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By Arubhani Wevhu™
Mama's brown shoes©
Rummaging through cardboard boxes of his varsity trivia, Lameck stumbled across them. Not so pretty now but still recognizable. Dust had coated the laces and covered the insides. Even a spirited gust of breath would not remove it. Maybe a firm brushing with a soft brush would do the trick; a soft cloth wouldn't be firm enough to coax the dirt off the haggard leather would it? A soft brush: that was exactly what he'd use, to clean the antique leather spotless, without hurting it, for every nick, every tear, every sew line, every dent in the leather held a story of its own. A faint glimmer came into his eyes. These shoes had been worn to church in the nearby town every Sunday, to ask God to forgive a deeply loved son for all his transgressions, to plead with the creator to make a concession for the former's wrongdoing. These shoes had been walked in for miles and miles every other week, protecting love's feet as she walked to the grinding mill to get that all-important mealie meal to feed her young. These shoes had been baked by the sun and caked over by the mud as the most beautiful soul on earth toiled to raise a man, to mould a forthright countenance out of a willful and wild spirited potential drug addict. These shoes had been left outside Mama ka Lerato's front door every Friday afternoon when the weekly women's neighborhood meeting took place. Collective bargaining and group savings seemed to be these rural women’s tickets to the big time. Here fountains of love brought their heads together and devised new ways to beat the wolf from the door. These old brown leather shoes had helped to uphold the burden of an immensely heavy tin box, the steel trunk of sub saharan boarding school fame, at the close of every school holiday, on the way from home to the bursary- sponsored mission school bound bus. These shoes protected love's feet as she patiently waited for his homecoming at the bus terminus whenever he went away to the city. These shoes stepped over cruel stone and broken glass, cold pavement, hot tarmac and carelessly strewn embers, encasing determined feet driven by a stoic heart. These shoes left invisible prints all over town, whenever she went there by bus, in search of the fairest bargains, the best discounts, and the lowest prices. These shoes left an indelible mark on his heart. Mama's brown shoes had been shined and spit polished ready for her visit to his high school annually on Parent's day. These shoes had warmed her feet by the fireside at her young brother's funeral deep in the heart of Phalaborwa communal lands were she had grown up. They had taken the rural brunt of thorns and fresh cow dung for her in that period of great trial. These shoes had shuffled back and forth, dancing in delight, at her 1
sister's wedding. These shoes had lain next to her husband's, every night for their service lifetime. The sound of these shoes in that tiled hallway at her workplace had spelled silence for any noisy students. These shoes had been worn by the bedside everytime he fell ill, these shoes had come running everytime he let out a wail in genuine pain or in the childishly insatiable quest for attention. These shoes had won his heart over, over the years, these shoes; these shoes had never kicked him. They had escorted him to school on the first day he went to there. They had shuffled uneasily on the ground as tears of uncertainty rolled down his infantile cheeks, and then they had walked firmly away, leaving him to face a new era, that of painstakingly slow but permanently life enriching education. They knew what was best for him. The worn out brown shoes had walked in front of him on numerous occasions, on trips to their rural extended family’s home. Every step bringing mother and son closer to their thatched place of origin. Every step a firm reminder to the son, that later in life, no matter how rich or poor one might be, wearing one's shoes on the trek back home would make for a renewal of spirit, a strengthening of resolve. Mama's brown shoes had seen him grow. They had worked the ground under him while he was strapped to love's back, a helpless toddler dependent on his mother for every morsel, every bit of warmth. These shoes had lain beneath the hospital bed while his younger sister was born, contemplating perhaps with a mind of their own, the additional work they had to now perform to cater for yet another soul's needs. These shoes were his past, they were every pain, every tear, every joy, every smile that he had ever lived through. They had looked out for him and he had looked out for them too. A wry smile crept across his face as he remembered with a tinge of guilt how he had ranted and raved and fumed whenever mama asked him to polish them for her. The brown leather shoes marked every important step in his life. They had been there when he was taken to the post office to open his first savings account. A testimony to the reverently held faith that he'd grow up to be a man of prudence insofar as money is concerned. These shoes had come swiftly, determinedly, to snatch him away from the bamboo grove next to the river when he hung around the cannabis-and-cane -spirit crowd. These shoes had taken him to the dilapidated parish church the next day, to sit with him in the front pew, lest he missed a single word of Father Mcgiven's dull, lukewarm and barely audible sermon, to tap lightly at his feet and wake him up whenever he dozed off, bored by the long drawling monotone. He drew his hand across the now emaciated leather as he remembered how these shoes had stamped out spiders and ants that would have hurt a deeply loved baby boy. He remembered how they had skirted in and out among the cut out rubber tyres with grain and water, pushed to the limit by an amazingly strong African woman raising chickens to fend for all and sundry, to enable her children to go to the best mission schools and read books that she had never had the chance to read herself. These shoes had been drawn across the porch, their familiar sound punctuated by that ever so meaningful maternal
grunt: ‘ummh- ummh’, to suggest and remind him of the all important virtue of propriety everytime that his first girlfriend came home visiting. These shoes had been everywhere; they had seen everything and their print marks were all over his memory, all over his life. They were everything. They had been on hand to smack his backside when really got out of hand, like the time he dismantled the family’s just-paid-off battery powered fifteen inch black and white television set to bits in an effort to get to the ever-jubilant cartoon characters of his childhood afternoons that supposedly resided within it. It didn't help matters that the telly was a Monarch deluxe in pure mahogany finish that was the pride and joy of his father on every Sunday afternoon as he cheered the Chiefs on to victory over a frothy cup of cold and effervescent traditional beer. These shoes had provided leverage against the bare concrete floor, playing their part in the frequently played out drama of hauling a chibukuinebriated husband to the parental bedroom. These shoes had been there for him always; they had been there for him when it was dark overhead and wet underfoot. These shoes were his making. They had stepped onto the scene of each and every little trial and tribulation. Line by line, precept by precept they had lived the story that was the making of the man he had grown to be. The graduation party, the wedding, every occasion, they had been there. A soft knock on the door jolted him back to the then-and there. She stood there with a look of understanding. Was that a hint of a tear in the corner of her eye? Caught unawares he slowly put down the shoe he was holding against his bosom. ‘Time to eat son', she muttered uneasily, making clear the deeply emotive strength of the moment. She closed the door carefully as she left. She was wearing brown shoes.
Nkosi Sikelel' Afrika©
Fridays at Gamotshana Junior School were the best days of all, especially Friday mornings. Friday morning was when we had we had school assembly in the great hall. With the weekend coming, everybody would be excited because that meant spending two whole days at home. Except for the homework to be done on Friday night, there would be no pens, no rulers and erasers to talk and think about, life would be all fun. For a few there'd be just puppies, kittens, bicycles, Voltron™, Candy pops and most of all charming little sisters to think of, spoil at every turn and be with all the time. Some would for the next two days tirelessly play tag and hop scotch in the dusty and potholed streets of the local townships. A few others would spend the weekend a bit further out of town alternating between the pursuit of unfettered childhood happiness, the search for wild fruit and fetching water from the commune well. After all, all work and no play would make us dull, wouldn't it? I particularly remember one beautiful Friday morning. We started assembly as usual by singing the national anthem, Nkosi sikelel' Africa. The pretty brown skinned girls in the front row with their neatly pressed and bright yolk-yellow frocks always started the song.
Everybody joined in, with the boys trying their best to make their voices sound deep. Rudzani was the prettiest of the bevy. A twenty-cent sized pair of dimples formed in her cheeks when she sang or even better when she smiled to show the whole school her flawless teeth. Rudzani’s eyes, round and big like the brass plaques on the wall, shone and seemed to light up everytime she sang. Her dark skin also appeared to be unusually soft as was everything about her. Rudzani’s voice was gentle and captivating, easy on the ear like a happy song. I guess not many people would ever know for sure if her skin was as soft as what playground rumuors proclaimed: Edward the school bully had since declared her the love of his life, without her knowledge of course. Perhaps it was her Johnson and Johnson cologne reminiscent of budding pink roses that had him so obsessed with her. The school hall filled with the resonant sound of a thousand happy voices as we sang Nkosi sikelel' Africa. A giddy warmth rose in my stomach and spread all over me with the thought that my voice was adding on to the beautiful music made by a thousand voices. As if in a daydream the song spilled over, out of the hall room and rolled over to the mountains which in turn rolled it back and forth leaving it to reverberate across the valley of Monwana wa Modimu, the finger of God. It was as if the whole of Africa was singing with us. A glorious and warm beam of sunlight swept in through a window, I chuckled softly to myself; even Mother Nature was joining in the chorus. Swaying to and fro in the wind, the trees seemed to be nodding their leafy heads in approval. I imagined swallows and wrens on tree branches and telephone wires, green with envy. After all our song was louder than theirs today. Enchanting brightly colored sun-yellow and deep scarlet butterflies fluttered gaily in the windows, the sun glinting on their wings seemed like a thousand winks of approval from a sea of ancestral faces. 'Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo...’ (Let it's name be uplifted), the song went on. In general knowledge class we had been taught that some people had to die for us to be able to freely sing this song. The teacher said before the war was over you'd be arrested for singing this song. I wondered what was possibly wrong with the people who wouldn't allow anyone to sing such a beautiful song. I felt proud to belong to a country with a beautiful song for a national anthem or country song as I called it back then, I felt proud to know that this song was meant for Africans, for people like me. I guess the song made everyone feel proud too. Even mean Mrs. Moto’s severe scowl, ice-cold demeanor and harsh voice seemed to liven up. Her beady eyes dimly lit up from behind her ugly thick framed spectacles and she smiled just a bit, and Rudzani, oh, Rudzani.Rudzani with her unforgettable and flawlessly combed dark Afro, she was smiling at me! If Nkosi sikelel' Africa could make Rudzani smile at me I could sing it forever. I prayed silently to God asking him to bless Africa, to bless every African everywhere and make Africa a better place to live in. I prayed then and I am praying again now, Nkosi sikelel' Africa.
As usual he sat in the corner of Jacob's store veranda sipping on his potent traditional brew. Good friends they had been he and Jacob. He was glad his friend's widow had not
lost her head, sold off the business and ran off with some bugger from town or something. She remained committed to their family, to their business. He searched his coat pockets for his tobacco tin. Deftly, with the unthinking, effortless ease of a seasoned master, he emptied a little of the sweetly scented stuff onto a discolored palm. Slowly, accurately rolling it on a piece of newspaper to make a tight tapered cylinder flared at one end. He remembered the days gone by when he and the boys used to smoke grass at the grazing fields before an endless game of tsoro or nhodo .He remembered how Jacob had once made a sloppy job of rolling the hallucinogenic herb earning him the nickname "manapkin”. The shoddily rolled joint looked like a baby's diapers just come undone, didn’t it? He chuckled softly to himself. Lighting up his cigarette, he leaned over his rickety wooden chair to take a swig of Mai Rudo's brew. She could brew beer that woman, couldn't she? This ought to be the best beer in the world' he thought to himself dragging softly on his cigarette, he leaned back on his chair to catch a shaft of the late afternoon sun slowly making its way to the far off side of the veranda. As a pall of smoke cleared in front of him he spat in disgust to see some noisy youths muttering unintelligibly and rushing past him in jeans that appeared to have been stolen from the manufacturer before they were dyed completely, decently, and properly. Kambanje ground his just- ejected dollop of spit into the ancient cement floor of his friend's store’s veranda. He couldn't help the disdain that welled up inside him as he noticed their shoes, those monstrosities must have weighed way more than two pounds apiece. What had gotten into the youths of late, moving around everywhere with those noisy little nuisances they called 'seller-fonds' (his pronunciation of cellphone). What was that he had just heard? What had they just said? Had he just heard them say chicks? Aha! He had got to the bottom of Mai Rudo's dilemma at last. The poor woman had been losing chickens almost every night to thieves for some time now, and these youngsters were talking about chicks. He made a mental note to alert the poor old talented brewer the next time he visited her compound for her famed brew. As if to spur him on one of the youngsters with, unbelievable! braids in his hair turned to look in direction and winked at him. That was it, that was the last straw. Holding up his right fist he let loose a string of obscenities and dared the youths to come closer to him. He had a good mind to give them a good walloping and drive them to tears like the toddlers that they obviously were. The youngsters ran off with irritatingly raucous laughter. Shaking with anger he took a swig of his precious liquor and dragged rather deeply on his cigarette to steady himself. How dare they laugh at him, laugh at him in that manner so unnatural to the people, to the land. Did they not know who he was? Did they not know that his eldest son had been a fearless warrior, a relentless freedom fighter in the war that had set freedom ringing throughout the land like the peals of St. Killian's church bells on Sunday? Oh no these youngsters didn't know who they were up against did they? Muchazviona Kambanje christened Bartholomew at baptism by the famous preacher Father William from Ireland. The best farmer in the land for as long back as anyone could remember, Kambanje the one whose kids took good care of. Kabanje with the doctor son and the teacher daughters. He stroked his aged belly in self-aggrandizement. If only they knew what manner of a colossus he had been in his heyday. What girl in the
district had not felt weak in the knees at the mention of his name? What job hadn't he done? He had worked in Salisbury for forty whole years, he had worked for two generations of the Parkinsons.He could cook, he could mow, he could polish wood, silver, leather you name it. He longed for the days when being a man was a manly business, when he could out walk any fellow traveler, out drink any fellow reveller and of course outwork any fellow laborer. He let out a small grunt of contempt at the world he saw now, young men were now in the dreadful habit of moving around with madhikauzi shining obscenely on their ear lobes, what’s more, he had heard somewhere that two young men had caused a stir when they requested to be married at the magistrate's court in the capital. The world was surely coming to an end. He let his thoughts drift back to the fondly missed days when he had outwitted Smith's boys at every turn. He remembered the time he had been taken to serve as a steward at Lord Butler's Christmas ball in Mount Pleasant.Hah! He chuckled to himself, these youngsters did not even know how to negotiate their way among the bright lights and fast cars to Mount Pleasant from charge office in the heart of the city. That fateful night he had overhead an overly inebriate gang of Makiwa plotting to invade his home area in their overzealous quest to stamp out the ‘banditis’: terrorists. He had tipped off his son during his annual New Year's visit and well, as they say, the rest is history. The floodgates had been opened, the memories now germinated unabated in his senile mind. The little rats! He swore vehemently under his breath, did they even know the ‘sofiatown’? That awesome, lady-on the-arm dance that had taken over the townships in Salisbury when 'The Mannenberg', Dollar Brandy’s all time classic was released. Of course they didn't know it, the fetid little beasts did they know anything? His thought back to when he had courted Gamuchirai, his faithfully loving wife. Slowly, surely, perfectly, in the proper traditional way. No chasing each other up and down the road like some impudent hen and rooster affair. What did they know these youngsters? Theirs had been the days when love was not a fire hydrant by the roadside, with a forceful flow of water to gush over every soul passing by. Back then love was a carefully tended wellspring exclusive to two people, only two people. Its water only sipped, devoured or reveled in, in the closely guarded dignity of an inner sanctum. He couldn't imagine himself walking in the street with his hand fidgeting behind Gamuchirai.And those nylon trousers that seemed to have been painted onto young women's bodies, so distasteful. No wonder that these youngsters were falling in hordes like flies from this always-talked-about malady. They had no respect for themselves. They definitely had no respect for elders; they had no respect for anyone for that matter. What a bunch of despicable good for nothings. A woman was a person of dignity and integrity. As Jacob had always said: 'Mukadzi panzira mambokadzi pabonde’, A lady in the street a goddess in the sanctum, now with these youngsters moving around clad like god-knows-what, one just didn't know what to think. Were Jacob still here he'd probably say a 'freak in the street and god-knows-what in the sanctum' perhaps a wild cat or maybe even a virulent demon in the marital holy -
of-holies. And then there was the issue of the boys. Small boys not quite past school going age were already drinking and smoking like their fathers or maybe even more than their fathers. Everything about these children was just so repulsive. He slowly shook his head sideways in silent disapproval as an automatic car sped by. He couldn't just reconcile himself to driving a car without a gear lever, who was driving the car then? The maker or the automaton at the wheel, he wondered. They should have been around a little earlier these youngsters: In the glorious days of his Rover. Rover! He thought as he reminisced excitedly. He had worked hard for an eternity to earn that reliable little jalopy that came straight from the land of the great queen herself, that was all the assurance of quality he had needed. He had been given it as a retirement gift by old man Parkinson. They should have seen how he raced Jacob's Austin Cambridge when they had taken his wife to Lesabe general hospital to bear him his third child, the naughty little Sipho who had troubled Jacob no end. He had run away from boarding school at age sixteen to start a band somewhere in the big city. Had they ever been in a Hillman? The wretched little johnny-come-lately's. He pulled on his cigarette a last time and stubbed out the butt on the cracked cement of the veranda floor. He watched in satisfaction as the dying ember tried in vain to fight off the stifling weight of his thick rubber tyre sandal's sole. If only he could put an end to this madness. Stamp out all this tomfoolery once and for all. He burst out laughing at the prospect of sanity and propriety once more. It would be good for everyone wouldn't it? He laughed long and loud, the hoarse cackle of an old man amused no end. He slapped his knees in glee, adding a new sound to his joyous cacophony. He heaved and shook and wiped off tears of amusement till he coughed. He coughed out loud, the loud and resounding metallic sputters of a smoker of many years. He took out his hankie and spat phlegm into it. Maybe it was time to get inside and bid Jacob's wife goodbye. It was getting a bit chilly out in the open.
For as long as he could remember he'd always been like this. Where was this leading him to? He wondered as he groped about blindly in the darkness for the water bottle he knew would be by the bedside. He took a swig and with what seemed to be all the effort in the world he steadied himself against the headboard into a sitting position. He let out a small groan of pain as he lightly rubbed his chest where it hurt. ‘Too much smoke in your body!' his conscience screamed at him for the umpteenth time. He cursed aloud using the universally acknowledged drunkard's expletive: shit! Yes that was what his life was coming to. He raced through many options mentally as he desperately strove to find an excuse for his sorry state of affairs. Was it the poverty driving him to drink or perhaps it was the drink driving him to poverty. An exhausting little dilemma he had on his hands here, the sorrow of a never-ending drama. Something definitely had to give here. He wondered where the handsome lad of his youth had gone off to. In place of the attractive, mentally astute socialite now stood a haggard alcoholic struggling to quit smoking. He stroked his chin reminiscing on the days when he'd caused a stir wherever he went. Mr girl-guy, Mac daddy, skirt chaser, the accolades had once come rolling in
ceaselessly. Now all the girls seemed to be like Lisa. Lisa was the girl in the first floor at work. That girl must be a fitness fanatic or something the way she radiates beauty in all aspects of her personality, he thought to himself. Even the name, Lisa was a beautiful name. Too bad for him all that goodness would never be his to share. Ever since she'd seen him clobbered silly that ill-fated Saturday she was giving him a wide berth. He cursed himself for his misplaced judgment that day. If only he'd been prudent enough to choose another venue. Despite his friends' arguments to the contrary he had insisted on the neighborhood waterhole as that day's activities’ venue. Even the guys in Admin at work seemed to be keeping an eye out for him, perhaps a bit too keenly. Old man David didn't even bother to disguise his patronizing manner. He seemed to be overemphasizing assignment deadlines of late, especially in last week's memos. The deadlines were underlined in bold highlighted italics. That was definitely a bit overboard wasn't it? Maybe he was just being paranoid. But no, ah yes there was something this liquor was doing to him. Why did he keep forgetting the small things in life everyday? He had to make a conscious effort not to forget his toothpaste and soap in the communal bathroom, and his landlady, she seemed to be sterner these days, the terrible old bitch always whining about one thing or the other. It now took him twice as long to type out a page as it took him in college and with three times as many mistakes. A kaleidoscope of thoughts and scenes flowed through his mind or rather what was left of it like that advert on the wall mounted TV screen in the lobby at work. The one were there was a panoramic view at high speed. It must have been a helicopter shot or something. He sort of liked the part where the shot weaved in and out of a bustling crowd. He winced internally as he realised how lonesome he was in such a crowded world. Right next-door were his fellow tenants, people. People were everywhere. At work, in the streets, everywhere even in the Kombi to work. He just didn't get it, why did he feel so alienated when he was literally surrounded by people all the time. What was this drink doing to him? He knew he had himself to blame, well mostly, for the rut he now found himself in. So lonely, people seemingly so far away yet so close. Sober up, that was exactly what he'd do. Goddamnit! He could feel the pain already, he imagined what it might be like, the withdrawal symptoms. He pledged to his drunken soul, he'd go through whatever it took to overcome this crazy shit. Even cold turkey. Wait a minute, no no no, not cold turkey? Yeah cold turkey. He had watched some talk show with drug therapy survivors recounting their rehab experiences. He recoiled in agony as he recalled their emotion, the sweat the tears, the chest pains they had so vividly described, the nagging headaches and backaches, everything. Those folks were survivors. Even the word survivor had an ominous ring to it. He shuddered to think that all it had taken to get him on the downward slide was a sip behind Dorm twelve in high school. Yeah it was that altar wine that had started it all, he had steadily graduated from one brand of liquor to the other, in increasing levels of alcohol percentage by volume. He thought about his mother, faithful old Theresa, old, worked-out, hopeful of the best .She had worked hard all her life to fend for him, to feed, to educate, to mentor him. For God's sake the poor soul deserved being fended for for a change. She deserved better than this hopeless drunk for a son. Where was the man inside him? He searched in vain for
any remnants of manliness but found only drunken stupor and a disappointing image of a sluggard pure and proper. Socially, mentally, he was virtually always home alone. He had to quit the life he was living. He couldn't sustain this anymore. He had to get out and reach out to humanity for all that mattered. He needed a hug. He needed to smile. Fuck the drink, fuck having fun with the boys; he'd be a real man from now on. He had become tired of living this lie. If only he could muster the courage to stay sober and composed. Drink had ironically taken from him all the things that he had hoped it would bring to him. It had taken away his money, his health, chased away the women and taken away just about everything that was important to him. He wondered if his thoughts were not just another hangover-induced conscience arousing guilt session. He resolved to put his act together once he was up and sober. He would get 'serious' and start 'buying things'. If only he could get rid of the aches racking through his body. He reached out towards the bedside stool for two more aspirins. Dry swallowing them, he deliberately sat back and endured the gall- bitter medicine's taste as it coasted with the saliva down to his stomach: the widely held belief that self inflicted suffering would eventually bring happiness. Stoicism. Gosh that was what the brew was doing to him. Slowly killing, slowly numbing the faculties. He felt a warm glow on his left side just below the ribs, was his liver working overtime to detoxify his drink-laden bloodstream or was it hopefully just a hallucination? He would sleep over it. If only he could find sleep. He slowly let go of his self-chastisement and remorse and consciously tried to slip into recuperation mode. The smoke caused a tightness in his chest as he pushed back on the pillow and tossed about trying to find the most comfortable sleeping position. His head spun and he would have retched if he still had anything in his digestive tract. Smothering his head with a pillow, he shut his eyes and hoped to God the pain would go away. If only alcohol learned to listen to him. Of late he had said ‘No’ to alcohol several times but it never seemed to listen.
The Slave Shift©
Cutting high above the drone of the factory machines the siren wailed out its familiar and welcome shriek, announcing the arrival of lunch hour. The clatter of metal on metal, metal on wood and metal on concrete resounded throughout the building as tools were laid down on toolboxes, on tables, on the cold concrete floor. The grinding monotone of heavy machinery came to a halt, making way for the din of just-found voices. Just found because only a little while ago their owners could not speak, mute automatons pressing on in silent ardor. Sweat rousing every one of them to the ugliness of nature's other side. This side, here. The ‘there’ that others reffered to when they said ‘it’s a jungle out there’ This side where nature did not provide for all, seeming always instead to take away from all. Lunch tins with heartily prepared meals were taken from beside heat exchangers where they had been placed to keep them warm. Some, the relatively new and tightly sealable ones were salvaged from hot water baths improvised in the mould cooling machine's used water discharge water flow. It was rumuored that the handy silver construction had set back Glynn’s metal and fabrication company no less than half a million bucks, half a million bucks! There was no telling what he would do with such money on his hands.
The harsh rasping sound of upturned and downturned metal soft drink bottle caps drawn across a section of the concrete floor where a checquered lattice of dark and light squares had been hand scratched into the floor pervaded the air. The men got down to a game of draught. Some had been known to double their weekly wages at this here improvised checquer -board earning it the name of 'Halleyway House', the national headquarters of the state lottery. No one dwelled much on the fact that others lost enough at halleway to keep them stuck in debt for months at a time. Thick bluish white palls of tobacco smoke wafted throughout the canteen area, the dank smell of workshirts and overalls soaked in human sweat reeked throughout the canteen. A riot of aromas ensued, at some benches the plain starchy aroma of boiled maize kernels and cowpeas served in peanut butter reigned supreme, at others the hard -fried eggs on colleagues' sandwiches nasally affirmed their presence and wreaked havoc no end. At the foremen's tables stale chunks of overdone unclassified grade beef were imperiously devoured. Ceremoniously lifted on the journey from plate to mouth, taking their time for all to see, to know, to understand, to realise who was the boss for it was the boss who ate the meat. First line management almost always absurdly acts like it owns the world doesn't it? Those without lunch tins fiddled clumsily with their draught pieces, the more enterprising ones managed to churn out mirthful tales by the mouthful, clever little urchins those, by the time their more fortunate colleagues were done laughing gawdily at the former's jokes they would have stomachfuls of air. The logic here being that they would stand to benefit from their friends' leftovers, which of course increased in proportion by weight as the scale of laughter, increased. Terrible isn't it? The things some of us have to go through to get hold of a square meal. A group of men sat in the infamous 'corner'. This being the veranda section behind the canteen where reefs of cannabis and 'quarters' were smuggled onto the premises. A 'quarter' was a 180 ml bottle of cheap liquor usually brandy or cane spirit. These days the boys were most fortunate, there was a new, highly potent distillate on the market, Speakers, that's what it quickly came to be known as. After just one quarter one seemed to speak without tiring, hence the name. One quarter and one twist of blunts, ha heavenly indeed. Topped with a 'washdown' of the strongest brand of cigarettes legally available, nothing could beat that. Of course the boys had to make the most of their good fortune and drink as much speakers as their wages could buy. These days one couldn't rely on anyone anymore could they? Especially big corporate. It seemed prudent thus to guzzle as much liquor as was possible in case the distiller, in an unprecedented, most unpopular and nationwide strike inducing move decided to stop manufacturing and distributing speakers. Who cared about speakers anyway? The more responsible ones sat on their own too. This was the bunch that dared to dream, the lot that bought black and white fourteen inch President television sets and two deck hifis, the bunch that were in various stages of the marriage business’ proceedings. Some married, some about to. Gopolang was among this lot; the lot that had some form of
formal education or the other. He was among those who were foolhardy enough to seek for a vent in the vicious cycle of menial low wage labour, a weakness that could be developed with courage and determination into a fissure and eventually a hole through which to escape. He had worked this slave shift for a long time, through all this time he had overridden the intuitive impulse to return to school and avoid old Maposa once and for all. The 9am to 9pm shift owed its nomenclature to its relentlessly overzealous shift supervisor who was nothing short of a slave driver hence the inglorious name slave shift. Gopolang wondered what experience he had gained from the relentless treadmill. Perseverance perhaps if that were a quality to be learnt and be proud of. He had toiled on in silence, as life seemed to laugh louder and louder at him. No matter how hard he tried to save money and engage in this or that blues busting scheme he invariably landed on the same spot: at the very bottom of the smelly heap that was mankind. On the momentous occasion of his every landing he invariably had to bear the brunt of his personal welcome committee, his peers. They without fail managed to find eyewatering mirth whenever he failed in the execution of yet another surefire 'move out of the hood for good' wealth accumulation strategy. Life was truly a bitch and it seemed it gave her immense pleasure to spit in his face every now and then. If only he hadn't been part of the booze and babes crowd at school, the wretched jerks! Look where they had got him, he thought, as Nkululeko the office orderly walked by with a silver ball point prominent in his shirt pocket and a not so pensive look or rather smirk plastered all over his face: the twisted smile of one with a secret ecstasy amusing them no end. Deep within he knew he was squarely to blame for the hand to mouth existence he found himself in. Four years in secondary school and nothing to show for it. If only...the list of regrets, shoulda, coulda, wouldas rolled on unabated. He seriously toyed with the idea of a college course, oh no! The shame and humiliation of having kids not even half his age as classmates weakened his resolve. What about Emma? Would she understand him if he went back to school and had no work anymore, not as much money as now, never mind that his paltry wages didn’t do much to make life better from Friday to Friday. What about his boys? What if he failed his classes, they would no doubt come up with all manner of sickening humor and mockery fit enough to live long after a man's journey through this tempestuous world is done. They'd literally kill him with their laughter and scrawl an epitaph with taunts on his headstone. They'd not even wait until he failed he reasoned, they'd think he was getting overly ambitious from day one and get on with their fun. But his mother, oh yes his mother would be pleased to know that he was doing something to improve his situation. His head spun. Maybe he could go for night classes. It had been eight harrowing years since he had left school and he figured night classes alone would not be sufficient for him to pass, this had to be a full time affair. He winced visibly when he imagined making his way to the study center behind the municipal hall in the bright green and yellow striped study group uniform. What a riot it would cause, he could already visualize it, a procession of mirth maddened men and women, losers, escorting him to school, those dreadful vendors at the last corner before he turned into deliverance drive and, oh my! Even worse, that good for nothing group of hoodlums always drinking and smoking at the tuck shop opposite the study center gate waiting for the slightest opportunity to chat up and get cosy with any
member of the fairer sex naive enough to tolerate them or believe any of their vodka reeking lies. Thomas struck him on the cheek with a peanut he’d just shelled, enquiring if anything was the matter. He lied his way out of an explanation by mumbling something about being tired from all the overtime and early shifts, but not before Retlabona managed to chip in, as usual, with a well meaning sneer: 'let him be baba, he's coming up with another one of his get rich quick schemes'. Much to the amusement of his colleagues. He clicked his tongue in disgust and took off for the loo. Their laughter seemed to reinforce his fears of how they'd react if he were to go back to school. The rats! Could they not let a matter rest and let a man be. What's more they could even read his mind now. Letting down his guard he chuckled to himself about the get rich quick part though, he had once earned himself the nickname ‘lotto’. He was embarrassed by how much faith he had invested in old mdala Edison's goat's tail and black and white beads charms. You see Gopolang had responded to a magazine advert placed by a sangoma professing to impart lottery-winning powers. So confident had been a naive young Gopolang that he had told virtually anyone who would listen, much to their glee now. He had not even been among the three figures correct crowd. That month's draw hadn't got a single winner. The jackpot was divided among one thousand five hundred lucky punters who had predicted three correct figures correctly. So much for herbally induced luck. Those were his days of naivette, new in the industry straight out of high school and meaning to take on the industry, the world even. It had taken eight years of backbreaking hard work, eight years of insultingly low wages, eight years of eating, feasting even, on humble pie. Eight years of watching in agony every summer as horde after horde of fashionably dressed varsity kids came for their industrial site tour. They were the same, all of them, year after year, walking with the irritating- to- the- poor- and- offending- tothe- oppressed haughty air of those who knew or thought they knew that they would soon take over the day to day running of facilities and institutions like these. Captains of industry in the making. He would give up anything in heaven and on earth for that aura of certainity, that all-important positive outlook on tomorrow. He would forge on no matter what it would take. He would put his act together and at least try to put an end to the daily grind. Who knows maybe one day he might even be able to buy Emma a pair of those Nine West boots in Miekles.That's if she'd still be around to see that day. The not-so-welcome now and somewhat irritating electronic whine of the siren jostled him to the here and now at ground zero. Time for work. He knew he'd have to put in horribly arduous extra hours and save every penny if he'd ever put himself through school. Every idea, every route out of the slums was rooted in hard work. He envisioned himself in a plush office suite one day no longer glistening with sweat at Glynn’s metal factory, he tightened the straps on his heavy duty leather apron and fastened his thick leather gloves, he had to hurry up lest he fall short of his daily quota of pig iron bars. He set to work freeing the rough iron bars from the elongated porcelain moulds in the water bath where they had been left to cool off and solidify.
Old city campus was a bustling little place with crisp modern buildings and rolling manicured lawns, state of the art infrastructure and knowledge dissemination technology. A façade of gigantic pearl white marble fountains and synthetically aged graecian post mounted garden lights at the main gate gave way to a tropical paradise landscape- like avenue of towering weatherbeaten palm trees leading to the residences and main campus grounds. New visitors to Old city were almost always ceaselessly amazed by the built up splendor of the calabash shaped indoor basketball court visible from the gates. God it seemed, had decided to complement n’ frame man’s landscaping efforts by tucking away the old city in an endless valley at the foot of a formidably towering mountain of mythological proportions. It is in this setting in the year of our Lord two thousand and one, that the academic register contained two names listed under two different faculties, whose owners were to have their lives so irretrievably intertwined that they would have to work out an amicable way to live with each other. Rachel had known and seen from the way that her world gravitated around her, that she was nowhere near the ordinary. Rach, as her friends at college and at home called her was beautiful. To make her beauty more perceptible was a bubbly personality that almost always never failed to attract, to infect anyone around her. She was stunning to say the least. Rach, Oh Rach! Goodness knows how many testosterone charged minds had that statement emblazoned across them permanently. She was friendly, sultry, and buxom in the true African way. She was everything any sane man with all the machinery in proper functioning order would ever want. Rachel was quite notably intelligent, a straight A specimen in more aspects of her life than just her physique. Coupled with incredible social acumen was her impressive academic record of straight A's. Here was one woman who would take on the world, nothing would fail her after all she always got her way with anything, with everyone. She'd get whatever she wanted in life. Even though she was fully aware of a contingent of admirers on both the male staff and male academia she did not let this get to her head as most other belles would. She was also very aware that their type of admiration was not that of academic comrades. She somehow sensed their need for a different type of comrade-ship. Xoli short for Xolile was a couch potato. Aside from the lecture theatres once in a while and his flatlet half the time, the only other place one could reasonably hope to find him was in the entertainment lounge in the Students Union Building. Ever holding a seemingly never diminishing bottle of coke in his hand. Staring at the gigantic liquid crystal display unit with a transfixed gaze, a permanent resident of the world of etherland. Avery observant eye would notice the slight and barely existent wince on his face everytime he downed a sip of the coke bottle's contents: the human body's psychological response to a spiked coke. Xolile had learned to steel himself for each sip so that the facial grimace preceding each sip of his brandy infused coke was all but imperceptible except to the very observant eye, usually that of a sixth sense- driven fellow alcoholic. Despite all this Xolile was a whiz academically. Routinely coming out top of the class in every assignment and exam: the rebellious social life of one afflicted with too much mental goings on. His modus operandi had since earned him the moniker of 'unloco'. The
only thing seemingly capable of making him temporarily sever his ingrained roots from the couch was the rowdy consumption of beer with the boys every Friday and Saturday. Every weekday he looked forward longingly, achingly to this weekend ritual. To him college life was one of those bane phases of life, dreadfully boring but critically important. In the true fashion of unconventional genius, he partied hard and studied hard, well at least when it mattered: on the day before an exam. Suppertime in rims as it was infamously known had this inexplicable effect on people. 'Rims' being an affectionate rendition of remand. The food in rims was at most times fit only for jailbirds on remand. In college lingo 'rims had low dims'. Those who have been to boarding school will understand the universal low demand for bean stew prepared en masse. In spite of rims' unpopular menu it was located on the east end of campus, on the side of a small hillock with rolling lawns and flowery trees that the botany students took pride in pointing out to the rest of the student body which was relatively unenlightened in this respect, were Combretum erythrophyllums, River bush willows. From rims one could see all across old city valley. One never seemed to get used to the tranquil basin of lively waving grassland and blossom peppered green shrubbery fading into the distant Blue Mountains. On a hot day heat walls could be seen gaily dancing and shimmering in the distance, luckily for observers, from the relative comfort of air-conditioned rims. Boy met girl in rims. It was in the medium portions queue that they met. Almost cursing out aloud Xoli muttered impatiently when old man Mugadza informed them wryly that they had run out of potato portions for the day. Punctuating every expletive he muttered under his breath with a click of the tongue he made for the smalls queue. In the unsure moment that comes after one overreacts he caught a whiff of placating cologne. A cool watery scent with a subtly hot and spicy tinge of myrrh. Musically speaking he'd call this scent cross fade. It reminded him of the split second on the dance floor in the campus club on Saturday nights when the laid back sentimental tones of rhythm and blues crossfaded into the palpitating basslines of heart firing hip hop music. It seemed to reach out and proclaim a versatile personality. Talk about being down for whatever! He turned to look at the source. Slowly, indirectly, ever so professionally. She was standing directly behind him in the queue. She must have been impatient from the way she was slightly shuffling her feet on the tiled floor. Bingo! He could literally feel another icebreaker evolving in his throat muscles, its molecules coalescing together like miniature wine drops to colour and flavour his rapidly depleting saliva reserves. 'Very slow to serve, these people, aren’t they?' he blurted out with all the confidence he could muster. 'Yeah’, she replied with all the nonchalance in the world, ever so noncommitally. Oh God please, a conversation with some stranger in this heat, in this dreadfully slow queue for that matter that was the last thing on her mind. In the acquired fashion of a master he relented, unsulkingly, coolly and professionally exuding an aura of indestructible well-being. She thanked God for this guy's understanding, which she thought to herself was a bit uncommon of late, whatever. Finally he got served. Just so that she would not think he had backed down and as a last minute measure to ensure his pride would remain shined and spit polished, like that of a hunter, he went over to her just
to show her that he was not over and finished with just yet. 'Ah look, I'm Xoli and it seems like it’s not a good time to talk right now but I'd surely love to talk to you sometime if I may have your number' J.C the Christ! This bloke had the guts to talk to her as if she actually needed to talk to him or something. She had a good mind to give him a bit of her unedited script, the one she kept in handy for moments like these when being civil didn’t seem to get the message across. Something, common decency to fellow mankind perhaps, told her to take it easy and go along with the flow. If only he could quit trying to rattle her nerves, she was in no mood for arguments or standoffs. Mechanically, with no evident warmth or any feeling for that matter, or so she believed, she reeled off the by now mentally fixated numbers. After supper Rachel returned to her flatlet and put the little 'Xolile incident' behind her. It wasn't even worth sharing with Kim or the other girls. Admittedly today had been a boring day and it sure seemed like tonight would be an equally boring affair. Rach knew just what she'd do, she'd shower and cuddle up in bed with the sweet valley university novel she'd borrowed from the Pearl or just doze off to Yfm’s campus nights radio show, whichever she'd settle upon first. In her baby pink velour bathrobe and matching fluffy pink slippers she looked like a princess ready to go out to an evening ball. She removed the elaborately decorated ivory hairpin that fastened her hair in a knot at the back of her head all day long, loosening her well oiled, glistening and braided hair. She checked her phone for missed calls and texts one last time before making her way to the adjoining bathroom suite. Thank goodness the jerk hadn't called or SMS'd her, if he did she'd… well, she wondered what she'd do if Xolile called. In room twelve Swinton house, Xoli lay on his bed, face up with hands folded at the back of his tipsy head. By the bedside an ashtray with equal proportions of ash and cigarette butts, one of them smouldering, lay filled to the brim. He wondered why he was letting a little coincidental occurrence drive him crazy. He consciously let go of all incipient notions of destiny driven love, star-of-the-zodiac influenced romance and all such hogwash. It had been just an enjoyable coincidence he rationalised. 'Just a coincidence Xolile' he muttered aloud to himself in an attempt to subdue his subconscious forays into what appeared to be a dream-come-true life with Rachel. He chuckled excitedly as he imagined a residence with her in Sunnyville, the photoshopped ideal sunny skies and braaivleis landscape in that rather cheesy yoghurt advert on the movie channel, chiding himself for such childish thoughts he resumed his serious demeanor. He wouldn't let a stranger upturn the custom comfort and disorderly order in his life, would he? Of course he wouldn't he was a grown up man he reasoned. Thrusting grown -upness aside he picked the phone, what would he do now, phone or text? He just as quickly placed it down. Not so fast, not so all up in her face. Too much bait and the quarry would inevitably turn suspicious and flee. If at all she might have the slightest inkling of a thought for him, he'd just let her steam tonight. He'd generously give her the gift of missing him. After botany class he wandered around the corridor, just hanging around till, well, he
bumped into her. They exchanged uneasy hellos and he managed to mumble something about meeting her in the evening, hesitantly and in a hurry, she was on her way to sociology class in lecture theatre 14,she scribbled down her room number on the back of his biochemistry jotter. He noticed that she wasn't making eye contact at all; she was probably shy or didn't care a hoot if he dropped dead that instant. She noticed that he wasn't as confident as he seemed the first time, he was somewhat shaky somewhere beneath the surface, beneath the calm and collected image lay a more human man. She could sense it. She could feel it. She wondered what the cause of that shakiness was, was it excitement, love? What! Oh Lord, please not another lovesick bloke to annoy her. For the first time in his three years on campus Xolile would be going to Casiobury tonight. Sweet heavens he had never even imagined going to Casiobury before. He had an hour and fifteen minutes to go before his appointment at 6:30 that evening. He could envision himself, an awkward and bewildered looking Xoli trudging his way down what now seemed to be the too brightly lit pathway to Casiobury hostel. From Casiobury's flatlet windows the occupants could see all approaching visitors from at least five minutes walking distance away. He wondered what he'd wear, whether he should shave and shower, he shaved and showered all the same. She couldn't decide on just how to arrange furniture in her flatlet to make it appear as orderly, as practically possible. She reminded herself, firmly, that a woman's surroundings and their appearance mirrored the energy radiating from within her. She liked to think that she exuded an aura of purity, some form of energy that just brightened the world. She was tidy within. She'd keep her place that way. She also conscientiously and rather very deliberately reminded herself that she was doing this on her own accord. It was what she felt like doing at that moment and that she'd do. She wasn't tidying up her room for that beast to appreciate or for anyone else for that matter. After all she was an independent woman. He finally got round to choosing what he'd wear that evening. Something not too showy and not so downright mundane either. He'd wear something to show off his good taste in a subtle manner. So subtle that it'd take an equally tasteful person to appreciate. He definitely was not going to step out in some loud and fancy outfit that shouted messages like 'I'm desperate to impress you, I'd die without your approval please notice me'. He'd do this the Xoli way. He slowed down a bit, what would she think if he arrived at 6:30 sharp. Wouldn't it brand him as a desparado? To heck with whatever she'd conclude, timeliness was one of his principles and he'd stick to it anyway. In her room Rachel wondered whether shed stick around till 6:30 or...Phew! She sighed deeply. Why bother. Why was she letting this jerk get to her so severely? She decided to leave the room and watch telly in the common room lounge for a while, she'd definitely not be the one to be sitting around fidgeting with this and that waiting for some amorous bloke or was he? She carried her phone with her so that she could play V-rally. Kim had set a 50 000 point record the night before and she made her mind to offset her friend's record on her Sony Ericsson's built in video game. Besides someone from home might decide to call her.
He turned into her corridor. Determinedly walking or was it trudging towards the last door on the right. He heard some giggles behind him, he almost instinctively turned around but he suppressed the urge and went on with a very thick air of feigned nonchalance. Every step seemed to echo throughout the corridor. As he stopped to knock on her door, she turned into the corridor from the opposite end of the passage, bidding farewell to Kim she started for him. It was a good thing he had suppressed the sudden urge to spray mouth freshener while he stood outside her door. He'd have definitely made a sorry sight, caught red handed, left hand administering breath freshener and right hand in mid air about to knock on the door. He chuckled softly, to himself without the slightest visible sign, a naive lass that one, he concluded, comforting himself. Did she think he hadn't noticed the hesitation in her gait, that which comes to one who has been anticipating something? Anticipation? The twin brother of hope .If he played his cards right this exquisite chocolate brown skinned belle in Casiobury would soon become his. 'Hi, I'm not late am I?' he casually asked with the most carefree facial expression he could muster. 'Oh no you're not, Xolile' she extended her dainty hand in greeting to him, reaching into her pocket for her room key soon afterwards. She made it a point to call him by his full name; she wasn’t just about to show any undue endearment to a guy she just met now was she? He couldn't help noticing how her hand almost couldn't fit into the front pocket of her tight fitting denim longs. Taking care not to let her catch him ogling at the ample goodness that seemed on the verge of busting her poor denim garment. He cast a furtive glance at her from behind as she opened the door. Sex was the last thing he wanted her to think was on his mind, he would not make any physical advances, no, not just yet. He sat himself on a chair a little distance away from her. Far enough to imply propriety yet close enough to show that he indeed wanted to be close to her in every way. Mentally he reeled off all the 'How-to-get-a-woman-in-three-conversations' tips he had downloaded on David DeAngelo's dating tips website, such a thoughtful fellow he was that DeAngelo.He maintained eye contact, he held his posture high never letting his shoulders slump, he never crossed his arms over his chest for that was a subconscious message of a 'non-open' individual. She returned his gaze only breaking off when sustaining it would imply an overly flirtatious woman. She was a woman of character, a lady, not some just turned 21 girl about to take on just about every passer by. Anyone listening at the door would have heard a deep, evenly flowing masculine baritone with a rich tinge of huskiness interweaving with a kind of sweet, melodic and distinctly feminine subdued alto. Move for move, implied meaning for implied meaning the two potential lovebirds tenderly fenced around the arena of their hearts innermost feelings. Reined laughter from both parties broke the deadlock at times. He smiled at her, the sincere genuine smile of a hitherto undefeated warrior who has met his match in an unlikely peasant or should we say in an unproclaimed warrior princess. In the final analysis it was a checkmate. He pondered whether to kiss her on the hand and look like an eighteenth century prude or whether to kiss her on the lips and look like a first time in love college boy who assumed too much. Eventually, hesitantly he hugged her close and spoke, almost whispered into her ear, she let her gaze linger a moment before responding
and closing the door after him. No hand in hand walks down the garden, no, not just yet. He saw her during lunch hour the next day, she was with her friends, and he was with Emmanuel. She stopped to talk to some boy, probably her classmate. They caught each other's glances across the courtyard, each anxious to appear unaffected by the other's presence. She moved on with her friends. One of her friends must have said something that really tickled and the bevy broke into laughter. She giggled a little too hard for her laugh not to be a statement of some sort. Was she worried that he'd jump to conclusions about her male friend and laughing loudly to show that she was happy implying innocence? He moved towards her, she fell behind leaving her friends to go on ahead, he felt encouraged when he noticed them teasing her. What the heck, he'd now put an end to these mind games once and for all. They tried to exchange greetings but could only stutter uneasily. Somehow laughter found a way to warm them up to each other as they fumbled for words. 'Rachel, I jus' think I should...’ 'Hey I know', she sort of breathlessly let out before he could find the words to tell her how she had brought him to feel. It was nothing like in the movies. It was just so real, a warm feeling of compassion and mutual respect. They held hands and walked towards the Students Union building, silently basking in the glorious warmth of the beautiful moment that they had just found. It appeared that providence had just decided to smile on the pair, perhaps there were, hopefully, many more momemts such as these in store for them. They took the long way round the river-bushwillow studded park, only stopping to get cool drinks at Benson’s tuck shop, there was no movie style sunset on the horizon, it was a hot and beautiful day in the glorious African sun.
When Love met Happiness©
There'd been times, cold and gray, in Love's life that were like rainy days, times when Love's heart was in pain always. But as sure as there is respite for every soul that prays, there came a day when the promise of warmth shone through the darkness and filled Love's life with tenderness, filling Love's life with a whole new purpose. Comforting the heart that for so long yearned for Happiness. Learning to trust again, Love's heart bloomed with newly found affection, life swelled in a once forlorn heart as a long forgotten warmth rekindled. Life began anew as Love's soul awakened from the confines of Loneliness' solitary embrace. Love learnt to care and reach out spontaneously like never before. Love laughed as Happiness asked if it was coming through with verses six times rehearsed. Love smiled as the reality of the moment's beauty aroused an all-defying warmth, a reality that love saw in the beautiful, moist, deeply searching eyes of Happiness, in the tautness of Happiness' beautiful softly puckered lips, in the sweet and subtly sensuous scent that surrounds Love whenever the only one who makes Love happy is around. Love took a walk with Happiness and tenderly caressed her verbally; Nature filled the breeze with the pine and summer grass’ scent and healed broken hearts herbally, gently. Happiness carefully put her hand in Love's and it fitted perfectly, just perfectly. Happiness charmed Love back to the carefree, joyous memories of childhood days. Love ached to hold Happiness close to him and smother her to him with passion, to care for
her, to cradle her in his arms and never hurt her. Love longed to give Happiness affection in every possible way, to bring a whole new difference to Happiness' simple and sweet personality. Love hoped that as Happiness listened to 'finally', every word, every chord, every melody would be a poem, a testimony to the depth of meaning that Happiness had finally brought to Love's life. Love became determined to be there for Happiness for all time, in the gentlest and in the wildest of moments. Love became Happiness and Happiness became love. African beauty, if I became your Love, would you become my Happiness?
I came home drunk as usual on a Friday night and stumbled straight into bed. The sound of my mother and sisters singing hymns in the living room lullabied me off to an alcohol induced slumber. How thoughtful they were these nightclub owners, every Friday of the first semester was Campus night: free entrance for those with student I.D's. One could definitely make do with free admission in a premium priced club like Gulliver's. I woke up to the sound of my mother humming her favourite hymn in our kitchen. Christian hymns, a cry of hope, the willingness, the determination to survive in a bleak life of unemployment, empowerment rhetoric, political dogma, anger, despair and overwhelming helplessness. Welcome to the local chapter of the greatest international corporation ever: Life Inc. In Life Inc there is no clearly defined organogram no supervisors, no pensioners, no C.E.Os. You see you just don't picket Life for more benefits, you just slave on and hope for a raise. I am just another laborer at Life. We all are. This is my story. Every facet, every nook and cranny the ghetto life was my creed. The culture of living where kith and kin are invaluably precious, more than any form of wealth after all there are the only thing you reasonably have in abundance. In these times of great trial and want, amidst despicable suffering I was brought up to believe in the sanctity of human life. We had nought but I just cannot recall a soul being turned away from our doorstep without help if we could help. My greatest lesson of all time is that we can never be defined by what we have. All the money in the world will not make a fool wise nor will poverty diminish a wise man's wisdom. Even with no meaningful material wealth to one's name, one can make a difference in other's lives. I was brought up to deeply despise poverty the state, the dreadful condition but never poor people. I was brought up never to hate myself for being poor, never to blame others for being on the down low, but to be practical in every sense of the word. At about age twelve, I learnt that my grandfather had slaved away to put all his siblings, many relatives, his children, orphans, some of his wife’s relatives and countless other people through school. As I grew up I also learnt that was the case with my mother. As I grew up I also learnt that some of the people he had sacrificed for did not seem to be the least grateful and were most critical of him. We took care of various people at all stages of childhood at our ‘ghetto’ oasis. Opening up your home to people in need, I would
grow to learn, is also opening your home to all sorts of criticisms and whisperings and heartbreaks. One should never judge themselves based on other's appreciation especially that of people under one's care as this is almost always a slanted judgment. Someone once said 'never take your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are a wonderful human being'. My mother once told me that whenever I did a good deed for someone I shouldn't even dream of them being grateful in the least, she said that God would thank me in some way for taking care of his children. I guess that was her way of insuring me against disappointment for the only thing guaranteed in human dealings is disappointment, loads of it! That way I was brought up to do good regardless of acknowledgement or its absence. My uncle Thomas thought that this was all suburban softness and a shame for a man to be so 'ladyish', he spat on the ground in disgust and accused me of acting like a 'Mrs', his colloquial term for a sissy. A man should assert authority in society by brute strength if needs be, which according to him is at all times. He would congratulate the 'soldiers' who hijacked vehicles for a living everytime a horrendous heist graced the front page of the local weekly while I closeted myself in a world of rags-to-riches schemes, consistently dreaming one such scheme or the other. I vowed to someday get out of the glorified slums; the velvet ghettoes were I grew up. Despite all these lessons it broke my heart to learn that others accused my grandfather of being a wizard of some sort relying for livelihood on some juju of sorts that was meant to be sustained by acts of impudent show off. These were individuals he had put through school and were then relatively well off. It is in situations like these that uncle Thomas would say that the only truly good human being is a dead one. Lesson learnt, lesson taken to heart. I always knew that we were different from other folks somehow. Some of my friends’ fathers had fancy cars and we had not. I knew there must have been a better life, economically, than ours but I never consciously thought of myself as coming from a poor family. I never saw life that way until one day while rummaging among my old books I came across my young sister's filled-up English essay book. Curious, I opened it and started flipping through the essays. I got to one entitled 'My Family’. It must have been the second or third paragraph that had an opening line that read 'In my family we are poor'. I remember that line, I will always remember it. I was in my Seventh grade at that time and my young sister must have been in her fourth or so. It's amazing how some of the greatest lessons in life come from the unlikeliest of sources isn’t it? If it had been from the quiet one it would have been less of a shock, it came from the lively and bubbly one, I was dumbfounded. If my kid sister had already come to terms with the black and white on ground zero why hadn't I? I remember living for some time in the grim knowledge of my newly found realisation. Having it come from my kid sister made it seem ever so real. That is why I agonised everytime I heard my sisters fantasize about this or that dress, this or that new fad in town because I knew that for all their worth these fantasies would remain just that: fantasies. I agonised also everytime I talked to my mother, mother to son talk, real talk. I gave her my ears, my heart, my soul as she paid out her storyline from her reel of maternal hope. She strategized about this or that way to make money, perhaps she even knew that it was
next to impossible to execute any of her plans but she continued her motherly banter anyway. Perhaps that was her way of getting the load of her chest and most of all to show me in deed that no matter how hopeless any situation might seem, it was not worthwhile to ever give up hope. My parents soldiered on in the face of relentless hardships. It was commonplace for us to always be cheerful even when we didn't have money for the next meal. The Lord was always faithful, he always provided. Much to the horror of my mother sometimes I'd angrily go on about the Lord not providing in time to meet some of our bitterest times of need. My mother would vehemently oppose me and admonish me to repent. I have since grown up to be a very analytical and questioning being. To some I am a boiled in the kernel cynic. I like to think of myself as just inquisitive. While my friends drank beer for the headiness and fun, I drank to numb my despair. While they listened to reggae and hiphop because it was the cool thing to do, I listened because I needed someone other than my folks to reassure me that my rags -to-riches schemes were not impossible fallacies, the uplifting messages in this music served this purpose exceptionally well. I needed an uplifting message from those who had made it to the top from down here. I didn't see finery and fanciness in fashionable street wear. I saw the regalia of the liberazzia. A new generation of young black entrepreneurs defining their place in the world. These young men and women no longer strove to read the lines as others wrote and rewrote their history. They dictated the lines as others learnt to understand their history. Their story was no longer one of fear and misgivings, hunger and despair; it was now one of education, action and imminent victory. These entrepreneurs defined a culture of hardcore hand to mouth living through trendy urban streetwear. It was never only about apparel to me. They were an inspiration to me, the Fubus, the Outkasts, the Eckos and Wu wears. They were soldiers to me. Five star surgeon generals, who bisected poverty to bits, understood its anatomy, had undergone its rigors and then painstakingly worked hard to overcome it. Now through invaluable inspiration they had wittingly or unwittingly taken their quest for economic emancipation to a higher level. That of leading by example. They in that sense were liberators, they were the liberazzia. Liberating multitudes of otherwise hopeless souls from the mindset that their predicament could never be undone. Liberating a generation of African souls from the gut wrenching clutches of poverty and economic dependence was no easy task. In fact it wasn't a task at all it was a process, wearisome, lifeblood sapping, exhaustive in every way imaginable. I vividly remember one evening during my last semester at university. At the end of my tether I had to board a rundown vehicle for the fifteen or so kilometer trek home in the city I grew up in. My mother literally shook out her handbag to give me the last money that she had, as she often did. My dad had nothing on him but he offered to take me home in his work car. At every bus stop along the way we stopped to carry passengers ferrying them to destinations along the way to school for a small fee. It was getting dark; it must have been around seven or thereabouts in the evening. In the front passenger seat I sat collecting fares and rolling down the window to solicit for passengers at bus stops. As the darkness thickened I couldn't help thinking of it as a large and warm blanket laid over the land by a great and merciful hand to close out the harsh sun's rays and bring in dew to
moisten the dry, parched and barren land in which we lived. In our vehicle's cabin I could see my father's face dimly lit by the luminous glow of the instrument panel. Red dials, green dials, yellow dials, the illuminated instrument panel emitted a constellation of colours, all culminating in a subdued reddish glow that just reminded one of the warmth of a father's love. I covertly gazed at him, my father, silent as we drove on, his dimly lit face looking haggard in the soft lighting. I felt for him, perhaps he felt heartbroken, disillusioned, disappointed that he had let me down by failing to provide for me. I understood him, if it were up to him I knew I'd probably be driving my own car and along with it own everything I've ever wished for. I understood my father, I understood all fathers, and I shuddered to think that I’d have to be a father myself someday. I felt sorry for every father working in a city where he cannot afford to live in with his family, for every breadwinner whose children need a basic education that they can never possibly pay for with their meager earnings. I wondered what type of father I'd be myself. Would I be able to fend for my family at whatever cost to myself? Would I manage the unfathomable process of putting others' interests before my own insofar as the spending of my hard earned financial resources was concerned? Would I take it within my stride to go out of my way to fend for others, to feed, love and protect them, to risk hunger, humiliation, physical pain and any imaginable form of adversity to ensure others' health comfort and safety. I sighed to myself. God grant me the strength needed to be a good father. I wondered how it felt to a father, to not be able to provide for one's own. I wondered how it would feel if I failed to provide for my own. How much anger, how much scheming, how much agony it brought I could only imagine. I prayed silently to God that such a moment never come to me or more realistically that he'd grant me courage when it came. I asked the almighty to bless me with the long-suffering heart of an African father. Even if it literally meant possible death in the process, I would do everything I could to provide and care for my offspring, to raise them up to be visionaries in a landscape of hunger and heavy hearts. I needed copious amounts of that unwavering, insistent, stubborn willpower that I saw in African men's struggle to fend for their families. If only all men could be like the African father, my father, regardless of their circumstances. For some, circumstances dictated waking up at Four in the morning everyday to jostle for a seat on a ramshackle bus taking care not to lose the lovingly wrapped piece of not-so-fresh bread that would be devoured at lunch. In the deepest of hardships the soul always somehow found respite. Such a comic affair it was that early morning jostling for the limited seats on the early morning bus a nickname was inevitably coined for it, an apt one at that: 'pressure'. I found deep inspiration in the league of African gentlemen holding hunger and destitution at bay for themselves, their offspring and their kind. I mentally saluted the scores of roughly and smartly clad men cursing and fuming, laughing and smoking or just doing their best to fight for a place on the bus, to overcome the commotion, the pickpockets, the competition. To all fathers: Per ardua ad astra!
Around our world in seventy heartbeats©
Field trips during my university days were always an opportunity not to be missed. We boarded the newly purchased school bus at six in the morning, the famous white marcopolo with a proud Scania logo imperiously gleaming on the grille. Along with my usual fellow backbenchers in class, invariably we found our way to the backseat. The cool mountain air laden with early morning moisture made the cellophane upholstered seats cold at first. Soon the new marvel of engineering was speeding out of campus, always miraculously braking in the nick of time to smoothly ride over the thoughtfully laid out speed humps on the way to the massive towering main gates. Jolts of adrenalin made themselves felt in the forty or so palpitating hearts silently seated in the elegant pearly white mechanical racehorse. Forty excited hearts palpitating behind forty nonchalant faces. The nonchalance was obviously feigned. Everyone knew everyone else was excited but nobody dared to show it, the calm and composure was supposedly meant to demonstrate our sophistication and adulthood. So for the first two or three hours of the trip everyone would either be asleep or pretending to be asleep,the majority falling in the latter category of course. When the bright and warm early rays of the savanna sun peeked into our mobile domicile of splendour, modesty and all its trappings began to be relinquished slowly, definitely. The subdued hum of conversation subtly broke the monotonous tone of the powerful scania engine. All conversations being kept sotto voce to mask any give away signs of excitement. The technology savvy would bring out their gadgets at round about this time, the latest color screen cellphones with three dimensional games that could pit you with oponents online and elaborate portable music players and digital cameras with ornamental buttons and intricate curves giving them the dignified appearance of some asyet-unfathomed gadget from star trek or such space age movies or just about anything to make your neighbour's eye rove not-so-accidentally over you in unadmitted admiration. Magazines were flipped, hungry stomachs made eager hands fumble about with tight knots on plastic carrier bags with lunch tins in them, but then pride and undecided minds always won in the end, prompting the hands to return to their acceptably adult places: at the sides of hips or neatly folded in the lap. No food for now, not just yet or the peers would label one a hungry Herbet or famished Fiona. The sight of halfway house brought salvation to many a famished folk. Halfway was where the first recess was taken so from there onwards it wouldn't be shameful to be seen devouring elevenses as everybody, well those who could afford it anyway were doing so. The more carefree ones like us, the backbenchers, would remain on the bus devouring our lunch tins' contents. The main reason for this had nothing to do with the youthful spirit of rebellion and breaking away from the pack as most would have thought. There was a classy little pub in the capital to which we were headed that served a superb in - house brewed draught beer that was famous nationwide. We had resolved to put the legend to test in the proper intellectual way, we’d volunteered ourselves as guinea pigs and felt noble because of this act of selflessness on our part. Even though our report did not hold as much weight in the outside world as a cure for cancer would, we knew that in the tightly knit world of campus boozers our feedback and recommendations had a weight
and importance not unlike that of the annual parliamentary budget speech to the final year economics majors. We had to make do with cold sandwiches by way of elevenses; every cent would count when we got to the venue where we would sacrifice our all in the interest of advancing brewery science. The livery would now begin. For there is no amount of determination in this world, no matter how fiercely sought after or held onto, that will deter a healthy, young, energetic and not -hungry young person from being boisterous. One or two of the backbenchers usually started it all with a joke or funny remark about someone. The whole bus would explode into peals of racous laughter. From then on, all hell would let itself loose. The din of animated conversation would rival the whirring of the engine from now on. Staring out of my window I solemnly gazed at the pastel like mirror still landscape rushing by. All the unspoilt beauty and lush green magnificence of the pine tree dotted land, all of it rushing by my one and a half square foot pilkington glass panel. Lost in thought, the din of conversation in the bus was behind me now. All this beauty, the beautifully sculpted mountains, green at the sides of the road, turning blue as they traversed the fertile rich brown flatlands stretching to the horizon, the silvery stream etching its way across lime green pasture and golden field, under tarred road and over granite boulder falling free at last over yonder mountain shoulder. Cultivated blooms formed placid seas of uniform awe -inspiring colour on roadside farms. Wild inflorescences burst out of the woods here and there, riotous color schemes demanding your immediate attention, beautiful, extraordinary, and attractive in their chaotic appearance. Would I be able to one day own some of this beauty for myself, to have it belong to me as much as I belonged to it? I wondered. Dilapidated huts and their blankfaced inhabitants swept by so did hopeful mothers with babies strapped on their backs. Some plodding on the several kilometer journey by foot to the local clinic for immunization, others with basketfuls of tomatoes by the roadside. The chaffed toes peeking out of a vendor's really worn faded black and brown stained canvas shoes and her deeply wrinkled face hopefully peering into the eyes of passing-by vehicles’ passengers in the hope of securing a customer caught my attention. She searched in vain for a merciful soul to add a round metal or metal lined paper droplet to her purse, to douse the ravaging flame of poverty that had driven this peasant mother to trudge up the ten or more kilometres to the roadside from her far off home with an unbearable burden precariously balanced on her head, baby tightly strapped to her back. Stopping whenever the baby cried to put down the load, untie it from her back and suckle it to sleep, only to continue her journey laden once again with a heavy basketful of tomatoes, more than anyone should ever carry, especially in the twighlight darkness of the just after dawn morning. The early bird catches the worm, doesn’t it? The sight of two scruffy young boys playing a game of football by the roadside forced my thoughts in a new direction. Where were the parents? What were they doing? Perhaps busy in a far off field sweating it out to produce an extra cob of maize, to beat the wolf
one more step backwards from the door, tending to a pathetic herd of livestock maybe, as sickly and devoid of life as its owners. What if the young boys' mushrooms were not bought at all? What did that imply for that family today. Perhaps as was often the case, they had been sent to the roadside to sell mushrooms and buy soap or some other basic commodity with any money they could gather. If they managed to buy the soap there'd be much ululating and totem praise back home, if they didn't well'the mushrooms would be boiled, salted and dried for future consumption. Win win eh! Maybe their mother would serve them with steaming mounds of the thick maize porridge that was their staple, before falling over with exhaustion from the day's labour. Or maybe would it be their grandmother, most such youngsters had been orphaned by AIDS.In the meanwhile the youngsters were busy partaking in their other role in society, that of children enjoying what there was of their childhood: hence the soccer. Even infant breadwinners have to take a break don't they? Fending for one's family nowadays had become labour. One literally had to sweat themselves silly to feed the fruit of one's loin.'Blessed are those who shall not bear children in that time of great pestilence...' was this the fulfilment of some biblical prophecy or the other? The end of the world? If it were the end of the world it appeared to be nearer for some than others. While others were teteering on the brink of existence, some were sinking deeper, more firmly into the lap of luxury. A cheery faced herdboy waved a hand to us with a bony wrist to which a plastic digital watch was attached. A yellow cheap imitation '50 cent' T-shirt covered his body frame, it had evidently been bought at the low income budget beater shopping district in the nearest town that we happened to be now approaching. Still surmising on the bleak prospects of improvement that my fellow not-so-well to do Africans faced, I wondered what my existence in this world, on this continent, in this country, would mean to them in five, in ten, in twenty years time. Would I be just another 'educated' black man? Wouldn't I be just another 'boss' from the big city driving by in a controlled climate luxury sedan? Would I be able to help them in any way? To at least bring about a change in someone else's day to day life? Someone totally unrelated to me in any way, I wondered. Would I be able to stomach my conscience and stand it if I drove by in my mobile status symbol and found these people's children and the grandchildren after them still selling vegetables or mushrooms standing at the very spots where they stood now? In the small town, the last one before the big city, relatively urbane folks could be seen scurrying to and fro going about their evidently important business. Middle level executives strutted imperiously up and down the streets with sombre attitudes and severe facial expressions, fidgeting with cellphones, shuffling with the newspaper in the breeze or just plain looking busy. From my vantage point in the awe inspiring marcopolo I could spy out a handful of potential supermodels here and there, inexpensively clad but still richly endowed with the wholesome and pristine beauty of african women.'Must be the kinda place the M-net scouts could pick up a face of Africa contestant' I mused to myself. Not to be outdone, impressionable youths had their fair share of the stage too. Making their way down the main street in carefully co-ordinated almost choreographed gaits, they walked the proper walk and talked the proper talk. Their every conversation seemed to
involve an abundance of way too exaggerated theatrics, television type antics and wild gestures straight out of the lastest gangster music videos. Gestures perfectly matching with the ton or so of budget denimwear hanging over each one’s imitation plastic sneakers. Without the poor old synthetic leather strap tightly fastening these denim garments goodness knows what the world would have seen on these youngsters that day. Luckily for them graffiti covered T-shirts concealed the hideous 'beltworks'. During my teenage years we described some belts as One and a half rounders others as one and three quarter rounders and so forth. A one and a half rounder belt is one that is (too) long enough to loop around the owner's waistline for another half revolution after being fastened at the buckle such that the end of the belt would be smack in the center of the back or peeking slightly around the hip. I chuckled softly to myself; I’d been part of this lot once. I was young and naive then. The hard knock life had unforgivingly waken me up to the harsh, cold realities of the real world, far removed from the make believe fantasies of music videos and icon lookalike dressing up. I dressed to feel comfortable now not to please anyone. As I patronizingly looked out at a street ganster pulling back ever so cooly on a just lighted cigarrette, the exhaust fumes of an overtaking vehicle brought me back to my senses. All around me my peers were getting somewhat agitated now, agitation seemed evident on forty faces trying as hard as they could to preserve a rapidly crumbling outer countenance of calm. Excitement, like liquor, brings out the real person inside us, we were all in there: single black males addicted to one substance or the other or both and as Kanye West would call them, single black females addicted to retail. Sms's were sent; frantic calls were made, to this or that girlfriend, boyfriend, sugar daddy, mummy or ‘important connection’. Relatives, parents, purpoted business acquaintances and friends, none were spared as everybody joined in the quest to demonstrate how well connected they were in the bright lights and flashy cars districts. Those well known to be from some rural area or the other at this point would now be singled out for target practice with every kind of demeaning joke, patronising comment or snide remark hurled at them. So much for the educated being Africa's future leaders. Our last recess was at the last peri urban shopping centre before town. From here the big city's tallest buildings and occasionally a plane or two making way into or out of the main airport could be seen. The striving- to- be- urbane among us moved from one shop to the next with clearly visible expressions of disappointment. They couldn't find the 'prestigious' convinient fast foods associated with urban dwellers of their mettle. Well they'd just have to settle for coke and vanilla creams but that wouldn't suffice to show off how much money they'd brought along would it? The backbenchers in a bid to show off their happy go lucky attitude promptly headed to the nearest bottle store emerging moments later with quarts of the famous and now relic in some parts of the world Lion lager. So much for the proverbial one or two big bottles of clear beer. A truly amusing herd of characters they were these backbenchers. Holding up an ice-cold bottle of the famous brew, one of them spelled out the letters L-I-O-N as an acronym for loneliness is over now, much to the delight of his cigarette-puffing peers.
Soon they were having open- stall cooked pap, in defiance of fashionable opinion. Some among us would rather be caught dead than be seen in public eating pap, much worse pap prepared in the backyard alleyways of some nothing-ever-happens-here kind of rural shopping centre. A sharp blast of the bus horn not unlike some spaceship's digital bleep announced the time to move on to the big city. Not too conspicuosly (for we had lecturers among us) at the same time not too secretly (for the others had to see that they were smuggling beer), some of them bought 'one or two for the road'. And so it was another merry and drunken expedition to the big city for all and sundry. We would off course return to school with all sorts of treats that were exclusive to the big city like Ebony's pizza and Pickle's hotel's famous grilled prawn to be eaten ceremoniously at the picnic bench in front of the main girl’s hostel building.
Four -Four One©
The journey to Inyanga 100 kilometres away, wouldn’t be long for Shelton, Emmanuel and Dereck, three friends in the prime of their youth. The trio was at the time in life when the major concern even as one awakes is where to find the next party. Emmanuel and Dereck had been invited to Inyanga the weekend before on one of their escapades and they had decided to take Shelton along with them. Since they were unusually loaded with cash that weekend, just after the government tertiary grant payout, they could afford to make the journey in short successive trips. Their first stop was at Firikisi where they alighted from their minibus with two heavily stuffed duffels. The first they held carefully as if it were a child, it had a mini hifi in it, and the second one a bit more carelessly allowing it to emmit a soft clinking sound when it was placed on the tarmac at the side of the bus stop. They covertly smiled at each other as the conductor scurried among the passengers looking for change; today they only had the big notes, no loose change. They couldn't help basking in the awe of other passengers who were openly ogling at them from the minibus. They were going to enjoy every moment of this; three smartly dressed young men wealthy and most generous for the day. Days like today would be few and far spaced in between. Imperiously accepting the change Dereck quickly relegated it to the back pocket of his bright new blue denims, it was small change, back pocket change, not to be thought of anymore. They emptied the contents of one of the first duffel onto the bar counter on entering the bar. Forty-eight empty beer bottles in all.'Two crates please, thirty two Lions and sixteen castles', Shelton piped up while peeling off a couple of notes from the thick wad he had in his hand. Emmanuel chuckled mirthlessly in the big shot kind of way; he thought he'd caught the bartender trying his best to conceal a lump in his throat. How could he not, after all it was just past opening time and the sight of that much money makes any businessman queasy. Slowly and with all the demeanor of affluence they could muster, they made their way to the park benches behind the bar. Sip after sip, passers by's stare after passers by's stare, eye watering joke after eye watering joke they relished the moment. Emmanuel captured every moment with the sleek litle digital camera his brother had sent him from abroad.
Feeling a bit tipsy from the beer they eventually proceeded to Inyanga.They managed to get a lift to Watsomba where they had their first meal of the day, the usual drinker’s favorite, thick pap and braaivleis. Lugging the hifi duffel between them Dereck and Emmanuel made their way to the roadside to flag down lifts with, Shelton held the now empty bag previously straining under the weight of empty beer bottles and doing his best to squeeze it into an empty pocket in his peers’ duffel. Waiting by the roadside and growing impatient by the minute they were delighted to meet Philemon, an old friend from high school who stayed in Watsomba.Luckily for them conversation between long lost friends always blunts impatience's sharp probe as time wilfully drags its feet in space. After almost an eternity, a jam-packed minibus labouriously made its appearance on the horizon. The trio just couldn't help noticing as it neared how unbelievably packed with passengers it was. Much to their astonishment it did come to a halt in front of them, the force of its brakes shaking its rickety frame to and fro with a sound not unlike that of a door hinge that has not been oiled in quite a while. 'Inyanga, everyone in the car!' shouted the driver with an astonishing show of confidence. The boys were actually close enough to hear him even if he whispered. Finding no way to fit three healthy and tipsy young men onto one vacant seat, the conductor made an elaborate show of rearranging the passengers in the vehicle. He ordered all bags, bundles and baskets out of the minibus. These he arranged on a massive canvas sheet that he then bundled up and heaved onto a rusty metal frame with traces of flaky paint atop the minibus, securing it with infinite lenghts of stout black rubber band. all having been said and done he had only managed to free one more seat or a fraction of one seat to be precise,for overlapping onto the seat was a bulky lady who would definitely not be moved any further without a passionate outburst of expletives. Finding no other way to solve the problem at hand, the conductor roughly opened the door on the front passenger side and ordered out a wiry old man who held tightly to a magical bottle of insufficiently dilute brandy. Magical, because no matter how much he sipped from the bottle of dark mahogany coloured brew with its overwhelmingly heady vapours, it never seemed to recede beneath the bottle's neckline. Coming to a start when the conductor abruptly opened the door the old man looked really shocked to say the least. Much to the delight of the other customers who were now rather impatiently following these proceedings. Not the one to miss an opportunity to appease passengers the conductor promptly dived for the opportunity : he created a free comedy show. Holding the diminished old man in his strong hands he lifted him gently, effortlessly as one would have carried a baby, from the front passenger seat to the seat beside the bulky lady, who like the rest of the passengers was now heaving in uncontrollable fits of laughter. Winking at the small boy remaining in the front seat, probably the old man's grandson, the conductor pointed to the barely visible vacant portion of the seat beside the old man, listlessly and without a murmur, the young man made his way to his designated seat. Satisfied with his just completed work, the conductor wiped his bulky and grimy hands on his already grimy two-piece denim overalls and invited the adventurous trio into the front seat. With just about all the squeezing and innovative seating positions in the world
the three fitted into the front seat, creating a new problem. The one next to the driver had to precariously position himself so that the latter retained control of the gear lever. This unlucky one would also have to endure the engine's heat as it found its way up a sizeable fissure in the minibus' floor. Bidding farewell to Philemon the three eventually set off for Inyanga.This time there would be no pit stops. Finally fed up of holding back the anger that had been welling up in his shrivelled brawn the bony old man took a courage instilling sip of his everlasting tonic and braced himself for any eventualities. They say after all that a man is as old and strong as he feels.You! Young man, do you really know who I am?' he retorted, much to the amazement of all in the vehicle.'Shut up you drunken bag of bones' the conductor countered. The match was on, officially. Eyes blazing with fury the brandy brandishing groot man squared out his foe.'Do you know I can kill you with my bare hands young man, I was a famous fighter...' Hey wena Mdala where are you going? the conductor interjected, in a deeply booming and irritated voice.'He-e! talk to me now,I want to know right now', the irritation in his growl was somewhat more discernible now.'Do you know I can finish you off with just my hands manje so?' the conductor continued.'Say your last umthandazo mdala coz namhlanje I want to finish you off.' The conductor was now visibly agitated.' I want to break your weak little pap skeleton in two, in fact right now I feel like giving you a good klaap on die baiae groot kop, uyangizwa na, wena domkop? The conductor kept on, his menacing frame looming over the now visibly shaken old man. The rest of the passengers burst into laughter, but not those seated nearest the conductor and the old man for the conductor's breath was reminiscent of distilled spirits, it must have been vodka or something .One never knew with these louts these days, always going about smoking pot and drinking vodka, they might take it too far and actually clobber up the poor old man. Besides one never knew if a laugh strayed too far on the irritation side of the sound scale potentially earning one a whack on the head. 'Has anybody seen where the Lion that was roaring in here has run off to?' piped up somebody in the back seat, much to the amusement of everybody and to the chagrin of the old man. Suddenly finding a less daunting rival, the old man rapidly switched to an intrepid demeanor.'Stay out of it young man or I'll add you to my hitlist' shouted the old man with a newly found voice inspiring a boisterous round of applause and rowdy laughter.'Uvukile manje ne?' interjected another fellow at the back seat, prodding the old man's newly found vigor. With that the old warrior roused fully awake once again ready for combat.’One, two three do you want to frighten me' he bravely called out his adversaries as he counted them off on the fingers of his bottle free hand. A short silence ensued, feet shuffled, someone cat whistled, everybody waited with bated breath for the conductor's response to the latest challenge. Would he slap the groot man or maybe ignore him? The passengers wondered with bated breath amidst muffled sniggering. Highly unlikely as it was that the old man would be ignored; these touts never took public humiliation lightly. He finally spoke this time in a growl more menacing and meaningful than he had ever used to express his anger before.'Hey wena mdala shut your
fly trap now, I’ve completely lost my patience with you at the next bus stop you and me are going to have a bout of boxing do you hear me you sick old animal'. ‘ Driver stop the car I need to strangle this lizard’ he turned to the driver who paid no attention to him.'You know what people'? He addressed the rest of the minibus.'Today I just feel like removing, no, not removing but painfully knocking in someone's back teeth'. An uneasy silence overwhelmed the minibus.'Mdala I want to slowly, one at a time, punch in your rotten yellow teeth, four teeth on one side and four on the other side too, do you hear me?’The old man let out a pathetic whimper in response, nodding his drunken head in profuse supplication. The huge lady seated beside the old man was about to break into laughter but a quick bloodshot glance from the conductor persuaded her to convert it into a smile instead, the uncontrollable mirth suddenly reined in. She knew better than to place herself squarely, confrontingly, in the path of a well built, tipsy and angry looking lout,somehow it just didn’t seem like a good idea at the time. The minibus drove on in silence now. The conductor being the master that he was at swaying crowd emotion broke the silence yet again.'Four teeth on this side, four teeth on that side, oh, and one eye too, I just have to decide which one'.Amajita waibiza fourfour-one baba, that’s what I want to do to you to damage you wena kehla. I want to teach you a lesson'. He continued threatening the listless old man cunningly factoring in an ever-increasing amount of jest as he spoke, warming up the passengers to his speech.'When you get home mdala tell your beautiful wife that today you met your match'. He taunted the old man, slightly blandishing him by calling his wife beautiful. The old man quick to sense a potential win in the battle leaned back on the seat and thought cunningly to himself as an ever so slight smile formed on his face 'Huh! these youngsters,they're giving up now.Soon they'll be begging for mercy,who did they think they are,squaring up to me' the old warrior mused chuckling internally to himself. Things took an unprecedented turn now, the conductor began an all out eulogy, bringing a brilliant glow to the old man's eyes.'But mdala wena you shouldn't be full of it like that you know, a wise old man like you arguing with small kids like us'. The old man remained silent in mock annoyance. The conductor pushed on.'If we were to stop at a roadblock and the police asked who was involved in the row in this bus, wouldn’t they be shocked to discover a big shefu gentleman like you involved in this nyaka-nyaka'. The old man held on to his silence and feigned indignation although he had to make a huge conscious effort not to break into a smile at the mention of the word 'gentleman'. The conductor pushed on, time was on his side, it would still be an hour or so before the rickety minibus would be at Inyanga main station, besides with the crowd being on his side with their anger dissolving laughter he knew that flattery could win any human soul even this old punk’s. 'Eh mdala just take one look at your tie, I guess that's the most expensive tie in town: he pointed out the old man's polyester tie.'Everybody just look at mdala's suit, it sure looks like it’s expensive stuff, Hey just check out the watch, yoooh! the fine brandy, are those real leather shoes ntate?, you are the real makoya mdala'. The crowd could no longer contain thier mirth and they burst out in peals of genuine enjoyment.'Driver may you please speed up a bit we need to get this important gentleman where he's headed off to on
time'. At that the whole bus once again broke into laughter. Even the old man was giving in now, though it was fiercely held back, a faint smile could be seen on his jaws.'Mdala you're so smart today.an original timer from Salisbury town, side A and side B you’re a ‘strue pleasure to be with like icassette lami lika Jimmy Majaivana’.The mention of the great guitarist and dancer brought happiness to all. The conductor smiled at mdala disarmingly, he knew he would win his heart soon.'Look at his grocery people, just look at his shopping, that must be worth a lot of amametres, talk about the skin, mdala very few people take to water everyday at your age. Are you addicted to cleanliness or something baba? You are the number one makoya wena kehla, nathi we have now found a good example to follow wherever we go from namhlanje onwards' the conductor was rewarded with a row of laughter for all his efforts. This time even the old man broke into laughter, albeit for a shorter while than the others, quickly regaining his composure he let out a dignified grunt laced with barely an ounce or so of mirth, it was the throat clearing grunt that usually precedes an elder's speech. It was like a forerunner clearing the air before the principal speech came through.At last his majesty spoke, addressing himself in the plural in the self aggrandizing fashion of one accustomed to being listened to without question.'We are respected people young man,that is why I was silent,letting you go on with your childish banter',much to the delight of the once again rejuvenated passengers.The bulky lady heaved and squealed and squirmed with mirth.'I felt pity on you mdala you should thank me for that,otherwise I should have left you with a toothless smile' the conductor countered.'You should thank me too young man,I'd have taught you a lesson or two myself' the old man kept up his line of argument.The two kept sparring with and circling around each other.The crowd warmed up to them wondering who would throw in the towel in the final analysis. 'If you carry on like that mdala I'll turn against you now, ngizophenduka manje so' for a slight moment the old man looked glum sensing once again the threat of impending violence.'Got you!' the conductor burst into rowdy laughter celebrating his momentary victory.'Just kidding old man, why dont you chaps like to have some fun with your lighties once in a while?' The mellow, mirthful atmosphere returned. Everyone had laid down their arms and ammunition. 'Look here young man,d'ya know what irked me the most?', the conductor reluctantly shook his head showing he wasn't in the know how.'We were sitting comfortably in the front seat,takadya window,’eating the window’ hmm, kudya bapiro,'eating the wings'.The conductor acknowledged his errant ways,apologizing for interrupting the old man's 'window eating' and placing him in the povo. 'But your children also needed a lift baba' he explained to the old man. At the mention of that the conductor turned to Emmanuel,Dereck and Shelton and gave them a mock chiding, 'Hey bafana next time don't sit in the front seat when you know that it's reserved for the big people,elderly people,important people' .The bus broke into a racket once more. The minibus drove into Inyanga with the rest of the passengers now playing judge and jury.'He must have not treated an old man like that' others said in indignation.'No, he was right' protested others.'Bad customer care ' chipped in others.'He was just joking man'
others tried to rationalize the situation. The hubbub of many people speaking at once floated about in the vehicle as all and sundry jostled about to voice their opinions. The conductor was still to take centre stage; he was not done, not just yet. At Inyanga main bus terminus he knelt on the tarmac in mock subservience and made a show of spit polishing the old man's shoes as he alighted. The crowd present went wild with applause. Not to be outdone the old man placed two fingers to the lips and let out a shrill blast, the classic catcall of one used to the ways of the veldt, the boiled in the Kettle cattleman. Though it seemed in this particular instance he was using the cat whistle to reinforce his city slicker image. You see, the cat whistle had long been adapted by tsotsis in the cities as the rallying call whenever their merciless kind swooped down on a hapless specimen of the much preyed upon civilian unfortunate. Imperiously beckoning a porter to carry his groceries he groomed himself for the final stretch home. Squaring his shoulders and clearing his throat he draped his tweed jacket over a well-accustomed arm. Holding his head up high he made for home with the porter in tow, his grandson sheepishly following behind. He was not used to seeing grandpa getting so much attention. A procession of mock admirers singing his praise escorted him to the perimeter of the bus station. Once at the perimeter he stopped, firmly tapped the ground with his polished wooden cane as if to signify just how much jest he would endure,at that the crowd fell back and burst into an uproar of laughter,cat whistles and applause leaving the poor dignified old man to proceed down the dusty path to his home in peace, with his grandson and porter in tow. Shelton, Emmanuel and Dereck couldn't stop laughing at the incident, which they aptly named 'four-four-one'. The trio returned their bus tickets to the driver as they got off and proceeded to Mama ka Lydia's phoneshop to call Dereck's uncle who’d pick them up and drive them to the party. It so happened that they met the conductor at the party, quietened now by a couple of tankards of draught beer, they were amused no end,all of that weekend. They wouldn't forget the funny little altercation in the minibus: 'four-four-one'.
Ever since the second grade in primary school Jabulani had been part of one musical grouping or the other. He fondly remembered how he had got recruited into the school choir at age seven. He had been too short in stature and too slight of build to fit into any category in the choir so they wouldn't let him in. Content to stand outside the school hall, day after day watching the choir practice through the doorway he soon knew all their songs by heart. One such day Jabulani stood in the doorway and soon got carried away singing along with the choir. A mistake on the part of the chorister Mrs Harrison, caused a stir of confusion and an abrupt silence fell on the choir, a beautiful voice carrying the words of the song floated into the hall before its owner realised that he had just gone solo, everyone else had fallen silent. Everybody turned to look to the doorway. Mrs Harrison outstretching a menacing hand towards the doorway beckoned at the voice's owner who blushed now finding himself in the limelight.'Why aren't you in the choir young man?' Mrs Harisson's stern enquiry cut the silent afternoon air in the hall.'I'm too small ma'am' came the timid reply, much to the
amusement of the choir.'From now on, you’ll be here everyday at two o'clock in the afternoon for choir practise, do you copy?’He sullenly nodded his head. Never one to outwardly express herself Mrs Harrison shocked everybody by complimenting Jabu, as he affectionately became known, for his good voice.'By the way that's a wonderful voice you got there, I wouldn't mind having it myself'. He had been in the choir eversince then, gradually rising to become a sensation in his own right. He smiled reminiscing on the happy-go-lucky days of childhood. It was different now. Life dealt hardball cards and one never seemed to have any time to admire all the beauty around him. The hardknock life had introverted him; he now saw the world from within an ostrich egg tough shell of aloofness. It didn't make anything better that his father had passed on after a sudden severe illness. The drama that was his life evolved into a showpiece in irony, to most people he was the epitome of a youth who had it going on but deep inside he felt empty, so empty. The music business with all its allurings and promises had seemed an easy getaway at first. His first recording had filled him with the world shattering thunder of hope, not unlike the ravaging and all electrifying heavenly uproar that threatens to tear down the wispy cotton sky from its place on a rainy summer’s day. Banking on the uproar that his debut caused in musical circles and in his provincial mountainside hometown he was convinced that he was at last on the way to stardom. He had been seventeen then, trusting, naive, hopeful, hopeful that every tommorow would be D-day.The phone had rung ceaselessly, the fans had screamed at benefit concerts in the town hall. He had made out an album with his soul in it. Hypeman from Streetwise had promised him a big rewarding contract and of course the good life. No more languishing, floundering, hoping and hustling he had thought, from then on he'd flourish, top the charts with unparalleled success, he’d live lavishly in the comfort provided for by his exceptional talent, well at least if the response from the crowd was anything to go by. Hype had even gone on to openly praise him on national radio. There had been no doubt in his mind that he'd now make history. Three months of work with 'Hy' had produced a track that went on to become a nationally acclaimed street anthem, a true povo's rythmic piece of dance poetry. Fate, it seemed had other ideas; Hype was called overseas to work on his brother's newly established record label. Good for him. No amount of consolatory talk by Hype could hide the truth from Jabu.The insincere hand of fate together with this twisted joke of an industry had spat him in the face. Jabu alias Jah B would have to make it on his own the hard way, the much harder way. In that time of confusion and desolation deliverance came from unlikely quarters. He seemingly by chance met a childhood friend who introduced him to Artie who was starting out having then just created a home studio based label. Spirited track after spirited track he invetsed his soul into this new venture. Each spun out in an amazing carribean accent, laced with an influence of the ever influential ghetto life reflecting hip hop he had come to be so well versed in over the years. Each song the outcry of a troubled youth scarred by the unwholesome daily happenings in a twisted hand to mouth life eked out on the very margins of humanity. On completion of the Artie coordinated project he sought radio airplay, he had become his own promoter and manager by then.
That was when he was introduced to the concept of 'Pay for play' dj's. No matter how talented one was and how promising your music was, no matter how many people wanted it, it wouldn't be played on air until you grased the palm of someone on the inside by passed a bit of the proverbial dough to them. He quickly learnt why CityTop radio was known as 'Moneymaker 'FM in street lingo. All along he had assumed that it was so called because it put money in the pockets of those who managed to make the most of the platform accorded them by the airwaves. The dj's were the only ones making the money. He thumped through his patois dictionary to under C-h and found the word he was looking for: chichiman, a corrupt public official or personality. Brief and conclusive. These guys were actually being payed taxpayer's money to sit in those lofty studios and have the nerve to demand bribes from artists for airplay. These were people who were supposed to be aiding society's progress, Africa’s progress, carefully guiding the spirited endeavors of the youth, by nurturing careers based on exceptional talent and what do the jackals do instead? They greedily connived to supplement living so unashamedly. The gluttons, the sharks, the rats! Jabu realised that calling them names wouldn't lessen their love even one bit, their overbearing love for the paper that greased the axle as the world went round. Pity the genuinely believing artist he had been before. This industry was not about talent, it wasn't even about the much-trumped love for music, it was about greed and cunning. Like just about everything else in this place it was all about connections. What you know doesn't matter an iota on this side of heaven, it’s all about whom you know, that, my friends is the key to moving mountains. If one could pay to have one's song played on air, couldn't they also pay to have a rival's song not played out on radio? Perhaps he was just being paranoid, the world is out to get me thoughts of a frustrated MC? It was a dog it dog world out here, Ray croc the founder of Mcdonalds once said it's far worse: it's a rat eat rat world out here, he couldn't have been more right. He knew exactly what he'd do. He'd write an open letter to the editor of the Messenger and have it published. That, he thought, would be shooting hihself in the foot, as he'd no doubt be blacklisted on radio. He would be found guilty in the silent courts that operated on the unwritten laws of a questionable constitution, that of greed. Somehow it didn’t seem like a good idea to invite on oneself the silent but far reaching machinations of career determinng power held in the hands of a faceless and select few. He definitely couldn't afford such items of drama they'd be at greater cost to him. But hey, drama or no drama, injustice was just that injustice! And it was becoming more of a pain than ever before to those on the receiving end, such as him. He felt as if he were stuck in quicksand, slowly and agonisingly sucked in dying the slow and all eyes open death of a fish caught in a trawler’s net, sinking with nothing to hold on to as Akon had sung, nowhere else to go but down. You see there are usually no negotiations with gravity and it definitely does not enhance one's prospects if the big G gets eager help from those who stand to benefit from gravity's work. He spat on the ground, this rot made him sick in the stomach. He recalled the heady days of weed smoke, hysterical laughter and female attention that had been ever so glorious. Reality had quickly spelled it out that these were not qualities and experiences on which he could base a long-term career on let alone a sustainable business. The moment one fell from glory these people wouldn’t come within a mile of him.
Those were the days of -isms. Real-ism, Street-ism, Gangster-ism.The days of conforming to a protest culture that had turned into what it had been founded to oppose: the value judgement of human beings based on a relative material posession scale. Only an elitist few or those well enough connected to them could still dream of making it now. Funny how 'enfranchisement' movements always seem to defeat their purpose of existence isn't it? The feminist movement had been founded to free women from the slavery of male oppression and dominance. And now modern young women's expression of choice, their preffered, revered and highly upheld method of showing gratitude to the pioneering freedom fighters of women's sufferage was sexiness. A view that the female species was exotic and came with all sorts of sexual connotations that would no doubt make their mothers blush. A woman would rather be caught dead than not be sexy. After all sexiness was 'in' now,it was the place to be or else?One shuddered to think of an unsexy woman. Thanks to the thoughtful endeavors of some, sexiness was readily available, commercially available, one could buy it. One could buy the sexy outfits, the sexy skin enhancing oils, by the way the skin enhancing oils made a woman's skin more natural, way more natural than in its original and natural state. Jabu just couldn't reason this out but one knew better than to argue with the people behind these sexy products, the sexy this and that. One could buy it. Buy buy buy! Ever so free and independent these young women weren't they? After all they were ‘their own’ women, weren’t they? Of course the fact that a central tenet of sexiness was being a sex symbol, a most valued image in the eyes of men, males, was not important at all, was it? They were not slaves to men anymore and the best way of showing it was being sex symbols, a mechanism that doesn't work if men,males, are taken out of the equation.Careers had been made, salary advances had been earned by those with the 'right image and personality profile to represent the company publicly', lives were now being run around sexiness,that was proof enough that women were now independent and free wasn't it? Just as the protest music culture of urban music was still offering youths an alternative to the 'propaganda' of political 'rhetoric'. Just as it was still a moral platform to develop youth talent and nurture the mindsets of generations of civically conscious and socio-economically responsible citizens. The world was a so much freer place to stay wasn't it? Youths had the most freedom in society, they were not 'politically burdened' were they? Instead of listening to 'boring' old president's speeches, tedious state of the nation addresses, sleep inducing budget speeches and monotonous monetary statements they'd rather watch 'reality TV'.'Reality TV' eh! It was ever so real with all those lean and lavascious women and chiseled men braving bucketloads of bullfrogs and canisters overflowing with cockroaches. After all they had been brought up on music that taught them to believe and ‘know’ that politicians were dishonest individuals who shouldn't even be listened to. So much choice and freedom we have these days isn't it? Jabu got lost in thought. Art, his music, life in fact he had come to discover, was not about -isms and images. It was all about the little guy inside you. That is why he had long refrained from the customary; youth sanctioned way of dealing with frustration, getting high. He had become nigh to the much sought after truth, soberly, in his own way. Everything seemed
out of place now, it all didn't make sense, the foxes ran the hen house and the hens rebelled furiously against each other. He clutched his hip to steady himself as a throbbing sensation of dizziness overpowered him. His mind tightened in frustration. He licked his dry lips and tried to get to grips with his situation. He agonised, peering out of his bleak landscape for salvation. He didn't want the torment, the politics, and the pressure of being held back. He couldn't understand it but he needed the industry, for a breakthrough, for the proverbial golden opportunity to change his fortunes, to turn his life around for now and for always. Could all his bitterness perhaps just be sour grapes? The industry, the art movement that was a culmination of a youth culture protesting against social injustices and stiff-necked, people- treading beaucracy: the industry had turned into what it sought to fight in the first place. It had turned into a blood-sucking vampire conversant in all manner of chicanery and subterfuge. At least some bright sparks had been thoughtful enough to make everything simple for the sheepish masses. They had conveniently broken down everything into easily accessible and readily bought merchandise. Everything had been packaged and priced according to content. Designer poverty - $22.50, Contemporary low class urban culture- $ 17.99,Nigritude-$ 15.75:today's special, Sensuality-$ 39.60: hurry while stocks last, Women’s suffrage$14.44: lay by's available and Child abuse - $ 13.70 -clearance sale. The communal well had been sullied. Of course this was just the imagination of a loser wasn't it? These underground Mc's are always sniffing around for trouble weren' they? The bloody rabblerousers! Jabu marveled as the pretty litle scenario at hand played itself out in his mind, he marveled at the under-the-surface manipulations of a master's deft and subtle hand. Was there a mastermind behind all this greed, all this helplessness, this pitiable state of affairs, and this lunacy? He wondered if he were not just being a conspiracy theorist, blaming others for whatever inadequacies that might have led him where he was. All he asked for was a bit of money to put in the empty coffee tin atop the family refrigerator, to make it better when the poverty hurt the most. He needed a breakthrough, a bread song, one to put bread on the family table, the poetic hustler's proverbial big one. Alas it seemed it wouldn't be so. For one to get out of poverty one had to be not poor enough to afford to get out of poverty and not be poor ever again. So if you were so poor that you could not afford to pay your way out of poverty you would never be not poor. He took out his spiral bound notepad, his all impotant rhyme book and started writing a new song. Perhaps this one would be the big one. He wrote the title in bold capitals across the top of the page BREAD SONG and purposefully underlined it. Under the carefully underlined subtopic 'verse one', he began ' This is a bread song / hopefully a great song / Eversince I' been old enough to make songs /' been looking for a breakthrough, a fiery five verse song /it 's probably gonna come when I create one song / song so good that haters gon see that they wrong / They may hate now, they may prolong / but surely there's no stopping me cuz my versatility, my resilience is so strong, so raw....'.
Every soul that grew up in a poor neighborhood knows the sadness of the pocket money moment, the exact moment when the breadwinner parts with hard, or maybe too hard earned currency, the exact moment when progeny is handed over the fruits of progenitor's back breaking labor, obtained by backbreaking overtime labor that serves to furnish a mere hand to mouth existence. Every soul that grew up in a poor home knows too the beauty, the awe, inspired by the selfless sacrificial heart of a mother and father who in the quest to raise a decent flock will stop at nothing to provide all even when that means consciously depriving themselves of even the basic amenities in life. Bongani grew up in such a home. He remembered his mother's face whenever she gave him pocket money every now and them during those tough student years. He vividly recalled the old woman's face as she counted out the usual amount of bank notes, rendered impotent by inflation they would only last so long. He remembered how he had dreaded going home when they ran out. He felt guilty knowing that he would once again shake out what was left of the family coffers. I n retrospect he wondered why he had felt so guilty then; even a poor soul has to raise children. He remembered how she would hold on to a few notes, he remembered the monologue that she would instinctively mumble at that particular moment.'I've got to pay the bills, what about Gertrude's shoes? Oh God, my shoes need a new patch, My stove needs repair, I need to contribute to stokvel, Nkosi help me this week I'm in a fix...' It went on and on until he had to intervene and rouse her back to harsh reality. 'Mom I need to rush back to school, I’ve a discussion with the others', he would invariably lie, just to get out of that situation. It is very few if any men that can bear the sight of their mother agonizing openly.'Take this money sonny, I’ll have to remain and see what I can do, I know God will make a plan for me'. He’d utter a quick thank you before running off to school. The haste was meant to conceal his emotions. He would deftly wipe off the tears he would be fighting to hold back as he left the house. One day he would put an end to his mother's suffering. He felt pity on his father. The poor man would be haggard and listless when school fees paying time came. He would scrounge around and borrow and sell to ensure his children the promise of education, a basic human right of life in this desolate landscape of dishonoured politicians' promises and unheard of suffering. Theirs were meaningless promises, carefully laid out words meant to captivate the mind and win over its power of choice. His was a firm promise, a real life entity tangible in its life changing power. Bongani would wonder, in the rickety taxi back to campus, what manner of wrong his parents, along with the rest of his people had done to deserve to be resident in a situation where the only promise, the only guarantee was of endless suffering. Hunger, psychological and emotional turmoil, turmoil of every form was all they ever had; well, for the most part anyway. Maybe it was meant to be that way, maybe not. If it were meant to be he would fight it hard enough for their deity to change his mind. Why was all this suffering so endemic to this little hellhole of a place? Furthermore one couldn't easily overcome the situation, it was like being in a valley of crabs, the moment one scaled the 37
mountainside so high as to bring to life the slightest possibility, the faintest reality of escaping, of changing the status quo, of threatening the livelihood of those who benefited from having millions of starving, struggling, suffering crabs in one place, hordes of other crabs would scurry up the mountainside to snatch it down, to bring it where it belonged, in its rightful place.'Where the hell do you think you're going man? Come back down here!' Bongani would also wonder why it was that way. He didn't know why he had always thought it rational for people to help each other prosper so that society would benefit from the net effect of a large group of individuals' in a position to uplift others. Perhaps the idealic philosophies and sensational hypotheses of the college halls steeped in all their grandeur were beginning to get to his head. Maybe what he considered common sense wasn't that common after all: it was just overrated. Maybe it was just some crazy idea that need not see the light of day.'Me and my crazy ideas', he would invariably chide himself. His ideas always seemed so out of place in this world with its ice-cold inhabitants moving to and fro with coordinated mechanical precision and political correctness always treding softly to ensure they wouldn’t overwhelm and crack the egg shell paved pathways that ran timidly between the collective insecurity complexes that formed humanity. 'Excuse me sir, is everything alright', the counter attendant asked him, noticing the dreamy far-away look in his eyes. A fond smile set on his lips.'I'm all right miss, it’s just that I got carried away, now where was I '? He hurried to fill out his Western Union money transfer form. He came to the section on the security question, taking his time to think it out carefully. He finally wrote out 'First born child's birthday?', he knew that she'd find that one easy because he undoubtedly came first in her heart.Perhaps he had chosen this question because it reminded him of their unbreachable bond.Sigmund Freud the father of modern day psychiology, he had read somewhere, had once said that a man who was the undisputable favorite of his mother would grow to be succesful in life.One could never possibly get enough of such reassurances could they?.She would know every little detail about him like the back of her hand. He finished filling the form and slid the bank notes across the white veneered counter to the rather sultry counter attendant.'Your family obviously means a lot to you sir' the attendant noted with a smile that seemed to be more than just courteous customer care, or maybe was it just his admittedly fertile imagination.'They are all I've ever really had' he replied trying hard to supress a smile. He wasn't sure if the smile was because of the mention of his family or because of the chocolate brown skinned person he was conversing with. Life! How versatile could it get? One moment he was a hapless lanky kid depending on his folks' sacrifices for progression. Now he was making sacrifices of his own too. He badly wanted to build a house, a home on that Thousand-a-month housing scheme, he drooled everytime he saw that sleek little runabout with 16-inch wheels, that trendy loxion kulcha velour suit. The list of wants he'd have to forego in the meantime grew longer as he stood there. He’d put family first for now. What’s more maybe he'd start a family of his own soon. Why not, he reasoned to himself, with such potential soulmates around. Rather a bit too profusely thanking the beautiful wide set smile and big brown-eyed counter attendant he made his
way towards the exit. The cycle of sacrifice, selfless heartfelt love had just run full circle.
Chemudondo village lay snug in the regal shadow of Maunga Mountain in Chief Makoni's land. A fontanel of simplicity and serenity, it laid spread out across the plain rushing up to meet the mountain like a river when first dammed. From the mountain top next to St Killian's mission a beautiful mosaic of haphazard patterned clusters of houses could be seen as could be wispy columns of kitchen fires’ smoke. On particularly windy days the wild fruit and dry grass fragrance of the golden acacia and msasa dotted veld infused with the rich organic scent of cowdung could be smelt from high up on the mountain. Over lesser hill and along winding river, beside road and over bridge, man had hacked and hewed and cut and built up the environment. Evident from atop nature's stone pedestal was the evidence of man's craftsmanship, the mark on the landscape of an industrious and ambitious species. Chemudondo, the origin of many a well to do son or daughter in high places in the far off big cities. The war had flared up and died down, deaths, fires, bounty harvests and meagre harvests, the wheel of time had left its track marks all over Chemudondo.Time had brought many changes, the women could now mingle freely with the menfolk at the bottle store and not necessarily be in danger of being labelled loose. A few houses had solar powered electricity now. Water could now be fetched from a number of boreholes in the village as Nyamasaka the once mighty roaring torrent of whitewater progressicely dwindled over the years to a pathetic little trickle, a silvery sliver of fluid painstakingly making its way through a riverbed choked to the brim with what seemed to be all the sand and silt in the world. Even with all the change, there were things that hadn't changed, things that wouldn't change,things that were not meant to ever change.For as many seasons as anyone could remember the dignity of the ancestors,their customs and rites had remained unquestionable.They had been revered and upheld by everyone's fathers and their fathers before them.That was a pact written in blood,sealed over with immortal sincerity.A pact that was never to be breached. Simba's mother grew up in Chemudondo, a long way from the lofty office she now occupied as Director of Education Services in the city where they lived. One evening after supper she told him and his siblings a story that her mother had told to her when she too was young. There had lived in 'this here village' as grandma liked to say, a long time ago a rainmaker called Sakureba, the tall one. He was respected all over for his healing powers and rainmaking prowess. During the war he had used his powers to predict the enemy’s attacks and his whereabouts, accurately foretelling the devil's position to within a few feet. At one time he had predicted a convoy of enemy trucks going through the pass at St Mary's, the boys had waylain the wooden canopy trucks, placing great faith in the famed healer and the ones-without-knees had been crushed like the ants that were a nuisance in 39
everyday rural life. Like any other great healer, Sakureba had a protege, a lesser healer, known in traditional circles as a newanji. An intermediary between the great healer and the ancestors,a vassal,an acolyte who served as a runner of errands.The year in question,the rainmaking ceremony preparations took place as usual.Much restiveness characterised the period preceeding the ceremony.The people waited with bated breath for the outcome of the rainmaking ceremony,would the so called ancestors’ godchild finally fail this year,the cynical ones sneered from among Sakureba's peerage.Would the famous rainmaker manage yet again to plead with the ancestors to take pity on their wilful and unrepentant children and douse the land with copious amounts of life-giving water, filling their granaries with mealie meal and their gardens with all manner of edible roots and relishes?Would the grazing lands soon be lush with succulent fresh growth to fatten the cattle and feed the insatiable goats?Time would tell,and as it were it was running out fast. From his headquarters in Ma Garikai's kitchen Sakureba directed proceedings in a humble manner most befitting a devout traditionalist wielding enormous authority, convening from time to time with Mashonjiwa to assess progress in the various aspects of preparation. The rapoko collection was in progress and apparently going on well. It was only the usual sluggards who had not yet brought their rapoko contribution. Sakureba enquired as to many people had not brought forward their rapoko. Mai Wendy, Mai Trevor, Mai Abraham, Mai Nixon… Mashonjiwa deliberately counted them off holding up a gnarled digit on his palm for each defaulter.'That Mai Wendy my friend', the healer conferred with his deputy,'a more tight fisted woman one can never hope to find' the octagenarians cackled with subdued yet spontaneous laughter. These young folk nowadays, they even had the audacity to flaunt vices such as tight fistedness in the face of the revered ancestors. Oh yaah! Sakureba snorted his snuff and erupted in a deep, bassy and guttural sneeze that echoed throughout the hut. That sneeze was the subject of many a fireside conversation, the classic and ever so terribly frightful unfathomable rumble of an ancestral medium. At last the day of soaking came. Soaking was when the collected rapoko was placed in craters on the ruware beneath which the village cattle kraal was located. After a brief and exhaustive period of intercessory song and dance the villagers would now go home and shut themselves indoors. Invariably a heavy downpour would ensue, to soak the rapoko in its granite basins. Only old women long past childbearing age were permitted to handle the rapoko in any way, as the ancestors' brew would be prepared from it. Women and men of childbearing age were deemed unclean in this regard as they were known to engage in all manner of unspeakable acts behind closed doorsThese youngsters! Always after carnal pleasure…Postmenopausal women were also sacrosanct in that they no longer shed blood every now and then, a big No! -No! for ancestral proceedings. The downpour came, inspiring excited shouts of joy and ear splitting ululations in many thatched homes. The ancestors had heeded their call of anguish; another bountiful season was headed their way. How thoughtful of the ancestors to look out for their hapless and hungry children. The downpour eventually ceased, bringing all hearts to a steady subdued
rhythm, everything came to a standstill, even the veldt frogs normally incessantly choral became silent, only the sound of an ever so slight brushing of the land by a light breeze stirring puddles and rustling the tall wet elephant grass could be heard. 'Rrrrr-haa, heee-yaaah, Rrrrr!' Sakureba broke the silence from where he stood in the centre of his compound.'Behold what has been bestowed upon us by those who reside in the wind'! Mashonjiwa's shrill cry pierced the otherwise silent air. At that moment dozens of doors burst open and a multitude of hoarse voices shouted in merriment and shrill female voices filled the plain with ululation. Nyadenga The Great One and his ancestral subordinates had connived to save the day once again, thanks to Sakureba.The various jubilant parties all made their way to Sakureba's compound to celebrate in loud earth trembling song and robust heart firing dance, the breaking of the dry spell that had for so long parched their land. The rapoko was left to soak in heaven's tears until incipient germination, whereupon it was dried and ground into the fine mother, chimera, of a potent brew famous throughout the land for its intoxicating powers. The fine powder was stirred together with precise amounts of other ingridients and boiled at length before being left to ferment for exactly seven days. Hence the colloquial reference 'seven days'. It was rumuored that the exact recipe with all the ingridients and quantities of the ancestral brew had been passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth, kept a secret by quarantining it to the steady hearts of devout traditionalists. The ancestors would be appeased on the day their brew matured. On this day all activity would have ceased long before sundown. All herd boys would have their cattle penned and bolted in by sunset. Everyone would be in bed and there were were no outside movements by sunset, not that anyone would dare to do so anyway. Men would definitely not take any liberties with women, as that was a sure recipe for stillbirths and children mutilated at birth. This was strictly enforced, as on this day the owners of the land would be walking through it. The procession began late in the afternoon, as always. The beer brewers,'pure' old women ululating, jiving, stirring up a cloud of dust on their way to the sacred mutondo tree beside Nyamasaka's raging coffee coloured waters with their milky white lather. New life had just been injected into the usually crystal clear and placid waters. The mutondo tree’s shadow was a revered place, that it was always avoided was clear, as there were no prominent footpaths in its immediate vicinity. All movements circumvented it. Today, especially, it would be given a wider berth. Mashonjiwa led the procession as usual with Sakureba remaining behind in his hut, in a trance, conversing with those of old, placating them, appeasing them for the nuisance that their children had brought to them. These ungrateful children, always pestering them for favors. The tone of song and dance decreased in fervour with every step closer to the sacred mutondo and its overpowering influence. Nyamasaka’s lively rush was like a foreboding din in the background. Hearts raced and quivering palms glistened with sweat in fear, as the expansive tree loomed, towering in majestic splendour over the rioutous savanna
shrubbery. A velvet moss carpet clothed its mangrove-like fingers that gripped the damp earth beneath it, as if to signify posession of the land. To observers the moss carpet appeared to be a unaturally smooth velvet glove. Non-commitally, mediocrely, the song died down, reduced to a dwindling hymn with no spirit in it, the accompanying jive receded till all that was left of it was a clumsy shuffle. The charade of bravery was gallantly kept up until fear showed the core of its inner being. A deafening silence eventually befell the party. Mashonjiwa the nenjiwa moved on fearlessly with an unusual look in his eye. Perhaps it was because over the years he had grown accustomed to the frightful shadows of the forest around the mutondo tree. The initiated among the womenfolk didn't help noticing that he seemed a bit too fearless, bordering on the rude actually. One did not strut carelessly with shoulders held high in front of the ancestral shrine, what careless audacity, nothing short of a shameless invitation of folly they reasoned. One-by-one he fetched the gates; the clay pots used for the purpose at hand, from atop the women's heads and placed them side-by-side in front of the sacred mutondo tree. He knelt beside the clay pots and sampled a small amount of brew from each one to show the great spirits that there indeed were no malcontents in all the gates. Clapping his cupped hands in the customary, dignified and traditionally appropriate manner he lowered his voice and chanted the sacred ancient incantations of the esteemed spirits’ heydays. Mashonjiwa called out the grand spirits of the land by name, one-by-one his raspy voice held a note lower than usual in supplication. He had lowered his voice on account of the lesser mortals present. This was big stuff, it was not meant for them to hear, it was serious business. The intonations of the womenfolk fearfully carried on in the backgound. Concluding his business he stood up to dismiss the party. The acolyte has to backpedal towards the rest of the group, as it was unheard of to turn one’s back on the ancestors, even literally. The women felt a newly found energy aroused in their limbs and trudged on ahead, almost breaking into a canter, holding back the urge till they were at a respectable distance.'Carry on ahead, I’ll follow shortly, I’ve been sent to perform a few additional duties' Mashonjiwa advised the women.'Huh, Hmm, what was that?’ the puzzled womenfolk hurried on to safely barricade themselves behind stout wooden doors. What was he up to now? What additional tasks had Mashonjiwa been commisioned to carry out? This year's arrangements were probably different after all. The womenfolk scampered on and went their separate ways when they got to the welcoming outskirts of their dagga and pole hut village with the occasional tin roof house. A thick silence came with the darkness as it fell on Chemusango village. The silence enveloped the land like a thick fog, flowing all over the land; it filled every crack and crevice and occupied every nook and cranny. The silence peeked under every gap under every door in every doorway; it perched and snuggled under every eave, curling up on every doorstep. The ghastly silence was everywhere. It was under reed mats, beneath the few springmaster beds in the village, in between blankets, inside barely beating hearts, it surged inside fear-ridden minds. Meanwhile Mashonjiwa crouched low on his vantage point of choice: behind a bushy
munzambara shrub. He had resolved to get to the bottom of this once and for all. He had a gut feeling that Sakureba and a few cronies, covert accomplices, were in the habit of coming to drink the tasty mahweta brew late at night every year on nights like tonight and propagating all this hogwash about the spirits of the land drinking it. He would see for himself tonight if the mhondoro, the mythical wild black lions, the ancestral spirits incarnate existed. His wish was granted beyond his wildest imagination so to speak. Tired from hours of waiting in the echoing silence he began to nod off until he eventually slipped into a deep sleep.A strong presence aroused him, it was a sort of spiritual gravity that pervaded the night air and brought tremors to his whole body.A musky intoxicating odour reminiscent of resplendent masculinity reeked throughout the night air,the sweat inducing,bowel stirring potent odour of fully grown male lions.As the pride neared the sacrificial clay pots their guttural groans,deep,throaty, menacing and magnificent, could now be heard throughout the village.A thousand petrified hearts palpitated wildly behind closed doors, threatening to break out of their chest cavities.Their owners listened to the petrifying nocturnal ochestra outside from under tightly clung onto traditional blankets.Then the roaring came!The awesome distance defying roar of a wild African feline.Nothing moved.Dogs,cats,goats,penned -in cattle,locked-in man,hens and roosters even rats and cockroaches,nothing moved. Poor mashonjiwa. He was now uncontrollably crazed with fear. A lukewarm watery sludge made its way out of the cleft in between his buttocks, trickling slowly at first till it came through or rather erupted in spurts, noisy fits and starts. Mashonjiwa by now soaked in his own sweat, cried like an infant. Tightly holding on to the munzambara shrub he shuddered as every orifice joined in the free for all disobedience of his mind; they all oozed any fluid they could, all of them. The nostrils,the mouth,the manure place and of course the masculinity place - all cried out aqueously in utter desparation. The overhead curtain of clouds parted to let a beam of moonlight bathe the heavenly delegates below.On any other night the villagers would have reveled in the ethereal charm of the magical still landscape before them, just not tonight. As the mhondoro lapped up their sacred brew he could clearly make out their iron solid muscles,rippling lean flesh that appeared chisel cut ,cold ,brutal and clinical.Well formed,very evidently powerful jaws and claws definitely capable of outdoing any unfortunate species whether man,bird or beast. None could stand in the way of such power of limb,such strength of build.While he lay transfixed in his fearful awe of the athletisque black mhondoro,one turned to gaze in his direction.The luminous cat's eyes forming twin points of emarald light in a monstrous black mass of mane.Its jagged and ever unkempt massive jet black mane only visible in the twilight as a silhouette.It caught a whiff of the lesser mortal's odour.Malevolently staring in his general direction,the huge beast clawed the air as if to show how easily it could tear through a soft fleshed mammal, like a disheveled old man who had no business requiring his presence here.The others got wind of the intruder and a riot ensued.A symphony of heart stopping and mind numbing growls echoed throughout the night.The angry roar of feline monarchs,crouching low and roaring as the pride moved in to encounter the encroaching intruder.With one final faecal outburst Mashonjiwa emptied
his bowels all over his already soiled legs powerfully,spreading some all over his age shrivelled,senescing manhood.That eruption was the last thing he'd ever remember about that night.That faecal ejaculation marked the dusk of consciousness and rational thought for him for a long time to come.There is a limit to the amount of fear that a human soul can endure. In his infinite wisdom of the ancestors and his wealth of experience as the people's seer, Sakureba had gotten accustomed to the ancestor's subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle ways of communicating. He knew that something was definitely wrong but he couldn't place his finger on it. He wracked his nerves trying to work out the cause of the ancestor's displeasure, a vision appeared before him. Horrified, Sakureba struggled to withhold his emotions, indignation, empathy, outrage, even despair. By Nehanda, the great spirit of the people, what manner of abomination was this that had befallen chemudondo, what nerve, what witless tomfoolery had prompted his hitherto unquestionably obedient messenger to invite the wrath of the gods in this manner? Not one to endlessly surmise over a dilemna of any sort Sakureba sprang into action. Summoning together an odd assortment of the most notably strong and somewhat fearless, precisely the least fearful lot in chemudondo he set off for the woody lot near Mai Garikai's garden with the advance guard in tow. Whipping out the small hatchet he had brought along for the purpose, he invited the others to help him cut down two Mupfute saplings of reasonably equal girth and length. Getting down to the business of administering the rescue party's activities, Sakureba assumed full administrative mettle. Instructing some of the men to strip the bark off an appreciable number of Msasa trees he settled down to chopping the side branches off the saplings' main lenghts. Deftly, ever so naturally the men interwove the msasa barks' phloem into a rwodzi mat strung between the two green poles. Their Machanja stretcher thus made the men walked on in silence in the general direction of the sacred mutondo tree. The procession made for a sorry sight indeed. Only Sakureba at the head of the Indian file walked with the purposeful tread of one sure of what he were doing. The men followed somewhat uneasily, not knowing what Sakureba was up to. Terror gripped the men as they neared the Mutondo territory. In that ghastly silence the harrowing manifestations of terror resounded throughout the increasingly dark and thick forest. Sakureba took no notice of them, surely the men were afraid. He could tell by their audibly heavy breaths, their huddling together, each one almost falling over the other to quicken his gait, Increasing their pace to match his, in so doing keeping themselves a hair's breadth away from him as children cling fast to their father when they stumble across one frightening object or the other. As if nearing the sacred Mutondo were not enough to make tangible the teeth chattering substance of fear, Sakureba erupted into a cacophony of incomprehensible grunts and heart-rending wails. Snorting and sneezing and muttering in a most unnerving manner the medium shook all over. The spirit of the land was upon him. Almost at once the more knowledgeable among the men knew that something had gone deeply wrong. What could it be? They could not quite fathom what it was ,they couldn't guess why a machanja,the traditional home made stretcher, and a couple of middle aged men had been brought along to the vicinity of the ancestor's local abode in the dead of such a ghastly night as
this. Periodically the medium fell silent, bringing half-hearted relief to the petrified men's hearts. Tizai, probaly the least hardened of the men brought up the rear of the procession. Struggling to put up a show of bravery he determinedly trudged on, occasionally peering about him to ensure there were no malevolent creatures lurking behind this or that tree or boulder. Eventually finding the going too demanding for his calibre he stopped dead in his tracks. He didn't care if his actions today put an end to his track record of bravery,this was too much for him to continue with,he had never been through anything of this sort and he most certainly did not take kindly to being here.As a young man the story had done the rounds of how he had walked unaccompanied in the malevolent stillness of the night from Tanda to Chemudondo village.Valiantly making his way through the eerie forests that were clothed in thick prominent greenery on Nyatande's clay riverbanks.He had always kept it a secret that he had not a clue what transpired that night for he was an embodiment of the walking dead,inebriated senseless by the potent misodzi ye shumba,the lions' tears distillate he had acquired from some Mozambiquan pottery traders on his way from Tanda.Three cowrie shells and two shillings hadnn't been too high a price to pay for a little lifelong fame had it?Come to think of it,he had never really liked the measly beast of a man Sakureba. The procession came to a halt as Sakureba abruptly stopped in his tracks. In the ensuing silence no bird, mammal or insect dared make a sound lest it gave away its presence. Sakureba bellowed and belched forth a string of fear instilling banter that was to become the subject of inumerable fireside tales for many generations to come. Slowly, menacingly, he turned round to face the men. The men suddenly cast their gazes down in a newly found meekness, as the glassy eyed countenance that confronted them was not the sort of visage that mere mortals could comfortably gaze into. It was the embodiment of an ancestor, an angry spirit from the olden days descended among its incurably puerile offspring to wreak retribution of the most unforgettable kind. The men stood there heads bowed down and in awe of the mudzimu that now stood before them. After what seemed like an eternity Sakureba led the way towards a bushy munzambara shrub not so far away. Had they witnessed the sight before them under different circumstances, the men would have found it vastly comical, alas the sorry sight before them numbed the senses. Mashonjiwa lay comatose in a foetal position seemingly dead. The stench of the fear in the air seemed to overpower the stench of Mashonjiwa's every body fluid that was plastered so strongly all over him,they would notice it later when it was possible for them to do so.Bundling him up onto the machanja the men left Sakureba to lead them back to the village with a new found spring in their step but with heavy hearts for to most it surely seemed that Mashonjiwa had passed on,albeit on account of an unheard of act of mischief and bravado. On arrival at the village he was carried to his compound where his wives washed and nursed him. He spoke not a word and ate nothing but bota, the traditional mealie meal porridge fed to just-weaned -off babies. For many weeks he remained bedridden and only seemed to revive after a strong infusion of roots and herbs from Sakureba was fed him in
his porridge daily. The village court convened to mete out justice for the great misdeed that had befallen the village. Others clamoured for him to be hanged, others thought that flogging would be more appropriate. Others suggested that he be banished from the village. All suggestions were undoubtedly harsh.Sakureba spoke at great length about the positive contributions that Mashonjiwa had made in the course of rendering his duties as his acolyte.He implored the great Chief Makoni to be lenient in his judgement of the now listless Mashinjiwa who all the time sat with his head bowed down in terrible shame.In the end it was resolved that Mashonjiwa should pay a fine of twenty three cattle,a hefty sum, some to be slaughtered at an appeasement ceremony, others to be added to the communal wealth held in trust for the people by the chief.He was again to supply rapoko and goats for the rainmaking ceremony to be done all over again.Most importantly he was to be relieved of official duties of any kind in the village,the indignant Chief Makoni had ruled that if it were possible he were to surrender the leadership of his household to one of his wives as he had no leadership qualities in him,just foolishness.This last remark set others cackling at the great court but they were soon reined in by the sharp tap of the chief's staff on the ground.So much for curiosity.Indeed it killed the cat.For many a generation the story would be told,in varying degrees of exaggeration and slantedness ,of how a witless old man sought to see the majestic black mhondoro and came close to death instead,emerging from the jaws of death with the tell tale faeces smeared all over him like a child. 'So you see' Simba's mother had concluded,'some things will never change, they need just to be left the way they are'. True indeed the power and authority of the ancestors was unbreachable, it was not to be rationalized about,it was enough to just revere it. Mashonjiwa had proved to everyone that it was indeed unbreachable.
The People's Bank©
Banking with the people's bank was an extraordinarily rewarding experience for Mbulelo.He would never close his account with the trusty old instituion. Its everlasting business existence seemed to be written in Iron, cast over in concrete, as solid as the formidable gray concrete walls that it was housed in. Today, the second of May, exactly seven days after Government pay day his stop order would have 'matured'. He stood in his place in the line, so far behind the first person in the queue that he didn't bother counting the number of people between them. He stood among the people, he took in their scents, chuckled at their jokes, listened curiously to their arguments, moved on ahead, slowly but definitely making progress towards the counter. The queue snaked its way in and out of the jute cordons strung between stainless steel posts with ashtrays atop them. A teenage customer proudly puffed out an irritating cloud of cigarrette smoke, immensely pleased to display shocking behaviour, revelling in the unaccustomed-to freedom of smoking in a public place awash with adults his parents’ age.'These youngsters nowadays, hmm’, the old man directly behind Mbulelo punctuated his remark with a sarcastic guttural sound.'they think they know everything. What is the
world coming to, small kids with the breast milk barely dry on their mouths and noses already smoking, haa yaah!’He ended his remark with a click of his tongue, the sharp clicking sound that was the usual mark of disgust among the people and that shared the same name as the vernacular word for anger:'tsamwa'. The old man's evident disgust earned the smoker some partners, two young ladies who giggled and gesticulated so unatturally that they were guaranteed of getting on the old man's nerves. Not to be outdone the old man's peers ganged up on the younsters too.'Oh god,this smoke is killing us'.A din arose in the hall as people debated on a plethora of issues arising from the young man's deviant behaviour.Other's went on about the smoke,others about the genaral lack of virtue in this ‘lost generation’ youth,some talked about the old man,some about the youth.The people talked,they critiqued the vice in their midst. He enjoyed every minute of it, every minute to intimately have close contact with his people, there he stood among them, having the same goal as them, to get to the counter where life enabling currency was handed out, he was one with them, one of them. They were the reason why he was going to med school. He would heal these people, he would accurately, with the deft precision of a clear headed, clear eyed professional surgeon cut out their ulcers, their moles and benign tumuors. He would scrape away their milky white cataracts, the nasty obstrusions from their corneas; he would clear their sight. He would heal them, he would work for them, and he would work with them. He breathed in their scent. A myriad of nassally inspired stories filled his head. Each scent told a story of its own. The sweat infused cheap perfumed scent of a young lady a few paces ahead of him spoke of hope. The upholding of feminine beauty, the extolling of its virtues, even when one resided in the midst of drab surroundings. Someone yawned somewhere behind him, the strong stench of dog breath filled the air, he fiddled with his fingers on his nose, politely, ever so slightly, so slightly, subtly blocking out the odour. This one told of a harsh life, one simply did not afford 'luxuries' such as toothpaste. At most a simple rinse with water was probably all the gentleman had as dental care. The middle-aged woman beside him in the other winding limb of the queue reeked of onions, with a tinge of wild foliage. Hers was a story of hardwork, brutal backbreaking labour in the fields, to fend for the fruit of her loins, to feed, to clothe, to nurture and educate. She had come a long way to withdraw yet again from her meagre savings, to enable her to buy this or that necessity. Cosmetics were evidently not prioritized on her list of necessities; her haggard appearance said it all. A fact attested to by a corn capped toe peeking out of her torn faded black canvas tommies. That toe had definitely never been anywhere near a pedicure parlour. The burs on her socks bore witness to her undying sacrifice, trekking every morning through dew laden fieldside grass on her way to the market to sell her well-tended onions. The ammonia- like scent of the overall clad gentleman a few paces behind the onion vendor spoke of the hardknock life, the cumulative nasal effect of sweat and grime, the unmistakable scent of a heavy industrial worker, labouring incessantly, uncompromisingly in the hope of one day getting a breakthrough and getting promoted to
foreman in the firm. The sights,the scents,the sentiments,oh the people,he felt an irrevocable bond with the people,after all they were his people. Someone switched on the banking hall television suspended from a black steel girdle rivetted to the wall. Adverts and music videos invariably alternated with wildlife videos. The wildlife videos were a source of inspiration to many in the queue.'These video thingies, lies and nothing else', sneered some old men. They had seen it all in their heyday, they had gone into the wild, fought and conquered these beasts which now were the subject of these untruthful 'filims' as they called them. They couldn't be true, the wretched filims, how could an antelope chase after a hyena? A yellow-toothed octegenarian colluded with his wizened peers. They cackled with laughter until most of them were overcome by coughing, all of them invariably sheltering their faces under faded, torn or worn out tweed jackets. The cough a result of years of smoking uncured heavily scented raw tobbacco, real tobbacco. The appearance of a furious black mamba ruthlessly smacking a rock rabbit with its awesome and powerful fangs invoked memories for some.'Reminds me of when we were doing the surveying for Strelitzia dam', one checquered golf cap clad chap confided in his pal. It had been a cold night and the grass was still frosty early in the morning, his protege had gone foraying for firewood in the tree clump beside their tent and discovered a frost bitten black mamba. He called out to the old man excitedly beckoning his mentor to witness the beautifully preserved spectacle of nature. Wise in the ways of the wild the old man admonished his protege to be careful and probe the mamba with a long stick to make sure it was really dead. The moment it was probed with the stick the snake convulsed and aroused to a striking stance with alarming speed,it spat and hissed and convulsed in anger, baring long white fangs that contrasted sharply with its matt black buccal cavity. All and sundry had swiftly vacated the make shift surveyor's camp in the man made clearing by that acacia clump that henceforth became known as the mamba's clump. The old man seemed to be alluding to his esteemed former job with a very thinly veiled air of modesty. Only a subtle hint of vanity could be detected in his manner of speech by a very attentive ear. A listless old man stood behind the surveyor, malaka on his face, he had no time left from the rigours of the rough and tumble life in his world to attend to what most take for granted as basic cosmetics, ablutions even: the rinsing of mouth and washing of face at every waking moment. His mouth was set on his face haggard, chapped in the cool morning air, ashen with the insatiable hunger of a perpetually hungry individual. He seemed resigned to fate, listlessly accepting the poor life, perhaps even somewhat comfortable with it, not trying to escape it anymore. Mbulelo clenched his teeth hard as his eyes misted over. He felt for the hopelessly poor, those that life had not accorded or rather not accorded explicitly the opportunity to escape the clutches of a most debilitating social condition, those who were to poor to afford not being poor, and those who had no choice at all in the matter. The tears receded but the
despair pounding in his heart did not. He so sincerely wanted to contribute invaluably to the lifeblood of these people, his people, to make a difference in their life's story, to carve his name on their metaphorical stone tablet of their achievements. Would he be able to do it? Would he be able to do anything at all? He felt the weight of all his people's burdens squarely on his shoulders. He stood up straight and squared out his shoulders. He held his head up high. He would do it for his people; he would somehow make a difference to these people. He would leave no virgin land unbreached, no stone unturned, no sacrifice would remain a potential sacrifice, he would fight tooth, claw and nail for the socioeconomic freedom that for so long these people had sought throughout history. He had no doubt that these people were by far the most hardworking people around, it puzzled him therefore why they were the least economically endowed. He failed to understand the rationale according to which they couldn't get enough of the fruits of their own labour to live off the fruits of the earth. As a member of a traditionally underpriviledged class of people, he would work his way to the top echelons of society, to attain the cachet he knew he deserved as foremostly a human being and secondly as a human being resident in the richest domicile on the planet insofar as nature's blessings were concerned. Square kilometre for square kilometre, tract of land for tract of land there wasn't a place on earth half as richly endowed by nature as this beautiful homeland of his. These people had been raped, pillaged, plundered, they had had their homes razed to the ground, they had been maimed, their livestock had been looted, and they had been dishonestly rewarded for their labour. They had been put through all manner of adversity. He pledged to himself, he would rather pay the ultimate price upholding the dignified equality of kith and kin than live to be another underestimated, under-rated, underpaid doormat. He would work for the people; the people could bank on him.
Hey Gangster! ©
I look at you everyday on the streets of my hometown and I see you striving to conform to -isms. Ghettoism, designer blackism. I look even closer when you converse with your peers and refer to yourselves as gangsters. Do you relate to your people gangster? Do you have a umbilical connection to your motherland gangster? Do you know your history gangster? Do you have a relevance to the improved history of your people gangster? Are you really gangster, ganster? Do you see that our land is a barren landscape of earth that desperately needs the positive contribution of its sons gangster? Do you see the misconstrued lives, misunderstood people, besieged cultures and beleagured economies all around us gangster? Do you know that living in this so-called hellhole we still manage to be C.E.Os in our own firms gangster? Do you know that the time of being happy nurturing others' wealth and clinging to the associated benefits, the house and the car are coming to an end gangster? Can you see that we are no longer at anyone's beck and call, heeding their every little whim gangster? Yessir boss no more ganster! Do you see how living in this wasteland we still manage to run economies, to live, to procreate, to exist? Do you see these things gangster?
Gangster? Is that who you really are brother? I suppose you know that the motherland is a real place with real problems and definitely in need of real men with real drive and real solutions. Real men! Not just grown up men dangling two lobes beneath their groin. I suppose you also know about growing up and having most of your parent's conversations being arguments about money, do you? Do you know about sometimes having your own kith and kin being your greatest enemy, of course you do, don't you? Of course you also know about the pain that comes with seeing your folks slowly overwork themselves to death just to put bread on the table. Do you know about carrying psychological baggage around from the moment you wake till shuteye? Do you know anything at all? What do you know about wearing the same pair of shoes to work, to school, to church, to club, everywhere, everyday for three years? What do you know about your folks wearing virtually the same clothes from the time you're in junoir high till you're just out of college? Do you know about being looked down upon everywhere you go because you are the always the poorest person around, the most deprived soul around? Do you know anything about not being able to cuddle a girl close because you're too poor for anyone to see anything of value in you? Did you ever go through a hungry night because you didn't afford to get food on that day? What do you know about your basic living expenses being tripple your income and still being below the ever so elusive poverty datum line? Do you know how it's like to survive on salted and boiled beans and not be able to afford a morsel of anything else? Do you know about being the lowest of the low and rising to the top from such an environment to become an icon of prosperity through hard work? Have you ever seen your parents hate each other so much you wonder why they ever married in the first place? Do you know how it feels to have your family barred from your well off relative's homes because they believe you're incessant beggars. Have you ever heard of people on whom at least a hundred other people depend on for their welfare in this life? What do you know about the family budget that never gets met every month? Have you lived through watching your father's poverty escape plans fall to the ground like dominoes everytime? Have you watched his despair covered face struggle not to sob as financial constraints incapacitate his masculinity at every turn? What do you know about belonging to a family,a society of functional alcoholics,none of them foolhardy enough to face the downpours of their bleak existence on a sober note?The problems here kill! What do you know about wondering whether you're slowly going crazy, you’re paranoid or just being a conspiracy theorist? Do you know all these things gangster? Do you know of the concept of inherent despair, the type of despair that drives grown men to cry themselves to sleep? Do you know about growing up to the knowledge that you'll one day soon be taking care of the family, long before you have your first child? Those dreadlocks you're sporting, they’re fashionable aren't they? Yeah they must be. The basest of humanity. Have you ever thought of those words as describing your social condition gangster? Did you grow up to the unrelentingly frightening realisation that besides your family's unconditional love, poverty is the only other thing that seems to ever be by your side? Have you ever watched your siblings' tattered clothes on the clothes line?,fluttering in the wind,decrepit garments with a listless life of their own,animatedly
struggling against the wind's upheavals but to no avail. Has your first love ever ditched you for a more moneyed man? Do you know about true enemies and false friends being all you have by way of a crew? A lot of criticism and very little appreciation at all? I’m sure you know all this, don't you gangster? Do you not think that it might not be funny for our mothers and fathers to lose their hard earned weekly wages to you at that dark street corner of yours in an ill fated couple of minutes? I don't know how you see it gangster but hey gangster these folks are really struggling to make ends meet and I have a feeling they could do without the extra hustle, couldn’t they? Of course there's the unemployment argument but is it their fault tsotsi? The next time you pull out your knife or pull your trigger just take a second to think or if it's not possible after you've taken a life, please think deeply about where your loyalties lie. Are you on the side of majita ekasi? Are you on the side of the people? Are you not turning into an activist in a system of oppression that feeds off the people's suffering? Are you not becoming more separatist than apartheid itself, to shoot your own people,to stab them,your own flesh and blood?Of course you've heard all this before,you know kuti I 'm only trying to bullcrap you don't you?You know that your people are only those in your clique don't you?We are all your people man! You know what tsotsi, your skills of organisation,your single-mindedness in business,your ruthless pitting of yourself against the competition, all that and more that's what this continent needs.We need you bro.We need people like you to be our business experts,legally!.To steer multi million dollar organisations up the path to unprecedented commercial success, legally! Every time that we make a million illegally it amounts to an admission ukuti abantu bemnyama are not up to scratch mentally and so forth you know that line don't you. My point, tsotsi is let's get into this thing legally and emerge as victors, we got the skills, hunger and its twin brother determination are our greatest ally, funding ikhona, well sometimes, so there seems to be no hinderance to our success, or is there? Thanks for your time man, hope you can get something out of this, after all I'm just a softie aren't I? I should leave you to conquer the streets now, shouldn't I? The streets, that global theater where the sorrows of a never-ending drama unfold. The drama of humanity going nowhere slowly. The streets, the all important platform where the cultures, family values, the prejudices, the novelties and influences of all individuals are exhibited for all to see, for the world to marvel or to spit at. The streets where life is really lived beyond the comfort of kith and kin, beyond the exclusive comfort of country clubs, alumni associations and secret societys. The streets. The streets are all yours, aren't they gangster?
Wrinkle, wrinkle little scar©
Wrinkle wrinkle little scar I so wonder how you are Up on papa's arm so high Like a tatoo made in the night You're not so beautiful but you're alright Cuz they told me how you came to be after the fight.
Pa was working in the mines. The shaft was deep n' it was not so bright. His machine tearing on the rock 't was a daily rite. He pushed and shoved with all his might, For the family and self to make it right. They say the belt on the machine was not so tight. It wobbled and caught his shirt; the poor man got such a fright. Machine pulled and pulled man to his demise, to end his life in an awful grind. Man pushed and pushed hard on the belt cover's side to remain on this side, Of the thin divide between death embraced and death denied. Machine was stronger so it pulled man all the same, Cutting his arm with angrily whining fan, Jus' before pa's friend heard the groans and saved the day. That's why you're perched so high up above his right arm, Proudly worn like a merit badge but without the ribbons.
The African One©
Africa, Africaness, being black. He came to identify these three as an inextricable part of him long before he were old enough to fathom the immensity of what it meant being any one or all of the three. He remembered making a strange quilt in art class in primary school. Other kids made quilts with flowers and birds and fish and smiling images of 'Mr Sun', he made a quilt with an image of a drum, an axe and a traditional gourd. All timehonoured symbols of a culture that he found himself attracted to despite going to a rich kid's school in the 'coconut' suburb he lived in. Perhaps that was why he was also very fond of the golliwog in the Enid Blyton storybooks. Of course at that age he knew better than to admit that he admired any of the characters better than naughty Amelia Jane. At that tender age he probably only had an inkling of an idea of the bigger picture, the greater reality, the heavy truth that no one is willing to carry, willing to get to grips with. If at all these ideas existed in his intellect at that age, it would have been subconsciously for he was preoccupied with the playground, pacman, lego and other childhood stuff to consciously bother himself with anything else. More than a decade later here he sits on a makeshift stool, he's in a roomful of people and it has just got dark. The noise of vehicles passing by outside does not make a difference to the hub hub of conversation that fills the town hall that he sits in. He is waiting for his father to finish registering his credentials. This year, once again he has managed to secure a part time job as an election monitor. For all the rigours, all the effort, the extra income along with his salary will be solace enough, a hard earned reward in the battle to upgrade self and family. He can't help but admire the resilience he sees in these africans, their ability to manouvre, to extraordinarily conquer, to adapt and hope for the best, breaking their backs for an overtime penny that will only go from hand to mouth. His father joins the advances queue where advance allowances are handed out for transport and meals 52
throughout the election-monitoring period. The woman seated next to him has already bought a '25 pak' of pullets with her advance allowance, she opens the carton they come in and tenderly caresses the genetically uniform birds much to their sleepy eyed appreciation. Dreamy eyed, she’s determined to make it. Whatever little she makes out of it, she’ll save for her daughter's education. Who knows maybe the townfolk will be queueing to register for elections that Lungile will be running in. She smiles. The twisted smile of one having a secret ecstasy. Her own womb's fruit, Lungile, for mayor, Oh Lord! He catches his father gazing at him from across the room, he quickly glances away. But not before he registers the expression on his face, maybe he's wondering, hoping, praying fervently, will he do it? Will he not lose his head with one of those young and loose women they so fondly loved these days? Will he have enough sense not to succumb to those selling off their bodies a penny apiece ala clearance sale? Will he survive the deadly disease? He vows to himself never to let his father down in that way, never to let himself down, never to default, to sidestep, to let Africa down. So many things depended on his constructive input right now. Two months before he is out of college he can already feel the pain of what it will be like for him after graduation: juggling young men's needs on one hand, family responsibilities on the other. He will have to be strong, he’ll have to be strong for his siblings,for Africa.He'll have to be vigilant,never to get weary,never to give in.The road will be tortuous,every step of the way callous,the journey will often be calamitous.He realises that he will not be the only one who is vigilant .There will be others too.There will be denigrators,destructive denizens,detractors bent on clicking the minimise icon everytime that he pops up on the full color screen that contemporary life is.He would have to weather the imminent hard times,surviving only on the accumulated-from-birth fat reserves of tribulation hardiness.If at all he would be of any use to Africa, persistence, his resistance to buckling up in the face of adversity would have to be around for a long time because trouble would be here for a long time, by the bucketful!.He reckoned it might even outlive him if his trouble dispersing strategies were not good enough. Retribution would probably come his way by the truckload for daring to escape the status quo, how dare he even think of reaching for anything outside this exhausting drama? Who was he to think he could make it in this continent of big dreams and even bigger dissapointments,in this land of alarming economic disparities.'These young black people' he imagined his antagonists discussing.'What do they know?what did they see?what can they do?they have nothing to offer,they are overtly theoretical,we will teach them to know their place'.He had a feeling that the people who would express or identify with such sentiments would be found on both sides of any artificial divide in society like race or socio-economic class.Perhaps because he was a young man, a feeling of calm overwhelmed him,he was not afraid anymore of any consequences that would come his way.He'd rather face whatever came or was brought his way rather than live to scrounge around humanity's wastelands like a hyena.He'd free himself from this despicable bondage.He had nothing to lose but the stark poverty that he grew up in,He would make it.He would lose this humiliation.He consciously steeled himself for the fight.Yes fight he would.He caught his father's gaze again,he looked visibly shaken,horrified,petrified.'This kid..' he seemed to be thinking,'what is he up to now'.The last time he had seen that look
was when he had told the family the story of how his young brother Albert had gone off to the war that hopefully had taught others the virtue of sharing the milk and honey in the land a bit more fairly.He had not died in it but many others had perished in it.Did this child know what he was up against?Did he know what was at stake.Of course the intentions were noble but the stakes were high,very high, and the opponent known to be brutal,systematically repudiating anyone who was not of theirs, anyone who tried to reinvent the wheel. This education could get to one's head at times. These young lads strutting up and down Main Street in their modern clothes and oxford accents, they thought they would make it alright didn't they? This life wasn't meant for all of us to be well off or was it? Others are meant to sink deeper, more firmly into the lap of luxury and opulence while others dig deeper and progressively find less in the clutches of deeply entrenched poverty. That surely is the way it is, isn’t it? But the question from the more inquisitive ones among us, those who somehow failed to outgrow the childhood tendency to question every thing is: Is that the way it's supposed to be? Of course it's no one's fault is it? Or is it? His father looked at him with the knowing look of one who'had been there and done it'. He so wished he could warn his son of the perils that were guaranteed on the road he seemed set on choosing. He knew that his father had once been like him but somehow the poverty and the need to raise a family, the need to put bread on the table had thoroughly doused the revolutionary spark in him. Perhaps this was just another black power moment that all young people go through when growing up. Perhaps it was not or was it? He realised that it was never enough to scheme and dream up things that would never be carried out, it was wrong even. He prayed that he'd rise up to become what most people dared not become, an inspiration to their kind, openly expressing the need to really (in the front of the shop and behind the scenes too!) move on up out of the murk we find ourselves in. He knew what had been done to Lumumba for the very same ideals that he now espoused. He knew what had been done to countless other people, celebrated and unknown, for this cause of his that he now dared to embark on. Apart from Hani, Tongogara, Saro Wiwa and Luther there were many others. Business men, college professors, taxi drivers, ambassadors, freedom fighters, whole nations, whole races even: many had perished on the path he now set upon. Some were killed brutally by those who desperately needed to preserve the status quo, by members of other races and members of their own races even. What a pity. But a critical eye such as his did not miss facts. Even in the killing of those who sought a more equitable existence for all, those who killed demonstrated a most vital aspect of wealth distribution matters in every society. That of action. Those who now owned vast amounts of wealth did not get there by sitting around and discussing how inherently endowed their continents are, or how superior their races are. Only simple-minded little fucks like Adolf Hitler did that. The rest were working their fingers to the bone and spending less than they saved. They acted: act, act, and act! The time for seminars, meetings and more endless meetings seemed to him to be no longer relevant. The reasons behind the action had been noble but not the means used to preserve the good fortune brought about by the actions. It was time to close down the talk shop now and open the action adventure theme
park. He strolled out to take a smoke and let the fresh air reinvigorate him, the fresh and cool night air of a beautiful African night. Amandla!
A friend in need©
Keith was good with the natives; he was a sensible young man. Kind to lesser mortals, never too harsh in his dealings with these workers and their kind. The young Thackeray was frequently in trouble for smuggling cheese, biscuits, liquorice, cakes and other niceties to the servant's quarters from the farmhouse larder. The Butler, Mr Burns invariably caught and reprimanded him most of the time. The cheeky little master, Burns often thought to himself, what nerve the little imp had to think he could elude his watchful eye. He George Burns, a veteran of the last great war with Adolf that insane little jerry who actually thought there would be a day when there'd not be an acre of earth belonging to the empire, what insanity. With his infinite knowledge of native affairs, Burns knew that that young master Thackeray had not the impetus within him to perpetrate such acts of mischief. It must be the unabated instigation of his native peers that was going to his head, the poor little soul. He steeled himself and resolved never to let these little rascals turn a fine English gentleman into a crooked member of the earth's finest gentry. And so it was that the cook's son came to physically bear the brunt of their joint escapades with Keith everytime that Burns learnt of them. Mandlenkosi, shortened to the more convinient 'mandla' was the only son of the household cook: William, pronounced by the kitchen and grounds staff as 'Wiriyamu'. William's wife lived at his rural home in QwaQwa communal lands. He had to take care of Mandla by himself, taking him along to the expansive farmhouse kitchen filled with its elegant fittings, delectable pastries and exquisite curries. Mandla would always fondly remember those first visits to the kitchen. He would always remember how he had marvelled at the coal fired Dover stove where many a hen, duck, turkey, grouse and patridge were roasted, the spotlessly clean silverware, the resilient formica cutting board, the stainless steel counter, the chess board-like tiled floor. He remembered every detail in the resplendent gallery of goodies. The kitchen visits paved the way for a friendship that grew into a formidable force in Burn's everyday life. Keith and Mandla took to each other like a magnet to steel, two beautiful and young souls oblivious of the feuds and poisoning and prejudice in the world around them. Happy, young and free, the young souls raced up and down the hallways, gorged on dainty titbits pilfered from Burn's inexhaustible larder. The boys got themselves into all manner of mischief concievable. They muddied the aquarium, uprooted old lady Thackeray's chrysanthemums, walked all over her day lillies,her pottager,urinated in the bird feeder,toppled the garden gnome over,broke off the fountain statuette's arm.Keith and Mandla wreaked havoc all over Govenor Thackeray's countryside citadel,evading Burn's piercing eye at every opportunity available to embark on yet another innovative escapade. Burns would not let Pica, as Mandla came to be known, spoil Keith.Pica was short for
Picannin, a not-so-wholesome term by which all young men whose name was not known could be called, besides he was the picannin cook, the small cook. William suffered silently in all this drama for he knew that Burns would not bat an eyelid to dismiss him from household duty. He suspected that Burns was so unrelenting towards his son as a means of getting back at him. You see William was the pride and joy of the Thackeray household. Their own five star chef a pittance of the cost of hiring a real five star chef. William was the subject of conversation at many a banquet and luncheon, the object of many a gentleman and lady's praise. William knew that if it weren't for his being a kaffir, he would no doubt be the Thackeray's butler. Pity, the poor cook, under the prevalent conditions he would just have to settle for second fiddle as the wonder kaffir. Despite his prowess, his famed culinary exploits, no one would take kindly to dining at a dinner hosted by a native Maitre 'd. Lady Thackeray didn't think too highly of Burns, that he saw in the resentful gaze she sent his way whenever he was within a few yards of her. She always petitioned her husband to rid their household of the brutish fellow. He invariably denied all such requests, Burns was just what the vast estate needed, a strong gentleman of highly reputable moral standing to take care of manly business in a manly manner whenever he took off on another one of his office's intermittent travels. Besides, Keith needed a strong man around to raise him into a man; it took a man to raise a boy into a man. He was convinced that Edith-Annabel would raise Keith into nothing short of a wimp if left to her own devices to raise their son. With all her incessant whining and fussing and nagging goodness knows what that boy would grow up into. Lord Thackeray acknowledged however that Burns fit the job description a little too perfectly. Nevertheless he was the best if not the only man for the job and he encouraged him all the same.'Men, old fella', he'd often confide in Burns in the privacy of his study, encouraging him to take no notice of his wife's hostility.'Have many faults, women only two: there’s nothing good they say, and nothing good they do'. The two chums would laugh unabated over their four o'clock brew of either Earl Grey’s tea or Blue Mountain coffee. So went the internal politics in the Thackeray's household. Keith and Pica grew into inseparable buddies, comrades in the never ending onslaught on mean, stiff-necked Burns who fiercely opposed their friendship, feeding master Thackeray with every concievable titbit of information on their latest mischievous exploits whenever he happened to be home. The Govenor chided his son whenever he received these reports. Eventually he resorted to giving him a hiding and hanging the threat of terminating their friendship between the tiresome two over their heads. The reports ceased abruptly, the threat of discontinuing their friendship brought about an abrupt change in the boys' behaviour and a marked increase in their mutual dislike of the fiendish Burns.The boys gave Burns an even wider berth and for a time it seemed he left them to their own devices. With time their dislike of Burns became sterile. Strange feelings began to creep into their friendship. As the two grew up they began to drift apart into separate worlds. Awakening to the many social dos and dont's in the respective worlds they drifted into. Pica began to question why he had to take lunch in the kitchen and Keith at the elegant mahogany table
in the family's ornate dining room. Keith also felt the same way but somehow decided he was better off not asking any of the grown ups such a question, they were ever so stuck up these grown ups weren't they? Keith’s heart ached so badly whenever he spied Pica through the kitchen window, from the comfortable upholstery of the family's Rover on its way to the town’s stately park for the weekly family picnic. One day he asked his father about these disparities so queer to a young mind.'Baba, when will you buy a rover and drive us to town like Baba ka Keith'. William winced mentally. He had seen this coming; in the depths of his heart he had always known that things would come to this. William was not one to mince words, not even for his son's bliss. He told it to Pica like it was.'We are poor son, and we will never be able to buy a rover, you must grow up to be a hardworking man, hard work will knock these fancy ideas from your head'. 'Hmm!’ he sneered,'who ever heard of a black man with a rover', he laughed away the silly idea. Deep down within him, Pica was hurt, why couldn't he be like Keith? His father worked hard, maybe harder than anyone else in the household. He imagined his father toiling in the farmhouse kitchen, sweating in the aromatic steam, smarting in the onion vapours. It all didn't make sense to the young man. Pica and Keith's conversations on the way from the farm school became more and more strained. They avoided each other's eyes and the conversation only flourished when the subject came to other people and generalities like the weather and so forth. When it came round to themselves they fumbled uneasily avoiding subjects such as faithful comradeship, earnesty to each other and all such intimate detail. The painful awakening of comrades who find themselves across an enforced colour divide in a prejudice and hate driven society. Comrades who otherwise could bring each other untold happiness and companionship. Predictably the waning friendship soon lay in a state of quiescence, a greatly fulfiling comradeship in hibernation perhaps? The distance between them and the anguish in both their bewildered hearts served as the tough silken fibres encasing their mutual feelings, protecting them from external influence as they underwent metamorphosis into a stronger and more resilient condition with all the hallmarks of lifelong longevity. From the warmly affectionate chrysalis would emerge hate-hardened imagos. These came with icy stares,cold shoulders and a mutual wide berth.Keith's sudden taking to Burns as bossom buddy didn't do anything to help matters at all. Pretty soon the two drifted fully into their respective worlds. With the advent of secondary school came the clearly marked restriction of all manner of camaraderie to one's own kith and kin. Keith was sent to the prestigious Admiral Bailey preparatory school for boys and Mandla was enroled at the nearby Lowveldt trade school for native children. Nearby in this case reffered to a distance of just over eleven kilometres that he had to cycle to school early in the morning and late in the afternoon on the return leg on the dusty rutted and sometimes muddy dirt track that snaked its way through the golden savannah graasland on its way to Lowvaz as its students affectionately called it. Mandla now insisted on being called mandla or Mandlenkosi, the nickname Pica held uncomfortable memories for him. He considered it somehow demeaning although he
couldn't quite place the demeaning aspect in his early secondary years. Keith meanwhile grew up to be quite a presence at Admiral Bailey, resplendent in his schoolwork, always coming out tops in virtually all subjects. Keith Thackeray became a lawn tennis sensation in national circles by the time he sat for his Cambridge GCSE's.So excellent was he at the sport that Edith Annabel Thackeray his ageing and way too fussy mother no longer needed to call his schoolmaster Mr Hallbury every other day or week to find out how he was faring.All she needed to do was turn to the sports page of their beloved faithful the National Times.Such darlings,these beloved pressmen,how thoughtful of them to always write about her adorable son.How thoughtful of them to always showcase such talent,such glory of youth,Oh God what a blessing! Edith Thackeray invariably went ecstatic everytime she saw her victorious son on the sports page. Besides, Henry at the National Times press would always see to it that he did 'Gov - Tuck' as his friends called him, this little favour. What was all this nonsense the learned natives in the city were making about the press not being free, being biased n' all such hogwash. They wanted free and the press was giving them just that: free! Wasn’t it? If the press could always find space to write about the victorious exploits of her heroic teenage son, it definitely would have reported on everything else, wouldn’t it? That was common sense, that was proof enough wasn't it? These troublesome and ungrateful learned natives, they must be working in cahoots with the bloody reds, the blood sucking communists! They must have gotten to Pica, one just needed to look at the indolence in his demeanour of late. She had a good mind to put him in his place one of these good days. Why, the little urchin had grown up on Keith's toys and hand-me-downs, what's more the brat had played in a proper nursery and not in the bilharzias- lurking muddy backyards of the compound like other picannins. She rued her misjudgement in tolerating and encouraging Keith and Pica's friendship. If only she'd listened to her husband Edgar and that insufferable old Burns and left the little monkey where he had belonged all along: in the pneumonia inducing dank air of the servant's quarters backyard. The phone rang. Oh dear, mus' be the Florence Nightingale society ‘s secretary Madam Earlford calling up to check on her. This weekend it would be her turn to host the charity drive's monthly Garden tea party. Oh God gotta make sure William gets the cakes done in time. William! William! Will...she banged on the service bell as she rushed to answer the phone. Mandla developed an interest in sport too at the trade school. He sort of dipple dappled from one discipline to the other, not particularly excelling in any particular field of sport. He now loathed the Nat Times, for that, in his opinion, spoilt son of a capitalist bigot. He smiled warmly as he appreciated the 'realness' of the life he now led. He owed his awakening to the lectures on Mao, Stalin, the Mau Mau and Malcom X he had been covertly given by his uncle Wilfred on his brief visit to QwaQwa over the previous summer holidays. He now knew enough never to associate with 'babylon' ever again. At Admiral Bailey Keith felt pretty much the same about his erstwhile friendship with a member of staff's child? After mercantile law class and native administration studies he realised how naive he had been to believe that he could ever sustain a meaningful relationship with a kaffir. The unscrupulous kaffir was probably taking advantage of him
all the while, preying on an innocent young soul for otherwise inaccesible benefits, proper toys and farm kitchen cooked food. By jeeves! He remembered giving the little communist his old wellingtons one rainy summer. Keith no longer felt comfortable discussing his past with schoolmates. He agonized eternally over the literally black spot on his life's story. The wretched communist sonofabitches, those lunatic reds, spoiling everything for everyone. That’s what they were, all of them, ungrateful communist kaffirs. Scheme as they may, the trained ones having the nerve to raise their illiterate rabble in the cities, they are no match for us, thought Keith to himself. Especially down here, they wouldn't dare hit anyone with the freaking constitution down here, this is the lowveldt! He thought firmly. After all he was an ace in all he did. The last editorial had described him as having 'breakthrough grace and precision on the court and the charisma to go with it’; at this rate he'd soon be an internationally renowned pro. He imagined how proud that would make his fair haired Cathy.He couldn't wait to see and be with her over the coming summer holidays especially since that was when the country club had it's annual fundraising ball. Holiday time was a welcome time for mandla. For a whole month he wouldn't have to cycle the dreadful twenty-two kilometres to and from TS as the trendy township kids had recenyly aptly named it. An added bonus was being able to escape the stifling estate environment with its ugly manor house. He would get to see his beloved mother in QwaQwa.The poor soul. He needed to spend more time with her. Only that father wouldn't let him. He could only be in QwaQwa during the first fortnight of each holiday for he needed to be on the estate studying for his GCSEs during the rest of the holidays. One couldn't trust these young men to study on their own without a firm eye to monitor things. After all he was investing every last penny in the boy. He had worked all his life and the boy's education was all he had to show for it. He couldn't afford to allow the lad to lose his head among the cattle kraals and sorghum beer imbibing loafers of QwaQwa.These young men no longer knew the importance of a good training or hard work. Willian didn't like being hard on Mandla but he knew he had not much choice in the matter, the Technical Department only accepted the best students for tertiary education every year. Perhaps his own Mandla would become a foreman or shift attendant one day in an important factory in one of the great cities. How could a boy be trained to be a good carpenter, mechanic or welder if he didn't have good GCSE passes? What use would he be at work if he couldn't accurately read and mark out measurements, accurately cut out metal and wood, accurately read container labels or even write out receipt slips for the baas' money when customers came calling. Wasn’t that what education was all about? To get one a good job, to hew wood perfectly and fetch water effortlessly. This summer holiday was no different for Mandla.He woke up each morning and made his old man a steaming cuppa before he left for work. He would resume his slumber till around nine o'clock and then spend the rest of the day either studying or trying hard to do so. Only breaking at lunch to prepare himself a snack, he would not make anything for his father since he'd be bloated with farm kitchen goodies by the time he came home humming animatedly as a result of the overpowering vintage rum reeking on his breath,
slipped out of the family cellar without the archaic butler's notice. Good for them, the stuck up Thackerays, paying his father that paltry pittance after all his hard work in their dreadful cauldron of a kitchen. The old man was justified in getting back at them by way of the rum. Mandla when not actually studying spent the day going through 'I Write What I Like ' by Steve Biko or 'A Turn in The South' by V.S Naipaul.
Keith enjoyed every moment of the holiday. Kith and kin were all over him with praise, he was their homegrown hero. What’s more Cathy never seemed to be more than a breath of fresh air away, over the phone, knocking on the door, slipping into his room unnoticed and leaving sweet notes on his pillow. Man! This was the life. He couldn't wait to get to the annual fundraiser. He could already see himself in the crowd, afloat in an impenetrable charm offensive, his famous-with -the -girls eyes shining, Cathy on his arm. He already envisioned the other boys' steely green stares, the concrete hard lumps in their throats, their uneasy conversations with their dumbstruck girlfriends. He felt the warmth building up inside him as he went over his little piece de metier .He gleamed over the trick up his sleeve as he went over the details of how he would execute his carefully laid out show of elan. Saturday the fifteenth of August was a day many people would remember for a lot more than its initially perfectly pleasant weather. A healthy golden glow bathed the land, accentuating the perfect green turf and pastel-like blossoms of Mansfield.The gentle brook running past the clubhouse and disappearing into a thicket of ancient yellowoods beyond the grassy knolls at the far side of the sea of neatly clipped green grass provided a silvery backdrop against which fertile imaginations could run wild. Dragonflies hovered imperiously over the shallow waters, pausing momentarily in midair before swooping down to just touch the water as if to wash their airborne feet. Like a calm emarald sea the turf rolled over hillock and cascaded down incline, crept under log and around rock. The clubhouse in its newly whitewashed splendour stood as magnificent as a newly built small town hotel with its old world charm. It beckoned one and all to marvel at nature and mingle with each other amidst the beauty and romance of its magical walls. Early in the afternoon the wrought iron gates were flung open by Mhle, the by now tuxedo clad janitor with his team of eager proteges, glad to be ushers on such a magnificent day,who knows,their naive little minds thought,maybe one day they'd get promoted to the valet service.Just the thought of one's hands on the genuine leather bound steering wheel of a cadillac was substance enough to fuel their wildest imaginations.In an endless motorcade of truly resplendent grace the autos from the surrounding estates began rolling in, carrying in them the gentry,their esteemed ladies and their precious progeny.Gleaming Pontiacs,new silver Hillmans,not-so-new cabriolets,awesome Oldsmobiles, maroon Morris Minors,regal Rovers, shiny Chevrolets,brightly painted Austins,black Mercedes salons and Volkswagen beetles: all rolled into the country club grounds for the greatest gathering of the year.The more adventurous ones came riding on motorcycles of varying degrees of age and splendour, a few had side cars,most did not. The older folks excitedly paid tribute to grand old Seymour for his generosity. How
thoughtful of the jolly -good-fella to bestow Mansfield manor on their tight knit little community for use as a country club.That was a long time ago when these of late restive kaffirs knew their place at the table of human relations or even better away from the table of human relations. Burns familiar voice soon announced the commencement of proceedings over the crackling loudspeaker. Burns smiled self consciously as he announced the 'impromptu' tennis match that young master 'Thackeray' had 'reluctantly' agreed to, to kick off proceedings before the great luncheon that awaited the civilised crowd.The only thing impromptu about this year’s annual tennis cup was that it was being held before the luncheon, in Burn’s all knowing mind, this would give the people a lot to talk about over their delicious ham sandwiches and freshly squeezed lemonade. He had been in on the secret all along.Keith would now hit two birds with one stone right here on the neatly maintained courts of Mansfield.He'd obviously showcase the unbelievable extent of his sportsmanship and also get back at his little terrorist friend for taking advantage of him earlier in his priviledged life.Mandla who ahd been brought along with the kitchen staff from many a surrounding estate to help out with errands and odds and ends suddenly found himself in an uncomfortable if not gut churning position.He was to be Keith's opponent in a four set showcase. They got right down to business. It was not lost on the crowd that the showcase was an outright mismatch. They knew who would be walloped and they knew he would be walloped heavily.All the more fun, to watch a native disciplined in the ways of civilised grace and superiority had a bloodrush akin only to boxing or that rave broadway musical in which that foolhardy Dingaan was crushed by the defenders of civilization and the founding fathers of this great nation in the 1838 blood river battle.It didn't take long for the crowd to realise how right they were.Keith's graceful strokes and fleet footedness closed the first set with a terrific backhand that set Mandla scrambling for the ball if only a couple of seconds too late.One Love.It would have broken Williams heart to see this latest outcome in what he considered Burn's long drawn scheme to punish him for the attention and affection that his talent accoded him in the Thackeray household.Trade school tennis was definitely no match for the superior standards of the Admiral Bailey Lawn Tennis Association that was coached by Arthur Swinburne a former wimbledon sensation.What Mandla lacked in skill he made up for in strength,brute strength.A terrific smash that missed Keith's knowing racquet just past the nets landing behind the far end of his court ended the second set.One love yet again.The crowd knew what was happening,the young master Thackeray was benevolent enough to allow his opponent to win at least one set, how kind and gentlemanly of him.The next set was a bit more energetic both parties having acquired turf to defend.After a protracted and animated play the third set ended in no man's land.Deuce.None of the player's managed to add onto their turf. The clever little master, the crowd marvelled, to save the best for last. He'd now shame his opponent in a dramatic last set. The last set was dramatic as expected but a bit too dramatic. The players squared off in the confident fashion of opponents used to each other. The pace of play swinging from frenzied to lacadaisical, the master was obviously
waiting for the right moment to cut into his opponent of obviously lesser mettle. Shot! the crowd was stunned into silence. The last set ended in a dramatic shot that caught its recipient or rather its unintended recipient unawares. A terrific backhand suddenly sprung out of a light paced play and spelt the end of the dramatic set, albeit in the wrong way. Mandla won the game! A great hush fell over the crowd. What was the master thinking? to feed the game to his opponent. He had definitely given the game away in a moment of unprecedented generosity. People rushed onto the courts as paramedics do when a player is injured. Keith's court became crowded with supporters smiling halfheartedly and with dismay written all over their faces. There stood only one soul on the other half of the courts, he had to quietly make way to the kitchen to carry on with his duties. The Mansfield annual tennis trophy was usually presented in the grand hall but not today. You see the hall was a 'whites only' designated area. Except for the waiters law did not allow non-whites inside! The Mansfield lot were not the kind to be caught erring especially in matters of the law. In fact even the grand porch at the entrance and the balcony were off limits so the crowd assembled on the porch while the recipient of the Mansfield trophy that year stood on the neatly clipped lawn just off the porch steps. He couldn't help but feel the overwhelming weight of a thousand or so accusing stares purposefully sent his way. Of course he had to have cheated somehow,that he had won fair and square in plain view of everyone was inconcievable.There had to be a technicality or two that could be held against him for cheating.Of course he had cheated,there was no way the national champion could lose to an unrated amateur.Much protest had been raised during the club commitee's ad hoc deliberations to decide whether the prize presentation ceremony should take place.Only the firm hand of old Moore the vice Chairman and his threat to resign enabled the ceremony to proceed.They couldn't afford to lose Moore for his reputation as a philanthropist was unsurpassed and he had done the club much good.Besides Hallsworth country club a few miles up the road had never kept it a secret that they wouldn't mind having him on their commitee.Others had hurriedly left the club grounds in protest to this unheard of obstinacy.Moore had been a bit soft on the natives of late, one wondered if he had not gotten mixed up with the reds,the bloody reds! Throughout the club chairman's rather long introductory speech and Burn's unusually jovial congratulatory speech Mandla had to endure the light drizzle that had now started to fall over the countryside. Luckily for the rest they had the safety of the balcony and porch to watch proceedings from. By the time the trophy and envelope with fifty-pound prize money was handed over to him or rather jutted into his outstretched hands, he was sopping wet. This year there were no elated wellwishers to add onto the prize money. There was also no congratulatory handshake, why of course his hands were wet after all that drizzle. In that moment of reckoning Mandla spied Keith in a far off corner of the porch,their glances met briefly and they both instantly looked away but not before they could once again see into each other's hearts.Mandla saw the tempestous old friend who had an insatiable appetite for jelly babies and smarties.Keith saw the silent old companion who never had anything bad to say about him and had an infinite love of the fresh air and clear water of the woods by the barn at the estate.
In that moment they both knew what was true about each other. They were still the same old veldt song singing little chums who loved to sit on the floor of the farmhouse kitchen and listen to William's childhood stories as he made delicacies and pinched off infinite bits and pieces for them to snack on. Cathy seemed to realise this too when she searched Keith's eyes. Alas the posts that held the fence between them seemed too deep to even contemplate uprooting, or were they? But then again stories like these should not be told, should they? Because the Keiths and Mandlas of today are probably standing on the porch together having a sundowner while their Cathys and Palesas sip exquisite fruit cocktails out of elaborately tall clubhouse glasses and discuss the latest trends in interior design and female body care. They probably also drive to the same schools in the mornings on their way to equally well paying jobs to drop off children who have exactly the same opportunities of progression at all levels of education and the same access to advancement in sound careers. The Keiths and Mandlas of today sit at the same table in the boardroom and in the trendy and exhorbitant chic cafes in town at lunch to discuss the futures of their companies and that of their families don't they? They sit together on the porch and in the clubhouse backroom for more private and meaningful business matters don't they? They shelter in the same houses when it's cold and raining and they sunbask on the same beaches is it not so? Of course they do, don't they? The Keiths and Mandlas of today are one aren't they? No backchat, no sleight of hand, no ill intentions, no secret diplomacies, no one sided truces, nothing but the best of togetherness, truly fair dealings and brotherly love in their relationships. They have surely come a long way from the drizzle and porch ordeal of that long forgotten Saturday the fifteenth of August haven't they? Or have they?
His World, His Mind©
Malume Remy sat in his white plastic garden chair everyday. Strong gusts of cold wind, heavy downpours,dizzying spells of solar brilliance, all manner of weather condition came and went,from his daily outpost he could not be moved.Day in, day out he sat in his plastic seat at the corner of the back porch silently,reverently, invariably gazing out to the colourful world beyond.No amount of excitement in the air,no manner of solemnity, nothing whatsoever could move him to agitation.Throughout rainy day,all through sunny day he stayed put,fixed in a somewhat eternal state of constance.He only roused from his wide awake slumber to partake of four unavoidable daily rituals: breakfast,lunch,supper and ablutions. Legend had it that he had traversed the one hundred and twenty miles from his rural home to his young sister's plushy urban domicile on foot.He had arrived at her uptown abode in the early evening hours of an otherwise nondescript Thursday in early winter.Taking her hitherto unknown uncle for a stranger,his sister's youngest daughter had rushed indoors and bolted the door as soon as he set foot in the driveway.She had done a good thing,she told herself,as she took in his dishevelled appearance from the safety of the window in the brickwork cove adjacent to their electrically fired fireplace. 63
She had been shocked to hear him calling out her mother's name. How could this vagabond know her mother's name? She ignored his calls and went to summon her mother from the master bedroom. Rita,Ruth's mother burst into tears upon seeing her cousin in such a pitiable state.This was too much even for one who had since lost all semblance of sanity.She had welcomed him in the affectionate fashion made possible only by deep sisterly love. She couldn't help being overpowered by the stench on his breath and on the rest of his body of course. It was horrid. His shirt was tied in knots all over, the knots concealing holes in the worn out cotton fabric. He had walked barefoot as his blistered feet showed. He had a thick beard and wild unkempt hair. No use in unabated tears, she reasoned. Taking him by the hand she led him into the house where he immediately fell asleep as he sat on the comfortable velour upholstered couch. By the time he woke up the heady aroma of that evening's pap and mackerel lingered all over the house. First things first, Rita thought to herself. Handing her brother a dry towel and a tablet of soap she showed him the shower room where she had already hanged a set of her husband's old clothes. Luckily for her, there had still been an unused toothbrush in the toileteries cabinet. She had also placed it on the yellow shelf beside which the clothes were hanged. With the aroma of the food, the definite promise of a hot meal as an incentive, malume remy rushed through the actions of making clean a body that was all but acquainted to the rigours of daily cleansing. He was soon out. Transformed in Baba's faded old jeans and an old Ralph Lauren polo shirt. His hair now not so wild,kempt but appreciably thick.His beard also kempt and washed out.The toothbrush remained untouched.He'd use it after supper he reasoned, no use in cleaning his ivory only to get it dirty a few moments later. For the children, nothing else but malume seemed to matter today, especially at supper. They marvelled wide-eyed as he devoured voraciously his initial helping, his second and then his third. Ruth gave him some more and so did all the others, he gorged on the meal with unwaning zeal. He would have no more whether or not he was sated Rita thought to herself. Her husband sat opposite him at the family table,affected and pensive he gazed in the general direction of his brother in law.Rita knew her husband,she knew what he was thinking.Even though it was long past the days of his firebrand pan africanist lawyer antics,he was always moved by the plight of,the sight of those in need,those at their wits end.The family retired for the night,malume remy slept in the spare bedroom. Those first days were a challenge to the family. The family sometimes doubled over in laughter, sometimes they cast their eyes down in embarassment as malume remy rambled on and on about this or that subject. No one would ever forget in particular, the ill fated Sunday evening when he had gotten the whole family stiff with embarassment. In the ensuing silence one could hear the sound of one's own saliva as it trekked along the swallow-path to the stomach. The white latter day saint's church missionaries had come calling for as usual. It was
family home teaching evening as was every Sunday before. As always the missionaries liked to emphasize biblical teachings with fun and games. That evening's lesson was something about how the bible supposedly got misunderstood and 'twisted to suit some people's beliefs and purposes'somewhere along the 2000 year old channel of communication from its authors' scribblings to the sacred book's perusal by modern man. A demonstration of how a message gets distorted along a channel of communication was the basic principle upon which the game was founded. The first missionary in a loud voice announced that he was about to pass a message to Barbara,the family's eldest daughter seated next to him.He whispered in her ear and she in turn announced aloud that she'd now pass Elder Mcgill's message on to her brother.She went on to whisper the message to him.The game went on until it was Elder Watt's turn to pass on the message. ' I will now pass mama's message to Malume Remy’, he said aloud, placing emphasis on the word 'Malume' to impress his hosts by showing that he had mastered a bit of their vernacular tongue. He had barely cupped his hands to muffle his whispered words when malume remy loudly proclaimed in the manner of one partaking in a two way radio conversation: 'Go ahead over, Roger confirm affirmative,Over..!' much to the delight of the children who squealed and writhed about in peals of laughter.Spurred on by the laughter malume remy sprang to his feet,this was an opportunity not to be missed,he figured he would tell off the white boys once and for all.He had never been pleased with the hush hush way in which everybody now regarded the issue of the defeated's cruelty during the war.How dare the defeated's children come to his sister's house to teach the gospel.They were at it again.Wasn't it said that they first came with the bible pretending to preach and eventually stole the land from the people while knelt down to pray with eyes tightly shut in blind faith only to open them to a newly harsh landscape bedevilled by imperial domination.How naive of them he reasoned, to think that their by now commonplace tricks would succeed again. To rally all behind the cry he would now set forth, the cry of freedom, he burst into a revolutionary song:'Bhunu'. Bhunu was a protest song about the despicable and arrogant pale people who acted as if they owned and knew everything.It was also about how they should have sense knocked into their heads with knobkerries.After a few moments of loud singing,feet stamping and hand clapping malume took his place in the center of the family lounge.With clenched fist held aloft he let loose all manner of obscenities at Watts and Mcgill. Fearing for her household's reputation the woman of the house was quick to chide her demented cousin for his misdemeanour. The numerous missionaries who came by on family home teaching evenings had always known her home as a warm and hospitable abode. Her rebuttal only served to galvanise malume remy. He launched into a fresh salvo with renewed gusto. Eventually he was left to his own devices. He ranted and raved till he almost foamed at the mouth. Malume remy bana! His sister agonized. Everybody sat back apalled as malume went about his mission to inveigh the kneeless ones. Who did they think they were to try to outwit him and his people?They would not hide behind their leather bound bibles with gilded gothic lettering this time.They would have to square up to him first.After all he was a guardian to his people,wasn't he?
Malume's tirade soon abated enough to allow a short and hastily said closing prayer. The mormon elders did not even attempt to conceal their eagerness to be elsewhere.They were soon escorted to the gate.By now malume lay on the couch calm and collected, somewhat comatose even.One would have been excused for thinking that none of that evening's embarassing antics and paranoia reeking diatribe were his doing. Supper was a silent communion that evening. Very early the next morning Rita prepared to take malume to ward 21, the psychiatric infirmary.After he had flushed the sleep out of his eyes with a brief,perfunctory early morning shower she handed him a neatly pressed change of clothes.He had not quite finished changing into the clean clothes when she called out to him to hurry up and have his breakfast.With his usual gusto he slurped up the cereal set before him and wolfed down the accompanying buttered bread and excessively milky tea.The two siblings trudged in silence through the serene morning air making their way towards the district psychatrium where he definitely needed to get help.Like a virulent demon facing the moment of exhorcism the illness ravaged malume as he sat on the outpatients bench with his sister, awaiting his turn to get a tranquilizing jab in the arm and a month's worth of the heavily sedating PMZs, the frightfully large round white pills they gave to those who needed to be chemically held back lest they violently struck out at others physically or verbally. It took three male nurses and a burly male hospital orderly to hold him down long enough for the tranquilizer to be shot into his arm. The ranting, raving and cursing ceased as soon as the hypodermic syringe sank into his muscular arm's twitching flesh. A cloudy appearance overcame his eyes and he cast down his gaze. A benign shadow remained where a potent warrior had wrestled with four fully-grown men only moments before. The shapely and attractive dispensary attendant in spotless bleached whites came over to malume. She even came really close fearless in the knowledge that he couldn't raise a finger to harm anyone in his chemically induced stupor.She bent over in front of him to hand him the pill packet and explain the dosage instructions,giving him an ample view of her cleavage and a close up of her buxom and nubile body. Drugged brother and delighted sister soon made their way out of the OPD.At least he wouldn't be violent now, Rita thought to herself. They had to slow down their pace now, the tranquilizer had sapped his strength reserves dry. She asked him how he felt. ' I'm alright sisi, actually it's your health that I fear for'. Had those words been uttered under different circumstances she'd have found them funny. All that mattered now, all she had seemed to hear was the part when he said he was alright. They walked on in silence. Inwardly malume remy was as placid as he looked on the outside. He had a good mind to laugh at these people but eventually decided not to. They didn't understand, did they? What was all the fuss about monthly injections and pills? Did they think he was crazy? No! They were the ones who were crazy. Did they think they knew anything anywhere near as much as he knew? Of course they did not. None of them knew that the father of the house and the spinster letting the servant's quarters were more than just friendly neighbours every sunday morning when the rest of the family went off to church? Did
any of them know that one of the female relatives in the household had aborted and concealed the foetus, that the foetus lay buried next to the tomato patch in his sister's kitchen garden? Did anyone of them even suspect that the eldest son occasionally crept outdoors at night to roll a gigantic reefer and hallucinate in the starlight? No they did not. They were the mad ones. He'd just let them be.He would sit in his chair in his corner of the back porch and be alone.It was better that way.He would stay in his world, in his mind.
Oh yes a strike was in good order indeed. For how long had they toiled on grudgingly, endured stoically as the workers' committee haggled endlessly with the relentless management all to no avail? Today they were putting paid to all notions of timidity that might have been attributed to them. They would fix old Glen and his cronies, no shipment would be ready for export come ship out time at midday. No shipment would be ready for the transatlantic flight to the auction floors the next day or any day thereafter until and unless their demands were met. Who did Glen think he was fooling? Coming to work in that battered B16 of his. If the accounts department boys' sayings were anything to go by then this bubba was up for an indelible lesson in people management. They would teach him how to relate to them properly, befittingly. They would instill in him the necessary value judgement parameters to enable him to appreciate the work they put in for him. The measly miser, sixteen million dollars in the past three months!Pthugh! Some spat on the concrete floor in the dispatch bay where they now gathered restlessly. Slowly, observably the spirits of the people coalesced into a collective pocket of restiveness, anger, despair, and fear. Raw gut wrenching terror. A feeling that they had gotten used to living with. They stood in dispatch till the proceedings began. The girls from the packshed started it all with a heartrending,wail-like rendition of 'Sikhatele'. Sikhatele nendlala, the people's surefire song of dissatisfaction, their revolutionary call to imminent action, steeling the comrades for the avalanche of retribution kept in store for those who dared defy the master. Slowly, reluctantly at first, the revolutionary spark caught on in the masses. It leapt and sputtered, a somewhat fiery song battling the winds of uncertainity from its isolated outposts throughout the crowd, battling the stifling air of sweat inspiring fear spread so visibly on the comrades' faces. Eventually the fire became too hot for fear or anything or anyone else for that matter to endure. Right on! The festivities had begun. The people would now rejoice in this festival of freedom and newly acquired dignity. The people's countenances now took on the faces of warriors. Even the old ladies from the canteen seemed to have taken on the vibe too. Shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip the people's army formed a formidable front.Mama ka Lerato stood right next to the forklift.With her faded maroon beret ,bottle green jersey and khakhi shirt she looked like viable competition for Demi Moore for the lead role in G.I Jane.Luckily for Demi, mama ka Lerato couldn't afford to even ride a cab to the airport with her fortnightly wages, let alone buy a ticket for the transatlantic flight to G.I Jane's auditions.In fact mama ka Lerato couldn't afford anything at all.She couldn't afford 67
the minibus ride to work,she couldn't afford to sufficiently, properly fend for her children.She couldn't afford to pay school fees for Lerato,she couldn't afford to eat bread or buy soap or vaseline.Work had now become meaningless,a mundane daily communion to find solace in.A welcome diversion from the head held in hands endless problems of her overcrowded high density suburb home.In the silent sweatshop that Glen’s flower handling factory turned out to be, one found refuge in numbers.At least one knew they were not alone in the battle to survive the silent sorrows of a repetitive drama episode in this concrete and tarmac ecosystem.In the true fashion of a vermin eat vermin urban world life flowed with increasing abundance from the wellspring at the bottom, to the top where it spouted from fountains in obscenely opulent fashion.Today they would teach Glen a lesson or two.By what logic did he find it acceptable to reward a month's hard work,all that pain,that sacrifice with a paltry one hundred and seventy nine dollars.He was making sixteen million in three months.'Sikistini miriyoni purofiti bana! against one seventy-nine dollars pay only bana! The price of twenty loaves of bread!' someone yelled from amidst the throng prompting catcalls and loud jeering from the gathered proletariat. Next to mama ka Lerato stood old M'dala Stanley in his green banana hat, the infamous mujiba hat that the struggle had imported from neighbouring Zimbabwe along with the infamous 'toi-toi'. The infamous mujiba that the boys had used to ward off the cold in the struggle for freedom. Coupled with his patched-all-over denim overalls the mujiba served to impart an aura of somewhat rebellious austerity about him. Next to him stood mama ka Epiphaniah in housewife like traditional garb.A silvery grey silken chiffon that had seen better days adorned her head,it was coming undone at the seams enabling one to see her thick crop of dirty hair.Thick,matt black with a brownishn hue,powdery in appearance,the hair of the people,the so called kinky hair.Listless old Gubuza stood next to mama ka Epi in a black bowler and velour blazer, he had always had the flair of the people that one.In his heyday he had courted many an insurmountable burden,today he had brought out his trusty old instincts to deal with the matter at hand.In front of him stood S'thandwa.She never bore a child that one.She stood up straight as befitting the avante garde,she had never lost the spark of youth that one,she was hardcore bantu like a small brown bantam chikini that one. Resplendent in her awe inspiring military green beret and khakhi trenchcoat she stood among the ranks;a multi star lieutenant general ready to take on the enemy head on.It was rumuored that hers was the only shebeen that that scum of a police force did not dare raid,they knew better than to be caught on the wrong side of her nose.Today Glen would see for himself why. M'dala Prosper from motor transport stood right next to S'thandwa with a sneer on his face, that leer like countenance one reserves for times such as these, to shock beyond sensibility all those who in their day to day activities carry around, in their unsuspecting minds, the notion that the people are a ‘timid, simple and satisfied lot’.No! Our blood boils too', he seemed to be saying in his non-verbal political address. Where Glen and his cronies would spend hours on end lying and lying yet again in their annual general workers addresses, Prosper had done it all in one motion. The leer said it all. He had the deftness of the people that one. A quicker mind driving a slower hand, after all that was the way it was supposed to be wasn't it?
Stella from bay 4 in chemicals stood next to Prosper.From her looks nobody could tell that she had been a muraedza, a fierce revolutionary who had worked in the tactical information dissemination and logistical division of the struggle. She had kept it a secret eversince then. She had never divulged it to anybody that single handedly she had swatted twenty or so makuwa while they showered in the boarding hostels. On her way to an errand,a base camp map carefully tucked into her polka dot pink nylon panties she had spied the makuwa's ammunition on a shower room bench as they showered singing noisily like scholboys,with a heaving heart she had crept into the unguarded doorway and sneaked off with a grenade.Blood now rushing in her head,heart palpitating wildly,an unfamiliar high pitched whining sound screaming in her ears,the smell of fresh blood in her nostrils and tears in her eyes she pulled off the safety pin and threw the darned thing into the shower room with all her might. The ensuing chaos and retribution was the making of a massacre from which she was the only dark skinned escapee. No one ever got to know who was behind the death of the weedies at St Barnabas among them a notorious commander and necklacer, ruthless rapist of the people: Colonel William 'Mcblack death' McGarth.It was common knowledge that these soldiers were scared little just-out-of-teens who relied on cannabis for any semblance of bravery. Hence the name weedies. Stella was hero worshipped for her daring escape. What's more where she now lived in Katlehong there were two Stellas.When a visitor to the area asked for directions to Stella's house they would be asked invariably 'Which Stella? the big breasted Stella or Stella muna, Stella the man'. Yes indeed Stella muna Stella the man. For outwitting the weedies she had been likened to a man. Little did anyone know that she was more manly than she was given credit for.Today she'd let loose that killing spirit.She had wrestled away men much more mightier than Gles.She was not intimidated by Glen. Looking ever so invincible in her worn out thick grey mottled overcoat was mama ka Reuben.She stood right next to Stella muna. A look of defiant resolve set on her face, she gazed out the world beyond the dispatch bay. In this ever so enchantingly picturesque landscape of nature's bountiful blessings they lived a life of barreness.Utterly despicable,humiliating poverty.And yet they worked the machines that brought wealth to the buffon that was their overlord.Their calloused hands and frost bitten fingers a living testimony to their way of life,that of bitterly hard work,unrelenting ardour in exchange for a meagre meal and whatever comfort the assurance of that edible pittance would bring.Wasn't it true that a wise man had said once that to eat like a king one should work like a slave?Mama ka Reuben's eyes misted over.How come they worked like slaves,putting in extra hours,trading in public holidays even,but they still ate and lived like slaves?Her taught upper lip told it all,she was an angry woman, a not so well paid woman. Mama ka Reuben sang the song, the refrain, in a meaningful overtone her voice lingering somewhere in the wonderland between hope and dejection. She sang in time to Otillia's shrill voice beside her. Otillia was a true workyard prima donna.Tall and slender she radiated an intrinsic grace that the lack of or the availability of any commercial cosmetic product could not overshadow.At first glance she was just another serene simpleton
working the daily grind in the drab surroundings of the flower factory alas deep within lay a deeply ambitious soul weighed down by psychological baggage.Otillia was yet another underpaid labourer caught up in the delicate balance that's the struggle between life and death, those ever feuding cousins.Feminine wishes and wills had to give way to practical considerations: the harsh realities of poverty,the ego eroding practicalities of continous improvisation.She worked hard this girl and believed she too deserved some of the niceties that were enjoyed by the missuses.After all she worked far much harder than most of them anyway.Pulling up her countless times torn and just as much mended petticoat before it peeked out of her worn out crimplene garment she launched into the roundelay with fresh gusto.Today she'd let her heart out,even if she didn’t get Glen to pay her fairly immediately, she'd at least let him know she wasn't taking this insult sitting down.She would put up with this no more. Bespectacled, with an aura of reverent silence and respectability,one hand on the hip,the other one on her worn smooth wooden cane mama ka Fanu looked on.She no longer had the energy to prance about and sing at the top of her voice.As it were the poor soul had trouble sustaining a lengthy conversation.All she could do now was sit at workstation number 89 and pluck the excess leaves off those dreadfully valuable inflorescences.They said one truckload of Eryngium bourgati pink flair or oxford blue brought enough money to buy production material and pay everyone good money for a year.It was rumuored that the spiky inflorescence was the source of many a valuable extract.The people knew that the Agricultural department was being tricked into accepting lower export tax levies for the blooms under the ornamentals category instead of the industrial raw materials category where they rightly belonged.The tight fisted taskmaster!Did he not daily witness their abject poverty?did he not know how cold the winter nights were without proper blankets?Did he not drive past their lanky and starved children on his way to his air conditioned office everyday?For God's sake did he not see how close they huddled together for warmth by the equipment sterilizer at lunch?If only Fanuel had not succumbed to this much talked about disease,if only he were here now maybe the task of rearing his boisterous twins wouldn't even have been hers at all.The creator wouldn't have had it any other way it seemed.It was a good thing that they were doing these young folk,standing up for the weak and voiceless like her.If only her son were here too.Oh my son,Fanuel Thulani Maposa a man among men!He would never have contracted that dreadful malady if it were not for that witch aunt of his who had sent him ill winds to lead him on to his demise,she reasoned to herself. Gogo Mnyama stood imperiously with a smug look on her face; the sarcastic leer of one who has always known that they will win in the end. The last laugh was trulty hers today. The descendants of the soil had arisen at last.She fondly remembered the days a long time ago when the people were no pushovers,when the people would ward off injustice with a closely guarded dignity.Today she relived that era.She beamed out at Glen's office far away across the courtyard.'No ekispotsi namhlanje Girinzi' she thought to herself.'Nyikeza vantu chelete ya hawo first!'.They were brave these young ones to stand up yo Glen as they had done.No amount of threatening to dismiss every member of the workers' comittee, no intimidation ploy whatsoever had worked today.Not even the riot police all decked out in their hideous spacesuit-like gear had frightened them.Today it
had to be money.Nothing but money would break up the strike.All there were asking for was an increment backdated to February,they had not and would not vandalise any property.All they were asking for was enough money to afford a decent living.After all they did for Glen's flower business,with all the revenue they generated she found it hard to understand why he wouldn't pay them fairly.What's more, he had been heard in admin swearing on his mother's grave that he would never give in to their demands for an increment.Much good it was that the old hag had passed on.What kind of mother was she to raise so mean a man? Mbonambi stood out among the ranks. Not one easily driven to emotion he was the true people's lawyer. The expression on his face was hard to read.His face held no overt impression. He was a serious one that one, he read the papers, he was also legendary for his hatred of polony. He swore by his mother’s grave that the distasteful pink flesh contained the ground up soles of corpses.All polony eaters were cannibals he declared vehemently, his grandfather had once told him of a cannibal farmer called ‘kom kom’ after the way he used to call over his unsuspecting victims. The name of a famous polony brand that sounded almost the same as ‘Kom Kom’ only served to confirm his ‘investigations’ as he liked to call them.He stood among the people peering into their excited eyes,their fury filled eyes and their listless eyes.He took in the profiles of his comrades.He knew the traitors within them,those who would work with Glen to identify as Glen called them: the malcontents.All that for a bit of Glen's backpocket change.For how long would his people suffer,toil in vain in the fervently kept hope that one day the tables would turn.If ever that day would come to the people,it had come now.It was here.If only they could maintain an appreciably strong front against the ever so common and all damaging disunity they would get to their goal.Aluta continua?
Wellspring of Truth (Cheeseboy!) ©
Senzo was not in the best of spirits today for it was the last day of the month and as usual he had to make his way to the family's rural home to take the herdboy's wages with him as he invariably did every month end. He fumed and cursed under his breath as he reluctantly took a shower in the early morning hours of a day that was to change his life for a long time to come. Changing into warm clothes he tried to conceal his foul mood from his mother, as it would not augur well with her if his gray mood were evident. Mama ka senzo noticed all the same but bothered not about it, whom else could she send? There was nought that she could do, one needed to be firm with these youths these days. Moody youth and nonchalant mother soon stood together under the not so bright light of a bus terminus street lamp. She did not care how moody he might get; it was his grandparents he was going to see here. If it were not for them he wouldn't be standing there in warm clothes with a full belly in this early morning wind. Had it not been for their foresight in sending her to school she would perhaps just be another menial worker and goodness knows where her son would be now. She reasoned that he'd have to go
whether he seethed or smiled.The old engine's terrible clamour and rickety frame eventually broke the early morning's serenity.Slowly,noisily and with an evident show of laborious undertaking the bus swung into the terminus and came to a halt in front of ,well,almost in front of the rough queue that the passengers had formed.Bidding her son farewell she sent her regards to her parents whom he'd meet in a few hours time.Having gobbled up her fill,slightly over capacity that is, of the city's early morning travellers the rickety old vehicle made her way towards the city's outer limits and beyond to the fresh air and natural water environs of the village districts. As the day wore on the sun came gently sweeping over the land as it swept by. The dewladen treetops glinted in early morning glamour as the sun rose behind the rickety old workhorse slowly making its way to the west. Like a well-trained beast it took to its task with much zest, its effort made evident by the racket it made as it plied its familiar route. Gradually the sun shone over the entire land bathing the rural landscape with golden brilliance. Soon one couldn't gaze out of the windows without facing the glare of an increasingly hot sun. It sure was going to be one hell of a hot day. Just as the sun wore the sharp edge off the breeze's bite Senzo woke up from a convinient shut eye. Good gracious Lord he needed a break. He needed a break from this dreary old bus and its equally dreadful inhabitants. What was that funny smell? Smelly shoes, oh no couldn't someone educate these people on the need for proper hygiene. Someone yawned and a strong draught of putrid air seemed to envelope him. He opened the window beside him slightly, goodness! More ventilation he needed indeed and he needed to get it with haste. The hubhub of conversation resounded throughout the ramshackle vehicle. Had these people no inch of decency in them. To raise such a noise this early in the morning, by grace what was the world coming to.With much laughter,shouting and hand slapping the animated camaraderie progressively increased.Not to be outdone a couple of chickens whose feet were firmly bound with msasa phloem decided they had had enough of a most undignified imprisonment.Attempting to escape from the plastic bags where they lay tightly bound they poked their heads further out of their low density polyethene prisons hobbing about on tightly bound together feet and trying in vain to flap their plastic carrier bag bound wings,all the time making an unbelievably irritating noise.Much to the delight of the rowdy passengers in front.'Give in to the pot and plate' someone shouted admonishing the frying pan destined fowl to resign to fate.Encouraged by a response of wild laughter from the passengers the joker went on.'You think yours is the only mouth that can shout eh? Disturbing our sleep every morning with your same old cock-a-doodle song for years! Today we want to finish you off, let's see how well you fare in the pot'. This time the laughter bordered on the hysterical. As if realising that they were the center of attention, the chickens fell quiet,they peered this and that way mouth agape, gullets gesticulating wildly.Eventually assuring themselves of a lull in the opponents' sonar prominence they launched a fresh onslaught much to the delight of the passengers.Peering out of the window to consciously escape the chaos Senzo saw a shopping centre looming ahead.It was here that the bus made its customary first stop.Someone in some policy formulation role had long since established
these rural outposts of urbanity in the hope that they would become seeds of greater urban developments in the future hence the name growth points.As soon as the bus slowed down enough for a heavily laden human being to keep pace with it running abreast the windows, dozens of vendors would beseige the vehicle.Shouting unintelligibly in this or that brand of colloquial kibosh,advertising their wares.Who did these louts think they would entice with their ekhaya brand of slang.Besides none of them had on offer any wares that were worth parting with currency paper for.One had some ghastly little birds blackened by repeated deep frying to supposedly make them fresh again when they were left over at the end of each day.Another had a dishful of flying ants on sale by the cupful.Ants,birds,termites,fish good gracious what would these people think of selling next? If only the bus would move on, Senzo fumed. Three more shopping centers to drive past and he'd be there at last. Move on they did and for Senzo, to invariably meet new annoyances at subsequent shopping centres.At one a group of children ran alongside the bus in full flight shouting 'Bhazi!Bhazi!Bhazi!' right alongside his window much to the moody traveller's chagrin. At another the bus had to grind to a halt and wait for eternity as a dreadful herd of cattle crossed the dirt road at its leisure. At the last one before the village Senzo couldn't really point out what was annoying about the place but deep down within him he knew that everything was the matter with this place,it was just plain downright boring,very annoying.The village store came into view.Clutching the polythene sack shopping bag which held the few grocery commodities he'd brought along for his grandparents he made his way towards the door.He handed the conductor his ticket as the bus came to a halt and the latter pulled on a long metal bolt throwing the door ajar. He was here at last. Away from the sickening confines of that mobile psychiatric sanatorium. Making his way towards their rural homestead he revelled in the comfort of some peace and sanity at last. Or so he thought. Save for the occassional tinkle of a cow bell the land lay still. The foothills of the famous mountains from which the land took its name lay majestic in their distant finery. It wasn't long before he arrived at his grandfather's compound. His grandmother was just finishing off her household chores and setting her tom kettle on the fire to boil. By now all traces of the moody countenance he had borne earlier had disappeared, in their place remained a truly jovial young man enchanted by a simple homestead that his clan called home. Perhaps the abrupt change in mindframe came from the realisation that one cannot trifle with one's grandparents. One could argue and stand off with one's parents but no sane mind could afford a standoff with one's grandfolks. On hearing the fanfare outside Senzo's grandfather peeked out to investigate. The old man broke into ecstatic laughter. He was very fond of his eldest grandchild.'Welcome my child', he greeted Senzo.'Let me relieve you of your burden tau, his grandmother addressed him by the family totem as befits one who has worked hard for the family's welfare.His traditional ettiquette mellowed by the ways of urban life he knew not how to appropriately respond,choosing instead to smile and grunt shyly like a bashful schoolgirl.
The transgenerational trio settled in the pole and dagga kitchen for the traditional formalities meant for such occassions. Grandmother sat cross-legged beside the hearth on a goatskin rug. Grandfather and grandson sat on the raised earthen bench that ran right round the kitchen. A short silence ensued once the trio had settled. In the manner customary to the people, he clapped his cupped hands and addressed his grandmother.'How are you bodiba? How fares the flesh, does it not hurt? Is all well with you bodiba?'He tried his best to sound knowledgeable in the ways of the people. Acknowledging her grandson's greeting bodiba replied appropriately.'Hai we are well tau. Except for the leg that hurts a bit we are well indeed' she ended her counter greeting by adressing her husband: 'There comes your child with good tidings baba'. Acknowledging his wife's message he clapped his cupped hands and returned his grandson's greeting. 'We are well son, if you are well yourself, how are they in the city? Are they happy and healthy? We are very much happy ourselves'. The formalities thus completed the tone of conversation went back to laid back casual talk. Ishmael! Ishmael! Grandpa called out to the herdboy who happened to be around as today it was his counterpart's turn to tend to the cattle.'Catch a hen for my grandson' he proudly commanded. Euphemistically instructing the boy to kill and pluck clean a fowl for his eldest grandchild. Taking care not to let it show, lest he appear to be a glutton, Senzo smiled coyly,smug in the knowledge that he'd soon be bingeing on a plateful of juicy flame grilled chicken and firm soul edifying pap.Handing grandma the herdboy's wages he followed grandpa out of the kitchen leaving granny to work wonders with her brightly burning flame and a century or so of culinary experience.A wealth of experience she surely had for she had cooked on that there hearth every single day of her life for all the years it had taken to raise ten healthy children. Grandfather and son strolled the length of the homestead field poking at this and that, upturning an item or two returning everything to its proper place. Now that Senzo was studying for a college degree in agriculture he could help out his grandpa as soon as he acquired enough knowledge. He would advise on the correct amounts of the right chemicals and fertilizers to apply to the land under different crops.He was convinced his applied knowledge would be most welcome especially since their rural community was in the clutches of a dispiriting drought.Luckily for his grandparents the community borehole lay on the upper edge of their plot.Whatever runoff was available from the meagre flow hand pumped from the waning head of water discharged into their field.Senzo remembered with a chuckle the story of how the borehole came to be placed in his grandpa's field.All the other neighbours had refused citing that placing it on their land would amount to giving away a parcel of land to the community for it would definitely become no man's land.Senzo's grandpa's field had never run dry eversince.Even in the severest drought he would harvest somehow meaningful yields, a phenomenon the villagers secretly attributed to some juju of sorts, of course the furrow from the borehole was just a cover up wasn't it? This year, yet again, their household was the envy of many a hungry neighbour. Senzo hoped that he had inherited some of his grandfather's foresight. He would definitelf need it in the fast paced world of the city he had grown up in. Ishmael came beckoning them to the kitchen for breakfast. They couldn't have more willingly obliged to leave the field heading for grandma's by then aromatic thatched
kitchen. In silence, with much gusto, the meal was devoured. Another testimony to bodiba's culinary skills. Thanking granny for the food, Sizwe informed his grandfolk of his intention to leave that afternoon. Although he came and went every month end,they still went through the motions of talking him into staying with them for a while longer.As on previous occassions their grandson always succeeded in the end.He always managed to come up with a valid excuse about an urgent matter to attend to in the city.Fiery young soul,Senzo's grandma silently mused to herself.Her grandson was just like Kennias had been when she met him.Always scheming, never at rest,he seemed so full of the boundless energy his grandpa had in his heyday. Grandparents and son gathered in the early afternoon for a second round of formalities in the thatched family kitchen.This time they went through the formalities constituting a traditional farewell.Kennias, Senzo's grandfather led the proceedings.With cupped hands he clapped his soul out,energetically offering a prayer in supplication to the ancestral spirits and Modimo himself,Modimo the great creator of people.One could never be too careful with these new young drivers from the city,they seemed to be always drunk, always overspeeding.The formal tone relented only after Kennias ensured both the spirits and the great one would watch over his beloved grandson.Grandmother and grandfather bade a hearty farewell to their eldest grandson. Clutching the improvised sackcloth shopping bag in which his grandmother had packed dried yams and groundnuts Senzo stood ready to go. With grandpa leading the way the two made their way towards the furthermost edge of the compound. They were soon on their way past the cattle kraal, the dwala at whose base lay a haphazard collection of crude timber fenced cattle kraals. Their conversation was relaxed.'You see my son, in the days when I was strong in both body and mind, that’s long ago son, now I'm only left with my wit and my earthenware tipped smoking pipe. The pair burst out laughing wildly. Kennias continued:in those days I could build three kraals in a week and not fall sick with exhaustion'.The subject switched from one topic to the other.Kennias was taking his time to loosen the boy up,he would need the boy's full attention when he finally spoke his mind. Kennias finaly plunged the hoe. With verbal skill and well meaning guile he steered the boy's mind in the right direction, in the people's direction. The hoe that was Kennias' toungue carefully worked the fertile soil that was Senzo's young mind.'You see young man', Kennias cleared his throat to make clear the gravity of the matter at hand, 'In these days many things now happen. Many new teachings now abound throughout the land,some whose preachers are more lost than the flocks they purport to bring to salvation.In all that you go through,through whatever you encounter know my son that human life is...'.He didn't finish his statement.As they turned the bend on the dirt road on which they now trudged towards the bus stop at the village business centre,ahead lay a sight enough to stop any advisory speech in its tracks. Grandpa and son stopped dead in their tracks. A few yards ahead a sickly toddler barely
five or six stood stark naked first at the edge of the road then weakly, in a vain attempt to flee from its pursuer it gingerly moved across the road as though it had boils under its feet.All the time the child whimpered and howled in a most unnerving manner.The pursuer a bony and dreary eyed brown dog,probably rabid by the looks of it did not relent.It followed the bawling child as he made his way gingerly across the dirt road.As soon as a thick brown speckled,emarald green mortar- like paste peeked out of the cleft between the sickly child's butocks the voracious predator would poke its mangy nose up the child's behind and greedily lap it up.From the howls the child let off the dog's nose must have been right up his rectum.Its teeth grinding around the entrance of his anal orifice.Furtively the beast licked its nose and sniffed around to lick up any fallen morsels of the child's faeces.Weakened by hunger the child could not escape this hideous tribulation he was subjected to. With outstretched arms the child turned towards them, bawling despeartely,instinctively making way towards fellow human company.In anguish, his stomach churned, more faeces,more growls of content from the contemptible canine.As the toddler drew nearer,Senzo stood dumbfounded.Shocked,he placed his sackcloth parcel on the ground.In his shock Senzo became numb.He ceased to see anything else but the horrible drama unfolding right before him.He did not feel anything save for the hopelessness,the anger,the throbbing rush of blood to his head.Neither did he notice the old man make a move to put an end to the boy's misery. The first stone caught the dog squarely in its explicitly outlined ribcage. Undaunted it licked, almost sucked the faeces out of the boy for a last time. Withstanding the pain of a second stone's blow the dog gobbled up a grainy green chunk that had fallen to the ground. The fury behind the third stone was too strong to withstand. With an awful whimper the brown dog took to its heels. Senzo glanced sideways at grandpa who stood shaking with just spent rage. The ordeal, far from over, had inspired curiosity in people working in nearby fields. They had come running when they heard the noise coming from the dirt road running past the dip tank. Among them was the child's mother who had long since raised the alarm from her field, that she was missing her child. She had last seen him when she told him to go relieve himself in the bushes behind the anthill in their field. She had no time to wait on him like a personal assistant of sorts.She was busy rummaging among that early afternoon's diggings.She squatted low among the debris of last season's harvest,scrounging around in the clay sod in search of a sweet potato or two, one that might have been missed during the harvest period.She swept through the termite infested maize stalks, seeking in vain for a remnant corn cob.Her diminished mind couldn't tell her hungry stomach that for termites to live on the stalks they would have devoured the cobs first.Famished and on the verge of passing out she somehow recalled her son relieving himself among the bushes.She called him,whisper-shouted his name but he did not answer, she investigated.He was not where he was supposed to be.That was when she heard him wailing from somewhere in the general direction of the wide dirt road that ran from the business centre to the cattle kraals at the heart of the village.She hobbled towards the sound of her young one with incredible haste, one could never know what dangers
awaited one's children in that frequently vehicle travelled dirt road. Passing through all manner of skin tearing and garment rending shrubbery mother came upon the sorry sight of her just harassed youngster breathing pathetically and sobbing heavily. She couldn't help noticing the handsome air of valour outlined on the face of the old man that virtually every soul in the gathering crowd was whispering about. The kindly, old man whom everybody credited her child's wellbeing to.If it weren't for him goodness knows where her child would be.Perhaps at the not-so-lively side of a forlorn dirt road with a horde of flies crawling and fussing all over and a ghastly vulture or two circling overhead ready to swoop down and feast on the life and energy giving heap of carbon compounds below.Just another energy transfer transaction in this survival of the fittest ecosystem. She moved towards him. She stood an appreciable distance from the kindly soul.She did not know what to say or even how to say it,she let the stray tears running down her cheeks do the talking for her.She was infinitely grateful. The sight and sounds of the emotive undertakings before him became too much for Senzo to bear. It was here that his urbane cookie began to crumble. So this was the hardknock life that lay behind the facade of prosperity that he and fellow urbanites revelled in.So this was the real thing for some,the extent of some people's, his people's suffering behind the politically correct proceedings of the city and the face saving annual charity society addresses.A pang of guilt spread throughout Senzo's chest cavity as he realised how little he ever thought of contributing to the welfare of the least fortunate such as those who now stood before him.Those for whom the interdependencies of the ecosystem were not just a high school textbook theory.Down here the lesser echelons rose up to meet the higher ones, literally! As in dogs groping about toddlers backsides in search of whatever life giving carbon compounds they could find. this was the tough life his parents sometimes talked about, this was the life his mother always said lay in store for some.Senzo felt grateful for every little thing he had at home, for every penny,every garment he owned.He realised the extent of sacrifice it probably took his folks to spare him the drama of an existence such as the one he now witnessed before him. The afternoon breeze made something rasp against his cotton clad leg. It was his homemade shopping bag. The jute bag with the yams and groundnuts that his grandmother had packed for the family back home. He moved towards the bewildered mother who now stood with the whimpering child in her arms, stroking its head, placating it.Setting the bag down he divided the yams and groundnuts into two somewhat equal portions and handed the mother one portion which she eagerly packed into a once white and torn plastic carrier bag. She clapped her hands profusely struggling to adequately express her infinite gratitude. It was difficult to figure out which one weighed down heavier on her, the weight of her child clinging tightly to her or the emotional gravity of the moment. She managed to slip out a quick thank you in a heavily emotion laden voice before tears got the best of her. Senzo nodded his head to acknowledge her gratitude. He quickly looked away so that she
couldn't see the hint of a tear beginning to germinate in his eye. Kennias cleared his throat beside him, it was time to go.Time to go it was indeed.Time to go to the world and be a better man,one enriched by the knowledge that the world was not always what it seemed to be: a big amusement park where everybody was entitled to free rides on the ferris wheel and roller coaster.Kennias and Senzo walked on in silence,glancing back every now and then,she never changed her position.She stood on the spot that she had picked up her son.She stood there even when they glanced back for a last time just before they went around the bend,child in arms,yams and groundnuts in a polymer bag at her feet. That image of the mother standing in the middle of a dirt road with her child huddled in her arms would haunt Senzo for a long tome to come. Bereft of any real resouces to fend for her child the stoic mother scavenged desperately, relentlessly in the sod and weeds for a meaningful meal. She stood for all that would bring survival to the poor soul in her arms. She stood for the poor soul's life itself. Without her the poor thing was lost and vulnerable. She was the one fighting chance left for the poor kid to hope for anything at all. He wondered how it must be for her every morning at waking moment: despairing? He stood virtually gaping at the amount of self-sacrifice and resilience she must be used to going through. A tinge of shame made itself felt in his bosom as he awakened to the realisation that he had done very little if ever he had done anything at all to alleviate or even just dampen the sting of such people's problems. He resolved to do so in any way he could. In the meanwhile he turned to listen to a front passenger's loud jokes. The landscape and passengers had suddenly taken on a new look and aura of joie de vivre.
The news was a shock to everyone. Chief Dzulani the third had passed on.As dictated by custom the chief had alresdy been buried in the secret cave that supposedly lay in the eerie valley of kings before the announcement was made.Much wailing and rending of cloths took place throughout the land.The 'mountain had toppled over', the elders euphemistically referred to the passing on of a great ruler.Unkown to the people,was the sad fact that Dzulani was to be the last ruler over the people for a long time to come.Probably he'd be the last ruler ever.A new breed of dominion was set to rise among them.Chaos,anarchy,cultural indifference,individualism,malice,avarice, vice in general: these would be the new rulers of the people.The more divided the people, the better for these new rulers. Pachangu sat shellshocked in his pole and dagga abode. He had always been fond of the old man; the old man and his grandfather had been inseparable friends. Of the remaining chief's counsellors and close advisors none came from the three lineages that the people had long since chosen as the kingship bloodlines. Pachangu was the eldest male in all three lineages. That placed him squarely at the foot of the throne. In the meantime there were many important tasks to be undertaken. Surely one could not dwell on succession issues in the midst of the land's most devastating sorrow. After all the people would ultimately choose the heir to the throne from among the aristocratic gentry, wouldn't 78
they? He hoped to heaven that they would. Setting aside all such thoughts he left his headquarters to supervise the goings on in his yard. Summoning his eldest wife, his mutanuni, he ordered all his children's heads shorn. Yes he meant it; all eighteen of them were to be shorn as a sign of great sorrow. The people were bereaved. Robbed of a kindly and incorruptible patriach by that pilferer of all things dear to the heart:death.'See to it that your subordinates wail in the way befitting proper mourning', he instructed Tshifhiwa.'I am to have no giggling and fidgeting around in this household', he stamped his foot down and gesticulated wildly with a clenched fist to emphasize his point. Soon Pachangu's homestead was an uproar of wailing. His four wives stood in the courtyard, garments rent, wailing animatedly. His brood stood to one side of the compound, heads shorn, faces ashen and sombre at the sight of their mothers mourning in earnest. Pachangu sat beside his hut,head held in hands,leaning forward solemnly, the epitome of a truly grieved mourner.Far and wide across the breadth of the land,mourning could be heard,the people were in the grips of a most devastating loss.Gradually the mourners converged on the communal clearing in the center of the village woodlot.From quite a distance away the subdued drumming was slightly audible.In keeping with the sombre mood of the women's wailing and the subdued monotone of the menfolk's mourning song the drumbeat palpitated throughout the clearing.A steady,reverent rythm imparting gravity to the moment. The melancholy heartbeat of the proceedings carried on awhile, a lifeless melee of drumbeat, song and heartrending wail. The sound of scorchcart wheels under heavy strain soon pervaded the clearing.Three oxdrawn carts , each with four identical gigantic earthenware casks and wooden logs were clearly visible from where the mourners had congregated,painstakingly making their way towards the center of the clearing.A slight shift in the mourners' mood became apparent as a wave of restlessness swept through the crowd.The people became even more restive as the heady aroma of potent freshly brewed beer wafted into the clearing carried on a refreshingly crisp breeze.Shortly three immensely fattened cows were to be led into the clearing by some of the deceased chief's court attendants.The eldest advisor Mvelaphanda held his hands aloft,palms outturned towards the people, the signal for silence. Cupping his palms together he clapped them traditionally, setting in motion the proceedings that would ensure Dzulani would graduate to the next level, that of a divine spirit,an intangible overseer of the the village's day to day goings on.He chanted incessantly,paying homage to the ancient forefathers among whom Dzulani would now take his place.By the end of this ceremony Dzulani would become an official spirit guardian of the land,his name would be called out in incantations,spelled out at traditional rituals,called upon to plead with malevolent elder spirits or angered benevolent ones, on behalf of the people. Mvelaphanda lowered his voice to a coversation scale incantation as the medium of the ancestors among them took over the presiding of the proceedings. With a terrifying
uproar of unintelligible sounds the medium shook and shivered and swayed and spat. At length he spoke to the people in their own tongue. By now the drumbeat had reached fever pitch and the crowd was hysterical. The people had taken on a new dimension of liveliness,the women ululated spiritedly and the men boomed out the refrain with loud and deep voices.The medium's makhadzi, the acolyte, led the people in a concilliatory hymn.'Aye-e ndikhosi,ndau idzula iyotha dakani', the people agreed invariably each time the makhadzi shouted 'Chaminuka ndikhosi!'.Yes indeed Chaminuka the greatest spirit of the land who sat right next to Mwari the creator was the king,the lion that resides alone in the thickest of forests without so much as an inkling of fear.The ancestor's voice rose above the melee to proclaim its pleasure with the children for conducting themselves accordingly in its presence.Dzulani had been well received and was safe among the esteemed ranks of divine benefactors.On hearing this the womenfolk ululated wildly,spurring on the ancestral voice.The people were to cry no more but rejoice in the knowledge that they had found in Dzulani yet another benevolent spirit to watch over them as they weaved in and out of the obstacles in life's most frequently travelled footpath:uncertainity. The ancestral voice's proclamation soon dwindled into a series of deep grunts and guttural groans. The womenfolk kept up the wild ululation as did the men their incessant clapping, the fervent appeasement of the great spirits of the land, the praising of the ancestors and the thanking of the medium's forefathers went on unabated.The latter were named one by one and referred to by their family totem.The more enlightened,the ambitious,the not so teary eyed folk among them were dissapointed.The spirits hadn't even hinted on who would be the next ruler,they hadn't even given a clue which family he'd come from.What was afoot?what was the meaning of this?Pachangu was one of those who contemplated these questions in earnest. Simultaneously the three beasts were slaughtered and their blood gushed to the earth amid celebratory song and dance and intercessory incantation. The twelve giant earthenware casks had now been gathered on one side of the clearing. From each , Mvelaphanda scooped out half a gourdful of foamy and potent brew, took a sip and poured the remainder onto the ground muttering appeasements to the spirits, the crowd burst into into song and dance, the womenfolk once more ululating wildly. A huge bonfire was then set ablaze in the gigantic pile of firewood that bristled happily in the center of the clearing. From its flames other smaller fires would be lit for cooking vhuswa and tshisevho to feed the whole clan here gathered, for roasting meat and for the people to get warmth from. These smaller fires would be doused with water and snuffed out with sand once they had served their purpose. The central bonfire would be left to die out on its own, the flames would be stoked for a while yet until wind and accumulated ash would take their toll. The dying out of the central bonfire, the lito lakhosi, the king's eye's flames was symbolic of the beginning of the swiswi, the period over which a great metaphorical darkness would overshadow the land for the nation's guardian light had been snuffed out by death.Night and day would come,sunshine and rainfall, wind and calm would succeed eath other’s reign, nothing would liberate the land from this terrible darkness save for the appointment of another chief to watch over the ancestors' land.The people would remain in darkness, without a leader,lacking straightforward vision.You see
,the dying of the litho lakhosi was the last chief's final glimpse of the land over which he had been custodian. During the swiswi no girl child would be married, no livestock would be bought or sold, no water wells would be dug, no parcels of land would be staked out or cleared of their vegetation. No work save for the smallest amount of work necessary for survival would be carried out. It so happened that barely a month after Dzulani had passed away, Mvelaphanda also passed on, following his lifelong master perhaps to render his services in a new life. He was buried and mourned in the modest way dictated fit for any funerals falling within the swiswi. The death of the late chief's senior councillor unmasked ambition within the council and rivalry among the three royal lineages. Rifts were soon visible in the council's make up and more sadly even among the people. Lacking the proper cohesive force to patch up their differences, the council, the royal lineages,the people's factions fell out and began viciously fighting with each other.All this did nothing to put an end to the swiswi.Cautiously at first,starting off with the small things that wouldn't cause big stirs, the swiswi began to be disregarded.In a village where the intensity of an issue is measured on a scale of the number of days it is talked about the offences progressively worsened until the swiswi was disregarded wholesale.People dug wells at first and eventually began selling off livestock . These were three to four day stories. The more daring ones married off their daughters and went on with their lives as usual. The most daring ones hacked away at the communal woodlot and the virgin forests around the village demarcating parcels of land for themselves. Who cared about a silly old chief's death anyway? Two whole years had elapsed since the swiswi had been declared, could they continue to wait? Were they not waiting in vain? Most people decided they would not wait any longer; their patience had been worn thin at first, and then worn out outright in the end. The people moved on. Time, it seemed, was moving on, not waiting for the few holdouts among them. Pachangu sat in his compound. He rued the day he had been born. What manner of calamity had befallen the land, what was this insidious insult to the ancestors, what an abomination! The old man pondered endlessly. He would not allow his family to be part of this assault on the ancestors' dignity; he would not behave like them, those despicable citizens who had lost their burden of faith at the slightest opportunity. He would not sit in their council, he would not walk in their ways, he would not sup with them, and he would not sit to warm himself by their fires. Neither would he let his wives and children consort with them. He knew exactly what had to be done, what he would do. Early one morning he gathered round his sons and set to work. Father and sons dug a hole in the earth about one and a half times a grown man's length wide. They dug endlessly, restlessly for many a day till the diggers' heads taking turns to dig and scoop out the sod, could not be seen from the earth's surface. After half a month or so of digging, the soil underfoot became damp and finally gave way to a softly spurting water current, they had struck water. Sploshing and squelching his feet in the newly uncovered mud Pachangu
scooped out the last sackful of mud and tugged on the rope dangling from the surface for his sons to haul it to the top.He clicked his tounge and cursed softly under his breath in the interminably long period it took for the rope to be passed back down to him.Almost breathing a sigh of relief he fastened the rope around his waist as soon as he felt its reassuring fibrousness in the deep darnpness of the earth's bowels. Within the next half moon or so Pachangu and sons dug another well at the far end of the compound. With water now available within arm's reach Pachangu set about his greatest task. Again with exhausted sons in tow he set out to determine the spatial extent of his compound. It wasn't going to be an easy task at all he reckoned five times ten men's paces long and three times ten men's paces and eight more paces wide. It definitely wasn't easy he figured but so was co-existing with this abhorrent lot. Three months of endless backbreaking work rewarded the Pachangu family with a trench around their homestead, two and a half men's paces wide and a man's height deep.For the next few months,Pachangu's wives and children would come to bitterly resent their family's head and leader for never before in the land had such unrelenting labour been seen.From predawn to darkness woman and girl child, woman, man and man child laboured away in nearby hill and at the once homely and welcoming homestead filling the trench with carefully laid out,well arranged rocks cemented together by a crude mortar of ash,clay and light sand collected in sackfuls from the nearby river. Word of Pachangu's evident madness spread far and wide. Some said he was building a wall around his compound to establish his own small kingdom in which he would declare the swiswi null and void. Others said he had accidentally, by way of a stray arrow, killed a stone mason hewing rock for building while out hunting and the deceased's spirit had returned to avange its untimely demise by turning the whole family into lunatics. Many theories were cooked up and countered but not a soul knew why Pachangu was building a stone wall around his compound. In the early days people came from near and far to witness the great spectacle, the elderly quizzed Pachangu on the wisdom of carrying out this hitherto unheard of task but to no avail. No answer was forthcoming from Pachangu, neither was an answer forthcoming from his subservient wives nor from their unquestioningly obedient children. The latter toiled on in silent ardour. They were under strict instruction not to say a word to anyone who was not of theirs, who lived on the other side of the wall. Rumuor had it that one night Senzeni, Pachangu’s youngest wife had stolen off to a neighbouring plot in the dead of night to a ask for salt. It was only salt that she needed for what good was food without salt. Even the abalungu from the newly built mission knew that salt was good. Didn’t those of them who went about with their much talked about book say that their king likened himself to the salt of the earth, saying that salt was no good if it lost its taste. Senzeni had returned to her hut that night to find a fuming Pachangu waiting in her doorway holding a monstrous wooden staff.She had been clobbered senseless.That very night he had rounded up his wives and children and solemnly instructed them never to share a word with those from the other side,not even to look into their abominable faces for those on the outside were desecrated.For many seasons to come unbecomingly harsh children and grown men on the outside had been rebuked: ' don't be like Pachangu who convened a gathering at night'.It was unheard of to
convene a hearing in the dead of night.Joy comes early in the morning doesn't it? In the end nobody took notice of Pachangu's wall. Heedless of the villagers' remarks and rebuffs, Pachangu went on with his work until the wall was more than two men's height tall, one standing on the other's shoulders. The wall had no opening, it served its purpose well,it closed in all the goodness of Pachangu's virtue and kept out all the madness of the vile world's chaos.Pachangu had taken care to ensure that he had everything he would need in his walled compound,aptly named tshitangadzime tsha Pachangu,Pachangu's island, by the abominable lot living around him.Surely he had all he would ever need. Wives, children, a corn field, livestock, knowledge of how to mend broken tools and forge new ones if the need arose, seed for many seasons to come, two waterwells, a sizeable clump of trees for ablutions, a patch of the salt bearing reeds that the forefathers had made salt out of and most of all a herb garden for medicine in event of sickness. It’s a pity there were no herbs in there to cure the sickness that obviously afflicted Pachangu the most. Ah! What foresight he reasoned to himself. Now he would never have to venture out of his compound. Neither would his beloved ones, oh! his beloved wives and children, if only they would stop sulking and understand that he had done this for their own good. There was plenty of time for the latter to stop sulking and understand his point of view anyway. Once he had finished adorning his wall with a dense crown of thick and thorny acacia branches right round he began making arrangements for the purification rituals. He needed to purify his family,to cleanse them in preparation for the coming of the new chief.The land was still in darkness.Inevitably a new chief, a legal,moral and traditional authority would have to be selected.He cared not how long it would take, he cared not how it would be done, he would wait for it.In the meantime he would keep his family ready for the great day,he would purify his kith and kin.Summoning his eldest son,he sent for three of his goats to be brought to the courtyard in between the compound's huts.Lining up his wives and children he cut each of the goat's throats and made all of them drink the gushing blood.This way they would all be made pure.The gushing blood of a sacrificial animal would move throughout their bodies and flush out any remnants of contamination contracted from interaction with the compounds abominable neighbours. Time wore on, the compound wall's colour mellowed from its bright clayey red to a drab earthen colour. Soon even the ever talkative villagers got used to Pachangu's wall.For Pachangu's tshitangadzime's inhabitants life became a predictable sequence of events following an all too predictable cycle of routine.They had to get used hadn't they? What option did they have? The years went by, births came and so did deaths but Pachangu's wall did not crumble,it stood high in its majestic constance, a formidable symbol of one man's bitter struggle against the forces of perceived abominable change in a reckless society. Me against the world, the silent war cry of a heavily demented and lonely soul. Nkululeko, the eldest son was just like his father. Just about as tall,just about as imposing,the lad had taken to virtually all of his father's traits.Pachangu's wives,including Tshifhiwa the matanuni, all believed he had inherited his father's temperament.He was so inquisitive,so inquisitive in his search for answers that boy,just like his father.With time
even Nkulu the inquisitive one had to settle for the status quo,life in the enclosure began to resemble normalcy,it began to feel natural,so natural that even nature began to bless the contemptible state of affairs with an uncanny aura of acceptance.What a fine wife my father got for himself Nkululeko often thought to himself every now and again when Senzeni his father's youngest wife sashayed by in her tightly wrapped around cloth.She was not long past the peak of her youth that woman.The hormonal youngster couldn't help but return her gaze whenever her gaze lingered over him.He never felt guilty about it, he comforted himself whenever his conscience protested rather loudly.After all most if not all of his siblings were head over heals in love with each other,secretly of course,the end result of your brother or sister being the only member of the opposite sex one's exposed to for years on end. Mendel must have been turning in his grave to see all the inbreeding this covert incest gave bith to. The goings on, the raw lust,the powerful longing between Nkululeko and Senzeni eventually came to a head.One day while Nkululeko sat in a discreet corner of the compound whittling away at a just- chopped- down sapling to fashion a hoe handle he caught sight of her.He had come to grow fond of the corner where he now sat,perhaps it was because from here he had a clear view of Senzeni in her hut and whenever she came out to fetch an item or the other from her raga, the wooden dais on which cutlery and crockery was left to dry in the sun during the day.Casting aside all thoughts of Senzeni he concentrated on whittling.The sound of somebody clearing her throat pervaded the stillness of the afternoon,catching his attention.It was Senzeni taking out her just-cookedin utensils to her raga,she darted back into her hut just then.Did she have the cough in the heat of this summer?Maybe not, perhaps she had caught sight of him and was trying to get his attention.She emerged from her hut carrying her allotment of her ageing husband's lunch,every wife had to contribute a portion to every meal.She turned towards him, fixing him with that spelbinding gaze of hers for an instant before entering Pachangu's hut.He felt a rush of blood in his not-so-flaccid groin area as he took in her supple breasts and firm hips.She had yet to bear his father a child.She was still his lufarathonga,the one who would fry him eggs in the morning.She giggled rather exaggeratedly as she left the hut.She stooped in front of the raga,back towards him,affording him a generous view of her well rounded buttocks as she washed her clay pottery.The wind broke the last straw,it blew against her loosely woven lewisi garment from behind,outlining momentarily what seemed from afar to be a swollen pudenda. Placing his adze down he dropped the stick he was whittling and let it rattle noisily on the ground, he cleared his throat not entirely subtly.He was game to whatever this woman was up to.She almost immediately cleared her throat too.Placing her clean clay pots on the raga she entered her heart with a heartwarming movement in her buttocks semming to linger a bit too long in the doorway.Nkululeko felt a lump forming in his throat.He made his way to the cluster of trees near Senzeni's hut,circling the compound,taking the long way to throw any observers off the scent.Once he was certain the coast was clear he crept into the shadows of Senzeni's hut's eaves.Half knocking lightly, half pushing the door open slightly he peered around him nervously to ensure his michievous exploits were so far undetected.She came to the doorway with her wraparound lewisi garment not so modestly tied on,he couldn't mutter a word,he simply gulped and struggled to swallow
the lump in his throat as she stood in the doorway.She stepped aside and motioned him to enter.Barricading the door with a wooden simemeru, a stout latch like pin, she deftly peeled of her lewisi garment and let it fall to the floor.By now he had a throbbing erection.None of the illicit lovers spoke to each other.They groped and pulled and pushed towards each other on the soft oil cured goatskin blanket spread on Senzeni's reedmat.Both felt a new sort of energy in each other's arms.Both were overwhelmed by the need to assuage the burning desire within them.The risk of being caught red handed in the act of coitus added to the thrill for to be caught meant sure death by Pachangu's hand.Nkululeko thrust fiercely,relentlessly,unabatedly at the core of Senzeni's supple body,deriving a world shattering warm sensation from the temple of heat that was her body.Senzeni bit the inside of her left palm fiercely in a bid to mute the whimpers and cheering on whispers that emanated from her mouth on their own accord. Sweating profusely and dizzy from scaling the heights of unfettered passion Nkululeko lay beside Senzeni.Unaccustomed to the heady aftermath of fornication he became overcome by a most relentlessly nagging guilt. He felt worthless, dirty. Even that night as he lay on his goatskin blanket on the reedmat that he shared with his siblings he just couldn't shake off the nagging feeling that squirmed around at the back of his mind. He hated himself, he hated his surroundings. Inevitably, as most humans routinely do in such situations, he sought for a scapegoat. Now that was not too difficult a task was it? His scapegoat was all around him, literally! He blamed his surroundings for this misdeed. If he hadn't been trapped in this horrible compound he would definitely have never committed this horrible and dirtying act of incest. It was not really incest of course; Senzeni was not his blood relation, he thought to himself as he drifted in and out off a very troubled sleep. Morning did not find Nkululeko in any better mood. He decided to get to the bottom of the matter at hand. He’d work it out. His heart raced wildly as he contemplated what he was about to do. He didn't care what would happen, he’d do it all the same. Heart in mouth, he set off to find his father. He found him in the far off wing of the compound lugging a huge clay pot of milk from the milk cow's pen. Pachangu immediately set it down, he needn't carry it anymore now that help was at hand, not just help, come to think about it,it was his pride and joy, his eldest son.Breathing frantically the boy blurted out his burden.'Baba when is all this going to end? Till when shall we live, shit and eat in this earthen prison like cattle? What good shall come of this baba? Is it a good thing for us to fall in love amongst each other, coveting each other's bodies yet we are the fruits of the same wombs, why do we continue to live like animals baba? Is all this well with you baba? If you find it delightful to be imprisoned why not just imprison yourself baba? Why do you force this yoke upon us baba? By now Nkulleko was deeply enraged and was shouting in a distraught voice. By now Pachangu's wives and Nkululeko's siblings stood at a safe distance away watching the proceedings with an obvious vested interest. None intervened, all of them complicit in the unfolding event. It definitely was high time somebody told the old bugger off; they had carried on in this bondage for much too long. Would this be the day of liberation? They all anxiously watched with bated breath. They looked on with fervour, this was a moment they had dreamed of, these were the words they had hoped to heaven someone would say to Pachangu.His rage thus spent son stood
squarely in father's path, glaring at him, daring him to make a move. Pachangu stood shellshocked. He couldn't believe his eyes. His own son, his first-born son for that matter. His own flesh and blood. How could he? How could he have done this to him? What manner of sorcerer had sent these ill winds into his haven of happiness? Did these children not know anything? Was it not for their own good that all this was necessary, for their own precious sake, for the sake of their purity, their cultural integrity, that he had slaved to cut them off from the wiles of their putrid neighbours, the abominable son- of- a- bitches? A dizzying headrush of blood weakened him. He couldn't stomach the open revolt he had on his hands, no, not coming from Nkululeko.He felt a throbbing headache in his temple, and he raised an arm to massage it placing another arm on the hip. With arms akimbo he felt something prod his thigh, it was the small hatchet he used to cut down saplings for restraining the milk cow in a corner of the pen to make milking easy. The sound of the wind rustling in the leaves seemed louder than ever before as a profound silence fell over the compound. It was Pachangu who broke the silence. Clicking his tounge heavily to register bitter disgust he reached behind his back and set loose the hatchet. With all his might, swiftly and purposefully he struck Nkululeko on the temple with the heavy sharp edge. Once, twice, thrice, he dealt him three successive blows before the boy slumped to the ground without a sound, blood spurting all over father and son. Pachangu stood over his dead son's body, remorseless and with a look of bitter contempt set on his lips. Tshifhiwa fainted promptly: her only son murdered brutally as she watched. The other wives and children ran amok. They were horrified, they screamed in terror, some threw stones at Pachangu, others hollered for help.' To kill your own son! What madness', Kedibone the second youngest wife screamed indignantly tears flowing unabated.'Come and see the terrible misdeed this lunatic has committed!' Zanele the second eldest wife screamed beckoning those on the outside to witness the horrible murder. Senzeni didn't say anything at all. She couldn't say anything at all, she couldn't say anything intelligible, and she screamed and hollered a string of tearful gibberish. Undettered by their screams and stones Pachangu set to work digging a shallow grave for his dissapointing son. He had to remove his errant child from the face of the earth once and for all. On hearing the noise from within the walled compound neighbours raced from their fields to listen closely to what the people shouting at the top of their voices were saying. Mama ka Tshimangadzo couldn't believe her ears; she had to let the others know what she'd just heard. She hurried off to inform the others. The news of Pachangu's misdeed raced over the savanna like the dust carried on the wind, from field to field, across one river and over the next one,it raced on unfettered and wild like the autumn veldt fires.Word eventually got to the district commisioner about a man who had murdered his own child in Dzulani village, in full view of a multitude of witnesses.The D.C had smiled knowingly when he heard the news, he had always known that sooner or later that lunatic
from the fort would do something like this.It was bound to happen.The D.C's staff had monickered Pachangu's walled homestead : the fort. Commisioner Wright assembled an odd unit of policemen, a few infantry men, some sympathetic good christian natives and descended on Pachangu's island with a menacing procession of the dreaded black stallions of the B.S.A.P's hundred and first division with their famous military saddles from Tattersall's. Unaccustomed to the stubborn ways of the man he sought to arrest, from atop his horse Wright admonished his quarry to surrender.'You are totally surrounded come out with your hands held high,I repeat come out with your hands held high..'.The D.C's admonition gave hope to Pachangu's wives and chldren. Help was here at last. They screamed out loudly and desperately in case their lunatic father and husband suddenly took to axing them to death. Raising his hands in impatience the D.C ordered the wall knocked down with a battering ram. The police obliged all too gladly. They didn't find it hard to subdue Pachangu, in fact he offered no resistance at all.They threw him to the ground all the same,pinning him down with their heavy and well polished standard government issue boots before restraining him with exceptionally heavy stainless steel handcuffs linked to leg-irons by what must have been the heaviest chain in this part of the world at that time. Some villagers ululated and danced. A lunatic's fantasy had at last been thwarted. Wright felt a flush of pride taking over his heart. It'd be a hectic day at the court the following day.'These natives', he thought to himself, 'always taking the law into their own hands'. If only they were half as civilised as his men were. Leaving a couple of police details at the walled compound to take down written statements he turned and made for his charge office.He would double over with laughter the next day as he went through them.He would read about how Pachangu kept a crop of reeds around his water wells.from which he expressed salty plant sap that was evaporated and the granules used for flavoring food.Nothing from the outside could be used in the compound,everything from the outside was sullied,the people outside were filthy. At first he sat silent and sullen in the dock with a look of defiance that would have shamed even the Mau Mau.He sat there with the odd dignity of a mighty monarch's child tried in the court of a lesser royal's palace.'Mr Pachangu this will be your second and final warning, because of your actions here this morning you risk being held in contempt of court'. Pachangu had refused to swear by the bible,he had refused to even touch it, it was from the outside,and it was not of his. I will not be tried in a white man's court. He bellowed defiantly in his mother tounge, fixing Wright with a spiteful gaze. Wright turned to look at the native court orderly, his agitation not altogether invisible.'He say he no sit white man court baas', the orderly interpreted.The D.C could feel the bitter gall rising rising up his torso like mercury up a glass column.'Tshithu tsha mme au mukhuwa',he bellowed again.This time the orderly hesitated before interpreting,only Wright's insistent gaze prodded him on.'He say your mother bottom thing white sah', the interpreter reeled off without filing down the sharp edge off Pachangu's insult in a more diplomatic manner.The commisioner was visibly furious now.He demanded that Pachangu retract his statement,the latter did
not.Commisioner Wright knew exactly what he'd do,he'd put an end to this courtroom drama,this maddening tomfoolery. Pachangu was found guilty on eightenn counts of child abuse by depriving children of the basic human right of education. He was also found guilty on twelve counts of child labour. His twelve youngest ones had no business building a wall,Wright stated as he meted out justice.He was also found guilty on one count of second degree murder.In administering justice the D.C had a good mind to charge him with first degree murder but since there was no proof of premeditation Pachangu got off with second degree.He was sentenced to life imprisonment,the first twenty years were to be spent in hard labour.The government man threw in a public flogging just for good measure, to dissuade any nascent Pachangu’s from following this brute’s shameful path.For all anyone knew that was as clear a death sentence as an overtly pronounced one.Only six months of prison labour would kill the ageing lunatic,let alone twenty years! The native welfare department took over Pachangu's family. Each of his wives was allocated a monthly payout and all of the children were attached to the department's vocational training centres all over the district. The younger ones were a problem at first; they refused to learn, turning to face the back of the classroom whenever an instructor walked in. Whenever quizzed on this curious behaviour they would invariably answer 'Ri swiswini, Khosi ha a thu vheiwa vhuhosini '. We are in darkness, the king is yet to be throned’.The provincial social welfare officer visited Pachangu in gaol to talk him into signing birth certificates for his children whereupon the latter promptly disowned them relegating their responsibility to the welfare officer's hand.'Take them they are yours forthwith, do not ever mention them in my presence again'.The state would have to sign their birth certificates,it had just become their paternal parent.What good were his treacherous children now,they had got themselves mixed with the vermin and were sullied.As for his wives he knew not what manner of vulgarities to aptly describe them. The shameless harlots! These stupid people, what did they know. The land lay in darkness. What light,what direction could there be when the king's eye did not rove over his land,over his people.He would not have anything to do with it.He wouldn't have anything to do with those that were once his children.Indeed they were once his children, for he had no children now.He was alone now, a lone warrior in the quest for sanity.He wouldn't even marry them off or sanction their marriages.He couldn't do that for the land was in the swiswi.The filthy vermin couldn't they see that the land was in the darkness.
Been - to Bantu©
He stood tall wherever he was,a proud man.He had seen many places, better places.He has seen many faces, more educated faces.A tinge of apprehension mixed in with his bloodstream whenever he pondered his situation, everytime he thought about the facts: he would forever be associated with this bovine lot.He wanted, he needed to be bourgeois now,he needed to be among them that ran the bourse. 88
He had just returned home from abroad. He had returned from the cultured streets of Paris, Oh the magnificent architecture, the exquisite shops and colourful gaiety in one or the other Rue de so and so. How enlightening his travels abroad had been. Now he could clearly see this place for what it was: a horrible rundown of a rot. He prayed to God to save the Queen and western civilisation, to save it for this miserable lot he had for a people. Looking around he felt his heart sag in dismay, an old hag limped by with no shoes, what a shame, did she not know about ringworm? about Escherichia Coli? about just about a pathology compendium-ful of all kinds of pathogens lurking in that just-rained -on muddy soil. Luckily for him he had brought along his extensive disease control kit. The wave of deep embarassment that perhaps emperors feel when they finally realise they are not clad in some cutting edge tech clothes but that they are actually naked hit him broadside. The neighbours were shouting greetings across the fence. Did these blokes not know anything about ettiquette? About the basic courtesy of coming close enough to lower one's voice to within normal limits. What business did they have hollering and making such a racket like that in the morning like some tribesmen from some remote tropical island? Insanity, that was what this world was coming to. Breakfast time brought more unpleasantries. They had to eat in his mother's smoky kitchen. Oh how the smoke stung his eyes. He sniffed and smarted and sneezed. The inconvinience of not having electricity at the flip of a switch. The bread was somewhat stale and nowhere near as tasty as old Monseiur Pascall's famous crispy bread rolls and delectable croissants. In a chinked yellow metal plate beside him on the floor winked a thousand eyes, the emulsion like appearance of soup that's almost all oil and water. He looked with disdain into the plate, the oil droplets looked back at him like a thousand eyes, winking aggravatingly.'A thousand eyed soup' he remembered the phrase from an anthology of African poetry that he had studied for his GCSEs.These african writers, he thought to himself with contempt. Did they know anything? If only they could write as well as their sophisticated counterparts from abroad. Black tea! Oh God he hadn't taken this in years, he hated black tea, he hated being black, he hated everything black. Edward took a sip of his tea, nibbled a corner of his stale slice of bread and mechanically went through the motions of expressing gratitude for the meal, to his mother. If only he knew, one can never fool an African woman. She read the look on his face. She took it all in, silently, stoically. He hurried off to the musty little parlour he had for a bedroom. He cringed in a newly acquired fear whenever he saw cobwebs; he had learnt that spiders could be pretty venomous; he was not taking any chances with African spiders. Even the good old libokomu now scared him out of his wits. He lay back on his rickety springmaster and lit one of his galloises puffing up the smoke in tight blue rings. As the smoke rose to the un-ceilinged zinc roofing, he would rise to the upper echelons of society, civilised society. He soon drifted off to sleep and dreamt of his meteoric rise to prominence in the circles that mattered, the high circles of the business world. Waking up to the tinkering of a cow bell he smothered his head with a pillow, trying to
muffle the inconvinient disturbance. The cattle were being driven to their pens to be locked up till late afternoon when it would be cool enough to return to their task of ploughing the expansive fields with endless contours. He lit another galloise as he passed by mama ka Eddy's kitchen. The smell of tsunga, a bitter vegetable that had been brought to this country by some cross border traders from Zimbabwe, filled the air. He grimaced at the prospect of going through another unpleasant meal experience. He wouldn't stomach it. He wondered off in the direction of their friendly neighbours' barbwire fenced homestead. He would have lunch there, he had heard the cries of a condemned goat there earlier in the morning, a fattened goat destined for the pot, meat, nama ntate! Did his mother not know that pap and veggies wasn't a proper meal with regards to the requirements of a nutritionally balanced diet? Hadn’t she ever heard about protein, Nama, meat! He congratulated himself for his quick wit. He would always come to eat with their relatively well off neighbours everytime the people at home cooked their indigestible meals. After all the Lahlekanis had always been friendly from way back. He remembered a time in his youth that they had used their neighbour's blair toilet for a year when theirs had caved in and father couldn't raise enough money to build another one that year with his exam fees and the Landbank loan service requirement. They were friendly, they were understanding. They understood his mother; they understood her plight, the poor widow. Although Edward remembered the Lahlekanis' Blair toilet, there were a lot of things in his not so grand past that he had forgotten. He had forgotten that he used to go down to the river with other boys in the village to bath and fidget around in the turbid waters. They would play around naked for many hours thereafter, waiting for their only clothes to dry.He would be waiting for what was his only trousers then, a tighly fitting brown trousers with more patches than can ever be imagined.Sometimes they would do the fertlity test while naked like that.Everyone would masturbate into the river waters and should their ejaculate not sink they'd be deemed impotent.Fortunately all of them were potent. Edward had also not managed to remember how hard it had been to eke out a living and pay for an education that was to be the gateway to many an all- important opportunity thereafter. He did not seem to remember either,the humble little boy who ran off to school barefoot at sixteen,burning the midnight oil swotting for those cambridge GCSEs.Perhaps it had been that catholic scholarship that had made him so forgetful.It had paid for an education abroad in the vain hope of giving his people, in return for their sacrifice, a visionary among them, an educated leader who would one day lead them wisely in making informed decisions.Instead Edward had made his people,his own mother, pay the price for investing trust in him.They had been made to pay very dearly indeed.Even Father Larry had noticed Edward's depature from the heart,soul and ways of his people.Shame on them, some of these Africans, the elderly cleric mused.To shun themselves, to lock themselves in darkness and throw away the key,what a shame.He ahd a good mind to recommend that Edward read the gospel of Mark chapter eight verse thirty six. Edward had been quick to forget. He had forgotten that he had to do the boarders', other students' laundry over the weekend to earn a small amount of pocket money that he'd use
on stationery and other necessities. All it had taken for him to forget were two airplane flights to and from the heart of another people's culture,all it had taken was the hustle and bustle of a hectic life in a far off place,wining and dining perhaps on world famous wines and cheeses,smoking world famous cigars,the dream life,Oh yes, the dream life indeed.That was what it was.A dream, a bubble that the cold reality of the home world,the real world would effortlessly burst.For one to shun one's own was folly,unheard of.One's own were all one had,all one would ever have.For one to shun one's own on the basis of 'been to that and this place,saw this and that in such and such a place,travelled on so and so historic highway and passed under world famous so and so bridge on such and such a barge': that was madness in its most pristine form. What nerve he had this been to Bantu. To cast away the bird in hand to make it easier to clap one's hands as a gesture of appreciation, in anticipation of greater things to come. What if none came. In the hand a bird’s worth two in the bush. He conversed with his like-minded companions in their not so polished grammar punctuating every other statement with 'you know' every now and then. Their grammar not so polished because they were invariably not too bright at the academic game, the really bright ones had also been abroad and returned home as men,still men among others with a vision for their people and a plan for themselves. As for the Edwards of this world, the ones who hated themselves preffering instead to delve on others' ways of life, all they had to their names were third class qualifications, an overbearing blindness and funny accents.It is funny to hear a grown man attempt to force a guttural accent, a deep throaty voice into a nasal toned accent.Not only is it funny it is also somewhat sad and kind of unsophisticated.It is befitting of those who were schooled but not educated,those who mechanically went through the motions of the education system,those who somehow managed to make it from one level to the next,to go from one rung to the other on the successive echelons of formal education.These were the poor souls that education had failed to make any real impact on.The system had accepted them as raw materials, it had blanched them with a multitude of information,pasteurized,sterilized,deep fried them in the ways of scientific reasoning and mathematical methodology.Religious studies had been added in to ensure that all that was gained in these studies would be preserved and balanced in the preservative that a sound human conscience is.Alas it had been to no avail.The Edwards of this world had remained aloof to the realities that education hopes to awaken people to.They had lost it somewhere along the line,that compassion,that honesty of judgement,that objectiveness that would make them cogs in the machinery that would bring achievement to their homelands. Somewhere in the fast lanes and crowded streets, in the bright lights districts and among the exquisiste sights of Paris, Eddie had lost it.He lost touch with who he was.He had been dazzled by technology and by the image of the educated man he had become albeit beyond recovery.The african renaissance had lost yet another soldier.This one would never recover. He was a war veteran with 100% disability, that’s as good as dead isn’t it?Ed chose to strut about with the high and mighty airs of one who thinks the world owes him a living.Time would deal him a rather harsh blow in due course.So would reality, so
would existence in the fine-line-between world where one does not fit in with any particular group of people.What side did he refer to when he said 'the drivers this side don't know how to drive well'? What side of what,where? What imaginary line dividing God knows what did he refer to? Perhaps the one coinciding with the end of his tether mentally, emotionally, spiritually. The end of his purpose of existence. In return for all his people's sacrifices in the quest to mould a man, a force to reckon with, they had got a snob. A vile countenance of a man who spat in his people's faces and trod on their toes. Oh Edward,eddy my son what has become of you.Grow up my son,you are a man, not a child who stands bedazzled by the infinite pleasantries of a candy shop window display,charmed senseless by the colourful lollipops, imported fragrant liquorice sticks, lime twists and cinnamon drops.Grow up my child these are just delightful nothings.Toys, my son,mere edible toys.Did you not grow up on blackjack leaves and my homely thick pap.Do you not remember the cold wind that filtered through your tattered garments on cold winter mornings when you ran to school barefoot?Did all these things not happen to turn you into a wise and irrevocably strong man?Where does this stranger I now see in my house come from?, has he always been within you? Zwidahani others have gone where you went and returned sane. Did the Gqubule's son not return a doctor? Did mama ka nandi's meek daughter not go to the same school as you did? Oh yes they are educated too but they do not turn their backs on us,on themselves as you do my son.They are people,people with humility,humanity, vhuthu hofhelelaho.You,my son,have become something else.How can you be beaten at your own game by even the white man who has no knees.The game of vhuthu has always been ours nwana,where did it all go wrong?Do you not see how the white man is comfortable in his own vhuthu?So comfortable in it that he begins to believe that it is best that everyone else should be comfortable in it too.See how he stretched wires all over the land so that he can talk to his friends and relatives everywhere all across the land, even those he left behind in his far away homeland over the sea.All this so that he won't forget his vhuthu, so that he remains comfortable in his own vhuthu. Do not let sleep erase the memory of yesterdays travails my son. Share your morsel with your people my friend,those not of your kindred may not share theirs with you, they will forget your kindness and sacrifice at the earliest opportunity.We sent you to school that you may become our William Shakespear,our Edison,our Newton,our Davy,our Faraday not that you act as if you don't know us.You will never be non african,our problems are yours,our insufficiencies,our shortcomings,our misfortunes,our dilemnas are also yours.All that is ours is yours too son.Our talents,our pride,our achievements are yours to enjoy son,to take pride in,to wear on your bossom as one does a merit achievement badge son. Everytime the cock crows it does so to wake you up son, you have to for the sake of your people, for your own sake, good Lord what manner of blindness cloaks my son's eyes and mind. The cold weather comes in a bid to jolt him to consciousness but all he does is draw his jacket closer and continue in his slumber. The heat comes to induce him to restlessness, to torment him with sleeplessness throughout the night so that he may stay
awake and think. He only sulks at the heat and sweats in ignorance. Oh Lord please intervene, instill sense into my son the been- to Bantu's head.
My name is black music. I am the first-born son in a family of four. My siblings are black art, craft and history. I do not know exactly when I was born but most people say I was one of the first forms of expression to reach an advanced form early in history. I am a very proud guy, I have come to mean a lot to a sizeable number of people throughout many lands. Since time immemorial I have been with the blacks, yes the blacks, those people that you usually employ as your children's nannies, your gardeners, your messengers or as your business' managers. I remember a very long time ago when the blacks lived in a land that was bountiful beyond anything that anyone alive today, save for me, can describe adequately. I comforted the blacks whenever the pains of field labour became too much for them to bear,I comforted them because they had to go through these pains to provide nutrition for self and family.Sometimes the blacks would gather together and work as one in the fields.At such cooperative events I would conquer their land's serentiy, I would echo throughout the hills and valleys and help them to proclaim their happiness in unity. My friendship with the blacks was never confined to hardships. Even in celebration I played my part. At harvest time or more precisely on the occassion of the first full moon after harvest we, the blacks and me, would partake of a thanksgiving ceremony, the Jenaguru, the great white festival. Under the beams of the great silvery white full moon much drum beating and dancing would take place as I floated majestically throughout the air, eternally grateful to be present at so meaningful an event. We did not always enjoy good times with the blacks. Sometimes we had to go to war with people with whom we had differences. To steel the men for any eventualities, to prepare them for battle, I soothed their hearts and raised their mettle, banishing all traces of fear from their beings. In defeat, in victory we always were together. Whenever the blacks had the victory, the ball would be in my court, it would be up to me, Mr Black Music, to reward the men with the satisfaction of knowing that their work was well and truly appreciated. I never let the blacks down, I stood by them always. Together with the womenfolk I would colour up the victory celebration with much livery and festivity. We have always been such good friends the blacks, and myself always looking out for each other. There came a time, every now and again, when one of the blacks would succumb to one or the other of a myriad of diseases that prevailed at that time so long ago. I would soften the pain of losing a loved one, I would enbolden them, I would make them courageous. I would spur them on to move on, to leave the pain behind and pick up the pieces. As fate would have it, there came a time when strangers came to the blacks' land. They 93
brought with them strange goods and strange tongues, strange music. They took over the blacks' land, they took away some of the blacks to far away lands. I travelled with the beseiged and remained behind with the incapacitated, those stripped of their dignity, torn apart fromtheir loved ones. I had to comfort them. In the strangers' land I soon became a force to reckon with. I worked alongside the blacks in vast sugarcane fields, I gave them an identity, and I united them in the face of hardships. They were my people even when enslaved. Some of the blacks grew old and died, others died of diseases and some kept on, I never left their side I stayed with them always. At night in the blacks' compounds I would help them make merry with their illicit brew and a cheery bonfire. Soon the strangers began to pay attention to these nocturnal rituals, entranced by my splendour and innate beauty. Whenever the strangers had visitors some some of the blacks would be summoned, scrubbed down and instructed to introduce me to the strangers' company, they were truly delighted. In time these blacks were paid a fee for accompanying me to strangers' gatherings. The commercialisation of my talents had begun. There eventually came a time when the blacks became tired of serving the strangers subserviently. I gave them protest songs, some of the strangers began to side with the blacks and joined the cause of their emancipation. Grudgingly, the strangers allowed (not gave!) the blacks their freedom. The civil rights movement had been conceived but it was much too young to be born then. Desperately seeking an alternative to the blacks' enslavement the strangers convened a meeting and decided to enslave their own people. They would build great places of work and arm-twist them into these, to work for next to no pay at all. The blacks would work with some of the strangers now, those from poor stranger families who had no land or factories to their families' names. As for the blacks back in blackland their resources would now feed these factories, their lands would be divided among the strangers and stripped bare of any and every useful pebble, seed, blade of grass or animal horn. Colonialism had just been born, along with its twin anticolonialism who also happens to be my cousin. The advent of anticolonialism saw my taking on a new role. I now had to comfort the blacks living in forests, in mountain lands, in caves.Those who had taken up arms to ward off their oppressor.I emboldened these blacks and through a new medium,radio freedom, enlightened and encouraged the blacks living at home and in the city.I urged them to stand up for what they deserved: unconditional freedom and nothing less.As before in the fight for emancipation from slavery we won the war against oppression by the strangers and yet again I played a prominent role in victory celebrations on Idependence day celebrations throughout the blacks' land and at annivesaries thereafter. The strangers did not relent; they simply shifted the plane of tactics. This time they bore down heavily on the blacks economically. They took control of their economies and paid them peanuts for all their work. Imagine such ingratitude when one considers that the strangers really had the blacks to thank for all they had. The civil rights movement was in
its infancy now. I again helped the blacks to picket their workmasters, to toi- toi and bargain for fair play, to Senzenina their way intothe heart of the strangers' conscience, but alas the strangers had no conscience. In a bid to sap me of all my strength,the strangers sought to dilute my potency, to fuse me with some of their music forms,to make me lose my moral strength.They failed.Even though they packaged me as vinyl records with misleading messages, copied my effusiveness and said I rocked and rolledl,I still maintained my virtue.I couldn't afford to lose it because I now had a couple of millions of blacks to watch over,to nurture,to educate.Seeing that they couldn't diminish my influence they played around with me and tried to turn me into one of theirs by paying off some of the blacks to use me to peddle subtle hints about the virtues of wealth over self worth.Net worth became synonymous with the ego.In accordance with the bling bling school of thought that the strangers sought to propagate through the mercenary black musicians who had agreed to peddle a toned down version of their soul. I remember a most unfortunate sentiment uttered deep in the bosom of a separatist society by an unsuspecting political leader.He said he wanted to transform the education system so much that black children would know from an early age that equality with europeans wasn't theirs.An equally racist narcissist parliamentarian rallied behind him saying educating black children was patently ridiculous as there would be no one left to work in the fields and factories.O ye men of little faith.They underestimated me.Little did they know that for all their grandiloquence and verbose superiority peppered speeches, I would defeat them as the pennywhistle and kwela kwela in a black settlements Sophiatown and Alexandra respectively.Toh Alex, I have such good memories there, the earthshaking toi-toi was a bit toomuch for them to handle. Some of the blacks refused to conform to this school of thought. They refused to let the commercial nonsense about violence; drugs, sex and money take away the real music from their hearts. They began to make their own music in which they gave me a prominent part so that I could teach their children the virtues of good over evil, the need for straightforwardness in all dealings in society. They let me console the weak and uplift the poor. They let me reach out to the underpaid workmen and counsel the misguided youths hooked on drugs. I spoke to these people, I reached out to them in song. I had to, I have a responsibility over them. The men and women who proudly embraced me for my virtue which came to be known as black consciousness or simply as 'the underground' did so bravely for by doing so they risked being laughing stocks. It had become more fashionable to be in the bling bling movement, it had become next to a sin not to be among the so called sexy, those who dressed up and acted in a way that would induce others to regard them as sex symbols. It had become old fashioned to stop and help the elderly to cross the street, to be socially responsible. One had to be an icon of gansterism or girl-power so as to be in the cool. So accordingly it had become fashionable for our children to listen to the empty music that carried these blinding messages. One had to be a gangster, an island, a no nonsense individual intolerant of even the slightest wrongdoing. I have become unfashionable now,
fallen out of sync with all the modern trends of indifference to ones' culture. The trends that drive so many black youths' lives nowadays. Everytime I move around now, in a faithful adherent's car speakers, in a drunken, downtrodden workman's song, in a fired up sunday congregation's song, in a lady of the night turned over a new leaf 's refrain, I am glad that at least there remain a faithful few who are grateful for my contribution to their history, to their here and now through all I have done for them.For you to vote black people, for you to reign over your lands,to drive cars, to walk in the boulevards that were once the preserve of the strangers,for your children to go to the same school as theirs, to get the same knowledge and opportunities as their own children and at the same levels,it is I Mr Black Music whom you should thank.Don't shun that mbira,those marimba,that drum,your mother's ululation or your father's handclapping.These are testimonies to the strength of spirit that we collectively yield,the beautiful history of unity that has seen us overcome all manner of adversity and grow from strength to strength.Even though you look down upon me,I played a part in making you what you are today.It would be good to get a bit of appreciation once in a while you know, especially from these high and mighty political brethren who I see these days raping you more than the strangers ever did openly. Give me my respect black people!
Joe had always been a hardworker, a sensational leader, a devout Christian. Joe strived to be exemplary to his siblings for although he was not the first born son he was the most educated, the highest paid and therefore the extended family's primary breadwinner. This was the Joe within Joe, the incorruptible colossal substance of a man. Joe was also proud. It being a true thing that pride begets forgetfulness, Joe progressively became forgetful. It started off with the small things, the little things that didn't seem to matter much till he really became forgetful. Sometimes it would seem Joe had forgotten everything. Everything! From the little things to the things that mattered. Oh! Joe how could he have ever become so forgetful. Maybe somewhere along the path to career success and social achievement he had stepped out of the mould that was his public figure and like a passer by, fallen victim to the image's charm. Maybe the charm had been so dazzling that he had altogether forgotten the bitter struggle it had taken to bring about the charming Joe image. He had become an incurable forget-addict. He had forgotten those cash strapped days of shaving once a month just after payday. You see when Joe met Rose he was just a regular nobody. He would show her care and shower her with adoration. On Sundays they would go together to church and on the last Sunday of the month invariably, definitely they would pay their tithes. Joe would pay his, Rose would pay hers. Being the determined and ambitious young man he was, Joe decided to work harder for their future, his together with Rose's. He figured they could barely send their kids to a decent school with what they earned. That was for when they would have kids anyway. They would probably never save enough of his current salary to pay his way through tuition of any sort. His job as a rambling salesman just didn't pay enough to accord one such ambitious extravagance.
When he told Rose of his plan she hadn't even thought about it twice. She promptly offered to sacrifice her nurse aide's salary for the two years it would take Joe to complete his senior level studies. For sustenance she would buy and sell fruits and vegetables. Joe had been reluctant at first, she had talked him out of his fears.'Things will work out' she had said to him convincingly. After all it was for their future together that she would be sacrificing. The going was mighty tough at times but Rose would strive on, she would look out for Joe, for their future. When bonus month came she opened an account at the discount clothing store next to Tinkel's department store in Second Street. She bought him two pairs of shoes and a couple of trousers with the matching shirts and ties. She told herself that she would pamper herself later, she would wait, after all she didn't travel much who was there to notice her unsophisticated wardrobe? It was different for Joe.He'd be finishing school in November and one needed to dress smartly for interviews and the like. She held on strong for their future, for Joe.He was very grateful and he would sweep her off her feet with many thoughtful acts of tenderness and caring. In all he did he showed Rose deep gratitude for her understanding. Having studied hard Joe passed his seniors with resounding success. Joe and Rose were very proud of this achievement that they decided to spoil themselves with a treat that weekend. Rosie saved up on that week's fruit and veggie sales and they had dinner at Nicole's that Saturday. Nicole’s was a trendy little upmarket restaurant that served unbelievably classic cuisine at shockingly affordable prices. The very next week Joe secured a place at the local vocational training centre for a four-year marketing diploma. First the exam success, now a place at the prestigious Granada polytechnic, Life couldn't be better. What more could one ask for if all that had been topped up by a most understanding fiancee. Rose did not remain Joe's fiancee for long. They married that very year. Their first child was soon on the way. With the prospect of raising children now more real than before the lovebirds worked harder than ever to save up for when the stork would land. Rose would order double the amount of fruit and veggies and she no longer sold these only when she was off duty at work. She stood at her usual spot by the dusty and potholed street to the taxi rank whenever she was off duty. With nimble movements of hand, she packed customers' items of choice in black polythene bags as they came streaming by, invariably thanking each each customer she placed the change in a green, gold and ruby striped jute bag under her wares' table from time to time groping around for coins in its reassuring darkness to serve customers with change. Joe worked harder as well. In the mornings before lectures he worked at a nearby service station as a petrol attendant. Joe and Rose's wait for their very own bundle of joy eventually came to an end. They were blessed with a marvelous baby girl that December.The perfect Christmas gift. They felt so blessed by the lord that December that they named their child Maranatha; the Lord is with us. The blessing of their first child was not the only one they didn't have to wait
long for. Time sped by and Joe soon graduated from Granada polytechnic. The occassion was marked by celebrations amid much pomp and fanfare. As luck would have it Joe got a job as senior manager in the prestigious subsidiary of an international retail franchise. Being the workaholic he was, the perks and accolades began rolling in accordingly. Promotions and performance rewards became an annual routine, another blessing in Joe's illustrious career. The occassion of Joe's first company sponsored car and first rent -tobuy house in the upmarket suburb of Sealyville brought much joy to the couple. As fate would also have it, it was also around this time that Joe's forgetfulness hit an all time high. As with any other unfortunate human development it started small, confined only to areas and matters of doubtful importance. It soon spread to the areas and issues that do matter: money, fidelity, sloth and a great many more. Whenever he got paid Joe forgot to put first things first. He learned to forget paying the bills; he forgot to take care of his family, his wife and child. Joe forgot to bring the bacon and bread home, he forgot a great many things. In time he forgot to buy his family any groceries at all. The only evidence that he indeed still had a salary was the array of empty beer bottles strewn all over the backyard lawn in steadily increasing numbers. Oh yes Joe still had a salary for if not how could he afford to buy himself these new fashionable silk shirts and ties every month and those square front shoes that he could never have enough of , he resolved to get a new pair every month on his prestigious gold class account. He forgot to buy his wife and child clothes. After all he needed to enjoy the fruits of his own labour didn't he? Luckily for poor old Joe he didn't forget everything, he remembered to pamper himself and his friends. His newly found friends had come to play an important role in his life of late. They enabled him to live his life the way he had always wanted. They were his audience, they cheered him on as he lived out his rich and single life fantasy. They were by his side as he squandered his hard earned income, strategically positioned to be the first to partake of this godsend, to partake of this delectable feast of manna from a middle class madman. They enabled him to live out a deeply cherished fantasy. They were his audience. They clapped and cheered and catcalled as he lived his dream come true. He could count on them to be there for him in times such as these, when all was well. He had a faithful audience indeed. They also played a part when all was not well. They would look on and feel sorry for him. Look on, that was all they could do as an audience, and especially one that enjoyed a really beneficial relationship with their host they hoped and prayed that he would get over any rough patch soon so that life would be better for all, literally. They must have felt the same way ticks feel when a beloved cow suddenly falls seriously ill and has its lifeblood rendered unpalatable. Eventually Joe would somehow reach a relatively stable position with regards to his debts and income balance. He would waste no time in returning his debt-income balance to normal. Normal in Joe's case being an appreciable surplus of debts over income. Poor old Joe had also forgotten first to pay off his debts in time and in the end to pay off his debts at all. Poor old Joe, how forgetful could one get. In the course of his unbridled spree of amnesia Joe of course forgot his old friends. Now
that he had new friends he forgot those who helped him become what he had come to be. He had forgotten every one of them. From old Frank who used to stop by the house every evening on his way from work and take him to Jay-jay's tavern for the proverbial one or two, to obese and cheery pot belly dangling Arnold who had been very instrumental in securing him his first job as a senior manager at Rising Star International.Not only had Joe forgotten his old friends, he had forgotten his feelings for them too. Whenever any one of them came calling on the door he would instruct Maranatha to tell them that he was not around, that he had been away for long and that he could not be reached on his cellphone. As Joe fell into deeper forgetfulness he soon forgot totally to take care of his family. Not even the advent of a second child served to jolt him from his forgetful stupor. He still would not bring bread on the family table, he had completely forgotten. Along with forgetting to take his pay straight home first thing on receiving it Joe eventually forgot to spend any of it towards the care of his family. Joe eventually got round to forgetting to be faithful to Rose.He forgot the seriousness of the vows they had exchanged on their wedding day at the magistrate's court where they had gone to get a marriage certificate requisite for a home loan application. He had forgotten just about everything concerning the vows,he hadn't the slightest clue whatsoever in his head,in his forgetful- forgetful head,that such vows had ever taken place at all.Joe forgot his commitment to his marriage with Rose,he forgot to be a kind and loving husband,a loyal and trustworthy spouse,a dependable and useful one, one who deserved to sit at the head of the family table.All this and a great many other things a father and a husband should be, Joe had forgotten.Joe had forgotten to treat as his own children, all young girls the age of his eldest daughter.He forgot to reach out to them with fatherly love and protect them from society's villains.Joe forgot not to have extra marital affairs.He forgot not to love young school girls as only equally young or slightly older school boys should love them. Joe forgot just about everything. He forgot the wonderful times he had had with his siblings in the small farming town where they had grown up with their mother as their father worked his life away in a nearby mining settlement as a shaft clerk. Together with a co- worker he would meticulously weigh the dolomite buggy as each team came up at the end of its shift, poor old man, sweating it out for such a forgetful heir. Joe wasn't the eldest child but he was the eldest son.As with all eldest sons he had so much responsibility, in his case he unfortunately also had just as much forgetfulness.If forgetfulness could be equated to pints of beer Joe probably had had one too many,that dreaded one that turns an innocent habit into a horrific pastime.The amnesia addict sometimes had spells of recollection but they were shortlived and he'd promise himself that he'd indulge only this once more as the 'discerning punter' does when he is convinced that today's one is the last gamble,he will just win the jackpot and walk away from the habit, as also a smoker 'still in control' of the habit.Going through another 'last pack' before he quits the dreadful habit.He was in too deep to just walk away like that,at the snap of a finger. This story could go on indefinitely, chronicling all the little and larger articles of minor and major importance that Joe forgot and didn't carry out when he should have. But you
know what my friend let's play this bugger's game won't we? Let's forget about this guy. Let's hope we never meet him anywhere especially in our personal lives. Let us pray that we never walk down the path that Joe walks on. Perhaps he forgot Rudyard Kipling's admonition from the Imperial Rescript that we all studied in high school:'But till we are built like angels, with hammer and chisel and pen,we will work for ourself and a woman,for ever and ever,Amen.Those of us who have not forgotten this little quote have it written all over our lives, don't we?we live it,we breathe it,we are not forgetful or are we?
The heavy doors of the early morning metro opened with a resounding thud muffled somewhat by the echoing din of conversation that filled the railway station. Jabulani clung tightly to the glossy paper folder that meant the world to him. A fleeting thought caressed his tense mind, he stopped short of laughing out loud as he visualised himself holding on to his precious little folder for dear life as a drowning man clutches at tree roots jutting out from a river bank. He had to be careful with the folder for in it lay the evidence of sixteen years of education; the all important passport to the world of the employed lay in his folder, his precious certificates. He had them neatly arranged in order, his college degree certificate on top, his transcript, his Cambridge 'A' and 'O' level certificates followed beneath these, the CV and recommendation letters made up the rest of the pile. Shoving and groping about with the other passengers in the locomotive he managed to find himself an empty seat at the back. Now all he needed was a bit of relaxation, a calm mind and all would be well. At least he would garner enough composure to face the interviewer with a steady state of mind. The lady at the ticket office had told him that springs was the last station right at the end of the line so there was no danger of being taken past his destination. Gazing out of the perspex windows he took in the rolling view of the metropolis as it rolled by. Acre upon acre of built up office space and huddled red tin roofed houses rolled by: a nondescript terrain of giant concrete, glass and aluminium boxes jutting out to the sky. Occassionally a blur of metallic blue or red or silver or whatever colour a fashionable car may be painted in, raced by on the freeway as it meandered about over and under the railway track. He couldn't help marvelling at the ingenuity of the architects and engineers of this not-so-colourful landscape. Under arch and over bridge, beside embankment and around mountain the metro sped on, bringing him nearer to Springs.What a fortuitous name, would it indeed prove to be the spring of the substance of his dreams, a job, a steady income, a relatively improved lifestyle maybe even designer clothes and footwear, chic cellphones. He had to bring himself to cut short his train of thought. First he had to get past the interview. A jolt shook the compartment whenever the train approached a station: the massive vehicle's momentum battling against the momentary disruption of the friction generating 100
grip of metal brake discs on speeding metal wheels. Various graffiti inscriptions seemed to shout out at the landscape as the view rolled by. Some were ingenious works of art that would have no doubt caused a stir in art circles had they been exhibited more strategically at art shows or in galleries. Others were outright expressions of anger at everybody and everything in general. Among these the most typical was a single word scrawled quickly across a siding wall or with extravagance on a station's name sign: the infamous F -word. Jabulani couldn't help but feel important in his neat black suit and hand woven silk tie. From time to time he stole an inconspicuous glance at his genuine leather Pierre Cardins.He just had to look and feel great for the interview, after all this was the only suit and silk tie he had to his name. Swiftly, surreptiously, he positioned and repositioned his samoosa shaped tie knot in the neck of his hand stitched Hennessy shirt. He had his uncle in Government to thank for the unaffordable splendour he now found himself bedecked in. Outwardly calm and collected, Jabulani was inwardly in the greatest turmoil he could endure without his head splitting open. He raced over many options mentally. He stumbled from one option to the next one searching for the most emotionally pleasant thought. Like one fiddling with the wavelength or band selector on a hi-fi he switched back and forth between one compartment and the other in his train of thought. He wondered if he would pass the interview. Would he make it? Would he get that job he so badly needed? Would he impress them with his graduation day suit? His only suit. A Carducci masterpiece bought for him by a generous uncle, wouldn't he come across as too prudish or stuck up? He wondered for that was one thing he could be sure of in here, he stood out of the greasy drabness of stained and sweaty overalls and the monotonous crisply starched neatness of housemaid's uniforms like a sore thumb. It felt uncomfortable being in the spotlight in such a place. These were the people that the not-so-unfortunate ones called low lives and for most people it has never seemed a good idea to hang around them when smartly dressed. Being in the spotlight had its advantages however, like the two smartly dressed girls across the aisle that seemed to be ogling him and whispering and giggling to themselves. They must have been working for a financial institution or some other big business,they were wearing identical pin stripe suits and they both had blue scarves draped over their shoulders.He couldn't quite place the logo on their scarves,was it for the bank that his aunt worked for or was it for the other one down the road, he seemed to recall seeing it in an advert for Mzansi bank accounts or something.What was it with banks and big businesses,did they only want the most beautiful women as employees or did the most beautiful women only want banks as their workplaces.Food for thought. A roaming preacher entered the compartment from the preceeding one, instantly transforming its sombre inhabitants to attentive listeners, a bit too attentive maybe, judging from the way most of them were increasingly becoming restive. The mobile messenger of God rattled away at humanity for its hard-heartedness and relentless materialism. In such quarters the applause he got was resounding. An ear shattering Amen! rose from the lips of the Springs bound rabble time and again as he extolled the virtues of material deprivation. From time to time cold glances were exchanged as co-
workers sought to reiterate this or that just-said thing to others for whom they believed today's gospel had been tailor made. Jabu held back from breaking out into open laughter as he observed an old man with a look of serious conviction fix someone across the aisle with an icy cold glare.'Serves you right', the expression seemed to say, and ‘you heard it yourself'. The expression eventually evolved into the smug pasted-on leer of one thoroughly satisfied with himself. Jabu wondered what the pitiable recipient of that glare across the aisle had done to deserve it. Maybe the recipient had sold out his colleagues at work to the boss or something, in return of course for a material reward, most likely a financial one. It all made sense now,he chuckled softly to himself in celebration of the nice piece of armchair or was it trainbench sleuthing he had just carried out.He had just successfully deciphered the elusive link between an anti avarice sermon and a hostile glare beteween workmates,across an early morning train aisle.But then again,it was all in his mind. The sermon kept on gathering tempo till it was at fever pitch. The preacher wiped his brow; he had got to their hearts now. He deliberately took his time with the handkerchief, ceremoniously wiping his steamed glasses, relishing the silent tension as the crowd awaited his next word with bated breath. The crowd couldn't take it any longer, somewhere in the depths of the overcrowded compartment someone broke into a song,a beautiful and heartfelt rendition of a heartwarming vernacular hymn.The people loved it,they lapped it up hungrily and amplified its magnitude just as eagerly.Even the advent of the next station,Benoni,didn't dampen the colour and gaiety of the singing workmen and women. As the crowd thinned out at Benoni, Jabu could now clearly see the source of the beautiful voice. It was an astoundingly beautiful young lady, who from the look of things had a horrible past. From the way she earnestly clung to the comfort of Jesus' warmth, one could tell that she had been badly hurt before, she now stood in praise of the only one she could trust. Her beautiful big sad eyes were cast upwards in eternal admiration of the benevolent one. Her seemingly juicy luscious lips gracefully parted to let out a beautifully modelled supplicaton to the maker. Jabulani found himself admiring the singer in a not-so-godly manner. Her song drove the crowd wild, even those getting on board at Benoni all seemed to gravitate towards compartment 89002 where they would find respite from their daily workworld woes. Who was she, this diva who so beautifully expressed her joy at being out of the reach of her daily troubles? She had an air of grace about her, one had to credit her for that. An innate aura of inexplicable grace seemed to emanate from deep within her and enchant all whom were near her. For once virtually everyone in sight agreed to one thing, the beauty of song. The unison of agreement was evident on everyone's faces, especially the brothers in Christ's faces that were lit up by ethereal smiles. She had on, a wonderful white frock with a low cut neckline. It clung a bit tightly to its wearer,ever so slightly,ever so decently.It didn't help things one bit that here and there an eyecatching splash of floral print seemed to accentuate this curvaceous Diva's body.Jabu had to force himself to look away before his mind led him on to unchaste territory,but that was not before he noticed
her shoes.They were white too and genuine leather.They definitely had seen better daysas the tard bit too many wrinkles and brushed up but nonetheless frayed threads on the sides showed.The rubber heel too was a bit out of perfect alignment with the horizontal. From these shoes a story of survival could perhaps be seen. A hope, a dream, held aloft by nought but a frightfully large dose of faith. In her mind she was a diva and so she would dress like one, even if she had just one pair of shoes. Jabu felt a pall of shame begin to gather about his head, what a cry-baby he had been of late. To think that he had it going on better for him than some folks seemed to have but he still carried his frame hung low in self-pity. Today he had learnt a lesson that somehow all the university lectures had not pointed out: hope. Hope in the face of unrelenting reality.Life had perhaps never been rosy for this beautiful young woman.It had given her a penchant for the finer things in life and the unmistakable flair of one who had the conviction that they were special.Special she was, and to that all around her could attest.What life had not given her was the means to attain all the niceties she seemed to deserve and yet she carried on acting like a particularly flamboyant character out of a soapie.Substance or no substance, she was a prima donna,the primadonna and nothing would change that.She would not let anyone take away the beauty of what was within her,no one,nothing,no circumstances whatsoever no matter how ugly or humiliating would weigh her down. As the train moved on Jabu felt an overwhelming bond with his coachmates, they were his colleagues. These were the poor people who braved the elements and fought an ever present weariness of soul to work for a brighter world and to think that they did it all with a smile when it should have been tears they were shedding.Peering out of his window Jabu marvelled at the landscape he saw.The marks that men of unshakeable conviction had left on the landscape.The sand dune-like formatons of derelict mine dumps reached out to caress the ever beautiful skyline.Sessile testimonies of the unyielding labour of wonderlust struck men foraging for precious gold in the caramel coloured sands that the trade winds had brought drifting in from the Kalahari.Gaping holes in the earth,open mine shafts were all that remained of the men's ardour and dreams of wealth.Maybe for some of them a trust fund or two with a tendency towards unfettered reproduction of profits was in order too,somewhere in those places that gold money from around here often ends up. A squatter camp came up in the view; a tin shack collective huddled together against the railway embankment around a dilapidated bungalow. Only the frame and floors remained of it that bungalow. Skimpily dressed with a lot of dust on their feet, an abundance of mirth in their eyes and little else about them, a group of children came running down its stairs waving and shouting at the passing train in a jovial dance and a tremendously thick cloud of dust. All around him the world seemed to say to Jabu that for all his brooding it would never stop, no not for him. Before the kids could run halfway up the embankment, they were flung far into the backdrop as happens when the still frames in a slow motion picture abruptly change from the foreground to the background: the train was veering round the last bend on its morning haul to Springs. A huge yellow sign with the word 'Springs' emblazoned on it came into view,at springs
they had arrived at last.Oddly enough he no longer felt the attendant apprehension that comes with having to attend a big firm's interview.He hoped he would make it.He couldn't believe he actually was saying that to himself.Yes hope,that was all that mattered.If he couldn't have it,the job that is,he would just hope that he would get it.Hope.he had realised,was all one needed for a happy life.No more Mr edgy guy.He literally felt his nerves unwind from the bunch that they had been wound up in by a lifetime of carefully tiptoeing on eggshells.Thanks to the R13 return trip train ride he now had a new outlook on life.He stepped or rather leaped out of the train as it came to a shuddering halt.He couldn't help noticing what a particularly beautiful day it was.Brushing off some specks of dust from his impeccable black carducci he set off for the interview in Maine avenue with a newly found spring in his step.Confidence he had found and confidence he'd use and live with.
'Entomology is the study of insects, their biology, classification, physiology and adaption to environmental changes...’Andrew smiled fondly as he remembered his soft-spoken Entomology lecturer's voice in the introductory entomology lecture. His hands folded at the back of his head, he lay face up on his creaky little bed with a rusty metal frame in his musty little rented-out room. He wondered why of late he was reminiscing on his college days a lot, maybe he was holding on to the past so dedicatedly because the present was not as pleasant as he would have loved it to be. He missed the heady days of all inclusive camaraderie, back then life was a ball as there was no clear cut division between the haves and have nots, theirs was a somewhat homogenous society where personality was the strongest currency contributing towards your self worth deposit account. To be 'cool' was the foremost quality that all sought after whether financially they were in the doldrums or the Andes. It was in a considerably different world that he found himself after graduating with an honours degree in Entomology. The cosy job he had looked forward to with much relish wasn't forthcoming, neither was the rosy lifestyle that he had hoped would come with it. Prospective employer after prospective employer had promised to get in touch with him after what in the majority if not all cases had been a wonderful interview. He wondered why they had all invariably acted in that way. Were they intimidated by his wealth of work experience and rich academic prowess, he pondered deeply on his miserable state of affairs but didn't come to a logical conclusion? Maybe it was because he was black! the revolutionary pan african streak in him sought to provide an answer to his interminable questions,or maybe it was just that it was difficult to penetrate an overflooded job market.Perhaps his approach wasn't right,in order to land that elusive all-important job one had to be an astute marketer,an opportunistic salesperson with a peacock's display of business acumen,after all he found himself in the most dramatic quandary: selling oneself or one's skills.He let his mind dwell on a number of strategies for a while then,as usual,wandered off to the poetic realm of self pity induced numbness. He smiled to himself as he mentally composed a poem to reflect the drabness of his insect infested shack. The smile dimmed momentarily as he called to mind a particularly
disturbing habit he had developed of late. He had begun seriously thinking about writing his first book and somehow the inspiration seemed to throw itself at him from just about everywhere, Everywhere he went he found inspiration in just about anything such that of late he had acquired the habit of wearing an increasingly intense smile or even occassionally breaking into spontaneous but suppressed laughter as the metaphors formed in his mind.Beautiful lines of exquisite poetry and essay synthesized by a brilliantly artistic mind within the jurisdiction of an unbelievably wide vocabulary which of late indeed seemed to be an ocean of words.Well at least that was how he saw himself ,but of course that was not how everyone everyone saw him.He could clearly tell from the puzzled expressions on people's faces whenever they saw him smiling and mumbling to himself as the poetic spirit caught on,that they thought he was losing it: going mad.Perhaps he was,he chuckled.Perhaps he was now living in the artist's province, a new resident in that ethereal world that is the refuge of excessively talented individuals,artists who in their unequalled brilliance and genius seemed to lesser talented individuals,of which the world has no shortage,to have a streak of insanity in them.Perhaps this was where he belonged,in the ethereal artist's province where mediocrity had not yet been discovered.Yes indeed he belonged here in the province that shared borders with insanity.Pity those lesser talented souls who deemed him mad,they would never understand him or his similarly talented compatriots.The less mediocre among them would never be even half as talented as etherland residents, even with psychadelic enhancements. The smile on his face returned to full brilliance as he broke away from the chain of thought that he had entangled himself in. He felt his heart beat out the steady rhythm of unfettered egotism as he sought to make poetic sense of his miserable surroundings. The lines began steadily evolving in his mind: 'Lying on my bed meditating to the sound of my neighbour's fridge I resign to fate, my home is under siege Insects have taken over, my reign they have conspired to succeed Cockroaches copulating ceaselessly, belligerent bedbugs bloated with human blood, flashy male houseflies flirting with fastidious females, masses of mosquitoes monotonously murmuring their million or so misgivings, legions of lice forever leaping at every inch of humanity in sight My unfortunate presence here renders me nought but an easel for their nefarious insights Oh! My six-legged plight...' He paused right where he was; he fumbled about by the bedside for a piece of paper and a biro. Promptly writing down his verse he drifted off to entomology class. He tried to classify his six legged roomates according to the internationally recognised classification system. Cockroaches he remembered were in the roach family, Blattidae.Bedbugs, he couldn't quite place but he had the feeling were in the order Hymenoptera, in the ant family Formicidae.Flies and mosquitoes he knew at once because of the unforgettable example the lecturer had used in class to illustrate some characteristics of these two members of the order Diptera.
Andrew pondered deeply on what the future held in store for him. Perhaps he would never be a pest and disease control manager at a prestigious agribusiness firm. Perhaps he'd never get to put his entomological studies into practice. Perhaps he'd have forgotten about entomology altogether in a year's time, no matter what he'd never become or what he'd become he'd do something about the condition he now found himself in. He’d speak out on behalf of the large numbers of humanity who found themselves in an unenviable position such as that in which he found himself in, having to share a shack with a myriad of insects. He’d speak to them, to inspire them out of their shared predicament.The darned little pests, they had wasted no time in doing away with his baby soft skin. He knew exactly how he'd go about speaking on behalf of all his fellow poor folks. He’d write a book, his first book. He imagined himself holding a copy of a thick volume neatly bound paperback. On the cover he'd probably have black and white images of his fellow insect ridden residence brigadiers, too strapped to afford even a small canister of supermarket shelf household pesticide. At least, he sought to comfort his heaving heart; they had a roof to shelter under, that counted for something didn't it? Deliberately closing his eyes he mustered the resolve he needed for such a task. He mentally set himself to it as he went over the thousand or so images in his head that awaited him to describe them in intricate, artistic detail, organising them into richly textured picturesque verbal landscapes. Even if he couldn't immediately bail himself or anyone else for that matter out of this predicament he would share with his fellow legionaries of little means, the hope that springed eternal from within him incessantly. Perhaps he could save at least one soul from total loss of hope. Hope, the substance of which dreams are made of, the foundation on which fabulous realities were wrought out of tortuous circumstances. Maybe God had a purpose for this experience in his life. He remembered reading Proverbs 22 verse 12: ' The eye of the Lord watches over Knowledge', he was definitely being watched over. Perhaps God was preparing him for a life of immeasurable abundance, he had to appreciate the infinite value of each blessing as it came if he were to sustain himself in a life of such abundance of blessing. He definitely would never spend a cent on drugs or the calamitous offerings of brothels and seedy bars. After going through what he was going through now, he’d picked up a new respect for all the blessings that life could bring one's way. He had travelled a long way from home to this city of dark days and bright nights to try and make it better.'It' being the relentless poverty that ravaged his homeland, his family. Virtually all the meagre family coffers had been exhausted on his university education,so he was kind of like the flagship family member,the first born son,the educated one,the one on whom all hopes were pinned.He'd write about all that and more in his book.In the meantime he had to concentrate on a dire necessity:stamping out the cockroaches with his worn out shoe and snuffing out bedbugs between his thumb and forefinger.He chuckled aloud albeit mirthlessly,it was all part of today's entomology practical,after all it was a Thursady morning.He was back in Entomology class.Except that Entomology class had no streaks on the walls from crushed insects,battlefield casualties in the ongoing tussle between man and insect for living space.Folding his hands at the back of his head once more,Andrew
resigned to the drama,he watched detachedly as flies furiously protested being lashed out at by a leg that at times swung precariously close to their wildly gesticulating bodies.'Be careful!' they seemed to be indignantly exclaiming.Careful? Oh, yes he would be careful. He would be careful not to let them overun his household and make him fall sick.
'I guess this is how ostracized people feel. I guess this is how lepers felt in biblical times as the sound of their bells ricocheted throughout the land, sounding the knell that proclaimed the death of their digits' active life as their fingers painstakingly fell off one by one. I guess this is how people with A.I.D.S feel when in unaccommodating rural communities, society laughs and stares and stares again curiously, rudely'. This, my friends, is the feeling that one gets when every door is shut in your face, when every interest in you as a person is snuffed out as soon as people discover who you are as defined by where you come from. It is also the, feeling, the realization that no matter how skilled you are, no matter how talented you are and irrespective of how committed you are to making an honest living, you will not be accorded the opportunity because like a criminal you are not acceptable. In fact you are a criminal of sorts, your greatest crime being that you speak a different language, you are of a different culture. Gerald furiously penned away his letter to the editor of the local daily. He had to give these people a piece of his mind. Of course he was not as naive as to expect to be accommodated as heartwarmingly in another people's homeland as he would be in his own but for goodness sake all he yearned for was civility. The acceptance by at least a sizeable number of people not the entire society, that people were different. If only some zealots wouldn't go out of their way to make others feel worthless and uncomfortable. The history textbooks at home must have been full of lies. He remembered reading about the concept behind Africa day, sketchily though, he remembered it having to do with a day on which all of Africa was finally free from colonial repression. Perhaps there should have been set aside another day, another Africa day to symbolize the day when Africa will be free from itself, from the bonds that it tightly bound itself in. Those of tribalism, xenophobia, self-inflicted wounds. At this rate Africa might as well forget about a sociopolitical and cultural renaissance, huh! The much vaunted African renaissance. A grand dream it was indeed, one that would never even begin to come true. Africa, what a continent of xenophobes and hypocrites and losers! Anger welled up within a terribly shaken Gerald. He had had it up to here, well in a matter of speaking at least. He couldn't call it quits with the weight of the whole world on his shoulders urging him on. Gerald fought hard to shake off the overwhelming emotions that he knew were somehow clouding his judgement. Of course his people, all African people, were not losers but he couldn't help being tempted to think so because of the way things seemed of late. His head spun from the shock, the denial. Was there so much hatred around? Why had society chosen to live without the loving that providence was so freely giving out daily?
One needn't look far to sense the hatred, to see it, to feel it in the form of an overwhelming,heartracing fear, to taste it in the form of that bitter viscous saliva that glues the jaws together and burns the throat as it is swallowed, to smell it in the form of the pungent smell of cold sweat. The hatred was everywhere; indeed one didn't have to look far to see it. The glowering eyes, the twitching nerves on frowning temples, the tightly clenched jaws, the signs were everywhere. In every newspaper there invariably would be the thinly veiled accusation. Those people were the root of all evil, they were the source of the steadily increasing incidence of crime, and of course all the locals were innocent weren't they? Those damned foreign pests what a knack they had for hijackings. Their presence here had also pushed up the unemployment rate; the rats had come to take away the local populace's jobs. How inconsiderate of those outsider bastards, who cared if their own place was on fire, they should have just stayed in that burning house of theirs, now look at the problems they were causing: these bloody foreigners. They were not welcome here, that was one thing Gerald could see for sure, and just in case there was the slightest probability, that 'one-in-a-million' off - chance that they would forget that they were unwelcome, there were zealous and dedicated legions of locals to remind them that they were denizens of the lowest imaginable caste in this society. Despite the society being hailed internationally as the most logical place for being the nerve center for the African renaissance, the epitome of Pan African unity and progressiveness, the loyal legions of patriotism and patriotic enforcement would never sleep at the sentry post, they would never as much as bat an eyelid, they had to be vigilant, after all they were under siege, these bastards had come to take away their jobs hadn't they? In all this, Gerald couldn't help noticing an amusing trend. Those who were educated enough; those who qualified to be in the much fussed over jobs didn't partake of the flush-out-the-yardies parade as oftenly and with much gusto as those who didn’t. Those who, well, to put it subtly: didn't have as much credit in the sphere of personal achievement. Perhaps these fanatics were so zealous because they had nothing else to do and think of all day, save for these filthy foreigners, the irritation they caused and of course ice cold frothy beer. These were the most ardent defenders of the homeland against the tidal wave of dirty, irritating and good-for-nothing foreigners. These were also the heads that were not counted when calculations for GDP were made, they were counted when it came to determination of per capita consumption probably because eating was one of the things they did and could do. All they could be proud of was their nationality, a thing that they didn't have to work for to come by, perhaps that was why they hadn't achieved anything else in their lives, they were too busy shining their national emblem badges and meticulously ironing out creases in their flag-colored national dress outfits all the time. One never knew who to trust even some of the educated ones had a streak of the 'hate immigrants virus' in them too. Only that it would manifest when needs be. He remembered the last job interview he had been to. As he had entered the room he had rejoiced at seeing an individual that sixteen years of education had taught him to recognize as an African and hopefully a pan African. The lesser African members of the
panel, according to the history books he was used to, glowed and smiled in delight as he answered all their questions with the determined conviction of a man sure of himself, a leader, a genius. The icing on the cake was their request for his academic record and proof of previous work experience. For goodness sake the charmed panel almost stood up to usher him to a workstation. They were instantly taken to him. All reference to him changed from a formal Mr. so and so to a first name basis. The formal talk evolved into friendly banter about how they hoped he'd like the working environment, organizational traditions and so on. At which the hate immigrants virus infected one interjected. He curtly reminded Gerald that all this of course was subject to him securing the position applied for in the first place. That was a very sound truth but something in the brother's voice told him that he shouldn't even think about this job the moment he walked out of the genuine mahogany paneled, air conditioned boardroom. The looks on the not so related to him panelist and the rather distraught glances they exchanged among themselves seemed to suggest they too felt uncomfortable with their colleagues unbecoming attitude. More than once one or more of the latter fumbled their way through this or that apologetic statement seeking to appease Gerald who they obviously had come to think highly of and were eager to employ. One of them asked him if it were possible for him to start working for their firm at the beginning of the following working week. It was said with an air of austerity that seemed to convey the message to the other panelists that no one should dare not think highly of the young man in front of them. Any doubts that anyone had with regards to the determination of the African panelist to ensure Gerald wouldn't make it were soon shaken off as the African panelist's response to the call to stand up for Country, kith and kin rose to fever pitch. Throwing all subtlety to the wind he began bombarding Gerald with a series of questions that seemed to suggest that people of Gerald's ‘kind’ were not really welcome at that firm and should be considered somewhat problematic. As 'Mr.-Africa- for-me-and-mine-only' turned on the heat, Gerald turned on the charm. After all this was an opportunity to show the interviewing panel that he could take any challenge in his stride, no better way to do that than an impromptu tête-à-tête with this, eh, he wondered what to call him before finally, for the sake of civility, settling on the term 'excited’, yes that excited gentleman over there. Beneath his prim, hand stitched Saville row suit and Gucci eyewear, everyone would now see, lay a subtly militant sleeping intellectual. As Gerald matched every tricky question with precise and well thought out answers delivered in a rich and eloquent grammar carried on a baritone that was not a fraction of a notch higher than before, the stakes became higher. The interviewer began to let his guard slip; his irritation with Gerald and his nationality began to show openly. His questions began to border on the blatantly ridiculous. His vocal inflection, in desperation, took on a new form that seemed to suggest that anyone siding with Gerald was siding with a yardie, especially one of Gerald's nationality and that as everybody present must have known was a grave misdeed, a heresy, an apostasy one punishable by law in the unwritten constitution of hatred that governs inter ethnic international relations in Africa. Gerald kept up his unbreachable nonchalance and matched what had now openly become his adversary with the unassailable wit of an even mind or so he thought. The scale of
absurdity in the manner of questioning proportionately increased. The interviewer was visibly agitated now. Gerald took on the impenetrable cool of the drama queens who ran the illicit beer gardens back at home. He most probably wouldn't get the job after all but he would do this for every underdog. He wondered if he wasn’t playing a ‘number two’ game by being on the defensive. This guy had to go to bed that night knowing that not everybody took everything lying down. In his head he could hear the strains of Akon's song 'I won't let you spoil my day. I won't, no not today, coz I came too far..' He had taken this very same interview before that Senegalese crooner didn't he? The questions eventually became outrightly unprofessional and irrelevant to the interview. Addressing Gerald formally and not on a first name basis as the others to perhaps emphasize a clinical protocol to him, the interviewer progressively ventured out of the context of the interview.’ What political movement are you aligned to in your home country? Why did you leave your country? Is there any proof that you don't share the same socio-political outlook as a certain Mr. so and so in your country? Won't you be inclined to return to your homeland without notice during the tenure of your office here? He was not done yet. He finished off that last question with an 'if' statement: 'that is if you get the job’. The verbal prominence of the if-word said it all very clearly-he would not get the job. With an even, unemotional tone of voice Gerald responded. Taking care to begin his statement with a 'Sir' qualification in retaliation to the contemptuous formal title he had been addressed with. ‘Sir I believe I am not formally obliged to declare any political interests and or affiliations that I might harbor as I am positive this institution upholds the rights of freedom of its employees or would be employees to freedom of association as its line of business is not in any way direct or indirect tied with political activities. Furthermore I do not share anyone's views on anything, my socio-political outlook is my own. I am also very sure Sir, of the fact that I would not travel to an interview for employment that I intend to abandon for no apparent reason, I doubt very much highly improbable though it is, that even if I were to find myself in a moment of sudden onset insanity, I would even contemplate such a thing. It is more likely however that at such a time, theoretically speaking of course, I would probably work overnight and complete a couple of days' tasks at one go. As for the reason I left my country, it is because being an avid go getter I felt I needed a more challenging and more importantly, enabling business environment in which to put my talents to use. A momentary silence ensued, the not-soAfrican members of the panel all turned towards the misfit among them, surely if he had any sense in him he would now relent. He was way out of his league with this young man here. Sensing his victory Gerald proceeded to prod the fresh wound in his adversary's pride. Addressing Mr. Africa's mine with an irritating air of exaggerated politeness that he did not care to show as hard to come by, Gerald went on.’ Is there anything else you might still want to know, he paused momentarily before finishing off the statement with a notso-subtle show of nonchalance with the word 'Sir’. The ruffled patriot relented. Although Gerald would probably never get the job, the next yardie to walk into the firm might probably not get the same crude treatment from Mr. Africa's mine. As he walked down
the long and elaborately decorated corridor to the bank of elevators he couldn't help thinking how unprepared his generation was for a black oppressor, the tragic moment when oppression falls on your side of the so called racial divide. More than two decades of history textbooks and central broadcast policy in southern Africa had steeled young men and women who were now on the verge of leadership for a white oppressor not a black one, never a black one. Images of how their fathers and mothers defeated white people’s racist regimes and how they fought relentless cruelty had flickered on the black box since the days when they would cry for bread after bathing. Those were their breadafter-bath-years, their b.a.b.y times. Now that they were grown up they found themselves in a moral quandary what would they do now? The history books had taught them that all like colored people were one's brothers and sisters. If today's boardroom event was anything to go by then someone needed to ammend the history textbooks and broadcast policy so that children learnt that oppression was not color coded, it could happen across any divide, colour, class, educational background, housing district of origin and so forth. Perhaps all this was just in his mind wasn't it? An overwhelming mind game that seemed ever so real. Was it a mind game? Gerald fumbled in his pocket for the fifty cents change he'd be left with after paying the taxi fare. He stopped by a street vendor's stall to buy a 'loose straw' before he wandered around the orderly streets of upmarket Bubbaville. Perhaps he was just being on the defensive since he was a non-citizen. Let’s keep on grappling at each other’s throats Africans,let’s show the world the correct model of brotherliness, the kick him when he’s down one, perhaps we know something that the rest of this patronizing world doesn’t know.Let’s keep on fighting at every opportunity we get.Let’s fight over ethnicity today, language differences tommorow, suburbs of origin the next day, differing levels of education the day after that and any and all manner of differences we can come up with, forgive me my brothers,if I deserve to call you that, I’d almost forgotten to say let’s also fight over political differences, oh how could I forget that? Let’s keep on fighting each other, never mind the twisted propaganda machinery that exhorts us to unite and all such bullshit, why should we unite, even when we run out of things to fight over let’s just keep on fighting, after all this is our land, isn’t it? We must always stand firm in exercising our God given right to fight each other, let’s forget the turmoil in our midst, the AIDS, the poverty, forget that, just fight, the good fight,fight hard.After all there’s plenty of time to sort out any problems we may want to sort out isn’t there? After all this is Africa, there’s no hurry here,is there?Whoever has problems must sort them out himself because there’s no time for all that communist pan African propaganda,there’s only time to fight.Let’s do ourselves proud and show everyone how well we can fight. No one must even try and be condescending to us and tell us when or who not to fight, let’s just fight,isn’t it?Perhaps that way indeed we can realize the African renaissance of peace and prosperity.Fight,fight,fight!After all time is on our side isn’t it? There’s no hurry in Africa,fight on soldiers!
Zamokuhle had been having weird dreams lately. Last night’s dream had been the strangest
one. In that dream he had been a child led by the hand of a most beautiful woman that people addressed as mama Africa wherever she went. Held and led by her hand he had seen the lives of his fellow city dwellers like he had never seen them before. Holding him by the hand she had led him to the suburbs in the north where she had stopped to massage the weary bones of an old woman seated on a padded garden bench outside her son, Mandla’s elaborate residence. Unaccustomed to the sessile life of posh suburbia the granny drifted in and out of sleep, trying in vain to fight off the sleep that comes to one seated comfortably on a warm summer’s day. Far removed from the backbreaking environs of her rural home she felt guilty for just sitting there and eating without having to work. No matter what her daughter in law and son said she’d always know that it wasn’t right to just sit and digest like a hen, only occasionally darting one’s eyes here and there, mouth agape,as in the stupendous curiosity of an African farm chicken. Plus these children threw away too much food. Had she not taught him well, her only son, never to throw away food, never not to capitalize on an opportunity to improve and increase one’s health? If pap was left over at supper it should be used to make magewu and if the magewu was left over it should be fermented into beer. Mama Africa squeezed his hand tightly, he turned to look her in the eye, she simply returned his gaze, without a word she led the way, it was time to move on. The stopped next at a servant’s cottage just down the road, the children playing outside the little whitewashed den looked haggard and hungry like orphans but their father indeed was alive, he lay on a rickety bed whose mattress had seen better days, much better days. The otherwise neat little bedroom reeked heavily of vomit, he lay on the bed snoring heavily at midday, one leg dangling on the floor, one hand trailing down the bedside clasping a half empty bottle of beer. The wife sat in the kitchen drying her tears, the children hadn’t eaten since morning, and there was not a morsel of food in the house. Zamo glanced up in time to see tears in mama Africa’s sorrowful eyes. They moved on. They passed by a taxi rank where that house music song in which a baby incessantly cries blared out of loud speakers at the back of a stationary taxi being washed. There couldn’t have been a more apt accompaniment to the moment, the spirit of the land mourned, what had become of her children? A young man walked by in a purposeful stride clad in military green army fatigues and soviet takkies, cigarette in hand, Che Guevara cap atop his head. He walked past an old man selling vegetables on a street corner. The old man smiled knowingly, he had once been fired up too. They had broken him down, the dreadful overlords, but that generation, hey these youngsters, these youngsters were something else. His smile grew broader as he noticed the book in the young man’s other hand: Capitalist Nigga by Chukwu Onyeanne.The tears seemed to have dried momentarily from mama’s eyes. They stood at a shop entrance watching people moving in and out of the shop. They stood there watching the people who had earlier that morning been huddling together in the bitter cold of the taxi rank shelters as they made their way to various parts of the city. Others made their way imperiously across the white tiled floor while some meekly went around the aisles while security guards of their own blood followed their every move and searched them heavily at the door on their way out. Impatient store clerks that treated
customers with clinical disdain chatted among themselves and didn’t even bother to lift their gazes and hide their opinion of the seemingly smelly and annoying customers. Mama shook her head, was this the freedom that many had died for? It sent a chill down one’s spine to think that in a few years’ time the nations of the world would be here to be despised and ‘put in their place’ by imperious little simple minded store clerks. If only a cure could be found for the chip in many of mama’s children’s shoulders. Just down the road an old man sat on the oil stained concrete kerb with a plastic bag full of at least a lifetime’s worth of betting slips. Like the smoker determined to make the next drag the last one he was convinced he’d finally hit the jackpot this afternoon and then walk away from the punting house for good. He concentrated on his slips; he had a scrap piece of paper with him, probably to perfect the formula for the jackpot winning number sequence. It’d take him at least half the day to fill his bet form. Why worry? Why rush? There’s no hurry in Africa or is there? After all one needs to take measurements before taking measures don’t they? A group of school kids passed by on their way home from school, it was not yet home going time. They had been expelled, until they could pay the school fees that their parents hadn’t yet managed to raise. Right behind them a just divorced mother of one followed with a somewhat hesitant gait, her baby was especially spruced up today, perhaps seeing his daughter looking extra splendid would convince James to finally concede to paying monthly child support. Another group of military clad youths passed by, among them first time weed smokers peering about nervously looking for the secret service agent in every alleyway and behind every pillar. They had the P –word scrawled all over their uneasy faces. Paranoia. He overheard one of them quoting from a book he had read saying that “if one is young shit happens, if one is young and poor shit happens to you and if one is young, black and poor (God help you!) Shit happens to you always”. He wondered if that were a true reflection of an urban landscape where police harassment and subtle insults were purportedly the order of the day or if it was just the heady effect of the TetraHydroCarnabinol in the joint the youths had been blazing. Perhaps it was the result of reading eye-opening books that the trendy mainstream book parlors would never sell. Books like Adam Rothschild’s “Leopold’s Congo” and Alan Paton’s ‘Cry the beloved country’. These were to be found in obscure little bookshops run by soviet or Cuban guerillas’ third or fourth generation descendants. Those were the books that invariably contributed dictionary quality phrases to the vocabulary. During the early 90’s an uncle of his had been spotted with a copy of Das Capital by a nun at the mission school he was a boarder at, the good Christian had almost fainted. She hastened to save his soul from ‘a book in Lucifer’s own handwriting’, ‘Bad book, bad book, bad book.’ she had screamed before confiscating it and burning it on the spot. ‘The godforsaken communists’, she must have been thinking to herself at the time, ‘to poison innocent young minds with politics and communism’. A citi golf blaring loud music sped by. A cause of much personal satisfaction and public discomfort it truly was that invention: the volume button. An instigator of animosity between neighbours, especially those in cramped urban conurbations. The voice of a
newsreader announced the news bulletin loudly as the citi golf stopped at the traffic lights. Mama Africa smiled, the newsreader had been illiterate and had fought his way up from adult literacy class. He had possessed enough intelligence to know that only hard work not constitutional proclamations guaranteed one a better life. People such as him were the industry leaders of tomorrow, the executives of companies with Coca-Cola type brand dominance. In some parts every soft drink was a Coca-Cola. Visitors to such parts would be amazed to be asked what type of Coca-Cola they wanted, Coke yemnyama (black coke) or fanta coke or sprite Coca-Cola! The pair walked past restaurants where people working in them couldn’t afford to dine in with a month’s wages. The owners had been generous to Oupa Moses last week on the occasion of his retirement. The loyal chef of forty years’ service had been awarded a life changing one thousand eight hundred bucks and a bicycle. They had been very generous hadn’t they? They walked on in silence passing the ornate towers of large buildings where not so long ago there had been signs reading “Nie Blankes” and or “ No Irish, No dogs, No blacks”, it was rumored that the signs had never been burnt or done away with altogether. It was rumored that they were now kept in the boardrooms, stuck under the tables. Members of the board privy to their presence would secretively reach under the table to caress these signs during board meetings and salary increase negotiation sessions, allegedly it gave them strength. What type of strength would such signs give people? He wondered. Of course these were just unfounded rumors weren’t they? Or were they? As they passed the main bus terminal where multitudes of a certain church’s members donned police- uniform- like gear on their way to their most significant annual pilgrimage, mama maintained her calm. These were her children on their way to seek solace in the benevolent spirit of the creator, to escape the hectic pressures of the city where people never smiled or relented from doing evil. If someone were to take refuge in anything it made sense to find refuge in the most stable shelter of all: the almighty. A pair of junior high school children passed by, smoking and laughing like it was the normal thing to do. Talk about freedom of expression, the two really made their statement boldly: they were ultra ‘cool’. Zamo remembered the old man who sat day in, day out at the corner near where he now lived, he remembered how he tapped his feet on the ground in delight everytime he managed to buy a cigarette, enjoying the smoke as a child enjoys a hearty meal, tapping the feet as if an inaudible rhythm were playing itself out in his head. He hoped that the school kids would quit their self-destructive habit before they got to that extent of addiction. Mama smiled deeply as they passed a group of sculptors carving out mythical figures and beautiful figurines, hoping one day to win international awards and exhibit all over the world. A just –arrived-in-town country boy walked by lugging a heavy suitcase, a few hours ago he stood teary eyed at the bus stop near his rural home, held in an embrace by his loved one of many years. They couldn’t bear the thought of being away from each other but he had to seek for work in the city to make it better: the poverty. Time would tell whether the trials and tribulations of solemn
city wouldn’t turn theirs into yet another sad love story. Apparently the city wasn’t going to give him an orientation or grace period. Zamo struggled not to giggle in front of mama as some sex workers beckoned the country boy from the doorway of a disused chapel. They offered him a special rate, all he needed to give them was the bus fare change and they would bless him with instant relief there and there in the chapel, in the aisle, beneath the pew or in the vestry. He moved on, he didn’t flinch even one bit, he had heard the village sexual health worker talk about “genital grapes” many a time and he definitely had no intention to get the “grapes”. A group of unemployed academics split into Indian file momentarily on the pavement to make way for the burdened village man. These too were soldiers from the league of young Africans who were no longer satisfied with waking up to smell the coffee, just smelling the coffee! They had done that a lot and since gotten over it. They wanted to take over the whole freaking coffee plantation now. They sought to trade their qualification certificates and academic transcripts for share certificates in the coffee plantations housed in concrete, aluminium and glass towers all over solemn city’s skyline. Having been unemployed for so long they had begun organizing themselves into various groupings, no use in sitting around feeling like a deflated spare tyre on a stationary car. In the matters of wealth these were children, they were the next generation of success who made money by unconventional means at unconventional hours while the old guard kept gentlemanly hours. He recalled the Bagdhivi admonition he had come across in John Grisham’s ‘The Matlock Paper’: 'Look ye to the children; look and behold. They grow tall and strong and hunt the tiger with greater cunning and stronger sinews than you. They shall save the flocks better than you. Ye are old and infirm. Look to the children. Beware of the children'. Zamo hoped they’d stick with the programme of work for survival not work for survival at all costs or even worse, survival for work. Whatever happened, at least they were not going to be like that fiddler who played on as Rome burnt down or the flamboyant old timer who donned his best pinstripe suit and played his gramophone as the bulldozers knocked down the informal settlement he had called home for nineteen years. Yes indeed these yuppies in Soviet canvas takkies and naughty themed tight fitting T-shirts who spent a huge chunk of their collective group income on Xbox 360 games and i-pods were gunning for big corporate. Google and Yahoo were their icons of modern corporate success, their inspiration. A young woman rushed by, an eager young man at her heels, she clutched her handbag tightly, not sure whether he was a suitor or a tsotsi: his nondescript clothes and confident demeanor didn’t do anything to help the young woman distinguish the difference. People couldn’t be trusted these days, it was said that some murderers walked around with their jacket pockets full of the dried penises and nipples of their victims. She hurried on; her nipples were definitely not ending up in anyone’s pockets, no, not today. Cheers and jeers could be heard from a street corner where some youngsters had a cipher, the rhyming lyrics in their music all seemed to confirm their belief that the promise of African economic independence is a dead one. They passed by yet another graduate on the way to catch a taxi to an informal settlement where some of his colleagues lived. It would be his first time at a squatter camp; he had grown up in the cheese boy districts. Today he’d witness a father-in-law demanding a part payment from a son-in-
law, in a beer hall, off the balance owed for lobola, so that he’d buy another two cartons of ‘goli beer. He’d see mothers queuing for hours so that the weekly supermarket donation of save-a-dollar brand products past their sell by date could drive the wolf further from the door. He’d see an excited crowd of kids watching a T.V in a shop window from the street, cheering on excitedly as their favorite teams played soccer. He’d see a documentary about the government truck driver who was raided by hungry crowds as the drought relief supply truck broke down in a neighbouring country. He’d learn that the reason one of his friends carried around a small yellow nail brush with him always was that he couldn’t afford to buy the prednizolone prescribed for his urtcaria so he had to scratch his back whenever the allergy induced irritation broke out. A single mother passed by, head held to one side, looking up several times at a heavily photoshopped image of a skin lotion model on a billboard and instinctively or perhaps by conditioned reflex (more likely) reaching out to touch her cheeks. Another group of women passed by on their way from a night and half day of hectic hustling, they had to trade their comfort and healing properties for cash to survive, today they had worked overtime, the clients had been coming on steadily: it was month end and every working male had money. They had to rest now so as to be up early tonight, perhaps business would be brisk yet again. A sad reality: life isn’t it? What has a person got to do for a living? Some have to kill for a living, so sad: the dark days and bright nights. For most day and night are distinctly clear, for others at 6am the night has only just begun. As they approached the city’s outskirts they passed a hobo woman who held onto a wooden staff with an air of authority apparent even in her drab surroundings. A street governess. A group of drunken males fought rather viciously around a street corner, two of them knocking one down with a ghastly blow to the head with a bottle. “Don’t worry we’ll tell by the stink if he’s dead” one of them shouted much to their befuddled glee. They cackled with horrid laughter. Another drunken old man’s song could be heard in the distance, an environmentalist he truly was, this one. He picked up every little bit of litter in sight burning it in dustbins along the streets. He was fighting a lone battle against the ever-growing mounds of rubbish in the city. “ These people”, he clicked his tongue in disgust and shook his head slowly sideways, “do they not know that they bury themselves in their own litter?” A picturesque billboard extolled the virtues of an exotic lodge and forest park just out of town. He wondered why they didn’t put up boards as well for the exotic slums and exotic little barefoot children going for days with no exquisite tropical food and running around with ashen mouths and exotic bulging malnourished bellies. For those who lived in the world of plenty, in the first economy, this indeed was exotic, it was a strange outside experience to be savoured before one retreated to the safe and secure life of satisfaction in relative comfort. The exotic little slums and exotic little shacks erected alongside or at times inside exotic cemeteries. The exotic entrepreneurs who sold tuberculosis infected saliva samples to enable desperate poor people to “pass” screening tests for government health grants, all this and more, even the exotic mothers who woke up around four every morning to boil water for their exotic barefoot offspring to bathe with before walking an “exhilarating fifteen kilometers through picturesque savanna scenery with breathtakingly scenic mountain views and unadulterated cool countryside air” to school. The taxis on their way to the rank on their daily maiden trip would invariably pass them by: they couldn’t afford the fare. All that should be put on a billboard for tourists to see and appreciate. Of course this was not hidden
information, it was just that the levels of hunger had not yet reached the exotic epidemics levels that warrant the attention of the global press and the billboard people. A DJ passed by on his way to a just opened nightclub to rig up his equipmentand do his soundcheck in preparation for his stint that night. Another victor that mama was definitely proud of. Growing up in a derelict high rise on the outskirts of solemn city, they had curtains for walls inside the building. Their ‘house’ was a central portion of the warehouse squared off by four curtains. For years they had never had a stereo and the neighbours would all simultaneously play loud music from their squared off curtain homes. This was his childhood introduction to the concept of crossovers and mixing as some songs naturally blended in together. A group of youth stood at a street corner singing and rapping in the all-powerful language of the street: hip-hop. Their rhymes and punch lines seemingly all pointing out to the social ills in a city of malfunctioning families where the sugar was hidden from guests and the children were taught to insult visitors. God alone for us all indeed! A nursery school minibus on the way to a nearby mall to visit Santa’s stall passed by. A wayside sage shouted at the minibus exhorting the multiracial mix of children to stay united as they were now, for a long time to come. People just stared at him, he must have been mad wasn’t he? Or was he? He carried on despite the ridiculous stares, muttering something to the effect that they shouldn’t grow into their hate ideology harboring fathers, their flinchy and unfriendly mothers or their shifty and sarcastic elder brothers. This guy had been a comrade in the struggle, he had never come back from the war, he had simply taken it to another front: the fight to preserve what remained of the spirit of people’s pride among them, the spirit of brotherly human beings. The spirit had been so strong and fiery throughout the motherland ante bellum. Now all that was left of the proud people were the passive shadows that they had left behind. None of them had the persistence of their forefathers, that which had steeled them as they crossed borders on foot en masse, en route to guerilla camps deep in treacherous forest territory as vultures circled overhead ready to swoop down on any fallen soldiers. Talk about putting fallen heroes to good use! Now the descendants of those valiant lions congressed in the dirty streets of their dirty cities to spend dirty money on dirty habits and exchange dirty words. Clad in acetate rayon shirts and dresses and high-density polyethylene shoes they conversed and thought only in terms of status. That was the only thing that mattered to them. The car you drove, did it have motor driven windows? The job one had, was it one where the phone came to you via an extension or one where you came running to the phone from the workshop, shed or factory floor? The time you woke up to go to work, were you part of the six o’clock crowd, the half seven crowd or the better off nine thirty crowd? Of time and men! More often than not they were also suffering from the effects of the color or probably race changing side effects of Doridine like the rather infamous John Fanelli. As they passed an exotic little shantytown on the left they noticed three toddlers jostling for space around a gigantic pot half full of plain mealie-meal porridge. With no spoons to use they had to improvise, the eldest one would swirl the porridge in the pot, smearing it around the pot walls .The three would immediately run their palms along sections of the wall to get porridge all over their palms. They would then lick it off and repeat the exercise. Exotic Africa indeed. A stream of faecal matter tainted water flowed nearby but not nearby enough to incite alarm in any of the dehumanized adults around and spur them on to action. It was at most a meter and a half away!
Only a few males were visible in the settlement at the time of day, the rest were away working. Only the jobless men could be seen milling around and being rather very friendly with their feminine neighbours. They invariably reeked of bhang. From some corners of the settlement exhausted young women could be seen trickling into the compound, weary eyed and with reluctant limbs. Various items of grocery could be seen in plastic carrier bags carried by these women, among them: Black Label and bread. For these tired young women, some of whom were on antiretrovirals, there would be no early morning pillow talk, the kind in which husbands and wives remain in bed long after waking up, talking about all their neighbours and workmates. None of them were married; married people are always weak links in a gang of any sort. They’ll tell the wife how they hijacked a car today or tell the husband how mama ka so-and-so from next door is jolling with baba ka so-and-so from the next street and so forth. Mama Africa stared deeply into Zamo’s eyes and opened her mouth to speak to him but no words came, a stray tear rolled down her cheek, he was about to ask her why she cried so incessantly when he woke up. He remembered during the waking moment, the lingering feel of her rough hands. A beautiful woman with rough hands? What with all the hard work she had to do for her multitudes of offspring. Zamo would write everything down and come up with a draft for his first book. He’d write it under a nom de plum. He found that an appealing idea because if people were to really pay attention to what he had to say they’d have to be diverted from paying attention to the messenger. Mankind had over the centuries perfected the art and science of shooting the messenger; so much that nowadays they didn’t even pay much if any attention to the message itself. Their guns were always drawn, cocked and on the ready. Whenever a messenger strolled up the driveway his head would be blown off before he even opened his mouth. He wondered what he’d call the book, perhaps he’d call it “Poverty: belly of the beast”. He’d describe all the sickening and humiliating things that the have-nots of this world went through. Who cared anyway?Perhaps that way those who could share would be persuaded to help. Where would he start, he wondered. He opened the tattered spiral bound scrapbook in which he kept a rather interesting odd assortment of notes. He leafed through the pages, “oil stained mechanic with a bewildered facial expression in public library”, “nanny parade at lunch hour on suburban estate lawn, some with lunch tins, others without, biting nails and speaking in subdued tones” Mustering an incredible amount of resolve, he half stumbled, half fell out of bed and made his way to the shower, it would be eight in half an hour. Toothbrush in mouth, he added one more note onto the mental roster he reserved for that purpose, “illegal immigrant grappling to learn new lingo, lost and trying to find way home in downtown Solemn, keeping to back streets to avoid arrest and or mugging”, “ Old man sighting at five am drove bus for forty years saw neighborhood children transform form toddlers to fathers”. He made a resolve to jot it down as soon as he was done showering. If he were to really capture the soul of Solemn city he shouldn’t let slip anything, any tiny little word arrangement that would serve to describe the goings on in the big city where people worked and worked and never smiled: Solemn city.
A shaft of the early morning light caressed Tshepiso’s sleepy countenance jolting him awake. Even though he knew that he ought to be over the events of the past few days he still felt a sharp pinprick in his heart everytime his mind went back to Siyalungisa, the charming little farmstead at the foot of the Phuthadichaba mountain range that divided the land between the auspicious mining west and the not entirely affluent farming east. They had got the best of him, the blundering brickheads, he reflected angrily. To think that Van roux had played right into their blood spattered hands, the dithering old blubber, what type of business was he running where employees’ opinions of colleagues and their unofficial murmurings about them had so much gravity. Agribusiness 101 with the old professor from Cornell certainly hadn’t prepared him for any of the grievous eventualities he had come to face. One thing he had come to see for sure was that the business of running agriculture related outfits was a unique venture with unique risks. Perhaps as an escape mechanism, his mind went back to the first days of his ill-fated tenure at Siyalungisa. He had met Van Roux at a convention in Midrand where he had given a talk on the nitty gritties of agribusiness management. Van Roux had approached him at the end of the seminar to express interest in contracting his services. A freelance horticulturist with not much work on his hands at the time, he had taken him up on the offer. The following Monday had seen the beginning of what was to become a daily ritual for many months to come, the early morning commuting to Siyalungisa, eighty kilometers from the hectic heart of the city. Having found the comfort of a guaranteed income after months of proselyting he gave it his all. He introduced many innovations in the department under his jurisdiction, much to the chagrin of a couple of his colleagues. Whenever he noticed this resentment in their eyes he dismissed it as the upheavals of a hitherto unperturbed commercial ecosystem resisting the integration of a new entrant, surely they would realize with time that his unfettered participation in board meetings and general work activities was not because he was full of it, he was just doing his job wasn’t he? Surely they’d realize that it was for the good of the company, for the good of everyone, them too. Of course it was folly to be wise where people would rather stay ignorant but he had a contractual obligation to institute the very changes he put in place. Siyalungisa had been a showpiece in waiting-to-be-tied loose ends when he got hold of the reins. The subtle and not so subtle changes he instituted were highly commended by customers, much to the chagrin of some of some of the Siyalungisa staff. They had been working here for many years, for longer than this starry eyed Johnny- come- lately who had an irritatingly cheerful demeanor and unsolicited but always aired out opinion. The stares progressively grew colder. He did nothing to pacify them, reasoning that doing so would set a bad precedent in the workplace, people could not expect to be placated just because they didn’t understand and like you. They would eventually come round to understanding him. This opportunity had meant a lot to him both as a steady source of much needed income and as a door opener, business cards had been subtly slipped into his pocket, unspoken 119
offers to alternative jobs. Some had not even bothered to be subtle about it; they had given him cards and offers right under Van Roux’s nose. That was the past now, he writhed about on his bed turning to face the other way. He remembered those cold and dark winter mornings at Bree street taxi rank during that time of great hope. He had placed great importance in many a great luminary’s words in this time of great pain to the flesh. As the cold morning air bit into his flesh he conveniently conjured up much needed words of wisdom such as “the best bread comes from the hottest oven” to imply that the best managers emerged out of the toughest training environments. He did not curse and grumble at the cold as others did all around him. Perhaps the creator had sent the cold to somehow torment them so that he’d turn their suffering into immeasurable wealth at a time of his choice: The widely held human belief that the goings on in the universe are centered on and revolve around them, personally. The same belief that drives humans to take the emerging sun on a cloudy day as a sign from God that they are going to succeed at the interview that they are on their way to. Suppressing a laugh he pondered on the rather unpleasant state of affairs that he found himself in. Why was everyone educated seen as a gung ho privileged kid who was there to spoil things for everybody? Had the events of the past few days not been tragic he’d have found them comical. He remembered his primary school nickname “Paper bag”, they had been too poor to afford a backpack or bookcase so for those life enriching seven years he had trudged to school with one plastic shopping bag after another in lieu of the conventional school bag. If only his detractors knew how much suffering and sacrifice the education of the man he had grown up to be had entailed. He definitely was no snob or some other repulsive misfit; his only wrongdoing apparently was that he actually did his job, a big no-no in the world of mediocre, know-it-all workplace hang- ons. Why did people expect others to apologize for every little instance of fortune in their lives? Tshepiso clicked his tongue indignantly, he was not going to apologize for being educated, it was not anybody’s fault that he had made it after the bitter struggle to overcome the debilitating clutches of a deeply ingrained poverty. University, he now realized, was no preparation for a McGyver style experience and its attendant mass adoration. It was instead, a preparation for leading in ways that may take time for others to understand. The very people to whose lives revolutionary minded scholars sought to dedicate careers were the most ardent critics of the latter’s innovations. They despised people who “came into their business and tried to act like they knew everything”. Some if not all of them criticized and ridiculed you even as they reaped the rewards of your innovation. Where did this lot not get it? It seemed succinctly clear to him, a better-streamlined production process, a lower overall production cost, higher profit and eventually higher income for everyone. Are these the people that prominent leaders often urged youths to dedicate their talents and service lifetimes to? It was no wonder that most youth found it easier and more convenient to shun the much-vaunted calling to nurture their roots. Tshepiso had always had a deep love for people, educated or not, rich or poor. He hadn’t thought twice about the job as a production manager at an agribusiness outfit. He, in his city dweller naiveté, had seen this as an opportunity to use
the knowledge he had acquired in school to empower ‘his people’. A sentiment that he had come to regret later in his ill-fated association with Siyalungisa. A friend of his words’ echoed in his head: ‘you’re your own people chana’ He felt a chord of understanding for all the noveau riche in ornate dwellings set along picturesque suburban avenues lined on either side by massive trees with moss covered boughs. Why else would someone continue to associate with and sacrifice attention for people who spurned their efforts at every turn? Even though deep inside him Tshepiso knew that he’d never dissociate himself from his people completely he seriously began to doubt the wisdom of his commitment to the cause of disseminating knowledge among his people to empower them and change their collective fortunes. Perhaps he was making rash judgments influenced by an isolated incident. He found it more acceptable to think that the spurning of knowledge and the unfettered show of disdain at every instance of its application was an unfortunate once off. He couldn’t imagine an Africa where knowledgeable and committed young people were mistreated, labeled know-it-alls and their input disregarded on the basis of their being young and knowledgeable. This would be a terrible state of affairs indeed for it would mean that academics would duly abandon their objective mindsets in preference of self enrichment, what else could one do in a place where there was no social incentive or merit attached to actually doing what needed to be done. Had it not often been said that it was better to do the right things rather than do things right. It would be a shame for intellectuals to be dissuaded from their deep reasonings and suggested solutions to prevalent problems for that in itself were a purpose that justified existence. He deeply hoped that what had happened to him was an isolated once – off incident that the majority of spirited youth who felt drawn by a calling to serve country, kith, kin and continent would never see. He told himself to let go of any vestiges of anger still clinging onto his conscience; he couldn’t afford to be emotional, no, not now. After all the awe inspiring and all-powerful Cosa Nostra had not victimized him, it had just been a gaudy bunch of first line managers in a primary industry. The lot always seemed to be overzealous and absurd like village policemen. He had been through tougher situations before and had sailed through; he wouldn’t stop now and let a bunch of first class “yes men” dispirit him. He wandered back to all the hurdles he had to leap over to get where he was today. He remembered the school days when he would brush his faithful old Bata Toughees with Vaseline when there was no money to buy black shoe polish. Those were also the days when he and Musa had been madly in rather innocent, just-after-high-school love. Whenever he’d got a date with her on a Saturday, which was most of the time anyway, he’d wipe his tough leather moccasins with a water soaked cloth a couple of minutes before meeting her. The wet genuine leather surface would retain a matt appearance throughout their date. That was a novel improvisation for the rather expensive and somewhat inaccessible suede shoe cleaner and polishes. Luckily for him, a washed out and faded pair of jeans was in vogue, fashionable poverty. He kind of missed those days of simplicity and life lived to the fullest. His friends dubbed him “Benny” then, short for Benson and Hedges, “the one and only”, he had one pair of jeans then.
Not so long ago he had had one pot, a plate and a cup by way of crockery in his one room bachelor abode, his kitchen, bedroom, lounge, study and bathroom all rolled into one, how conveniently compact. His one pot he had coined ‘Tedcor’ after the waste management dumpster truck company for it was just that: a miniature dumpster. After preparing the boiled vegetable relish that was a staple of his next-to-nothing income diet then, he’d tip it over into his one plate in an action that mimicked the hydraulic tipping over action of the dumpster truck’s trailer bed. He’d deftly wash the dumpster and cook pap which in turn would be tipped over into the waiting plate. The dumpster brought memories of a tough time which had been overcome by an equally formidable resolve. Whenever there wasn’t enough relish to go with the steaming hillock of pap that he needed to see him through the desolate chilly nights he’d put a lot of ground pepper in the relish so that a small portion of relish could go with an enormous lump of pap. He particularly remembered a grim week leading to payday when he had starved and scrounged for days on end until he had run out of ideas on the very day before payday. In fact it was the last meal before payday that posed a dramatic dilemma. That was exactly the problem, one meal. Having only a bit of mealie meal and about half a cup of full cream powdered milk in the house he wondered how exactly he’d concoct the lifeless looking white powders to come up with a meal. If only there’d been two more tablespoons of the white sugar in the coffee tin turned sugar bowl he’d definitely have made porridge. He lay on the bed with his hands folded at the back of his head gazing at the ceiling as if waiting for God to give him an answer. He was disturbed from his pensive nirvana by the rustling of the wind in the foliage of the old and gnarled fruit tree at the back of his room. A series of soft and muffled thuds followed the rustling as the fruit fell to the ground. He had gotten into the habit of mentally attaching the botanical name to every plant he could, probably to determine if his botany was still intact. This particular tree was Citrus limon, the common lemon tree. That was it! Citrus, citric acid! A bit of high school chemistry might actually secure him a meal tonight, he thought to himself. He hurried outside to pick a couple of fresh lemons for his edible experiment. He cut them up and squeezed the juice out of the lemon halves, filling a quarter cup with the sour extract. With the last bit of sugar in the house he wore the bitter edge off the juice, stirring excitedly, every revolution dissolving the sugar a bit more. Dissolving the powdered milk in water he mixed the two to make instant Amasi, sour milk. Satisfied with his chemistry set science he set about cooking pap to have with the amasi. Mending the holes in his dumpster with the bits of breadcrumbs he reserved for the purpose, he sat back admiring his escape tool from a night of hunger. He had reasoned that citric acid in the lemon juice would lower the overall acidity of the solution to a point below the isoelectric point at which the amino acids in casein, milk protein, were held together. This would denature the bonds between the casein molecules causing it to coagulate into curds, milk solids. Now that he had successfully manufactured three cups of creamy Amasi he just needed to follow up with the pap and a hearty meal would soon be right in his lap. He got up to cook the pap as soon as the water boiled, before tipping it over into his one plate. Chuckling to himself he had imagined sharing the meal with his siblings. He remembered how life had been growing up in Katlehong. They would share
everything to the last bit. He remembered his young sister dishing out for the four of them one day when there had been thirteen little square pieces of lean steak in the pot. They all got three each and the remaining piece was diced into even smaller bits that they shared among themselves. It hadn’t seemed like some major feat of family love or anything back then but looking at it now in retrospect it was a charming bit of history he’d always hold on to. He would not break down now just because of the animosity and the hate guided machinations of some selfish folks. Why were these guys concerned only about themselves? Had their mothers not told them never to laugh when others got hurt? Apparently not. Perhaps they enjoyed laughing at hurt people so much that they actively sought to hurt people for them to have something to laugh at. So it was true indeed, humans were oftenly inhuman to other humans. Of course every human being had an instinctive obligation to rise above others but then why were these guys so fanatical about it? Did they have to strike and get others fired in order to get better than them? At times people seem so fanatical that suicide seems to be the only real hope of redemption for them. Why did these people act as some modern day Christians did. Whereas Jesus came to abhor social ills and to chide those living it up and abusing the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, some in the contemporary Christian world saw themselves as above the crowd, as perfect specimens of humanity who wouldn’t stoop low enough to mix with sinners and wrongdoers in the dirty rabble. They wanted to be saved exclusively; they alone deserved to be in his grace’s presence for they were clean enough and chosen. They justified their actions by quoting from the bible where it said darkness and light do not mix. What puzzled him was that the most brilliant light in Christian circles, Jesus himself, had mixed with the fallen in a bid to uplift their downtrodden souls, why! He had even had his feet washed by a promiscuous woman. If the savior of men could be humble himself that much who on earth were these guys who deemed themselves too clean and exclusive to mix with other’s and share the Lord’s bountiful fruit. In the same vein, these overzealous first line managers seemed to have determined according to some rationale that they alone deserved the uplifting benefits of a steady income. What rationale could that have been? He hoped to the gods that it was not some division inspiring logic like belonging to certain ethnic groups or having being employed at Siyalungisa first for being first at a place is definitely no guarantee for sustainable competence is it? Or is it? No matter what that twisted rationale was he would not be part of it. He would be no part of any unwarranted wars. He would be part of no wars at all regardless of who was involved and on what side they were, be it a conflict between the been-to-schools and the have-not-been-to-schools, the we-are-the-most-important-ethnic group folks and other ethnic groups, no matter who was involved and on what side, he would be a conscientious objector in the covert war, the subtle struggle of ethnic, racial and social condition driven hatred. To think that he had completed a bachelors and subsequently a master’s degree in order to serve the very same people who now spurned his every effort and made him feel like a
worthless rag. Perhaps he had made a grave mistake, or had he? Africa! He thought to himself, it still had a long way to go! His father had once illustrated Africa’s plight by likening it to hell. Hell, he had said was not an all-consuming inferno where red-hot flames lapped and leaped at all present in an agonizingly slow roast. It was actually a picturesque and manicured estate where spread out on an expansive banquet table was a delectable feast comprising all sorts of dainty and delicious exotic treats. On either side of the table sat multitudes of starved guests struggling in vain to feed themselves with three-meter long spoons glued to their hands. Selfish as they were it never occurred to them that two guests seated opposite each other could easily feed each other across the vast expanse of delicacies. Alas they continually grew thin, the selfish guests even occasionally fought when in their bid to feed themselves with their three meter long utensils they struck each other accidentally. Such was Africa indeed. Those who dared to tell others how to feed each other across the table were ruthlessly pummeled with missiles of all sorts, what did they know? These smart Alec mafikizolos: They had got to sit at the table last. Tshepiso reached beside the bed for his phone. He set the alarm for nine o’clock; he still had three hours to go. Freelancing was paying off at last. He had to e-mail an invoice at nine and deposit money for his old queen at home. He would move on with his life now. He had been around for a while now and considering that there had been office politics everywhere, it was not worth it getting depressed and dejected now. There had been office politics at the ice cream stand in Commissioner Street, at the back of the landscape truck in the chilly winter wind, in the sweaty and humid environs of uptown restaurants’ hot kitchens and now at the farm. He wouldn’t worry at all about office politics, after all it was their loss not his. He was qualified, experienced and fired up and ready for success, after all Africa was his homeland wasn’t it? What a valentine’s day he thought to himself as he pictured the detractors jostling among themselves to gouge the last piece of bread from his mouth. Jostling to kill his livelihood, to kill him, jostling to cut off the lifeblood of his family, his people, the bloody murderers. The extraordinarily hate burdened savages who sought to build careers out of denigrating and gainsaying others, gobbling up everyone’s reputation like Pac man in that vintage video game, the rats. Everyone’s name was always on their lips like lip balm in winter. The piece de métier had been their going to Van Roux with all manner of false allegations and all manner of cocksucking antics. It was his intelligent guess that were Van Roux to whip out his manhood, the bootlickers would fall over themselves or even choke each other to be down on their knees to take his phallus into their incessantly lying lips driven by the quintessential petty minds of toddlers who saw nothing in the world except themselves, themselves and themselves again. Tshepiso knew it wasn’t right to call others names and continually harbor anger towards them no matter how much one felt he had been wronged. He resolved to calm down and spread some love. After all it was a valentine’s day wasn’t it? Why should he be bothered by what someone had once called “sellouts bent on reversing the gains of the struggle”,
the hopeless little mutts! Sometimes he wished he could apologize for being young, black, educated and somewhat successful. Unfortunately he couldn’t because he was of the opinion that it wasn’t his fault that it was that way or perhaps was it?
Majita’s Guide to the Workplace©
Thabang looked forward to completing his latest assignment with a passion. Though it was a daunting task he knew that he’d relish every moment spent putting the notes together for what seemed from preliminary browsing to be material for a bitingly crisp and breathtaking article .The Corona, the luminous paper he worked for, had requested its readers to send in short paragraphs detailing experiences and personalities good and bad in their work world. If the little he had gone through now was anything to go by, quite a number of people had it bad of late. He consciously reminded himself not to align himself with any particular opinion, more so before compiling the actual article. After several days of going through material for the article, he painstakingly put together the first draft of comprehensive notes from which he’d draw information to write the article. He’d better kill it! He thought as he felt the pressure mount on him to deliver a superb literary piece by the Ed’s deadline. Old Kolobe had never been really keen on this article in the first place and it went without saying that if it materialized into anything short of a true classic, his head would be bitten off by that permanently cigar clenching old bird. Separating comments, complaints and commendations into distinct categories he decided to do this the way he knew best: by trial and error. The first draft would be a personified script with various characters embodying the personalities and experiences brought up by the readers in their correspondence. The bullies, the goody two shoes, the perennial whiners, the bragabouts, he’ll add them all in. Loosely dividing the characters into four groups he started with the introduction. He decided not to write it in an officious tone, but to rather weave out its fabric in a way that the average Joe would understand and relate to. He’d just have to quote the minimum two experts required by company policy whenever writing factual articles. He set to work:
The world of work is a demanding environment whose inhabitants are constantly under pressure to deliver results within defined time limits and often under strict supervision. Usually the work environment brings about a unique personality within all of us as we jostle for limited salary increase opportunities, for job promotions and sadly enough for the attention of workplace superiors, be that professional or personal attention. Sometimes even without realizing it, in an effort to hone down to perfection the personality that we seek to portray we adversely or favorably affect colleagues, demotivating or inspiring them respectively. “Cohesive interrelationships between colleagues or the lack of them, in a work environment may spell the difference between
occasional and consistent achievement of bottom line concerns such as profitability” says Dr Pheelo Mokoena, director of Corporate Psychology studies at South Node School of Business Studies. “It all boils down to Co-existence in the workplace,” agrees Mark Maake veteran social scientist at Maybury South University’s behavioral research unit. “Personality incompatibility in the workplace may polarize whole company divisions and potentially bring key performance aspects down as they continue unresolved”, he continues. We’ll be looking shortly at the different personalities you, our faithful readers, have mailed in and advised us of, we will take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of different personality types in the workplace.
Part 1: The owners a. The Brothers Cream The cream of high society: these siblings are the epitome of inspiration for any yuppie straight out of college. Firm believers in the dual coin sides of hard work and hard play they slave away relentlessly and also blow up large sums on exotic holidays, luxuriant seaside properties and flawless German automobiles as well. The true exemplars of fairness, these guys pay all overtime work hours to the dot and do not hesitate to haul any employee over the coals for mistreating another. Objective systems are in place for the measurement of work performance, the awarding of salary increases, bonus incentives and even for handling staff disputes. Even if one of them does not happen to like you personally and you’re a stellar sales performer, their hands are tied. Their brutal “no excuse” business regimen may be hard to understand at first for newcomers but as one matures in the ways of the work world they will realize that apart from being smacked hard on the bottom by dear old mummy for breaking a piece off the newly baked apple pie without asking, this is the best thing that ever happened to them. Another great asset of the brothers cream is their ability to listen to and understand people. They place great value in pampering employees so as to ensure optimum job satisfaction and therefore productivity. They pay generously with regards to the statutory industry minimum. One of their greatest drawbacks however is that they tend to play good cop – bad cop in conflict resolution situations involving the directorship and employees. Also, just like most business owners nowadays, (especially those who own “Siya so-n’ so cc’s” like for instance Siyatswara Removals, Siyajabula Events etc) they inform you in “strict confidence” that they intend to make their business a “BEE thing” and that since having such “privileged information” amounts to being earmarked, one must silently work hard and not inform others of this privileged information. Yours truly is still to see an instance of someone who actually got shares arising from such a bosom agreement. Generally though, this is where you want to start your career, in the rat-eat-rat world of unfettered business excellence. b. Miss Independent This divorcee inherited the hitherto booming business she now runs from her ex. She’s an incessant namedropper that probably means she is not confident enough to do business on her own without aligning herself with the high and mighty. She often
runs out of money visibly and that is never a good thing when you work for her. Other business owners often shrink from a position of liquidity but do not make an eternal fuss about it. The ability to stay calm in a mild storm might actually be an indication of how the captain will perform in a bow splitting tempest. She is constantly on the phone, only to tell customers how she’s been too busy to make that collection or delivery, too busy to price that new stock or to cope with business. Can you believe it homie? How can a business owner be too busy to carry out duties constituting the core of the business? That amounts to literally telling customers not to patronize one’s business. Incompetence comes at all levels guys, in all shapes and sizes and colors, yes in all colors. Come the end of an auditing period, when the taxman, the utilities companies and the landlord are breathing down her neck for their dues, she pulls out the sex card. She moans how difficult it is for a woman to do business in a man’s world. If only she knew how absurd such an excuse is. How many ultra successful businesswomen are there out there? Donatella Versace and Oprah Winfrey are prominent examples among others. Kensani Nkosi definitely did not build the Stoned Cherrie Empire by incessant cigarette smoke, ultra sweet coffee and a million “excuse me for this, excuse me for that” calls. Empires like Sun Goddess were also built by women, by their hard work, no by excuses of any sort. For people like Miss Independent the adage has come to life: “be careful what you wish for, it may come true”. In such a firm ideas from people like you and me are definitely not welcome. Staff are hired and fired at will as though they are some disposable item of fancy. Remuneration is never awarded on time and she is usually in a foul mood during payday week to avoid questions and confrontations. Sales hardly come by and while stocks keep dwindling albeit slowly, they are hardly ever replenished. Private matters are discussed with anyone who will listen: “the kids this, the kids that”. She often borrows ridiculously small amounts of cash from her workers usually after paying them one of about twenty or so part payments making up the monthly wages. There is normally one good way forward with regards to this firm: out! Of course it’s tempting to just slink off like a rat but its only professional to notify her. Caution: do this on a day that she’s particularly in a good mood or you’ll be spat at, labeled and threatened no end. Don’t mind her though, on a scale of one to ten her bark is only lukewarm so one can imagine what her bite is like. She also tends to think of her employees as family when it suits her such as putting in unpaid after hours’ work and weekend stints. Never make the mistake of accepting accommodation from this one; work hours may stretch from six in the morning till ten at night everyday and all day everyday on weekends. By the way these are unrecorded and therefore unpaid. She doesn’t believe in written contracts – basop chana! Brother Lambert This one hits you with the good word from day one. It’s generally not considered an excellent idea to be an atheist or “pagan” at this firm. Bro Lambert also sings the “soon to be B.E.E” song. He is fair in matters of dispute resolution and staff payment
though: at last here’s someone who listened when the clergy exhorted all and sundry to do unto others what they’d be pleased with themselves. Bro Lambert tends to inflate the job titles in his firm, an office cleaner may be a “work environment sanitation practitioner” and a guy handing out flyers at the robots down the road may be a “marketing executive”. Never be fooled by the name, it’s the nature of the job and the numbers involved that matter, money baba, money! Make sure you are clear on these two before you emerge smiling from the interview room otherwise that smile will only last until the day you begin work. There’s not much to be said here except that here’s another place you may want to start your career.
Bob Money This guy is in business because he can; with the family fortune always there to be withdrawn from at will he can afford it. He invariably abuses one substance or another (at work!). He however has a deep understanding of labor related issues that any serious entrepreneur hoping to be an industry leader of sorts some day should exploit. He also has a fluent command of vernacular that he will go to great lengths to hide, watch your tongue around him chana! He does not really take lightly to being given ideas so be diplomatic about how you pitch your ideas to him especially those about current business practice as he may take such business advice as a means to slight him especially where you have considerably more extensive educational experience than him. An incurable egotist, he enjoys the way his workers fall over themselves to stroke his ego and stay in his good books. He definitely subscribes to the notion that he’s a superstar of sorts and a revolutionary one at that. What could he do without his sunshades, military greens and khakis? If an ear accustomed to listening closely is trained upon him habits such as glorifying questionable specimens of humanity are noted. For instance when admonishing his first line managers to execute duties to perfection he may let slip “ let’s do this in freaking nazi style gents, nazi style!” To him the nazi war machinery is an ideal portrayal of proficiency. Nazi style? I don’t suppose we’re on the same page with him on this one are we boys? , Even if he rolls green and listens to reggae we don’t agree on that one do we? He has a habit of referring to his workforce as a family, albeit when it suits him. He also does not believe in written contracts. He usually has a generally more accomplished sibling and his innermost thoughts seem to be along the lines of “ I can do it too daddy!” but of course some of this is not our business we just watch and keep our traps shut. Hiring and firing at will is a thing that seems to be done for kicks in this firm, coupled with his heavy breathing behind you the whole 7am to 5pm shift, this can make for terrible working conditions. This guy is a make-belief soldier you better have a plan B brethren. You might not really benefit from putting your career in the hands of a Christy minstrel with no real sense of professional direction or business acumen. 2.Those who were there first
Sonia This one, bafowethu, is the quintessential impimpi, a long service employee who is otherwise a very talented and efficient worker. Do not despise her loose tongue rather use it to your advantage. Subtle hints about certain aspects of work and urgent communications are best propagated quickly and at no cost by leaving them where she’s likely to find them. However as a general rule never express your personal opinions or aspects of your private life around her, that, bafowethu, is a big no no unless you really want the whole company to know how many beers you had last weekend, what you think of the boss’ mother and so forth. Gladys Much portrayed as a meanie, this lady is really a warm hearted and good-natured human hiding under a protective cloak of meanness to get the job done. She frowns and scowls fearing that men and her subordinates in general may take advantage of her. On days when there’s a break in her “business moods”, she is a useful objective source of information on how to deal with given situations in the workplace, such as pitching ideas to superiors and so forth. She is also an unashamed straight talker; she says it to everyone, like it is. She will stand for the underdog at any time of day. She occasionally calls newcomers against whom the whole staff may be rallying and tells them not to take the insults to heart: she is a mother. Most of all she is an inspiration, if you walk straight up to her and ask her how she started, she will tell you how she first got the job by pitching at the gate in overalls like the casuals, she rose through the ranks until today, she runs her own division of the company. Karabo Kb is the office hottie. She just bought a new car. She has a decent educational background and a wealth of experience. She fully subscribes to the theory of groupieism and gold digging. On a casual office day when the phrase “under pressure” is not emblazoned across everybody’s foreheads (usually Friday) she can reel out the names of her boyfriends and the cars they drive, off what seems to be an endless list, but then again that’s her business not yours you are only there to work with her. She appears to have a calling to determine what neighborhoods everyone at work lives in, what brand of electronics they buy, what items of furniture they have purchased so far and the like. “ Have you got a PS3 or Xbox 360? Do you have a time shift or space shift satellite TV decoder? How big is your i pod’s storage capacity? What home theatre system do you use? Do you have plasma? – These are just some of the questions she just might ask you. On the overall she has wonderful interpersonal skills and is a splendid human being, just that she has a bit of a chip in the shoulder, she doesn’t really relate well to those that may be a bit more experienced educationally than she is. Karabo also doesn’t know whether to encourage new entrants struggling to settle down in the system or the perennial bullies bent on victimizing them in boarding school style “ welcome- to
the- wild- west- rookie” she also tends to pull out the sex, race and “I got here first” cards when it suits her. Never, I’ll say it again fede, never say anything about anyone that you will regret, in front of her. On the contrary if you wish to let the whole company or someone in particular know your stance on their new policy A, B, C and D just leave such information in a circle of friends where she’ll find it, she’ll deliver the “message” within 24 hours of hearing it-guaranteed! Now that right there is what we call looking at the bright side of life majita, I’ll tell you now, you can use the grapevine to your benefit: it’s free communication gents. No airtime costs, no appointment bookings, no cost whatsoever, so from now on whenever people say that there’s only one free item on the planet, tell them that in addition to sunshine there’s the grapevine. In her world wealth is a god. It never occurs to her that no one no matter how rich drinks classy paarl wine or eats lobsters everyday. Bro Donald This guy is the ngamla’s poodle. He yaps about and does all in his power for a pat on the head in return. He usually has a rudimentary understanding of English and or Afrikaans.A rudimentary grammar and syntax that indeed is the world to him, and his basis for looking down upon fellow brothers. This guy’s limbs are driven by the quintessential petty mind. He has since lost all touch with himself as a career man; no plans to further study and network with like-minded professionals employed in a similar portfolio are still in place here. He has no touch with the industry outside the company’s gates. His greatest reward is a pat on the back by the biz owner; he will wag his tail ceaselessly on approval and sulk endlessly if not patted on the head. He usually believes that the ethnic group he hails from is the hottest artwork off God’s hands as evident in his speech. He probably would die if he spent an hour without referring to his place of origin______________________(insert place name here). It definitely is not bad to have burning pride for who you are and where you are from but such pride’s only right when not used to tread others down into the earth. Pride in one’s ethnicity becomes a bad thing for instance when one says “ you people don’t understand anything at all, whenever I give you instructions you always mess up, why doesn’t the boss go to _________________________(insert place name here) and employ people from my ethnic group, they are so very intelligent, unlike you idiots from this and that ethnic group here”. Such statements also foreclose potential cooperation between members of the ethnic groups in question that may not be involved in the conflict at hand but may be present. Back to Bro’ Don: this guy doesn’t believe that it’s possible for anyone to know anything he doesn’t. He knows everything. In addition to treating newcomers with disdain, he tells everyone about how the boss is his personal friend, how he is always calling him after hours and how they had a wonderful time at the safari range the previous weekend. This guy is the ultimate apologist, his bootlicking antics let everybody down; because the boss is so close to Bro’ Don he values our brother’s opinion highly. Scenario A: the boss asks him by how much he should increase the casuals’ wage rate come the new year, he responds that the boss shouldn’t even think of such a thing as the casuals are just fine, after all other companies are paying their
casuals lower than they are already paid. Can anyone really feel that they are earning too much money to deserve or want a salary increment? Perhaps Bro’ Don believes that the ability of additional income to “fix” people’s financial constraints arising out of financial constraints is a function of so called sophistication and education. Perhaps it is by this rationale that for the past three years the casuals at his workplace have been working for the same wage rate because his year end advice to the boss has always been the same: don’t increase their wages they are doing fine, just fine. Supposedly this was the type of guy who got necklaced during the days of the struggle. Bro’ Don also gets a kick out of translating contracts dishonestly for those who cannot read and write. Scenario B: the boss decides to hire an earthmover for a particularly challenging job, he cautions the boss against it saying that he “promises to push” the labor so hard that the workers finish the job on time. He then goes on to turn into a taskmaster that would shame even the pharaohs who built the monumental pyramids of Egypt. The really sad thing is that this guy does all this for a paltry wage. On one of those letyour-hair-down days at work he can be heard expressing how he wishes he hadn’t been born black. Of course with his worshipping of abongamla it is no wonder which race he wishes he had been born into. A lot has been said about absolute power corrupting absolutely, obviously not enough has ever been said about desperately- clung- to power, the whiff of the pie that drives men crazy, getting them drooling. Picture a guy who has never really led anyone in his life, at school, in sport, with the girls, at the gym you name it this guy has always been a loser. Now imagine what it must mean for this guy to finally be able to supervise another human being. It is an orgasmic power trip, an awesome high. This guy and his kind are the reason why the black race cannot really come up with a way forward with regards to working together, unity, real brotherliness and such. He’s the type of guy who woke up at two in the morning in boarding school to snack while everybody else slept. Put another way this is the type of guy that your mother always warned you against bringing home. Be extra vigilant about what you say and do when you are around him, especially when he’s hitting you with a friendliness spell or charm offensive. He’s a snake, a direct intercom channel to the boss’ ear. When you finally get that job and step inside those gigantic wrought iron gates, here’s how to spot Bro’ Don: he talks a lot, about himself. There’s always something inherently twisted in the psyche of anyone who spends the whole day or hours at a time speaking about himself. He refers to others using derogatory terms, he calls others, especially those of ethnic groups he doesn’t take kindly to, amagqila. He refers to black subordinates and labor in general as “the animals” or “stupids” he “believes that it’s not his fault that they are uneducated and unsophisticated” of course it’s not. Perhaps he feels it’s his God sanctioned duty to literally knock (harass, bully and intimidate) sense into the latter’s heads. His self concept is easy to determine, he may call himself self aggrandizing demi god names like “caterpillar” a heavy and somewhat indestructible earthmoving machine
or “ the general”, an officer of a rank senior to a lieutenant general commanding a large military formation. Lomuntu uney’mpiko zesikhova! He also has an uncanny ability to pass judgment on anyone and everyone for whatever reason. His real reason for black - painting everyone is insecurity that one day a bright spark will expose his inadequacies and the boss will get over him, that would leave him with no boots to lick, now he won’t survive will he? If only he would slow down and realize that everyone has inadequacies, no need to spite others because of that – it’s nature baba! I guess when one walks into a doctor’s surgery the latter can tell at first glance if one’s beyond help, however the Hippocratic oath and other codes of conduct do not allow him to tell you that to your face. Same nathi homeboy you don’t go around in the workplace telling people your opinion of this guy, how so not on point you reckon he is and so on. You just look at him and remain silent chana he is a basket case, the type of guy that the doctor prescribes ten pieces of chalk or whatever other placebo for in his intentionally ugly handwriting. No matter what you do you cannot wake everybody up, some are beyond help, if even the doctor can’t help everyone who are we to try and wake everybody up? Oftentimes the energy and consideration invested in such ventures is mocked by the stigmatization and retribution that follows it – it’s not worth it. Watch out for this one majita he’ll be among one of the first ones to befriend you when you join the workforce. He’ll destroy you at the earliest opportunity. By the way never tell anyone exactly how much you earn, never do it, whether drunk or sober, to friendly or unfriendly company, just don’t do it chana: it gives birth to a host of troubles that you don’t just want to go into. He’s a useful source of technical knowledge though; pay close attention to him in that respect. Whether by design or default most of his misdemeanors are hard to prove so if you ever have a bone to pick with him before the powers that be, make sure that you have a solid case like for instance witnesses (not likely though, people are generally afraid of him) or a cellphone voice recording. Always stick to your guns with this one otherwise he’ll bully you indefinitely. 3.Those who were there next Oupa Jaap This guy is all eyes and ears and no lips. He watches and watches and watches. Jaap’s official workplace personality is that of a bubba, an uneducated conservative old ngamla. He is not that at all though, he humbles himself so that he’s on a plane where he can see who’s who in the zoo. He will often throw questions at you, especially when you’re new, like “ what do you make of this new wave of noveau riche?” or “ it must be hard for you young educated blacks to have to report to these ofays who have nothing but family fortune behind them?” Now boys listen closely, it takes a highly objective mind to refer to oneself in the presence of others using derogatory terms, this old timer is not stupid at all. Such statements are meant to draw your opinion and reaction out. Treat every conversation with him like a press interview: always say stuff you’d be willing to say on a podium and lectern before a stadium packed full of people. Sometimes though, he lets slip his nostalgia for the days of old, he may say
“this is how it was done before” (before 1994) and “how it always used to be done right”. He knows that Bro Donald is making life difficult for the majority of workers, he even says it at times but he doesn’t really mind because he believes a divided workforce is the most productive one, besides he is not under Don’s jurisdiction so Donald’s madness doesn’t touch him one bit. He usually has a strong but downplayed personal connection to the bosses, his word or opinion on you determines promotions and the lack of them. By the way a divided workplace is one that doesn’t collectively bargain for pay rises, it also doesn’t know what a monthly work hours ceiling is and everybody generally competes against everyone else in a negative way, there is no spirit of kinship or sense of collective gain and as a result the collective work output is unregulated with respect to that allowed per given period by the standard statutory working conditions (enforced contracts, maximum work hours allowed per month, leave days per annum etc). People, we need to learn to work smarter not just harder. Baba This guy has been around since day one theoretically. He worked for the boss’ parents as a gardener; the boss literally grew up before his very eyes. He’s always generally quiet but those familiar with the art of intimate listening, listening for the words within the words, will be delighted to be present when he speaks. He says a lot of heavy stuff in simple words. He is a man of gravity, a man of prudence who never takes sides no matter what the cost is. This guy is the epitome of maturity, though he is old and supposedly wise, he doesn’t prance about like a newly appointed king judging and advising everyone even when such services are unsolicited. He is like the China that Napoleon spoke of, the one that people should leave sleeping, for when she wakes up the world (around her) trembles. He does not object to learning from others, he realizes that it’s been ages since the days of “reading, writing and arithmetic”. He constantly encourages others and does not burden others with his problems. Although he came on board the company a few years after it was started, he doesn’t let this get into the way of a harmonious working relationship with others. He’s very objective at all times, when ego and personality clashes wreak havoc in the office, he’s the one who will comfort the newcomer crying in the garden, head held in his hands, he will tell them that nothing is ever as bad as it seems and that things are definitely going to be alright. He has amazing insight for a gardener doesn’t he? Perhaps he’s God’s way of telling us never to look down on anyone. This guy, relative illiteracy and all, manages to do something that people who spent twenty years or more in school fail to do: garner the social skills, diplomacy and power of negotiation to be able to work well with others. Not only does he do it well, he does it silently. Majita how many people do you know studied Industrial psychology, human resource management, management in general, leadership 101, you name it but only have the “Bsc, MBA or M.phil” suffix to prove it, it didn’t make them better people by enhancing their ability to work with others. Unfortunately business conduct is one
of those “ soft sciences” in life like soccer in which everybody reckons they have it all figured out and consider themselves experts so jolly good fellas like baba may not ever be listened to at all. It’s a wonder how this guy deals with stress he doesn’t drink or smoke, a mark of incredible discipline for such a burdened man. 4.The ones who were there last Andre This guy started work on the same day as you did. You were both seated on the deep brown stained mahogany bench in the lobby on day one. Normally just that should spell out the beginning of a great comradeship and possibly a lifetime of mutual respect. Next thing you know this guy joins the newcomer welcoming party bandwagon. This should not really be your concern except that there are only two newcomers in the firm: you and him. So he will seek to gain acceptance in the tight circle of the “ we’ve been here longer than you” crowd by ridiculing and antagonizing you. Being the kasi born diplomat that you are you don’t fight back noisily or physically. You keep your cool and smile, the confident smile of one who knows that victory is theirs eventually. Keeping your cool however doesn’t mean that you comply when he calls out to you in a loud voice to make him a cup of coffee, that’s not your job-technically. It’s a stunt on his part to show his newly won colleagues that he’s got you by the balls. Hit their crooked little association where it hurts: on the bottomline, performance. Perform baba, perform! Perform so hard that it will become difficult for anyone among them not to emulate you, not to begrudgingly give your due props to you. These guys hate your guts, they hate your professionalism, your etiquette, your greater grammar and syntax aptitude than them and your business acumen, and they hate majita. This is not a secret they are always complaining about how Jozi is now overcrowded and scary not like the safe old days when military tanks used to crawl the streets driven by stoned little boys pissing in their pants, how safe it was indeed! They long for a long gone and never to return era where their kind was protected from competent competition by draconian legislature put in place by what must have been the most unstable minds ever to exist, by a cruel government, a repository of hatred, insanity and more insanity, a malcontents’ paradise. Holding on to the past they forget that even the most cherished dream-come-alive loses lustre; every flower eventually wilts no matter how striking and colorful. You do your thing homeboy, now is the time chana. Even if Andre looks at you across the boardroom table with that hateful stare, smile back at him and do your thing chana just because you are able to. Jabulani This guy is the people’s champion. Everyone’s just drawn to him whether he’s taking time out to be the office clown, helping the senior accountant with her heavy files and bags from her car, arguing the case for a fellow employee in a labor tribunal or
flirting with the belle downstairs. He’s a star. In meetings people wait to find out his point of view before airing theirs. Heavy work is a pleasure to bear when he’s around; his quick wit and humor never fail to make anyone’s day. He’ll remind one of the soul tractor, the tractor ride on the less dreary drive back to the forced labor workers’ compound from the plantation. After a whole day of backbreaking manual labor in the unrelenting African sun, it must have felt good for workers in bondage to sit in the rattling trailer towed by a speeding tractor, hats removed, breeze running through the hair, singing at the top of their voices, self consciously caressing their calloused hands and banging on the sides of the trailer. They were free at last! If only for a few hours: the unrelenting labor would be there again tomorrow. Jabu tends to get a bit pickled though; he’s a bit of an incurable drunk. He tends to stretch himself thin in his bid to kiss all the girls, take it easy Jabu you can never kiss all the girls. Jabu is also exceptionally objective, he’s single mindedly all business when he notices superiors giving their “ Mrs. Levine battery opinion” type judgments, he doesn’t take them head on, he acts and conducts business in a way to convince them otherwise. Mrs. Levine was one of Jabu’s favorite third grade teachers. Jabu in his mob moving ways had once taken a torch cell to school and threatened a girl with it saying it was a time bomb. When the girl screamed, Jabu was called up front by his class teacher who was at a loss upon inspecting the cell. Dragging Jabu by the ear she led him next door to Mrs. Levine’s class, much to the glee of his fellow third graders. Asked for her opinion on the apparently very queer object, Mrs. Levine had put on her thick rimmed specs and knowingly inspected the object before officiously announcing “ this flat side is a battery, but the other side with a pimple in the middle, this side is not a battery my dear”. He had been ordered to go and dispose of the mysterious object in the school dump, much to the delight of the grounds men. They couldn’t believe that anyone, let alone a teacher wouldn’t know a torch cell, the same as the ones they used for their small portable transistor radios. The transistor radio, the miracle invention that had spread knowledge, politics and “progress” into the heart of Africa, rural and urban. Jabu is also adept at saying stuff without actually saying it and this is usually stuff that needs to get said. Like for instance everytime he sits to chill with majita ekasi he tells them how smart abongamla are working as opposed to hard. He also tells them of the nature of unlimited opulence in the grand homes he works in as a landscape architect. Those who listen closely would hear him, and also notice how his heartbeat resounded throughout these inspiring words. Jabu is a man who keeps his eye on the ball. When your eye is on the ball it doesn’t really matter how often the goalposts are changed from work experience to formal educational qualifications, you have it in you not only to score but also to hit the ball out of the park. In addition Jabulani has the fine tuned observation instincts of a former ganja smoker, those that border on but are not paranoia. Like a kid fiddling with the band selector on a hifi he always knows what station to tune into, what song to play out aloud to the audience present. Like an educated newspaper delivery boy he enjoys watching humanity like some twisted voyeur then using the observations to implement strategic business decisions. Jabu is your Richard Branson type of entrepreneur: he never balks from risk. He loves
happiness so much that he doesn’t keep it all to himself, he endeavors to share it always. 4.Those who have always been there The Casuals A close look at this group will shock anyone who buys into the notion of general labor being an unorganized mob incapable of making rational decisions. One will find, if they look close enough, people who dropped out of varsity half way through because of financial constraints, one will find ex white collar workers in the mob, forced there by circumstances. Pastors of small congregations, small business people, you name it: the mob has it. This observations gives credence to the saying that “ not all that does not glitter is not gold”. Indeed in the search for glimmering and glowing gold nuggets we actually overlook some. We overlook those that may be cloaked in a slight layer of tarnish or dust. Don’t look for the glimmer boys, look for the atomic mass, and look for intrinsic values in people. As the old adage goes, concentrate on your work and on the man on the ground. Ignore the office politics and deliver, deliver, deliver. Performance is the best ambassador of who you are, it will inform the world of the opinion, your ambition, and your thirst for success. Such things are best said by not saying them. Don’t look down upon anyone, even on those who look down upon you. Never look down on the general workers. Don’t try to please everyone or anyone for that matter, you’ll live to be an old young man: young in age but old in appearance and demeanor. You can never bring all your friends home at once, take time to know people a few or preferably one at a time as you grow in the ways of the corporate culture at the company. Work hard majita no amount of licking your superiors’ boots, good luck charms or advice can ever get you there. Work, work and more work is the only solution to everything majita. Good luck and always watch your back. To borrow and add a bit from the words of Wordsworth, bringing the story a bit closer home “ We must be free or die, those who speak the tongue that Bantu Biko spoke, the faith and morals hold which Hani held”. Diligent work alone will allow you to enjoy these freedoms in the workplace, you see when you work diligently enough you have no time to sit down and share your unsolicited opinion of the boss’ wife’s back view with colleagues, you have time for nought but life enriching work. You don’t have time to look down upon others. Asisebenzeni majita! We have what it takes to make it, it’s only that we’ve been poor so long that we have started to believe that we really are poor or that it’s right for us to be poor. Never! It’s only the way things are momentarily as we await the sprouting of our nascent empires. Never look down upon anyone, don’t let the overalls and the lunch tins with pap and pe-tsai cabbage fool you, if a human’s alive, he’s thinking: no one survives by chance. These people also have initiative and the power of reasoning. Never treat them like an Elastoplast quick fix solution to your labor requirement problems. They
will notice and they will advertently perform shoddily. Broken pipes get concealed, minimum amounts of sealant are used and the remainder taken home. All these are acts that a well treated and paid labor force acting in good faith will never do. Those in industries where these examples don’t really apply may be tempted to think they are off the hook but a close analysis of one’s casual work functions will reveal that there’s always ways in which disgruntled labor can get even with you, in front of competitors and clients! Saving the milk might seem expensive at first but it’s always cheaper than replacing the cow! Thabang stood up to fetch a glass of water and relax a little; it had been a long day. Scrawling on a neat yellow stick-it-on note he made a note to further streamline the article so that it wasn’t too emotional for it not to be personal. He made a mental note to credit Harvey B Mackay for the excerpts from ‘Beware of the Naked man who offers you his shirt’ and his life coach who now wrote for The Workplace supplement in the Star, that ‘skoko newpaper organizing jobs for majita.
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