Three Stories by Mphutlane wa Bofelo
“the subscriber is not available at the moment try again later”
the voice tells me and to no avail i try again later for several times until i decide to try the guys’ home phones and i am met with voice mails or phones ringing endlessly without anyone picking them up and i hopelessly shake my head painfully trying to understand how possible it is that it could be but just a coincidence that all the guys have either switched their phones or have left them home or lost them and now i am wondering whether these guys are still coming because they were so adamant that our new years’ eve get-together should take place at mafeshene’s place in houghton despite the fact that last year we were at the very same place and the years before that we had it at majivane’s joint in midrand and at mafesha’s mansion in reigerpark. i asked them what is wrong with my house and they all chorused: “will there be security for our cars.” their girls added their own verses: “there’s sure to be gate-crushers and we won’t be able to wear our jewelry” they added their song on a high note: “we’ve been telling you for too long that that place is a security risk and any businessman worth the salt should have long considered trekking.”
to say i was gatvol is an understatement as i do not understand how can anyone have the guts to express such a negative generalization about the place i love so much and to boot it all how is it possible that this hellish depiction of my hometown comes from the very homeboys and girls i grew up and played games in the dusty streets with. are these not the same people with whom i share sweet and loving memories of get-downing all night long kuzekuse on countless lala-vuka occasion and with whom i patrolled the streets to protect the community from attacks by otheliweni imidlwembe ama-askari and other faceless ruthless manifestations of the third force. did we not together wipe various marauding gangs from the streets of our hometown? was mafeshene not the feared commander of the defense units before he exchanged the khaki trousers with those made- in –paris- for- the -select -monied –few designer suits and was mafesha not himself a courier for drug lords before we gave him morabulo and won him to the side of umzabalazo and long before he became notorious for laying down she-comrades with sweet talk and sheer brute force at times? did we not dance the dark streets together and what is the difference between these streets these days and these streets those days? for sure there were muggings jack rolling and hijacking then as it is the case today and off course like it is today that was not all there was here. there was fighting and loving and fucking and partying and dying and burying and hoping and praying and building then as is the case now.
clearly it is them and not the streets that have changed. indeed they have changed or else how do you explain the fact that they have decided to change their minds at the eleventh hour and decide not to come despite the fact that i finally had managed to force them to accept the fact that it is my turn to host the gumba and that since i choose to stay here this where the gig will be? perhaps it is too early for me to jump into conclusion after all it is only nine o’clock and we said the mcimbi will start at half past seven so this might just be the case of sticking to the african time. I wish \ perhaps \ maybe\ supposing \ what if\ and i hope is all I can say at the moment.
“the subscriber is not available at present try again later”
says the voice but this is the umpteenth time that i am trying to get hold of majivani and it is the same story with mafesha and mafeshene and their ladies. every time i call each one of them the voice declares “you have reached the cell phone of… and when i try again later it is looks as if the lady has gone tired from blurting out one story a million times because this time around i just hear some inaudible gibberish hush-hushing and ending off with:
“at the tone please leave a message or hang up”.
these are guys who simply would not let their batteries go flat for such a long time and they certainly know how to handle their cells with tender loving care to let them fall down since they do not go around with some cheap-cheap fong kong mokokotelo from some back-door operation but with brand new genuine makoya designer things fresh and straight from the store. hence i wonder what happened to their cells and shudder to think what could have happened to them because their grinning skulls would hunt me in my every waking and sleeping moment to tell me they told me that only people with death wishes dare to drive around with expensive cars in the night in soweto of all places and zola nogal.
i was indeed offended when they asked me when will i see the light that nothing can be as dangerous as darkies who can make a deal with your car while you are still driving around in it or dare to sell your fleshy shoes while your are still strutting about wearing them and do not mind to take a human life for a cellphone they will exchange for a case of beer or a for bm series 1 that they will trade off with one thousands and five hundreds rands. i blasted out that i was born and shall die in zola and am no chicken feed to be hoodwinked into joining the chicken flight and therefore contributing to the brain-drain in the ghetto simply because some brain-twisted westoxicated and white-washed darkies who climbed up the corporate ladder on the bee & aa bandwagon are now depicting the very place that gave them the breath of life as some hell on earth that is worse than sodom and gomorrah to justify their transformation into social hermits who find succor in the concrete jungle and hide from each other behind the safety of barbed wire and the security of armed guards and alarm systems.
now i am exhausted from waiting and waiting and am also bloody tired to hear:
the voicemail of \
the subscriber is not available\
at the tone\
try again later…”
i open a bottle of vodka and start drinking to keep myself busy while waiting for the guys and curse myself for relying on them to pick beauty at her home on their way to my place. now i am alone and efforts to reach her on her cell are also in vain. i try her younger sister’s cell but the phone cuts while she’s busy trying to tell me that beauty left her home two hours ago. damn the fucking phone to cut just when i am about to seek clarity leaving me with non conclusive clues of what could possibly have happened or be happening. i do not know when and how sleep overcame me but I wake up at 9 am with red eyes and a bloody raving headache supplemented by a rebelling tummy and so i down a regmaker and eno at the same time as i once again start asking myself question after question sparking more questions without answers until i give in and stop to try rationalizing and interrogating what could have happened and resort to phoning again….
the voice mail of
at the tone
leave a message
or hang up
is not available
at the moment
at the tone ——-
news bulletin…. a white red caravel kombi collided against a truck on the n 1 road last night at about eight o’clock the witnesses told sabc to answer his mobile phone only surviving occupants of the caravella told sabc news from the hospital bed that they were heading to a party in soweto witnesses claim that the driver was on his mobile phone ……
“Be cautious and careful my child, Gauteng is not a safe place. If a month passes without finding him, come back. Don’t stay for too long there. That place turns human beings into strange creatures. Go well my child, may God be with you.” Chakela is not concentrating on the old woman’s parting words as he painfully reflects on the contents of the letter his mother received from his father ten years ago: “I was forced to marry you because you got pregnant after the fling I was forced to have with you to prove that I am a man but now I have found myself and I am not prepared to come back because I cannot afford to live the life of pretense anymore. Goodbye. God bless you and the child.” The journey by taxi from Maseru to Johannesburg is a very tiring one, but the music on the radio and conversation it sparks among the passengers provides comic relief for Chakela. The hot subject is a specific song by his namesake, Chakela- the musician who has recently taken the music scene in Lesotho by storm. This particular song has lyrics with metaphoric reference to love affairs and sexual relationships between men and young girls and between young men and older women. In the song the singer seem to be condoning these kinds of relationships by indicating that it is quite natural and logical for older men to have a liking for mabolotsane -pumpkin in its early stage of growth- as it is much softer for their teeth, and for young boys to eat pumpkin as they have sharper teeth. The taxi driver joins in the conversation, arguing that it is irresponsible for a musician to use such a powerful tool of communication as music to encourage things that are out of touch with the norms-and-values of society.
The young man sitting next to Chakela throws his own idioms in support of the musician. “Chakela o opile kgomo ka lenaka, ntate. Kgomo di hangwa ke bashanyana, pitsa e sokwa ke lesokwana.” Chakela is surprised to hear his feminine voice and his strange accent. He also notices he has womanish mannerism in the way he gestures and shakes his head when he talks. He had observed the feminine movement when the fellow boarded the taxi but did not take it seriously. A woman in tight jeans and a “stomach-out” body-suit, whose wrinkled face betrays the fact that she is not as young as her body and dress and mannerism suggests, enters the conversation in support of the young man. She responds that culture is not static, it moves with the times. She adds that age has got nothing to do with love and one’s feelings but what is important is how the couple feel about each other and what brings happiness into one’s life. The older woman sited next to her recants: “Don’t talk about love and feelings and happiness. All that these men are interested is our bodies and to satisfy their insatiable appetite for sex not anything else. After the old man has used your body he returns to his wife and children and leave you with a fatherless child. The same happens with these young boys, they have sexual affairs with the older people but continue to maintain love relationships with younger girls. As for these women who sleep with boys, they area disgrace to themselves and to their children. Imagine sharing a boyfriend with your daughter. What happens when your son discovers that his friend is your girlfriend? Sies! Ke manyala kaofela nthwena” The wrinkled faced woman quips. “I am more interested in emotional and sexual satisfaction than in moralistic judgments. These old men tire in less than three minutes. What should I be doing all the time he snores? Painting my nails throughout the night?’
Once again the young man who speaks Sesotho with an Anglo-American accent resorts to the language of metaphors to argue his case:” O nepile wena, Mme. Pitsa e sokwa ka lesokwana. Lebekere le leholo le foduwa ka tea spoon” The taxi driver shakes his head and look at the young man with disdain written all over his face: “Look at this man-woman, or are you woman-man? What do you know about love affairs between real men and real women? ”. He turns towards Chakela: “It is true what your old woman told you. Do not stay in Jo’burg for two long, my son. You will come back home without your identity, knowing little of Sesotho and mastering English more than the Queen – a strange creature neither black nor white, and neither male or female.” The young man is not gagged by the taxi driver’s tirade. Shaking his head and pulling back his long hair from his face with one hand as he gestures with the other, he bursts out: “You Basotho are backward. You are still caged in the dark ages and you want everybody to conform and be trapped to the chains of social control. I choose to be what I feel I am and who I choose to be. That’s why I have decided to live in Jo’burg. Jozi allows you to be who you are.
As the music give way to the news and current affairs conversation changes to political issues. Not impressed by political discussion, or maybe avoiding further confrontation with taxi driver, the young fellow turns to Chakela and softly engages him in a conversation. His name is Yoghurt and he is a model, singer and dancer and also works as a DJ in a club owned by a friend of the man he is in love with but his final dream is to spin the discs at YFM and release his own CD of a fusion of house and kwaito, which he plans to call Kwai-House. Chakela suppresses his shock. He had thought the fellow only has feminine looks, but here it is he in confirming the fact that he is gay. As the conversation goes Chakela also opens up and tell the man his story. His mother passed away two weeks away and his sick grandmother feels that she’s about to leave planet earth too. She has therefore requested him to go and look for his father who disappeared into South Africa ten years ago, when he was only fourteen years old. A guy from Maseru who recently returned from Johannesburg after he was confined to a wheel chair by a car accident has told the family that he heard from friends that Chakela’s father runs some business in Johannesburg at a place called Yeoville. But the only relatives whose contact numbers he has are in Embalehle in Secunda. Since the taxi will arrive late in Johannesburg he does not even know where to stay for the night. Maybe he will sleep at the taxi rank. The young man tells him that he also stays in Yeoville but unfortunately there will be no accommodation for Chakela at his boyfriend’s one-room flat. And he also does not want to make him jealous by arriving with another man. Otherwise he knows Yeoville like he knows himself and will be willing to help him find his father. He gives him his cellular phone numbers. The jean-clad woman has been eavesdropping on the conversation. As soon as they board off the taxi she approaches the two young men and introduces herself as Clara. She tells them that she works and stays in Hillbrow, not far from Yeoville and can offer Chakela accommodation for the night. Yoghurt bids them goodbye and says he will wait for their call tommorrow. Clara is first to break the ice. She tells Chakela she is working as a clothing shop in Central Johannesburg and stays at a flat in Hillbrow. She asks about his father.
Chakela relates that his father’s name is Josefa Masemola. He worked as a bus driver in Lesotho and is alleged to have started off as a taxi driver in Veereeniging and later went to Johannesburg were he is reported to be having some business. They take a maxi taxi to the flat. The following day Chakela wakes up in a confused state. He had never imagined himself between the legs of a woman old enough to be his mother and whispering a love song in herb ears. Clara asks him what size he wears and tells him to feel at home and relax for the day while she will be at work. . She comes back with designer clothes and fleshy shoes for him. She takes out a box of KFC and they eat. Thereafter they bath and change clothes. Chakela looks like a street wise, man-about-town Jo’burg clever in his new outfit. They call their gay friend for directions to the club and Clara tells Chakela to relax in the bedroom for the day as she goes about her chores. At six o’clock in the evening they take a cab to Joe’s Club in Yeoville. On arrival they are welcomed by the happy Yoghurt who introduces them to his boyfriend, “Joseph Messemla.”
Rainbow Country Chronicles
I put a tie on my khaki suit, take off my jr hat, ponder for a little while, put it on again, wear my HIV\AIDS ribbon, loudly singing the English , Isizulu and Sesotho parts of the national anthem, and saying aloud the greetings in these languages to see how far I’ve gone with working on my accent. For the first time after forty years of its existence, Orange Vaal Kultuur Fees will be open to all cultures and races and I am the master of ceremonies (these days it is called program director). Mine is a task insurmountable. The folks understand the realities that it is mission impossible to sell the orange that is an all white cultural festival to the emergent rainbow nation that has become a part of the global village. They realize that a multiracial festival will be more sellable and that we need few black faces to be able to court corporate and government funding. Yet I still need to assuage their fears that our culture is about to be thrown in the dumping grounds of history. On the other hand I need to make the whole country believe that ours is not token transformation. My own personal image is at stake here. I have to assure the guys that I’m still worth the salt and at the same time show the government and the international community that the Orange Vaal Kultuur Gemeenskaap -the name change debate is still coming- is committed to transformation. I definitely need to master the art of uttering statements with a multiplicity of meanings and saying things that mean different things to different people depending on where they stand and what blinkers they wear.
I really have to dress up for the occasion and be everything to everybody. Thus far I’ve been equal to the task. The khaki is for the folk, the hat is for the crown-as you know we are back in the commonwealth and the sun shall never set on the British empire- the tie is for civility, the ribbon is a political statement, the singing of the official national anthem is as right a thing to do as paying your television license and the multi-lingual greeting is as politically correct as they come. I can handle situations like this because I am a practical man for whom convenience is the only dogma and existential conditions the supreme reality in life.
For me the world is my place as long as I am able to be the right person for the right moment and assume the correct role at the right place in time. I have seen and done it all and like a cockroach I have survived earthquakes and all sorts of storms. In South West Africa I was Mr Government, in Angola I was a hired gun, in Mozambique I supplied the guns, at Quito Cunavale I was the fuel, in Kwazulu-Natal I fuelled the fire; in Boipatong I provided the fuel. Tonight I am the program director. My goal is reconciliation; my message is to forgive and forget the skulls in the closet to bury the past and its woes to celebrate the present and its scandals to be ready to feed on the carcass tomorrow. For me the man of all times and citizen of the global village there are no fixed roles and rigid rules but the universal law of convenience and gain, or profit as it is called today. I ask one and only one question-what is in it for me?
The choice to be a trouble-maker or trouble-shooter depends on my gain\ profit \ convenience \ comfort\ security. I have been a dove in times of peace and a hawk in times of war and I have been a hawk in peace times and a dove in war times. What is convenient and profitable for me at a particular point in time and place informs my decision to choose whether I should make peace or war.
Today I am in my jeans and takkies and clad in one of the Dashikis I bought in the DRC the other day. I have made sure that I choose the one with the gold and black colors, and fit it with a green polo-neck jersey. My appearance must make a statement, even before I open my loud mouth to make a presentation to the local government on why my Afrique Events Company should be awarded the tender to host the official Ten Years of Democracy Celebrations. Everyone knows I am the most appropriate guy for the job. I provide all the freebies at the main rallies and events of every important political party, community organization and professional body known in this province, print free T-shirts for them, and generously contribute to the election drives of all the major political parties- off course, anonymously. I know the rule of this business my man. Flexibility, versatility, ambiguity and anonymity are the triumph cards. Fixed identities and grand master plans do not work here.
I know this game like the palm of my hand because I’ve been through rainstorms, thunder and dust and bullets storms and all sorts of cataclysmic explosions as I traversed desserts, plains and mountainous areas in line of duty. In Biafra I was underground, in New York I am undercover, in Zaire I worked with the government, in Congo Brazzaville I was with the rebels, in the Democratic Republic of Congo I was in all sides, in Rwanda I was behind the scenes, in Johannesburg I am a poet, in Paris I am a pimp, in Kabul I am in the oil industry, in Somalia I was a peace-broker, in Baghdad I am a constructor and the future for me is as clear as clouds, in Zimbabwe I was in transit, in Equatorial Guinea I was into mining, and tommorrow I am going to Lebanon in transit to Israel as a road map consultant.
17 August 2000
The picture of the young man from Eldorado Park shot dead at the gate of a house in Westdene is in the front pages of the newspapers. Many in the black community are enraged. They cry that Black life remains cheap in the new South Africa as white people frequently get acquitted or receive lenient sentence for killing black people for trivialities such as tress-passing or a farm worker’s dog mating with a farmer’s dog, while Black people often receive long sentences for crimes such as cattle theft and house breaking. “What about the farmers daily killed in their houses and a lot of us who are victims of car hijacking and house breaking? Many people have been killed in these incidents of car hijacking and burglary without the law putting the perpetrators to book. What are we supposed to do”, asks Jaap Koekemoer rhetorically, “should we smile and dance while we are being lynched?”
Kobus shakes his head and gives his uncle a half-smile, “Lynch is a heavy word, Oom. I am sure most of the cases result from pure acts of desperateness by people driven to stealing and other criminal activities by sheer hopelessness in the face of rampant poverty and squalor. And these are isolated acts of criminality rather than concerted and collective acts of violence against the farmers or white people.”
Elise has been listening to the two man’s conversation with her eyes focused on the newspaper. “Die’ een lyk net soos n’ Boer vir my. Ek het nie n’ boesman wat so lyk gesien in my lewe” At this remark both men turn their attention to the young man’s photo. “Rerig, hy lyk net soos Oom. Jy kan sweer sy’s Jaap Koekemoer Junior.” Elise’s and Kobus’s laughter is interrupted by Oom Paul’s angry outburst, accusing of Kobus of insulting him for likening him with a stinking dead hotnot. Holding him by the scruff of the neck, Oom Paul tells Kobus that while he can tolerate the fact that his nephew is a politically correct kaffir-boetie he cannot stand him challenging the purity of his Afrikaner blood. He bursts out of the room, shouting obscenities. Kobus is frightened, “I better fly out of here. The old man is going to kill me.”
But Elise is still in her humorous streak: “Hold it, Kobus just check the coincidence – This guys name is Japie Koekies De Bruin. This is one of our long lost relatives, ek se^. I just wonder how he landed in Eldoradopark.”
14 February 1985
The fire in the eyes of the youths spoke an unexpressed rage as they fell into crazy aerobic dance, chanting angry songs about Botha’s wife giving birth to rats and Tambo’s conceiving freedom soldiers, and denouncing the tri-Chameral system as a shamocracy. The more and more the police tried to hold them back, the more and more the marchers stormed forward in rage. The colonel shouted instructions to the crowd to disperse in five minutes and threatened that failure to do so will result in the police taking tough action. Sergeant Koekemoer felt a sense of déjà vu’. He has witnessed a similar march ending in chaos. Three hundred youths shot dead and four police men badly injured, one later dying in hospital. Later the police claimed that they shot in self-defense as stones and petrol bombs were thrown at them, but the comrades claimed that the police shot peaceful marchers unprovoked.
As he was busy re-winding this scene in his mind and anticipating a replay, Koekemoer heard a loud voice instructing the marchers to stay clam and hold back. To his surprise the huge mass obeyed the commander as if it was a choir hearkening to the instruction of the choir-master. Five leaders of the protest led by a tall, slender and phony-looking youngster stepped forward. In a calm and sober voice, the boy requested the colonel to give the crowd atleast twenty to thirty minutes to disperse as it was difficult for such a huge crowd disperse in five minutes. The colonel shouted obscenities, threatening the young leader with arrest.
The people responded with anger, some surging forward and others accusing their leadership of leniency and cowardice. But the youngster calmly told the crowd that it is a well known ploy of the police to rouse peaceful protestors into desperate actions so that they may justify their acts of brutality. He asked the people not to provide the police with a justification for shooting at them, and turned to the Colonel to further plead with him to give the crowd more time to disperse. As the Colonel gave out new instructions, giving the protestors thirty minutes to disperse, Koekemoer wondered to himself where he has seen the youngster before. He felt sure that the big and bright eyes and the soft but articulate voice belonged to someone he knew. He got the strange idea that the boy was actually a woman in a man’s body. Suddenly the image came to him.
Maria-soft but outspoken, castigating him for allowing his individuality to be swallowed up by the bigger noise of society and accusing him of not eating the guinea fowl but devouring the gravy thereof-a reference to the fact that he served and supported the racist policies of the Apartheid state but had secret romantic and sexual affairs with Black people. Koekemoer took some time to look at the boy and felt the urge to launch at him, tear his clothes apart and wrap himself around the gorgeous female body that he was very sure was hidden behind the angry face of the young revolutionary clad in tattered jeans and a Steve Biko T-shirt.
27 August 2000
The Eldorado Park man killed in Westdene last week was a photo-journalist busy with a photo-documentary on his family history as way of capturing the tragedy of children who were products of sex beyond the color line under apartheid. In 1967 Maria De Bruin entered into a secret affair with a white police who was stationed at Westbury Police station where she worked as a cleaner. A year later she got pregnant with his child. After getting bits and bits of information from the diary of his mother, and through interviews with some people-including police who worked at the Westbury Station in the 80’s, Japie Koekies De Bruin launched to Westdene to try and get an interview with retired policeman, Jaap Marais Koekemoer-the man who allegedly fathered him. He mistakenly went to the house of Jan Skieter, Koekermoer’s neighbor, whose house was broken into the week before. Still embittered by the incident, Skieter shot Japie to death. He claims that Japie carried something that looked like a gun, and was pointing at him when he decided to shoot him. Kobus read the newspapers several times and pinched himself to ascertain himself that he was not a daydreamer. How is Aunt Elise going to take the news? He recalled her humorous prophetic statement: “This is one of our long lost relatives…”
07 November 2005
Revolutionary Democratic Party for a Mixed Economy
1994 Adam Smith Avenue
1st Floor Karl Marx Building
My apologies, comrade Gen Sec, pardon the occasional slip of the tongue, I have just returned from the meeting of the board of trustees of Amandla Investments…surely you will understand, the switch from official lexicon to revolutionary language, may not be that easy after heated discussions on how to reconcile our move towards offshore investments in the face of stiff and tight competition, with the ideal of patriotic and responsible corporate practices. I must tell you guys, the real revolution is in the boardroom; to negotiate for a place and define one’s identity in the boundary space between the realities of dialectics and the imperatives of the market is not a mean feat. For my very first corporate meeting, I really did not know what to wear. Habitually I went for my vintage Che Guevara style red-star beret, my hammer and circle soviet t-shirt, old bang-bang Jeans and a pair of takkies and my trade mark red socks. But then I thought about offending some of my partners. By then the Madiba shirt was not yet a fashion craze, and there were only three suits in my wardrobe. I do not want to even mention the one I wore for my graduation ceremony. It reminds me of my most embarrassing days when I snubbed the popular boycott of graduation ceremonies at Mangosuthu Tech and bowed to Gatsha Buthelezi to get my cap. The one I adorned on my wedding day is rather too grayish and boringly English. Though the faded colour and the size betrayed that it was an inheritance, the collar-neck “Nehru suit” one I inherited from my late father was just but the right choice.
Anyway I am digressing; I hereby wish to apologize for not attending last night’s consultation without tendering an apology. I was just about to do so when I got urgent invitation to dine with the minister of trade and industry from the democratic republic of Taiwan. Off course, I know party matters are very important, but I know you will agree that to protect Black Economic Empowerment as a crucial site of the second phase of the revolution.
It is important for vigilant cadres like yours truly to be present at all occasions of this nature. I understand that the consultation has been rescheduled to next Monday and I would have loved to attend but as you know, ever since I was deployed from the labor to the government sector, half of my day is spent in meetings; breakfast with analysts, lunch with the chairman, dinners to clinch deals & Summit TV to get posted up on the goings on the business scene. A quarter is consumed by golf and fishing for business contacts.
Another is taken up by networking-cum-socializing, quality time with my wife and (off the record) fanticizing about me between my personal assistant’s legs.
Wishing you success in your deliberations
Yours in the national democratic revolution
Comrade Red Socks