Vrygrond or “free ground” in straight translation from Afrikaans. That is the name of my community. I guess that was the first hint that I didn’t belong here I mean an isiXhosa speaker living in a location named in Afrikaans! I ignored my intuition and made it my free ground anyway.
Growing up in Vrygrond I always perceived myself as being free and safe. I moved around the sandy hills and gravel pavements without any threat. Even when my mother or the lady neighbouring us sent my sisters and I to the nearest shopping centre.
We were like free spirits moving around in the air especially on the rainy days. My sister, who is two years older than me, my friends and I would run into a gravel pit that still exists before the current mall. It would be filled with rain water mixed with the gravel ground and we would run into the water and jump from stone to stone racing towards the centre. Ah I can still feel the excitement as if it were yesterday!
Sometimes in the moment of carelessness we would lose the twenty rand that was for one kilogram of samp which would be used for the warm Mqushu (samp and beans stew) later in the evening. We would have to trace back our steps and luckily – because no one else would use our wet and gravel pit – we would find it soaked and attached to a stone.
This was our route and it was free from any sort of danger!
However a couple years later my freedom was snatched away during a walk to church with a group of church mates. I was much older than the pitch black short haired little girl that ran around splashing into water. I must have been about thirteen, skin glowing, spotless and rocking my soft dread hair style.
I was carrying my very smart Nokia cellphone that my aunt had handed down to me. The cellphone was in the front pocket of my jeans and since I had just developed some hips the jean was quite tight and as a result the cellphone was traced and very visible.
While we were walking on a straight tar road a tall and very thin man wearing an oversized hoodie appeared about one hundred metres ahead. As he approached us and got closer and closer he looked like he was high on some very cheap chemical. My guess was TIK, glue or button – the infamous drugs in our community which had become freely available as anything else over time.
In less than seconds he was in front of me, his hands reached towards my hips and grabbed on the cellphone that was so tightly attached to it. I remember putting up a wrestle fight for something like three seconds but, because I was overpowered by his strength and intimidated by his aggression as much as my bystander mates, I stopped and gave in. He took it all – my cellphone, my freedom and my gravel grounds…
At that moment my free ground was no longer free. It had instantaneously become a criminal’s territory. Although I still walk around the township as if I own it, I’ve learnt a skill or two about life in the township and the make-your-device-invisible policy.