“Viva comrades, viva! Phambili ngomzabalazo, phambili! Phansi with the system that doesn’t provide the youth with opportunities to progress. Phansi!” the crowd reverberated energetically in the video we were watching, while they marched in the streets of Tembisa.
We couldn’t exactly tell how far they were from the blurry video, but we had looked silently into each others’ eyes and made a wordless contract to join forces.
More than 60% of the youth were unemployed. The rand was in a plummeting free fall, knocking us all right out off the curve of comfort and pushing the standard of living sky-high. Workers were being let go, businesses were belly-up and only the top dogs – and those who greased palms with their profits – looked into the future with bright eyes … Dark days, sunnier promises. And we were all fed up.
“It’s criminal to be alive at this moment in time,” Nathi said, as the video clip ended. “Imagine things panning out – we’ll be able to tell our grandchildren that we stuck it to the big man. Oh boy, I have to admit I’m jealous of all the leaders in the upper ranks of the riots. It’s going to be all glory to them. I don’t know about you guys, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m going to befriend them all. Who knows what the future holds?” Nathi was fully in his natural hustler’s state of mind.
Kgosi couldn’t help but laugh at him. “Come on man. You know you’re self-serving, you know yourself. What would you do for the people that the modern leadership isn’t already dishing out, if – and a very big if – you made it to the top with the help of the leaders in the youth ranks?”
Nathi squirmed and wiggled his tongue about at the bitter taste of the beer, which had turned somewhat warm by now. He responded: “You’re not entirely wrong. If I’m to put my head on the chopping block, I’d better have incentive. Isn’t the devout suicide bomber urged by the divine reward of a virgin in the next life? Exactly! I love you all, but I will always come first!”
We all chuckled and I coughed raggedly from the smoke I had sucked into my lungs from the strong blunt.
“While I don’t see eye to eye with most of your viewpoints, I must agree with you in this case,” I said. “Even the hero who wants nothing dies for song and praise. It’s just a natural human urge, like taking a piss!” There was nervous laughter from the others. And then we all stepped outside in preparation …
Nathi leapt up and held his ear in a signalling position into the sky, shushing our jokes. “Do you hear that? I know I’ve blasted my ears with loud tavern music, but you can’t tell me that’s not organized noise. Hear that Tebuza, Mr Science?”
An incoherent noise wafted feverishly through the air and the smell of disgruntlement, the smell of burning tyres, reached our noses and clung to the roofs of the entire neighbourhood. We looked into each other’s eyes and, without a word, devoured the ground beneath us, racing to be the first to see, to be swept along by wild spirits, to be comrades in arms, part of the delirious crowd …
“Iyoh yo Solomon! … Iyo yo Solomooon!.We Solomoni! Iyoh yo Solomon!” the lively crowd sang, two parallel streets away from us, and we dashed and met them right in the middle of the train of people that were gearing towards Rabasotho police station.
The buzzing swarm of people spread out and there was pandemonium. The nearby shops scrambled about to lock up, but for most of them it was already all too late. I saw Ahmed and his companions run for the hills and I made my way to his shop to see what had occurred. The corner stores were all exposed to the mob and ransacked. It was a jackpot, it was Christmas …
With a rush of blood, I didn’t waste time. I ran into Ahmed’s, scampered for the little cash that the others had left behind in haste, and treated myself to a shopping spree, as I quickly loaded one item after another into a plastic. All the camaraderie dissolved into thin air when the window of opportunity showed itself. Brothers in arms by cause, every man for himself in hunger. I bundled it all into plastics and scurried to my mother’s house.
I bolted in without knocking. My active, amateurish mind had itself tangled up with the thought that someone was on my tail. I thudded the door shut with such force, that it defied the laws of physics when it held up.
Tell us: Why do you think Tebuza stole the groceries? Why did he join the protest in the first place?