Each week I drive back and forth from Cape Town to the Overberg via the congested highways of the N1 or N2. In the narrow central strips that separate the dual carriageways there are flowering oleander bushes. Drought-tolerant bushes native to Greece and the Mildde East, able to survive on a lick of water, flowering abundantly in cherry-red, pink, cream and white. Highly toxic plants with an irritant poison in the sap, people have been known to fall ill or even die from eating food cooked in the smoke of lit oleander branches, from licking the torn branches, from getting sap in their eyes, from chewing leaves out of ignorance. Skin contact may cause irritation and blistering. The oleander is best avoided.
Along the highways there are homeless people living under these bushes, sheltering with staked-out tarpaulins and corrugated roofing. Mothers with babies and small toddlers. Huddled under poisonous oleander bushes in the central strips dividing fast and lethal highways because they have nowhere else to live. Because it is safer to exist here squatting between highways under poisonous bushes than in the gangster violence of informal settlements. Safer is probably the wrong word. Like ‘choices’ would be the wrong word.
This year the oleander are flowering prolifically with their lethal beauty. From a distance you would think the entrance to the city is a pretty and orderly drive, with the mountain right ahead of you. Not so.