The day was blisteringly hot. From a distance the sun made people seem wobbly and melty like they would drip and drop onto the floor any moment.
I was pacing to hit a joint and gobble up a drink or two before finally lying back at Nathi’s place. It was our sanctuary – a habitat for us creatures of self-proclaimed weirdness. In Tembisa there weren’t many like us. Yes, most, granted, could compete with us in drinking and being wretched. But they had none of our original style. No sophistication. We were hybrids: lions in wolves’ clothing. Strong in our shared misery. We were simply different.
I was now out of Umnonjaneni section and entering Moteong. And Nathi’s place was just two consecutive streets away. I wandered into Ahmed’s mini corner store.
There was no-one in sight for service. I waited and knocked my two-rand coin rapidly against the corrugated receiving platform.
“Ah my friend, it’s you. Wena you shaya the door so angry, what’s wrong? Your girl say no-no to making love or what?” Ahmed finally responded, yawning, as he emerged sluggishly in sandals from a small room that adjoined the shop.
“You guys toyi-toyi every time. Wena, you see the news? Ah, it’s shubile everywhere across the country. Danger to all …” he rambled on, while I lit a cigarette and took the rizla and the matches from his hand.
I stood there, lost in thought. The enterprise, the sheer brilliance, ingenuity and collectivism of Ahmed and his brothers! They came here literally with nothing except a flickering glint of hope, and a plan already devised to see them flourish, and all they have to do is co-sign and run errands, and then bang! They owned the next corner store. Why couldn’t we do that? Is it that we’re too unsupportive of each other? Or, as my mother would have the last word, simply entitled and lazy? I don’t know, but I was definitely bothered.
I walked into the yard and made my way to the backroom Nathi was renting. It was just before morning shifted over into afternoon, yet already sound emanated loudly from his room as you entered through the gate and I wondered how he was tolerated there. I peered through the curtain and saw Kgosi already there, drawing. I knocked and went inside before they could answer.
Nathi wasn’t the type to spare any word that sprouted from the deep chasms of his mind and he welcomed me excitedly with a cold Black Label at hand and a blunt balanced at the edge of his mouth, shooting smoke in every direction.
“Yoh, yoh bru, yoh! The unrests have finally made their way here and been adopted by Tembisa. It’s rough. And people’s faces are going to be rough too at this rate. You ought to have seen something out there coming in,” he said, tilting his head as he downed his drink.
“What are you talking about? What unrest?” I asked in confusion.
“Mr Smarty Pants himself. If only you watched TV and used social media as much, instead of acting such a rebel. The unrest started two days ago – unemployed youth taking to rioting in the streets everywhere. Hashtag ‘Make the country ungovernable until we all have jobs’ all over Twitter and Facebook. I must say, given how entitled and cowardly most of us are, I didn’t see this coming. I don’t know about you boys. But after these two joints and three beers, I’m joining in!”
Nathi leaned over with his right hand still curled around his beer. We all zoomed in on the phone in his hand, to see videos of the countrywide uproar circulating on Twitter. They chanted, threw stones, and steadily rammed their way through the cops, scattering when the intensity became too hot to handle. They were menacing and timid at the same time, but most importantly drew emotion and solicited an evocative invitation for other brave loose screws to join in.
I gulped down my drink, and Nathi and Kgosi rambled on with the vigour of a tempest, while I chewed the bones of my mind. I despised crowds, but here was something I could eagerly stand for. In science, art and beauty I believed, but before me lay a greater cause … I might have opinions that conflicted with the general populace of my generation, but I was undeniably hungry and borderline resentful, because my life was at a halt and my masculinity in question. I had completed the “go to school” route, yet here I was utterly defeated with my hands tied behind my back … I couldn’t look back now – I wanted to dance with the fire.
Tell us: What do you think are the most important issues that these young people are protesting about? Is their anger and frustration understandable?