Months in prison
Inyanga etilongweni

All those hours on the bus to Masizakhe I was in a happy mood. Maybe life would be good to me this time? Ta Simpra and his colleagues at the Children’s Home had given me snacks and a bottle of juice for the trip. Yamkela had recorded some of his fantastic gospel music for me and, through Atie, someone else had given me a second-hand set of headphones so I could listen to it all the way…

The HOKISA director – whom I called Doc like the others did, although he was not a medical doctor – had handed me R200 in cash before we arrived at the bus station. ‘That’s for your new school uniform in Masizakhe!’ he said. I thanked him and put it deep in my pocket.‘I can trust you, Mbu?’ he asked.

‘You can, Doc,’ I answered, looking him straight in the eyes. I’d never met people before who cared for me like these guys, Ta Simpra and the Doc, did. Never would I disappoint them.


The day was already warm by the time the bus drew into Graaff Reinet early the next morning. It was the end of January and the new term had started. I was intending to have a quick wash and then go straight to my new school to register. Afterwards I would go and buy my new uniform, so as to be ready for a good start the following day.

I walked confidently from the taxi rank to Gogo’s house. It all still felt familiar to me, even though so many years had passed and I was now so much bigger and, yes, also more mature than the last time I’d been here. The front door stood wide open, but I knocked politely anyway.

Ngena – come in, Mbu!’ I heard Gogo call from one of the bedrooms.

Molo, Gogo,’ I greeted her cautiously. There was no one else there. All the other kids had left for school already. When she came out of the bedroom into the light of the living room, I could see that she was not in a good mood. I hoped it was not because of me.

‘The Welfare people have not approved the foster grants for two of the youngest kids I’ve just accepted,’ she said in a grumpy voice. ‘What do they think? That I am a millionaire?’ I thought it might be better to leave her alone for the moment. I did not ask where I could sleep but put my bag down next to the door, took my shirt off and went to the bathroom to wash myself.

I had just started to pour cold water over my head when she came in and addressed me aggressively: ‘Mamela – listen! This guy from the Children’s Home promised that they would send money with you. How much did they give you?’

I took my head out from under the water and looked at her in concern: ‘Hayi, Gogo – the only money I’ve received is for my new uniform…’

‘How much?’ she asked again, impatiently.

‘Just R200… I need all of it for the uniform,’ I repeated.

Bububhanxa – nonsense!’ she shouted angrily. ‘In the old days you could make do with a second-hand one. Are you Mister Special now?’

I did not know what else to say. This should have been a good start, but it didn’t seem like it. I remembered my promise to the Doc that I would try. I would not bow down to her bad mood today. I finished washing and then got ready to go to the new school and, afterwards, buy the uniform as planned. I left my bag with the rest of my belongings next to the entrance. Gogo did not answer when I said: ‘Sobonana, Gogo – see you later.’

Tell us what you think: How does Gogo treats Mbu?