The street mumbled with chatter from the crowd but the noise fell when the foot-gate of Bongi’s home creaked. The crowd watched her with puzzlement. They expected an adult. Bongi tensed, sighed and approached the grownups.

She moved steadily and found herself walking with the footsteps of ancient African heroines who once protected the motherland. She remembered reading about Queen Manthatisi, a revered warrior who led Batlokwa to victories during the Difecane wars. She also recalled Ethiopia’s Queen of Sheba who with her bare hands killed a monstrous snake that tormented her people. Now Bongi felt the urge to strangle the ‘fear of the unknown’ breaking down Africans.

Reluctantly, the crowd opened space to form a small circle in order to accommodate her. Bongi stood in the middle and was astonished that she was able to absorb the hostile eyes that hovered over her small frame. Cigarette smoke surged skyward.

She looked at Dibaba and spoke without further ado. “You’re not going to burn our house because my mother has nothing to do with whatever you’ve heard.”

They watched her impatiently. Bongi capitalised on their silence and continued, now winding herself around as if it were important for all to see her face.

“The baboon is my friend and its name is Kop. If you have a problem with it then I’m the one you should to talk to, not my mother.” With her last words she came face to face with Dibaba and their eyes remained locked.

Murmurs of dissatisfaction rose around the crowd as they began to debate what Bongi had said. The commotion veered into verbal sneers since others disapproved being addressed by a child, especially in the manner in which Bongi had.

But Dibaba, who’d been holding Bongi’s gaze, thought otherwise. “What do you suggest then, Bongi?” he asked patronisingly.

However, most people missed the subtlety and therefore regarded Dibaba questionably, as if he was suddenly taking Bongi’s side. The noise rose in anticipation of Bongi’s reply but the crowd did not know that she was unnerved by the brewing David and Goliath challenge she’d seemingly sparked. Bongi was not sure how to respond to Dibaba’s question and wished it were her mother standing there, explaining. But it could’ve been dangerous for her. She, was a child and did not imagine the grownups harming her, mad as they were.

Throats cleared and a cough rasped lazily.

“Why are we always ready to harm anything we don’t know?” Bongi said after collecting herself. “What did the baboon do to any of you?”

She went on, emphasising with her hands, “Kop, my friend, the baboon, came to my house to eat the raspberries from the trees. It used what could’ve otherwise gone to waste because we don’t eat them. See, its presence is also useful to us.”

“Little girl, don’t tell us stories here, baboons are used by witches, this thing must go. Simple!”

An angry male voice cut in, then followed by a gruff one but Dibaba raised his beefy hand and order was restored. He returned his gaze to Bongi and she read his mind.

“Like all of you, my mother didn’t know about the baboon until today,” Bongi continued. “But the baboon has agreed to surrender itself to the SPCA animal home to show that it’s not used by witches.”

She stopped, expecting some backlash but quickly realised that the situation was turning into her favour. “I’m not going to let you harm Kop like you harm African migrants who come into our communities with the spirit of Ubuntu you preach so much.”

People listened, but others shuffled their feet uncomfortably. Bongi made a connection with her mother’s face amongst the crowd.

“And where is this… baboon friend of yours, Bongi?” Dibaba asked.

“It will show up when the SPCA animal home car arrives, for its safety of course. They’re on their way,” she said. “I’ve called them.”

Dibaba chuckled, clearly not buying the story. But she was not discouraged, and went on.

“Kop is African like all of us, now must it be harmed only for being found in a township? This is also the land of its baboon ancestors. Same as the African migrants who come here to seek work, they come here with the trust that they’ll find their brothers and sisters and they expect to be safe. Do you folks even know that Southern Africa is the cradle of human kind?”

She did not expect any response, and therefore put in with conviction, “Every living person belongs here.”

The sound of a moving vehicle could be heard and soon its horn blasted a couple of times.

***

Tell us: What do you think of Bongi’s message that we should accept people who are different from us?