Here in Mzansi (South Africa) I am constantly struck by the ways in which the ancestors are invoked, questioned, obeyed. A myriad little things starting with the nearly obligatory greeting, “sawubona” (“my ancestors and I see you”) and going right up to the sacred rituals surrounding death. An unveiling is a feast that occurs about one year after someone is buried. Ostensibly it is the unveiling of a headstone to be placed at the grave site, but it is so much more in actuality. At its core, the unveiling is an acknowledgment that the deceased is now in the ancestral realm and must be revered as such.
Lapha eMzansi (South Africa) ngilokhu ngimangazwa izindlela amadlozi avuswa ngayo, ebuzwa, elalelwa. Izinto ezahlukene eziningi kuqala ngendlela yokubingelela, “sawubona” (“mina namadlozi siyakubona”) kuya emicimbini ebalulekile ephathelene nokufa. Umembulo(wetshe) umcimbi owenzeka emva konyaka umuntu eshonile. Kahle kahle kuwukwembulwa kwetshe lethuna elibekwe ethuneni, kodwa ungokuningi kunalokho. Ekujuleni kwawo, umembulo ungukubonisa ukuthi loyo oshonile usengene emadlozini ahlonishwe kanjalo.
For me there was much to observe and much to learn. My wife’s buddy from childhood is close to her in the way that only friendships that have endured the tests of time, change, disagreements, etc. can be. His partner’s relative was the ancestor and so we were in the family orbit of those to attend. It was in the notorious township of Umlazi (the largest in Durban and the second largest in the country after Soweto).
Ngokwami bekukuningi okumele ngikubone futhi kukuningi okumele ngikufunde. Umngani kankosikazi wami kusukela besebancane ubesondelene naye ngendlela ubungani osebudlule ezilingweni eziningi sezikhathi, ushintsho, ukuphikisana, nokunye, kungaba yikho. Uphathina wakhe ubese eyidlozi kanti singabanye abebesendleleni yokuhambela lomcimbi. Bekuselokishini elaziwa kabi lase Umlazi (okuyilona elikhulukazi eThekwini kanti lingelesibili elikhulu ezweni lilandela iSoweto)
Taking the long ride on the highway to get to Umlazi reinforced in my mind the degree to which Apartheid is still alive and well in Mzansi no matter what anyone tells you.
Ukuthatha indlela ende kuthelawayeka womgwaqo ukufika e-Umlazi kungenze ngabona izinga ubandlululo olusaphila ngayo eMzansi noma ngabe bakutshela ukuthini.
The “public transportation system” consists of vans owned and operated by murderous thugs (literally). So the end of statutory Apartheid means that black gangsters own the taxis. BUT, the routes are still not able to integrate the city. They are still designed to get the (black) work force into the city proper during business hours and to get them out and back in the townships after night fall. There is no system of transportation that will enable safe travel after dark and it is difficult to get a taxi that will go to Umlazi, and there are parts of the township that it is impossible to get a taxi or even an Uber to take you.
“Indlela yokuhamba yomphakathi” yenziwa ngamaveni okungawezigebengu ezibulalayo(ngokwempela). Ngakho ukuphela kobandlululo kusho ukuthi imigulukudu iyo ephethe amatekisi. KODWA, imizila ayikakwazi ukuhlangana nedolobha. Enzelwe ukuthutha abamnyama abayizisebenzi beye emadolobheni ngezikhathi zokusebenza bese ebathutha ebabuyisa makushona ilanga. Ayikho indlela yokuhamba ephephile emva kokushona kwelanga futhi kunzima ukuthola itekisi ezokuyisa e-Umlazi, kunezindawo zelokishi okungelula ukuthola itekisi noma i-uber ikuyise khona.
But finally we arrive and the glory of street life, of neighbourhoods (people who live and know the people around them) are in full abundance. It is a beautiful sight for me as I live in Durban proper near the university which by comparison is a desolate area. Yes, I live close to the amenities that I have grown to depend on, but it is desolate in the sense that it is not a neighborhood; I don’t even know the people who live next door, my son can not join the other children in the street to play, fight, and grow up together. But here in a black neighborhood black people are abundant in full effect. There are at least two hundred people, the family and the neighbours who are here for the unveiling.
Kodwa ekugcineni safika empilweni yasemgwaqeni, yomakhelwane (abantu abaphila futhi abazi abantu abaphila nabo) inguchithisaka. Kuyinto enhle ukuyibona kimina ngoba ngihlala phakathi neTheku eduzwe kweYunivesithi esingayiqhathanisa ngokuthi indawo ethule. Yebo, ngihlala eduze kwezinsiza engikhule ngencike kuzo, kodwa inokuthula ngalendlela yokuthi ayinabo ubumakhelwane. Angibazi ngisho nabantu abahlala eceleni kwami, umfana wami akakwazi ukuhlanganyela nabanye abantwana emgwaqeni badlale, belwe, bakhule ndawonye. Kunabantu abangamakhulu amabili, umndeni kanye nomakhelwane abazile kulomcimbi wokwambulwa kwetshe.
The young men have slaughtered a cow and there are the traditional foods, phutu, beef curry, ceremonial cuts of beef (some for the elders, some for others), jeqe (delicious steamed bread), hloko (cow brains – try it before you judge!) and more. As soon as we enter the yard we are in a different South Africa. My four year old son enters with his Maskandi vest and printed leopard shirt, appropriately dressed for a traditional occasion. But he also has a back pack! Another boy of four or five immediately tries to take his back pack. Okay, my son is learning. Later I was seated with the men. We were the fathers,, and I daresay most of us seated there were probably grandfathers.
Abafana bahlabe inkomo futhi kukhona ukudla kweSintu, uphuthu, ukhari wenkomo, kanye nenyama yenkomo esikwe iSintu(enye eyabadala, enye yabanye), ujeqe (isinkwa esimnandi esibilisiwe), inhloko (ubuchopho benkomo-buzame ngaphambi kokwahlulela!) kanye nokunye. Sithe masingena egcekeni sangena kwiNingizimu neAfrika eyahlukile. Umfana wami oneminyaka emine ungene egqoke i-vesta kaMaskandi kanye nesikibha sengwe, egqoke ngokufanele lomcimbi weSintu. Kodwa ubephethe nojosaka! Omunye umfana oneminyaka emine noma emihlanu wazama ukumphuca ujosaka wakhe. Kulungile, umfana wami uyafunda. Ekugcineni bese ngihleli namadoda. Besingobaba, ngingasho nje ngithi iningi lethu ebelihleli laphaya lingomkhulu.
I didn’t catch everything there because in a setting like that English is unofficially prohibited. Kind of like in the taxi (the “public transportation”) you must khuluma isiZulu. Full stop.
Angizwanga kahle yonke into ngoba esimeni esinjengalesi isiNgisi asivunyelwe. Kunjengasetekisini (“indlela yokuthutha umphakathi”) kumele ukhulume isiZulu. Kuphela nje.
But as my son and I interact (he is running all over the place climbing over people, enjoying himself) my accent is revealed and after some testing of my ability to greet properly one man relaxes to speak with me in English. One man of obvious girth and dominance continued to converse with me in isiZulu and I appreciated his steadfastness and tried to keep up as best I could.
Kodwa ngesikhathi mina nondodana wami sikhuluma (ugijima indawo yonke egibela ebantwini, eba nesikhathi esimnandi) indlela yokukhuluma kwami yezwakala emva kokuhlolwa ukukwazi ukubingelela kahle enye yamadoda yaqala ukukhuluma nami ngesiNgisi. Enye yamadoda ekhulile nebukeka inamandla yaqhubeka nokukhuluma nami isiZulu futhi ngabonga ukuzimisela kwakhe ngazama ukulandela ngendlela ebengingalandela ngayo.
There was some bloody meat that the men were relishing. I declined. Lwandle and the boy who tried to jack his back pack had become playmates and later friends. Lwandle had a juice, and me and my seat mate encouraged him to share with the other boy. They passed that juice box back and forth like two winos on the corner back in the day. We commented on the ubuntu (humanity) that was the order of the day. When we left hours later the boy insisted on hugging Lwandle.
Bekunenyama enegazi amadoda ayeyithokozela. Ngayibonga. ULwandle nomfana owayezama ukumphuca ujosaka badlala ndawonye ekugcineni baba abangani. ULwandle wayenejusi, mina nalo esasihleli naye samkhuthaza ukuthi amuphe lona omunye umfana. Badluliselana ngejusi iya emuva iya phambili njengama-winos ezikhathi zakudala. Saphawula ngobuntu (humanity) okwakuyinto yosuku. Masesihamba emva kwesikhathi lomfana wafuna ukwanga uLwandle.
As is customary in Mzansi for funerals, weddings, etc. there was a rented tent with tables and fancy glasses, plates, cutlery and so forth. The women were seated there. The men were seated in plastic chairs at the back of the tent. Outside the tent were various groups. At the beginning separated by sex, but, as the event progressed, increasingly mixed. The matriarch addressed the men obaba abahle (beautiful fathers) and invited us to go to the food line first. I waited to stand as I didn’t want to be the first (I have learned many things living here) and my friend asked “uzwile?” I acknowledged that I heard (which in isiZulu aslo means understood) and got a plate for me and my son. He sat on my lap as I tried to hold my plate and keep him from dropping food.
Njengoba kuyindlela yokwenza eMzansi emingcwabeni, emishadweni njalonjalo, kwakunethende eliqashiwe elinamatafula kanye nezingilazi ezinhle, amapuleti, amathuluzi okudla kanjalo. Abesifazane bebehleli lapho. Amadoda ebehleli ezitulweni zeplastiki emuva netende. Ngaphandle kwetende bekungamaqembu ahlukahlukene. Ekuqaleni ehlukene ngobulili, kodwa, ngokuqhubeka komcimbi, agcine ehlangene. Omama bakhuluma namadoda bethi obaba abahle (beautiful fathers) basicela ukuba siye kulayini wokudla kuqala. Ngalinda ngangaqala ngasukuma ngoba ngingafuni ukuba phambili (sengifunde okuningingiphila lapha) umngani wami wangibuza “Uzwile?”(Did you hear?) Ngaphendula ngathi ngizwile (ngokwesiZulu okusho ukuthi ngiyaqonda) ngazitholela ipuleti lami nelikandodana wami. Wahlala ethangeni lami njengoba ngangizama ukubamba ipuleti lami ngizama nokumvimba angachithi ukudla.
The dominant man said something that I didn’t understand, though I understood he did not approve. My seat-mate informed me that he was very good with children and could feed him. Lwandle sat on his lap as I ate. Lwandle is a fussy and picky eater. This mkhulu got him to eat EVERYTHING without fuss. those of you with fussy children can appreciate my astonishment. I never saw anything like it. He explained etiquette and Lwandle acquiesced. Lord have mercy, your children can behave when they want to. I think the man’s ubuntu was so evident that Lwandle intuited that he deserved obedience in a way that was extraordinary.
Lendoda egqamile yasho okuthile engingakuqondanga, noma ngaqonda ukuthi wayengancomi. Engangihleli naye wangitshela ukuthi uyabazi abantwana futhi angamfunza. ULwandle wahlala ethangeni lakhe ngenkathi ngidla. ULwandle uyakukhetha ukudla. Lomkhulu wamenza wadla konke ngaphandle kwenkinga. Labo abenu abanezingane ezikhetha ukudla niyakubona ukumangala kwami. Akaze ngiyibone into enjena. Wachaza indlela yokuziphatha uLwandle wayilandela. Nkosi yiba nomusa, izingane zakho zingaziphatha kahle uma zithanda. Ngicabanga ubuntu balendoda babubonakala nokwenza uLwandle abuzwe futhi aqonde ukuthi udinga ukuhlonishwa ngendlela engajwayelekile.
As the afternoon turned to evening the social interaction was definitely lubricated with alcohol. Not drinking to be drunk, but like the Parisians, drinking with eating and conversation. I am not really a drinker and so one of the young men procured and expertly rolled some special tobacco for me so that I could join in the convivialities. Age has its privilege in Mzansi. It was a beautiful social occasion in which there was much for me to learn. I am being called to begin my father duties to get Lwandle ready for school so I will cut this short now. It is already long anyway. Thanks for reading.
Ngenkathi imini iphenduka intambama ukuxhumana kwase kuthanjiswe utshwala. Kungaphuzelwa ukudakwa kodwa njengama-Parisians, kuphuzwa nokudla kanye nengxoxo. Angiyena umuntu ophuza kade ngakho ke enye yezinsizwa ezincane yangitholela ugwayi omqoka ukuze ngibe yingxenye yokujabula. Iminyaka yakho inegunya eMzansi. Kwakuwumcimbi omuhle womphakathi lapho kunokuningi okumele ngikufunde. Ngiyabizwa ukuthi ngizoqala imisebenzi yokuba ubaba ukulungisela uLwandle ukuya esikoleni sengizophela khona la. Ivele seyiyinde. Ngiyabonga ukufunda.