashamedly so. One of the waiters quickly got this man another Tabasco sauce from another table, pacifying him.
Ten minutes in, we called for our waiter and asked to see the manager, who promptly arrived. We talked to him about the incident, and through his teeth, he lied about how he did not see it as he was serving a table at that time. Lies. He then apologised. Another lie. He was not sorry. We ordered a strawberry juice, to which, in his very feeble attempt to appease us said it was on the house.
By this time, what was left of my Americano and croissant with crispy bacon, roast tomatoes and scrambled eggs was cold. A few more forkfuls I was done for the sole reason of not wasting money.
By the way, this rude, self important man was white.
I don’t know what to make of this incident, but certain things are very clear to me:
- This man thought that he was more important than me with his needs for Tabasco being of greater urgency than my own and my meal therefore I had to forfeit part of my experience at Munch for his benefit.
- In his self importance, this man shoved his way through to our table, demanded the sauce at once. The right thing to do according to him was to acknowledge him, and then quickly be obedient, hand over the sauce for his gratification.
- This man was rude, did not acknowledge me nor did he treat me with any semblance of respect, politeness or civility. Dare-I-say, in his eyes I was not a human being, but a lowly thing that had the Tabasco sauce which he obviously deserved at my expense. The right thing therefore was to take it.
- This man demanded the Tabasco sauce. He did not ask – there was no ‘please’, ‘pardon me’ nor was there a ‘may I’ of any sort. He need not reason with me politely because in his eyes, I am a lowly thing, not a human being equal to him because.
- The waiters watched, in silence and did absolutely nothing to stop this insane man from spoiling our experience at Munch. That silence had a certain affirmation for this man’s behaviour – he was behaving the way he must. In that silence, there was also a very pregnant indignation directed at me because I should have given the irate patron the Tabasco sauce on my table, and I didn’t. How dare I?
- As for the other patrons, I cannot speak much because they wield little power at a private business.
Because of these observations, I am justified to call this incident racist. If he was a black man, in the broad-based sense, this would have been another case of an asshole with no home training, embarrassing his mother and his family. But he was a white man, who by virtue of our history in South Africa, assumes much higher social capital in society, than a black man. And in an area like Parktown North, where actually there were only two other black patrons at the restaurant – making it a total of 3 blacks out of an odd estimate of 30 people, this man was in his rightful place, and me not so much.
This man’s behaviour is unacceptable, and has no place in post apartheid South Africa. And sadly, very very sadly, this man has a wife who obviously shares his thinking and cheers on his erratic behaviour. These two thoughtless morons have a baby whom they will bring up with the same ill-thought values of self importance, disrespect, blatant savagery and arrogant barbarianism. And so will the baby his/ her own family, and the vicious cycle will continue.
Thinking of this incident later in the afternoon, I found myself feeling unwelcome at Munch, faltering under the aftermath of this attack. I found myself battling between yielding to this feeling and not going back to Munch and any other white dominated space ever, or going there in protest as a blatant exercise of my rights, and dragging my entire Khumalo clan with. Then I thought of my loving partner, my in-laws and my numerous white friends, and I thought eff it, there is plenty love going around and I will not validate this man’s moronic behaviour. I will go wherever the eff I want and there is nothing this man, or any other frigging racist can do to change that!
In a progressive South Africa, twenty years into democracy, great strides have been made for equality, while efforts at social justice are still in the process, and definitely much needed. This is why there are provisions for positive discrimination to right the imbalance in social capital. These policies are not just here but in many other countries with similar histories of artificial poverty directed at one population group.
But until such a time that there is social justice, and everyone, regardless of colour or gender, assumes the same social capital, angry opinions like Ntsiki Mazwai’s which some have called African fascism, will always be present and justified. That is not the future many of us want to see for this land and I know this to be true.
In the meantime, I will not be rushing to Munch in Parktown North, or any other Munch at that!