In a township such as Tsakane you hardly find any newlyweds. And in most black communities you find that when there are young couples with a child, not living together, the mother is responsible for the child’s upbringing and the father foots the bill. It is often the norm that the child remains in the care of the mother and her parents, until the father has gathered enough money to pay for ‘damages’ done to her.

Paying for ‘damages’ allows the father visitation rights to see and hold his offspring in the comfort of his home or the mother’s. When he has enough money he can put a ‘down payment’ on his wife and child and they can come live with him. As soon as he has paid inhlawulo, technically they belong to him. He still has to make one final payment called lobola, but only if he wishes to marry the mother of his offspring.

Lobola means the father must pay retribution by thanking the girl’s entire family and giving cows to the girl’s father and some of her older relatives. But nowadays most people don’t deal in cows, they exchange money instead. And in a township like Tsakane it’s pretty rare to find married couples, unless they are old and have been together for decades.

I was raised and influenced by my mother’s side of the family. But things were a bit easier for me than for some other children, because my father’s family lived in Hlongwane Street, only five minutes from my mother’s house. There were no kids at that house so they spoiled me rotten and called me Christopher, the spirit of their father and grandfather reincarnated.

I enjoyed the attention and would spend days there without letting anyone from my mother’s side of the family know where I was. They reckoned I was forbidden by African customary law to step foot there, except on certain occasions, until my father had paid inhlawulo.

My father didn’t stay at the house on Hlongwane Street. He lived in a different province, in Bethal, Mpumalanga, and worked in the mines so he could provide for me and my older sister.

At some point there were 19 souls living under my mother’s family’s roof, from grandparents to parents, their children and their children’s children. It’s quite a big house so we had plenty of room to sleep and we had plenty of breadwinners, so our bellies were always filled to capacity.

My cousins and I really enjoyed that bit very much because we lived for food. We always worked up an appetite, playing all sorts of kasi make-believe games. That’s if we weren’t too busy causing havoc in the neighbourhood getting into all sorts of trouble.

These early years of playing ‘school’ together also made me and my sister very close, even though she was seven years older. She looked out for me, often bailing me out of trouble by taking the hiding. Later, when the tables had turned and Mom was after her with a shoe or a belt, I would come to her rescue and take the beating for her.


Tell us: Can you relate to how Chris was brought up?