I first met Lesego Rampolokeng at the beginning of the millennium, a turning point in the history of our country, a time of rapid change and radical uncertainty, but also one of tremendous excitement and infinite possibility. Everything was being questioned: race as well as social, political, religious, and cultural life. To my generation, the dream of a free South Africa provided a space for new possibilities, new audacities, transgressions, and a new quest for collective identity.
This was the South Africa that Rampolokeng and I, together with fellow South African authors Ivan Vladislavić, Phaswane Mpe, K. Sello Duiker, and Nadine Botha were invited to represent at the 2003 Crossing Border Festival in Den Haag, Netherlands. We traveled as a group and in a very short period of time spontaneous friendships were forged — especially among the young writers. Sello and I spent many afternoons walking Den Haag's streets, discussing the themes that propelled our work — the volatile intersections between race, class, and gender that continued to fracture post-apartheid society, especially in Cape Town, whose cosmopolitan character was strangely echoed in our surrounds.
We also talked about our dreams for other forms of belonging, of new friends, queer utopias, and different communities. Sex and desire with their erotic drives had a great part in it. As did politics. As Sello (Duiker 2001: 381) wrote in The Quiet Violence of Dreams: ‘There comes a time when we must face who we are boldly, when we must listen to the music of our dreams and delight ourselves with courage as we grasp our destinies firmly in our hands.’
In our youth and bravado — our naivety — we were unwilling, and perhaps unable to listen to the words of caution coming from the older writers in the group — Vladislavić and Rampolokeng — whose complex reading of postapartheid South Africa undercut our fervor. We should have paid attention. A year later, both Phaswane Mpe and K. Sello Duiker were dead — Sello tragically by his own hand. Their deaths had a stark impact on me. On one hand I felt betrayed: what of our shared dreams? Our shared futures? On the other hand, I experienced an excruciating sense of loneliness, of being alone, as a writer, but also as a person.