Bam’s yellow bakkie (pickup truck) symbolizes the shifting power dynamics in the Smales family’s relationship with July. It also symbolizes the cultural displacement the Smales experience during their time in July’s village. Almost immediately upon their arrival at July’s village, the Smaleses begin to resent how the ongoing civil war and their new status as refugees render them beholden to July. If the Smaleses leave July’s village, they risk being apprehended and killed by rebel forces. These circumstances force the Smaleses to rely on July to bring them the food and supplies they need to survive. However, the family struggles to adapt to their new subservience to July. Maureen, in particular, grows resentful of July’s new authority and begins to question his loyalty to her family.
July’s control of the bakkie is one of the significant points of conflict between July and the Smaleses. Even though Maureen and Bam know they can’t safely leave July’s village, the loss of agency they feel when July assumes control of the bakkie’s keys and operates the vehicle without their permission symbolically reaffirms all that the Smales have lost. If the bakkie symbolizes freedom—the freedom of mobility, choice, and agency over one’s own destiny—then July’s newly assumed control over the vehicle symbolizes the shift in power dynamics that has occurred due to the change in cultural surroundings and the social and political landscape of the war-torn nation. In this new, post-apartheid social order, the Smaleses’ race and class no longer grant them the privilege that had formerly allowed them to purchase the bakkie. This is why Maureen and Bam are so bothered by July taking off in the bakkie without their permission: it reaffirms their new status at the bottom of the racial hierarchy and July’s rise to the top. This is a tough pill for Maureen and Bam to swallow, since it forces the outwardly progressive couple to confront their new powerlessness and a latent racial prejudice they didn’t know they had.
The Bakkie Quotes in July’s People
The seats from the vehicle no longer belonged to it; they had become the furniture of the hut. Outside in an afternoon cooled by a rippled covering of grey luminous clouds, she sat on the ground as others did. Over the valley beyond the kraal of euphorbia and dead thorn where the goats were kept: she knew the vehicle was there. A ship that had docked in a far country. Anchored in the khakiweed, it would rust and be stripped to hulk, unless it made the journey back, soon.
Her son, who had seen the white woman and the three children cowered on the floor of their vehicle, led the white face behind the wheel in his footsteps, his way the only one in a wilderness, was suddenly aware of something he had not known. —They can’t do anything. Nothing to us any more.—
—Here, I bring for you— He tossed up in his palm and presented to her two small radio batteries.
—Oh how marvellous. How clever to remember.— He had heard her say it all when friends brought her flowers or chocolates.
He grinned and swayed a little, as they did. —Now you listen nice again.— It was the small flourish of his exit.
There was the moment to ask him for the keys. But it was let pass.
The bakkie? You know I’m tell them. I get it from you in town. The bakkie it’s mine. Well, what can they say?—
Only a colourless texturing like combings from raw wool across the top of his head from ear to ear remained to Bam— he had begun to go bald in his twenties. The high dome reddened under the transparent nap. His eyes were blue as Gina’s shining out of dirt. —Is it yours, July?—
All three laughed in agitation.
He put the keys in his pocket and walked away. His head moved from side to side like a foreman’s inspecting his workshop or a farmer’s noting work to be done on the lands. He yelled out an instruction to a woman, here, questioned a man mending a bicycle tyre, there, hallooed across the valley to the young man approaching who was his driving instructor, and who was almost always with him, now, in a city youth’s jeans, silent as a bodyguard, with a string of beads resting girlishly round the base of his slender neck.