Kapa Likude Somkhwela uApolo
Far Away Cape Town
The years 1996 and 1997 brought about changes in my life. Changes I had no control over. My brother, Bonani, passed away in November 1996 after completing his Matric. We were left heartbroken. Bonani embodied the word ‘friendliness’. He was friendliness. In flesh we missed a brother, a confidante, a mentor, a source of protection. Fond memories are what we have left of him. There comes a time in our lives where we have to go through this – we all have experienced the loss of a loved one in one way or another.
I wrote this poem for ubut’ Bonani in November 1996.
blessed and rich, you, land of the dead
You picked of the dearest right out of our hearts
How scared are we, of you, you are the unknown
We thought you came with age
You proved to be random in your visits
She, who had given birth in tears
Her umbilical cord rips again painfully
How expensive you are in your selection
How costly to those who remain
Let me leave you, but how
You were loved the most
How, you were life
All ends with Him
In 1997, udadethu – my sister and I started school in Cape Town. At first I was not keen on this decision my mother and grandparents took. Hey man, these were new beginnings and new discoveries about myself too. I learnt that I could be nervous and uncomfortable around people I did not know – something I would outgrow over time when I got to know myself more with the help of people I came across.
My aunt calls me, “Lungile yizobona – come see. There is a letter here addressed to you.”
“To me, I don’t believe this.” I am very excited and I open the letter.
“Hi, my laaitie, it is the boss.
You promised you would never leave me alone here or at least not now. I am not very happy about what you have done. You could have at least told me. I really thought I had a friend in you – I still feel I do though. I am deeply hurt now that I won’t be seeing you as much as I would like to, going forward. Now that I said that and it is out of the way. Please know that I wish you all the best eKapa in Cape Town.
Bests and regards
Obebhala – the one who wrote
Zuko, the boss.
Wow, a rather short but fierce letter from my friend, I think to myself. It brings back memories and I am not sure if I will enjoy Cape Town now.
It is funny how sometimes in your life you ask yourself, “Can it ever get better than this? or Can it ever get worse?” The answer is YES to both. Often it gets worse before it gets better. Kubamnyama kakhulu phambi kokuba kuse – it gets very dark before the break of dawn.
The bell rings, it is my first day at Ukhanyo Primary School. We are to queue for the morning assembly before the start of the day. “Hey, hey, hey, inqunqu –must stand in front.” Inqunqu – is a slang word for a newcomer. I have my position already and I hope this boy who is calling me does not come this way. “Wena – hey you, what are you doing at the back here?” This light-complexioned boy grabs me by my throat.
“Stop, wait – I am making my way to the fr…” He is squeezing so tight I am left with one option: to try and free myself. As I free myself, Black Spider, as he is called by other boys that root for him, grabs me by my shirt. I deliver a punch to his face. Down he goes. Just before three or four boys try to jump me, a teacher, who has been watching this scene unfold, comes over just in time to stop them. Black Spider is bleeding from his nose and as for his white shirt, well, you could call it red with a bit of white. What have I just done? This thought crosses my mind. I am shaking. There is a tremble in my throat and I can’t even speak properly. The principal wants us in her office. Now!
Expulsion comes up a few times as she speaks. In her office I am asked to tell what happened and I start crying. Again I think to myself – what have I just done? But I don’t get expelled on my first day of school in Cape Town – thanks to Mr Mhayi who stepped in just at the right time. You know what, I probably would have camped outside the school had the principal expelled me.
A year passes or so fast and Black Spider becomes one of my friends. My two years at Ukhanyo Primary School prove to be great. I mean, I really had fun. Slowly but surely I started to identify what was common between the kids here and ones from my home in the Eastern Cape. We were all hungry: this was the most common thing. But here it took me four minutes to get to school whereas back home it took me forty-five minutes walking. Back in the Eastern Cape we built toy cars with wire, something they do here too, but here it is more hand held skateboards that are built. They move so nicely and surf the tarred streets of this place. Here a boy gets sent early in the morning to the spaza shop to buy a loaf of bread, tomatoes and onion to make up the recipe for the famous bisto. Back in the Eastern Cape boys wake up early to milk cows and goats. Mothers prepare the famous umvubo dish, also known as African Salad.
Rural areas in the Eastern Cape are different in ways. We often judge people by where they come from. If the area is not known to be that ‘great’ – we think less of them. This is black on black racism. Judging people by where they come from and how they act, means we are looking at how different we are from them. If we are looking for differences we will find them, even if there are none. A unified nation acknowledges similarities and moves on; cares less about differences and embraces each other. I now understand that people come from different parts of the east to urban areas for greener harvests. Let me tell you something for nothing. For me, when I came from the Eastern Cape, urban areas felt very much like a concrete jungle that produced even less in terms of rich or healthy food. I was reminded all the time that I did not have much.
In the city instincts of wanting to make money start kicking inside like raging hormones. We all had different plans and we would sit and bounce ideas around of how to make a quick buck. More and more kids started to agree with the crazy ideas that were coming up, but very few got to do what was planned.
Breaking into houses and stealing cars was obviously a fast way to jail. Drugs were a fast way to self-destruction. But crime wasn’t only here, it was also rife in the rural areas as well. We need to help each other to that prosperity we would all love – in other ways, not through crime. How do I manage to think this way as hungry as I am?
My introduction to entrepreneurship was through the system of taxi ownership. I watched some men flourish and grow magnificently in this industry. I am humbled to see how men, who would be regarded as previously disadvantaged, have managed to run this business so successfully. If you have never been in a taxi I suggest you go for the experience. Yes, it can be risky, but with anything in life there is an element of risk.
“Kaap toe, gaan ons saam. Dame, Wynberg, Claremont, Kaap…. Hou vas, hou vas,” meaning “Cape Town, you going with. Mam, Wynberg, Claremont, Cape Town… Hold it, hold it.” They say this – “Hold it – Hou vas” – banging on the body of the taxi as the music blares out. Observe how the door is opened for a lady of any age.
“If you stepped into this world of taxi drivers from the outside you wouldn’t believe me if I told you that taxi conductors go for training. It is a professional qualification that one has to obtain in order to work as a Taxi Conductor. Well, hold that thought before you disagree. These men are married, some of them and are bread winners in their homes – it is one of those roles that perhaps go unnoticed.”
Sbu, a new friend whom I have just met at Ukhanyo Primary, has just invited me to a game of street soccer with a tennis ball. Our goal posts are open concrete water drainage systems on each side.
“That’s true, and you can say it again, Lungsta, my friend.” Sbu says.
“May these successful men forge ahead in their daily hustle and continue their work of keeping the streets clean of crime.”
“Ja, exactly. Where would they be if they were not hanging on these taxi doors while knitting the streets of our urban areas?” I strongly agreed with what Sbu had just said.
“You know, my friend, the taxi rank has become a respected place for criminals,” Sbu added.
“There is a very fine line, Sbu, when it comes to that. The law investigates, and successfully in most cases, links criminals to incriminating evidence. It is only then the perpetrator can be punished.” Sbu looks at me.
“No, man, by this we do not mean taxi drivers must take the law into their own hands but the idea is for them to work hand in hand with the police as they may understand communities within which they work more.” Sbu explained, really making sure that his point is heard.
“I hear you, my friend, but in most cases that is not what happens.”
“Here I guess we are not going to tell taxi drivers what to and what not to do – the main thing to remember that it is important to work.”
“I notice that the youth is so turned on by money, Lungsta. Talk money and they want to act, even if it means they are derailed at times from their life.”
“The saying ‘Money is the route of all evil’ is so true to an easily seduced mind, my friend. As you rightly said, Sbu. Talk sense to the youth and you get challenged at times – what is more inviting to many is partying every weekend and hoping the rest will take care of itself. Parties are so nice man. But we need to stay clear of the dangers.”
We are sitting on the pavement of Sisulu street corner. I am getting used to playing street football with a tennis ball. The sweat that trickles down my back is drying and getting cold. Each time a goal is scored we have to dip into the drain to collect the ball and restart.
“The first time I went to a party, Lungsta, I left wishing that life was just one big party.”
“There is alcohol in most parties, Sbu – do you drink?”
“Why do people love this thing so much called beer? At first this is honestly how I felt. It tastes bitter, Lungsta, and why would people empty their bank accounts to buy this? The next day you cannot lift your head off the pillow and you are so dehydrated, they call this a hangover.”
“You know what Sbu, phone a friend and tell them that you have got a hangover and it the coolest thing ever. No offence to beer producers out there.”
“Exactly, Lungsta, you don’t want to piss these guys off now, they might just stop producing beer or sponsoring our national teams – we have gotten used to it and it is loved worldwide. I do not know my friend but invite me to a party and tell me there is no alcohol – I will turn that invite down without thinking twice.”
It is Wednesday afternoon and I go to phone my mom’s work to find out if we are going to see her this weekend. The sound of a rand coin knocking its way down and then being accepted by a Telkom booth gives hope – it is like the phone has already been answered on the other side but I still need to dial. “Lungile nguwe – is that you?”
“Yes, mama, ndim – it is me.”
“Lungile, be ready tomorrow at one o’clock, you are going for an interview at the Fish Hoek Middle School.”
“Who me? An interview for a Model C school – with white kids?”
“Yes you. When I come there with Jacque make sure your shirt is tucked in and your shoes polished.”
“We will see you tomorrow.” I put the phone down without having asked my mother what I wanted to know. I wished it was the same time the following year, at least by then we would know how I was doing and I would have made English speaking friends.
A white microbus stands in front of my house as I come out of an outside toilet. Gosh, the sound of this metal and zinc door can be so loud you know. I wash my hands under a tap outside and go straight inside. After I finish wiping my hands I realize that I have just used a dish cloth. Is this what nerves do to a person?
I am really excited about going to this school, yet there is that stroke of nerves that cuts across my chest. Fish Hoek middle and senior high Schools, what an awesome pleasure. What would make it even more interesting is that it is where I would meet two of my best friends. When we had the toughest challenge in our relationship as friends, Siyabonga said. “But Lungsta, I never thought I would live to see this day”. That is what our friendship meant to him. He did not think he would live to see the day we were not going to be talking to each other. What a dynamic individual – Siya the mate as he affectionately called us. High school went so fast. Soon it was the valedictory ceremony. The following poem written by me, Lungsta, was shared.
A poem written for the Fish Hoek Senior High School Matric Class of 2002 – it certainly was my feelings put on paper.
The beginning of a new world
We all walked tall and sat above
We ruled we spread the word
In SRC assemblies we all had fun
Came the variety concert – give me more
The Matric play – oh the best under the sun
The song rewind, we made our own
A true lady indeed… our leader
Kept cajoling that we look after each other
Led by her we stand
Before the river we embrace
Wondering who of us will withstand
Or who of us will find the right pace
Some of us will jump at an angle
Some of us will float about
Some of us will find it hard to handle
Some, like Shuttleworth, will fly above
Yet we are all angels of the Lord
Therefore we should ask unless we want not.
“You know Sbu, take a drive in the rural Eastern Cape – you won’t have to look hard to find what could possibly be the worst roads in the world.” We are kicking a ball over rough ground on a street in Masiphumelele. “Make this a journey on a day after it has been pouring with rain and the suspension of the bakkie gets dipped in mud. This bakkie is carrying people inside and on top there’s cabbages, 20.5kg of Mealie meal bags, jam meal and more.”
“How is life for the people of the Eastern rural areas, Lungsta?”
“None of this stops life for the people of the Eastern Cape. Life just goes on. Boys wait with wheelbarrows full of shopping bags, too heavy for one person to carry. They wait for the bakkie ‘taxi’. In our village we had heard of shopping malls and tried to picture what they looked like, but when we got near one we weren’t sure if we wanted to go inside.”
“Why would that be sihlobo sam – my friend? A mall is the best place for shopping.”
Why am I sharing this with Sbu today? There is that chance that he might undermine me but what the heck. I am the coolest guy in the location nowadays. I go to a white school. Sbu and I are doing a load of chicken feet – amnqina at the park.
“Well my parents tell me, Lungsta that we are from eKomani – Queenstown, in the village of Zingquthu, but I have never been there myself.” I pick up that Sbu is a bit reluctant to tell me his full family story.
“Hey Sbu, I remember my first conversation with a white man.” I laugh. “That man would come to the area near our village to collect aloes that would have been prepared for him by the villagers for a small fee.”
“How did you talk to him if you could not speak English back then, Lungsta?”
“The white man spoke isiXhosa fluently, Sbu. It was not uncomfortable. But my first meeting with a white boy in Cape Town, now that was uncomfortable – it was not a conversation.”
“What happened, Lungsta?”
“I was walking down to a Pick ‘n Pay store near us with a friend. We met these three young boys on bicycles who showed an interest in talking to us. I was young. I tried to explain to the white boy standing next to me that I liked one of the bicycles. He wanted to know which one. I pointed as a boy rode towards me.“The one the fat one is riding,” I said.
“Hayi bo – no man, not cool Lungsta.”
“Tell me about it, Sbu. The boy came straight up to me. I was standing there with a wide smile. He asked me if I believed in God and I nodded. These boys took their bikes and went on giving us looks that were not so polite. I was not quite sure why this was happening and we carried on walking towards the shops. On learning that calling someone fat is rude in the English language and culture I felt so bad.”
“Yeah man, what were you thinking?”
“I now know, man. Here I was trying the best way I knew to explain or describe another person. Where was I to find this boy and apologize? Where was I to find him and tell him that brother I could not speak English and I did not know? And so that left me thinking. In my Xhosa culture, people complement each other by saying ‘Awusemhle uyazibona utyebile?’ I am going to directly translate this, Sbu, in English to show where I am coming from when I said this boy is fat. “You are so beautiful, do you see that you are fat?” There is much more to learn in languages than the spoken word. The first meeting between people has many things to it – what goes on in the minds of both is different. What needs to prevail and take the lead is love.”
“Amen, Lungsta, umfundisi! You need to sharpen up on the language to show respect to people that speak English, Lungsta.”
“Sbu, I vowed never to make people unhappy again through not understanding. Perhaps it might happen again, but next time I will make sure that love prevails.”
“I remember the first few times driving past the etoneleni – the N1 Toll Pass into Cape Town and driving into the city at night. There were lights everywhere. It looked unreal.” I could see that Sbu had never had this experience before. “For many, the best source of light at night is ufinya futhi – paraffin lamp in a tin container back in the village, Sbu.”
“Street lamps! – Lungsta, why are you making this sound like this is luxury, man?”
“Trust me it is, my friend, coming from a background such as mine. At night I can play outside and the lighting is so good it looks like it is daytime. I almost got a serious beating trying to explain a train to a group of friends back in my village.” Sbu throws his hands in the air.
“Are you telling me there are boys there that have never seen a train before – what happened, Lungsta?”
“I had just come back from Cape Town from holidaying one year. One of the boys asked me: “So please tell me Lungile, I hear that a train does not turn around – how is that possible?” In trying to explain I tell him, no, what they have done is that the train has two engines – one on each side. His next question was: “But my friend, how long is this thing and does the driver have to stop and walk all the way to the other engine?”
“No, my friend, you see a train is very long – it is about the length of the sea and there are two drivers.” I did not finish this sentence – one boy who was older than us grabbed me by my jersey almost lifting me up. He wanted me to repeat what I had just said. I knew that he wanted to punish me for it. His next question was if I knew how long the sea was. On thinking about it again I realized that I was talking rubbish. I quickly apologized and he put me down telling me not to say anything further – not that I was going to anyway after what I had just seen.” Sbu laughs hysterically.
“What a mistake, Lungsta, had you not been to the sea or at least studied about it my friend?”
“My first sea experience where I got to swim was amazing, Sbu. What I then called swimming – standing at the beach where the water comes only to knee height. I must admit that I have not progressed vastly from this and I cannot swim to save my life ndoda – man.” My hands are sticky from this load of amanqina – chicken feet and it is probably best if I washed them. I am leaking them instead – people, you have no idea how much of a delicacy this is. “Sbu, when I came to Cape Town I could not believe the amount of shacks I saw. It disturbed me, Sbu. There were homes with lawns and swimming pools and huge houses where the white people lived, and on the other side, sometimes really close, dust and debris and shacks. And people living there. So close to each other but in different worlds.”
“Well, welcome to Cape Town, my friend – that is life here.”
Tell us what you think: What differences have you experienced between life in a city and life in the rural areas?