My first day at school
Isuku loku qala esikolweni

Actually, we never saw much of Cape Town on that first journey. I remember that far away, on the horizon, I could make out this huge famous mountain, called Table Mountain, because of its flat top. Our bus driver had stopped somewhere in the city to drop off passengers, but I had been asleep then and had missed it.

When my mom woke me up, we were already at our stop. We got off the bus and changed to a minibus taxi, my mother confirming with the other passengers that the taxi would go to Masiphumelele. The young woman next to us nodded her head: ‘Ewe, Sisi – it’s not far from here.’

Indeed, not long after that, the taxi stopped at the entrance to another township, much smaller than the one we had come from. Only now did I ask my mother: ‘Why are we here, Mom?’

‘Because an uncle lives here and he’s offered to rent us a shack in his backyard.’

This township looked even poorer than ours in eRhafu – the local name for Graaff Reinet. It was very dirty, with a lot of litter in the main road, and there wasn’t even one street name to guide us. Finally, we came to a container which seemed to be serving as a day clinic. Many women and small children were waiting outside it. My mother went to talk to some of them, while I sat on the ground in the shade next to the container.

After a while she returned with a smile: ‘The uncle isn’t around, but he left a key for us with the neighbours. His place is near to the entrance.’

We walked back all the way we’d come, while the sun burned down on us. I felt dizzy, as I urgently needed something to drink. But our water bottle was empty and had been that way for a long time already. ‘Hamba – go, Mbu!’ my mom told me. She did not pull me along, but was kinder than I was used to. She even comforted me, saying: ‘We are almost there . . .’

Finally, we found the yard of this uncle and, luckily, one of the older neighbours was there and handed us the key: ‘If you don’t pay your rent, he will chase you away . . .’ he said with a grumpy face. ‘And if you make any trouble at night, we will all chase you out!’ He then closed his door without another word.

But my mom seemed determined that life would become better here: ‘Mbu, just wait until I have a job . . .’ she told me.

As if to confirm her hopes she opened a tap next to the outside toilet. Clean water came out. ‘Jonga – you see!’ I put my mouth under the tap and drank as much as I could. Maybe mom was right and things would be better in this place.


The shack was tiny and dark, even during the day, as it had no window, only a shrieking wooden door. There was no furniture and just a sandy floor. We were both so tired that mom unfolded a blanket on the ground and we lay down. We used her bag with all our clothes to put our heads on and fell asleep immediately.

The next morning my mom bought some apples, bananas and bread and we enjoyed our first breakfast in our new place. ‘The rest of the money I must keep for the rent,’ she told me.

She left me with one banana and a filled water bottle. ‘Ndiyabuya ngoku – I’m coming back soon, my boy!’ she said. She went out, locking the wooden door from the outside. I was convinced that she would be back after an hour or so, as she had said many times how easy it was to get a job in iKapa. I imagined that we would buy some real groceries then, maybe even some sweets for me. And, one day, some furniture – a bed, and even a cupboard.

Tell us what you think: How do you think Mbu felt being locked in the shack? Do you think his mom was going to come back soon?