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[Letter from Cape Town]

Portrait of a Township


“My daughter, she have a big problem,” Easy Mzikhona Nofemela told me one day on the phone, his voice panicked.

“What kind of big problem?”

“She have terrible pain in her tooth.”

“Do you need a ride to the dentist?”

During the more than two years I spent in Gugulethu, a black township on the outskirts of Cape Town, I was asked for money repeatedly, but with time, fewer people bothered. I once gave a lift to a man who deduced that I was American, inspected my ten-year-old Renault hatchback, and then asked, puzzled, “But where is your Ferrari?” Easy had never asked me for a penny, though he was essentially broke — his modest salary tied up in high-interest cash loans, an exorbitant funeral-coverage plan, a small fund for his daughter’s education, and membership in a service that provided a lawyer in an emergency — and he had never asked for a favor. But he accepted help if I offered.

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is based in Addis Ababa. Her book about the apartheid-era murder of an American in Cape Town is forthcoming from Spiegel & Grau.

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