Text from the book by Cia Rinne
“The West has maybe contributed a great deal in giving the world a more industrial face. But the real task still has to come from Africa: to give the world a more human face.”
I To Indanyana
Moses says he is coming to pick us up at ten. Or eleven. We wait. In the afternoon the doorbell suddenly rings: “We have to run now.” First we go to Moses’ house in Clermont. His wife Buyi makes us acquainted with samp, a paste made from beans, meat and maize. “If you can eat this, you won’t have any problems there”, she says. Buyi is a very strong woman, teaching children to read and write in a nearby school. The two little brothers Nsikende and Sanele are going berserk in the long floor of the house that leads from the dining room to the showers and back. Their laughter echoes along the red stonewalls, and their elder sister Oros holds a finger to her lip, looking back and forth between us and her wild brothers. Mbheki Madinane is Buyi’s “brother”; they have the same great-grandfather. Mbheki lives next door, and is already nervous because he is going to marry in a few months. He has a little daughter, Thobeka, with his wife-to-be, whom he will see this weekend. We are going to Indanyana, where the Madinane family lives. “This might look as if we had kidnapped you,” Moses and Mbheki laugh as wedrive off. At a shop we buy candles, sugar, paper, powder-milk, fresh vegetables, chocolate for the children, andsome beers for Mbheki’s brother Melusi.
The air that is blowing over the hills is warm, the sun will set soon, and it is quiet as before a storm. Mbheki stops the car as if to let us take a deep breath before entering the new world. “Do you see that hill? That’s where we’re going,” Moses says. We are standing in a vast field stretching out to Indanyana that lies under the hill, and down through the warm valley with the dark water up towards the long chains of the Ukhahlamba, the Drakensberg mountains. There is a warm breeze rushing around us, and all is silent.
The dusty road, crowded with schoolchildren in their black and white uniforms, leads up towards the hill. The road is full of potholes; Mbheki slows down, and greets several people. The Madinane family lives in some of the last houses under a big tree far up the hill. When we arrive in the yard, they are all waiting at the front of the house, the children and their grandmother, as curious as ourselves. Electricity is on the doorsteps of Indanyana; already, there are some poles in the landscape, but as yet no wires. The houses got numbers recently; even the church received a number plate. The Madinanes live in No. 6729. We sit on a bench in Gogo’s kitchen; a candle is burning on the table in the middle of the green-blue room, which smells of paraffin from the stove on which the tea water is boiling. Gogo looks like a wise woman, her hands are marked from hard work, and as she sits down, her face lightens up. She has lived in Indanyana since she got married. “I came from the other side of the Tugela-river which was still a little creek at that time.” Her husband passed away when their six children were still young. He is buried in the yard, with a circle of stones and a rusty fence around the grave. She took care of the children on her own. “We call her Gogo because she is the grandmother of us all,” Sipho says. Now, Gogo’s grandchildren live in small houses around hers. Cebo and Lindo, the two youngest boys, climb on the kitchen bench next to the stove to warm their feet. We drink black tea with a lot of sugar while Moses and Gogo agree on our stay. “Ehee”, Gogo nods. Mbheki smiles and lights up a cigarette; he talks with his son Sipho who has come home from Johannesburg, where he stayed with his aunt. After a while Mbheki leaves to see his daughter and wife-to-be in a village nearby, and promises to return later. The wind has begun to blow around the iron roofs, and the shadows from the candlelight are jumping on the blue wall.
The whole family has assembled in the living room of Gogo’s house, where the food is stored in plastic bags behind the sofa. The girls sit around on the sofas and the floor; their eyes look like little stars in the dark room. Nobuhle, Melusi’s daughter, brings in the food on enamel plates, and her cousin Sebenzile says grace. It is maize pulp or puthu, the daily meal, made from dried corn, with cabbage. As we eat, we watch each other. Nobuhle laughs and hides away behind her sisters on the sofa; Gogo takes the puthu elegantly in her long fingers and smiles.
The sun has disappeared quickly, the yard is covered with the milky moonlight, and long dark shadows of people move over it. Sipho lives in the house next to the big tree; he takes off his shoes before he enters. Someone has lit a candle in the house — “and this is my father’s room” — he opens the wooden door in the turquoise painted wall, which is closed with a little hook. “You will sleep here.” A curtain moves in front of the window, from which one can see Indanyana, “the hill”. It is shining blue in the moonlight. “Do you want to wash?” Sipho fills a bowl with boiling water and adds some cold from a barrel in the corner of the kitchen. “We wash outside in the night when it is dark”, Moses says, and then we are standing around the steaming bowl under the whispering tree, washing. Only the chirping of some crickets can be heard, the houses further away are completely dark. We decide to stay. Moses will return to Durban with Mbheki tomorrow.
We will stay in Indanyana for a longer time, Sipho and Lindelani become our friends, and we spend most of the time together. Even though the children live in four different houses, their everyday activities bring them through almost all of the houses, and a lot of the time is spent together in Gogo’s kitchen. They have grown up together, their “sisters” and “brothers”, as even cousins are called that share the same surname, have been their family, while their parents were working far away.
Sindi digs up small pieces of earth from the soil, and eats them: “It’s like chocolate,” she says, and takes another grey piece of clay, which is supposed to be a good source of minerals and useful during pregnancy. Her ankle is bandaged since she was hit by a car; she laughs with a rough voice and takes her little daughter Thando into her arms, “now Lindelani has moved here to help us”, she smiles, and Lindelani, the tall cousin who is wearing a blue working suit and smoking a thin cigarette, looks as if he had not heard anything. “Just looking out for the premises”, he says. Their uncles and fathers, Melusi and Thokozani, sit in front of Melusi’s round house with the goat skull above the entrance, and roll cigarettes from newspaper that they tear into fine pieces. Melusi points towards the field where some black cows are eating from the dry grass: “Where is the rain? No rain, no milk,” he shakes his head. It is the end of the winter, and there has not been any rain for months. He takes a deep and painful breath, and coughs; it sounds horrible. Melusi used to work in a textile factory for nineteen years, got tuberculosis from the dust, and stayed in the hospital for almost two years. When he left the hospital, the factory had closed down. He could not get any pension, and decided to come home to take care of his cows that now graze on the field. They are not enormously fat, but one of them will be slaughtered on Mbheki’s wedding in a couple of months.
Nobuhle takes the key for the water pump from the crooked nail in the kitchen cupboard. She pulls the wheelbarrow out of the round clay hut where the chicken sleep, and walks barefoot along the path over the grassland past Melusi’s cows. She is the only one of the children that lives in Gogo’s house; her little iron bed is standing in the blue bedroom next to the kitchen, the clothes are kept in suitcases and on nails in the wall. “I see my mother sometimes, she does not live far from here,” she says, and while she is pumping the water into the barrel, she whistles silently. Sebenzile and Joana who live together with their little brother Lindo, balance the heavy casks on their heads all the way to their kitchen. Sipho says that Lindelani can carry the water on the head, but his cousin waves aside this suggestion laughingly. “No no no, it’s a girl’s thing.” There is loud singing and jumping at the pump in a field a little further down. One of the women dances at the bent fence, while the other one pushes the lever powerfully with her strong arms, pumping the water into a yellow plastic barrel. Their singing echoes over the fields. “Food must not go on the head,” Sipho says as Lindelani tries to demonstrate his hidden talents by balancing a giant cabbage on his head. “Only water and wood.”
It is hot. Sindi, Joana, and Sebenzile play cards on the soft sofas in Sindi’s house with the pink walls, and the sun shines in through the fine pattern of the hand-woven curtain; the cushions on the sofas are decorated with gaudy flowers. There are some family pictures on the cupboard: Sindi’s mother and her twin sister, the mother of Sebenzile, Joana and Lindo. They both work in Johannesburg. Sindi lives here with her daughter Thando and her little brother Cebo, the house looks like the home of an older person, only the posters in Lindelani’s room and the teddies in Sindi’s give witness to the presence of young people. The girls scream and laugh over the cards, throwing them on the table. Sindi protests and giggles at the same time. Joana and Sebenzile sometimes talk Sesotho to each other; their father comes from Lesotho on the other side of the mountains.
In the afternoon, Gogo is sitting with Sebenzile, Nobuhle and Joana on the little pedestal in front of her house, talking and watching Cebo and Lindo as they chase the chicken across the yard, and try to get them into the little house they have built from wooden planks, mats and other bits and pieces they have found. Thando tries on her new skirt over the trousers with the cow pattern, while her mother Sindi, wearing a big black woolen hat, stirs tonight’s custard. She makes custard every Sunday, with a slice of peach from a tin on top. Nobuhle sits at the kitchen table in the evening, doing her homework by the light of a paraffin lamp. She whispers something from the book, while Melusi is adjusting the radio, sometimes laughing. The chicks that have been taken in for the night chat sweetly before they fall asleep in the box in the corner.
Some cracking and crisping sounds wake us up in the night. The whole room is red, reflecting the light that comes in through the windows, and it smells of something burning. Behind the blowing curtains the yard is on fire. Gogo and Melusi walk calmly around the flames that are spreading quickly. When the dry grass has burnt, the new will grow faster. Now, they are only waiting for the rain to come. Gogo collects cow dung from the black meadow, mixes it with water in a wheelbarrow, forms balls and flattens them on the ground where they are going to dry in the sun, later to be burnt in the stove. When I try to do the same, Lindo comes to correct me: “No.” We start all over again, first take the dry, mix it with water, then add the fresh cow dung, stir, and make flat cakes on the ground. Gogo walks across the yard, talking to her friend, and later accompanies her half the way home along the paths in the high grass, as is usual when you have a visitor.
“Intenjani? — what’s that?” From Sipho’s green room comes the sound of soft bass beating the rhythm through the yard. The stereo is driven by a car battery which keeps it alive for a month, and then has to be recharged at the tavern. Cebo and Lindo are dancing wildly to the music while Sipho sits on the floor, nodding his head and fixing his shoes that he has washed and dried on the clothesline. Thando is standing on the floor, with her arms up in the air, screaming and moving herhips to the rhythm, watching the boys that are a little older than her imitate the singers. The cassettes are a reminder of Jo’burg where Sipho lived for a while, but he does not want to go back there. “There’s too much violence.” Sipho knows that things will change when his father marries, and that he cannot stay here forever. “I like my room, and my ancestors will take care of it until they decide that I have to build a new home somewhere else.” A cow charges at the corner of the house, it makes a lot of noise, a crack appears and some dust falls off the wall. Outside, everything seems to be quiet.
We saw an iSangoma with Moses who threw bones and shells in the air and could read the situation of the whole family from them. Many people say that these traditions are about to fade away. This is mainly because the younger generation is no longer so terribly interested in them, rather than because of the various religions that were introduced by the missionaries. For the shopkeeper Mzonjani Kubheka, the coexistence of religion and the belief in the ancestors is no problem. He has been reading Ilanga, the Zulu news, by the light of a candle on his desk, looks up and laughs: “Of course we believe in the ancestors. I ‘m telling you, even Archbishop Desmond Tutu goes to the ixhiba and talks to his ancestors.” As he puts it, “we talk to the ancestors; and they are closer to God than ourselves.” Mzonjani Kubheka is wearing a white goatskin around his wrist. “My brother had a function to thank the ancestors for his child.”
During the nights, there is often the sound of drums beating, and people singing in the distance. This night, it continues until the following day. Three women in a little house nearby have slaughtered a goat, danced, and eaten all night. In the morning, their singing sounds somewhat weaker, but the iNyanga woman with the shells around her ankles and a wig of black hair with red beads is still dancing energetically to the drum that is beaten by a tiny woman. They have had an initiation ceremony for an iThwasa, who is to become an iSangoma, a traditional healer.
During the nights, there is often the sound of drums beating, and people singing in the distance. This night, it continues until the following day. Three women in a little house nearby have slaughtered a goat, danced, and eaten all night. In the morning, their singing sounds somewhat weaker, but the iNyanga woman with the shells around her ankles and a wig of black hair with red beads is still dancing energetically to the drum that is beaten by a tiny woman. They have had an initiation ceremony for an iThwasa, who is to become an iSangoma, a traditional healer.
iSangomas and iNyangas are said to be able of communicating with the ancestors, and of keeping up the connection with them. The iSangoma is consulted for medical treatment and advice in ancestral matters, and can send the person to an iNyanga if he is not able to help. The ancestors speak through him, he can give all kind of treatment and “cleanse” the patients. People consult iNyangas for different matters, especially concerning the improvement of the relations with the ancestors, but also concerning snakebites, difficult decisions, and stolen cars.
Ndaba, the iSangoma woman who is a neighbour of Gogo, has a long wooden stick with a piece of metal standing in her yard to protect her house from lightning. Heavy smoke is coming out of her kitchen, where she has been making tea over a little fire on the floor. Around her wrists and ankles she wears little white pearls. Since she was seven years old, she has known that she would become an iSangoma. “In my dreams I saw what would happen to different people, so my mother took me to an iNyanga, and he confirmed that it was the calling of my ancestors. I followed it and became an iSangoma.” Her laughter mingles with the smoke in the air. There were several iSangomas before her in the family, but since one should not be taught Zulu medicine by the family, she went to learn from an iNyanga. Her ancestors talk to her in her dreams, tell her when to go to the mountains to look for herbs, and where to find them. “It is important to keep up the connection to those who have passed away,” she says, inhales some snuff from a little tin, sneezes, and leads us to a green room, the walls of which are covered with necklaces, cloths, shells, and hair decorations. She picks the ishoba, a cow tail, from the wall, kneels down on the floor and burns the impepho, a grass that will call the spirits of the ancestors. Sipho andLindelani have not been to the iSangoma very often, as they have a lot of respect for them. They stay outside while the iSangoma starts whispering and crawling back and forth on the floor. She goes into a trancelike state of being, and as she crawls around on the floor, she suddenly hits her head on the wall in the corner of the room, and shouts something. She has spoken to the ancestors and introduced us to them. Then she smiles as sweetly as before.
In the afternoon, a little boy comes running. “Moses will call you at six o'clock!” We rush off with him towards the only house in the area that has a telephone, taking only incoming calls. The telephone rings. “Yes, it is okay, if you want to stay longer.” We hurry back to Gogo and Melusi before it is entirely dark to ask Gogo whether we can stay longer, she smiles, yes, my son; oh yes, my daughter. Melusi is happy. He decides that now that we are part of the family, we must have Zulu names. “Makathini!” he announces loudly, and everybody bursts out in laughter. “Makathini!” he continues, and we learn that Makathini was a boxer. Sebenzile contemplates for a little while, then she declares: “And you are Lungile!”, and from then on, we are Makathini and Lungile.
Outside, the darkness becomes intense, and we wash with warm water. It looks as if there is a thunderstorm coming up, and it is not long before we see the first lightning behind the mountains. We gather outside with blankets to await the thunderstorm. Lindo is very exited, and comes to sit next to us at the clay wall of the house where we eat beans from enamel plates in the dark. Then there is an enormous flash of lightning; the entire horizon is alight. The thunder comes closer, and as it is almost above us, we return to the kitchen where everybody is sitting in the light of the paraffin lamp. Sebenzile sings with her beautiful voice, Thando almost falls asleep in Gogo’s lap, and Sindi makes small knots in Joana’s hair. Melusi is still utterly mad about his name creation Makathini, and mentions the name now and then. Then everything is silent. Sebenzile starts singing “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika”, and everybody joins her; it is incredibly beautiful. We still sit and talk for a long time, and listen to more Zulu songs before we go to sleep. The storm continues the whole night, twigs and stones are rattling over the roof, which now and then is lifted by the wind; the yard is shining metallic from the water. It feels like being out on the steppe, the clay walls protect against the storm, and the curtains are blown by the air which enters through the cracks in the window.
The cocks have been crowing several hours in the morning, and the cows are eating grass under the tree in front of the window. It is a laundry day, after all the days of rain. Nobuhle has decided not to go to school today, and is surrounded by mountains of clothes, basins and buckets. Lindelani sits in front of his house with a package of washing powder next to him. He rubs the clothes thoroughly between his hands, moving them from one basin to the other, almost twisting his arms when he wrings the water out of them. Colourful clothes are moving in the wind on fences, lines and trees, and Lindelani jumps up to save his trousers that a cow has plucked from the clothesline, and is now joyfully turning in the sand.
We crawl up the rocky hill and, sitting on its dry grass, we look out over the area. A fence runs straight over the top of the hill and divides the area into two: there is Indanyana with its houses and sparse trees framed by the fence on the one side, and the canal on the other. Beyond the fence are empty fields as far as one can see. “They belong to a white farmer, who has a lot of cows. We use to buy them as iLobolo cows, because most of ours are too thin,” Sipho explains. In the Land Act of 1913, 13 percent of the land was prescribed to the non-white population of South Africa. This has meant that the black population has lived in restricted areas, the land of which is barren and largely fruitless.
A mentally retarded boy is standing in front of a wall that is painted with figures and words. His clothes are totally covered with paint, and he moves his head as if pointing towards something. We enter the shack that is lying on the fields in the harsh wind. A chicken is picking corn from the kitchen floor where some meat is boiling in a pot. At the kitchen cupboard a woman is standing, her arms folded: “Of course, come in. She’s in there,” she says and points towards an opening in the wall, where some wooden stairs lead up to a tiny room without windows. Beams of light fall in through the holes in the wall that consists of some planks nailed together; the wind rushes right through them. There are suitcases under the table, a colourful drawing made by a child pinned to the wall, and a glass of water on the chair next to the bed. Under a thick cover of blankets in the big bed there is a tiny little woman, with a big black fur hat, her milky blue eyes looking at us. She is called Irin Shabalala, and is the oldest woman in the area. Since her house crumbled over her in a storm, she lost some of her memory and now she stays with her niece. Her small hands are cold and strong, and her beauty is shining despite her almost hundred years. Irin Shabalala remembers clearly the time when she was a little girl. “It was beautiful, buhle,” she smiles. She recalls how they used to make the weather. “When it had been raining a lot, the little children would be sent out naked on the fields, and it would stop raining.” Indanyana was very green then, every family had a lot of cows, and there was plenty of land. She tells about the cow that, acting strangely before it is slaughtered the morning of a function, foretells a fight. “People will forget things like that”, she lifts her arm a little, but gets very tired from explaining, and we decide to leave. She smiles, and looks as though she still had miles of secrets to tell.
It is a hot day, and we walk down to the river. Sipho’s friend, who was sitting at the shop, comes running to join us. Zama wears an earring and smiles; he was bored roaming around at the shop. Since he finished his matric together with Sipho, which is ten years at school, there has not been anything to do. The limited possibilities of finding work have driven many to the cities. An old man remembers the times when they walked to the cities to look for work. “We used to point a stick, and during night, when we slept, we were not supposed to move the stick even by accident, otherwise the direction would be lost and you wouldn’t get the job.”
Lindelani has three brothers only one of who still lives at home with his mother. One day, Lindelani’s brother Petros comes walking over the yard. “Sawubona mfana wami!” Gogo claps her hands, her whole face smiles, and everybody comes running to greet the rare visitor from Soweto. Sipho and Lindelani are delighted by the company of Petros, and sit for a long time talking to him in Sipho’s room. Petros lives in Johannesburg where he “hides his head in a little room”, as he puts it, and tries to save enough money to be able to complete his studies. He has had a great variety of work places, and most recently lost his job as a security guard. “Now,” he says, “there is a problem.” He will see his former girlfriend and their two-year old son the following day. He is still very fond of the girl, and has put on his best trousers. “But look at this!” Petros shows us the back of his trousers, which have become badly wrinkled during the trip. We advise him to walk backwards when leaving and never to turn around. Sipho and Lindelani are lying on the floor with laughter about Petros. The door is pushed open with a foot, and Nobuhle appears, bringing a tray with tea. The wind is rushing over the hills, and yet all is silent.
A harsh wind in the morning makes the gum tree sound like an ocean, and above the mountains everything is dark blue. Sindi is bathing Thando in a little basin next to the stove, and Gogo has gone to the funeral of a friend. On Saturdays, everybody goes to town to buy fruit and vegetables, rice and mealie-meal in big sacks. We walk over the fields, past half the body of a dog, down to the road where the dust is flying around the little bus taxis that take the people to Bergville. Finally, there is a bus that has some space for us. Most of the passengers are women. Their coloured cloths are flickering around their heads while we drive along the long even road. Because of a police control point the taxi driver skips the road to Bergville, and there is a loud protest in the car. “We are supposed to go to Bergville, and now you’re not going there!” We wait in the car in front of a gate until the driver returns with his driving license. The streets of Bergville are crowded with people, carrying food and having conversations on the stairs in front of the buildings. Women sell fried fish, oranges and pearls, carry millies on their heads, and laugh about the stories of other women in the shop. Under a roof at the bus station people sit around small fires, an iSangoma is walking up and down the square, waiting for customers, while the town philosopher is giving a speech for all who pass by. “Some years ago this place was boring”, Sipho says, “people were not allowed to sell anything in front of the shops, and we had to leave the town before five o’clock in the afternoon.” We sit on the stairs of a coffee shop and watch the vivid market, listen to some loud music that two young men sell from a little shelf, and to the statements of a salesman in a pharmacy who is planning his escape from the country. Many whites have considered it a better solution to emigrate since the first democratic elections because of fear of crime and loss of the high standard of living. “Do you think the white people should leave the country?” “No, they have been here for centuries, they should stay and live here together with us,” Sipho says.
All of a sudden, Lindelani rushes over to talk to a little man with a hat. It is his father, who has come home from East London to see his wife in Busingatha up in the mountains. Lindelani does not see his father very often as he lives far away, and cannot come home more than a few times a year. He does not even know what exactly his father is doing at the moment. “It is my father, I cannot ask him such questions. But one day I will have such a hat as well. It’s a tradition in our family,” he smiles, and we do not know whether he really means it or not. We buy sugar, vegetables, jam, fruit and fresh milk, and carry the food to the little buses that are weighed down with big sacks of rice and corn, washing powder and vegetables. It brings us almost all the way home, where Thando and Cebo are already waiting in front of the house.
One morning, it is very cold, and all is covered with thick fog; even the hill is invisible. Everybody has gathered in Gogo’s kitchen, wearing several pullovers on top of each other and warming their hands at the stove. Sindi is wearing the black hat again. Gogo is sick. She has wrapped several blankets around herself and sits on the bench next to the stove, where it is warmest, feeding spoons of porridge into Thando’s wide-open mouth. Thando eats and looks at us at the same time. It is seldom that grandmother is sick; she has suffered from painful headaches lately. The water for the tea is boiling, and the kitchen windows are steaming over. Somebody is chopping wood outside. After a while, it gets very snoky. Lindelani looks out of the window to the foggy yard where Melusi is chasing his cows, the long coat flapping around him when he turns. After a while he comes in, completely frozen, fills his flower-decorated enamel plate with porridge and a lot of sugar, and warms up with some tea and a cigarette. One cow dung cake after the other is burnt in the stove. Winters can get very cold. Once, there was so much snow they had to clear the roads and many people fell sick; not everybody has shoes. There is a knock on the door. A girl comes in and asks for the key to the pump. She gestures respectfully, holding an outstretched arm with opposite hand placed under the elbow. The neighbours who come to ask for the key always close the door behind them, and stand next to the doorway. “You are not supposed to stand on the threshold, that’s where the ancestors meet,” Moses explains later.
We walk down the hill along the path to the shop when the little boy comes running again to tell Sipho that somebody will phone him. Together, they run off acsoss the fields to the yellow house with the telephone. We wait for Sipho at the shop where some boys are playing football. A murmur comes from the men inside who are talking and drinking ijuba, a kind of industrial Zulu beer. The barren tree in front of the shop stretches its arms towards the sky; it is visible from wherever you go in Indanyana. “Once somebody wanted to chop the tree into pieces, but he did not succeed,” Lindelani tells. “It has been dead for over seventy years.” We sit down on some rocks on a slight hill from where one can overlook the area. “There was a lot of trouble here before the elections. Supporters of the Inkatha and the anc used to meet here, and after the meetings, they started shooting each other. Once, the schools were closed for three months, and several families went to stay in the mountains over night. They were scared their houses might be burned.” Sipho returns from the telephone house: “They have founda cow in Busingatha.” Lindelani will go there to get it for Mbheki’s wedding.
The shopkeeper’s wife has made fresh amagwinya, cooked dough balls, which he sells from a little bucket on the counter. As we arrive home, the whole family has gathered in the kitchen. When Sipho opens the door, there is a “Ssshh” from inside. We hear a woman crying, a man talking with a severe voice, some chirping. We realize that this is the daily radio serial, and not to be disturbed. Everybody is listening with deep concentration, chewing the amagwinya and taking small sips from the hot tea.
It is a quiet morning. We say goodbye to Thando and Gogo, and start walking down the road. “Give my love to my firstborn”, Gogo says. We are going to Busingatha, Lindelani’s home, for a while.
The taxi leaves from the market square in Bergville, where women sell bananas and drinks from trays, the taxi drivers hurry to the bar to eat a sandwich while their taxis fill up with passengers, only ready to leave when they are full. Lindelani knows the driver of the Busingatha taxi who constantly looks back to talk to his passengers, leans out of the window, yells at people and discusses life with everybody. The little bus rushes past cows, goats, and, as we get closer to the mountains, children. We stop at Amazizi where Sipho’s mother lives. It is almost noon, and the schoolyard is teeming with uniformed little children. Sipho crosses the yard; this is where his mother works. He has been looking forward to seeing her for a long time. He was very young when his parents divorced and he had to move to Gogo’s house. “I was constantly sick when I stayed with my mother, and they said that my ancestors wanted me to grow up with the Madinanes,” Sipho says. The iSangoma cut his cheek three times and smeared some muthi, a herbal mixture, on the wounds so as not to let them heal for a time. “If there were no scars, I would not be alive.” He grew up without his mother, and when they meet, there is distance, but a lot of love at the same time. He walks towards his mother who is sitting straight ahead of him on a bench with some other women. She looks at him, they shake hands. “I will go to look for your sister,” she walks away and returns with a little shy girl: “Hello,” the little sister greets Sipho, and quickly runs away again. Then the bell rings, and the yard becomes silent. Sipho’s mother talks very softly, she was not expecting him, and they want to see each other soon again. We leave her, and can feel her sole presence on the empty schoolyard behind our backs. “I love her, she is my mother. You cannot change anything.”
We cling to the back of a driver’s cab on a pick-up truck that is going to the mountains. Hardly able to breathe, we jump off at a crossroad filled with children on their way home along the steep, seemingly endless road. Some of the girls are singing. “Sawubona Ncwasi!” a girl greets Lindelani; everybody here knows him as Ncwasi, “the gentleman”. “Home!” he exclaims as we reach the top of the road, “my grandmother will come to see me in my dreams tonight.” We start descending into the valley embraced by the long and mighty arms of the mountains. Busingatha is one of the few villages that to a great extent went undisturbed by the apartheid policy. “There are no white farmers around here.” The passages between the houses are hidden and overgrown with grass. “Your house is where you live, but your home is where you are born, where your family comes from,” Lindelani declares as he opens the gate to his home. His mother Jabulile welcomes us with a warm smile: “Yah, sanibonani,” and “little father”, Lindelani’s uncle, who lives in the neighbouring house, comes through the gate with his little dog after him, and the obligatory hat.
In the pink kitchen where a white knitted curtain is hanging in front of the low window, Jabulile pours tea into enamel cups. The landscape behind the window looks vast. As Jabulile talks to Lindelani and Sipho about the family in Indanyana and the coming wedding of her brother, she moves her hands like Gogo. From a distance, we hear somebody singing, and after a short while, a loud voice enters the kitchen with a barrel of water. It is Delani, Lindelani’s brother, who “prefers to sing”, as Sipho says, “it’s his language.” The sun disappears early behind the rocky horizon, and the sounds become clearer. Mothers call their children in, some dogs are barking, chicken are still strutting around, and there is a scent of burnt wood in the air. The roads of Busingatha lie like a square pattern between the houses, because the chief one day decided that the people had to move down from the mountains. The valley was divided, and a piece of land was given to every family. Only the iNyanga still lives up in the mountains. Lindelani’s mother adds some logs to the fire and stirs the cabbage in the pot. “The chief has a problem,” Jabulile smiles. ”He has three wives and three daughters, but no son.” The chiefs of the area have had the same surname for many generations and it is important to keep it that way. “Now he is going to take a fourth wife who is expected to give birth to the future chief.”
The mist smells of the fires that are sending up whirling columns of smoke from the houses in the morning. Lindelani and little father will go to look for the cow, that “lives up there;” little father points towards the invisible mountains. A boy taps an old cycle wheel with a stick past the sheep that are grazing at the riverbank. “When we were sent to give a message, we always went with a wheel,” Sipho says, “you have to run, so you are a lot faster.” We follow little father, who walks with his hat and stick along the steep paths. Lindelani knows every path in these mountains, he has been walking here all of his childhood, looking after the cattle, as do most of the other boys. All is white and silent as we see the outline of a spectre moving slowly in the fog in front of us. It is a wild horse, encircled by several boys who try to catch it with a rope; dogs are running around it silently. The horse snorts heavily out of its great nostrils, moves in a circle for some time, and then disappears further up into the mist. Lindelani and little father continue their search for the cow on the mountain chain. They return late in the afternoon, not having found it.
Close to noon it is getting unbearably hot. The shopkeeper with his thick glasses is lying in the shade in front of his shop with the cabbages piled on top of each other on the black and white chequered tiles. Small boys have gathered at the river to fish with homemade fishing rods,others jump into the blue water from a high rock. Lindelani almost drowned here once. “I was trying to cross the river, but the stream started carrying me further, I fell unconscious and thought I would die, but then I heard my ancestors say: ‘Lindelani, it’s not your time yet,’ and I woke up on a riverbank.” Every year, a few people drown when the water rises and divides the area into two. The area on the other side of the river is therefore called pesheya, “overseas”.
Jabulile has come home with a whole tree on her head. The kitchen smells of warm flesh, and the puthu is bubbling on the stove. She has just killed a chicken; the table is covered with wet white feathers that she is plucking of the steaming body with her blood-covered fingers. It is getting cooler outside, and soon the mountains are black shadows against the sky. In the neighbourhood, a whole crowd of children is dancing to the rhythm a girl is beating on a bucket. Their voices echo around the houses until it is dark and the full moon shines down on the village. We sit in front of the house and watch the sky. “What is moon in Zulu?” “inyanga,” Sipho says. “inyanga! That is like the iNyanga!” “Yes, it is the same word.”
There is a big orange cross, painted on the black door to the iNyanga’s room. The crosses are supposed to protect from lightning, and there are little black crosses painted on the doors of many houses. On wooden sticks aloe vera and other plants are drying in the sun. “Aloe vera is good for the kidneys,” the iNyanga says, and later he tells us that he once was consulted by three young people who were hiv positive. “I told them to drink a lot because the disease is located in the kidneys.” They were not from this area; he thinks there is not much aids here. “They came from a township,” he says.
We meet Zethu, a friend of Lindelani’s. ”Ncwasi, unjani? How is it?” Zethu lives with her little son in a high house, washes some cups in a bucket of water and fills them with juice. Lindelani looks at her son: “Exactly like Themba.” Themba is Sindi’s brother, and the father of the child; he lives in Johannesburg and tries to save enough money for the iLobolo, eleven cows, that are given to Zethu’s family before they can marry. Sipho and Lindelani think that the iLobolo is a useless tradition. “Nobody has any cows anymore, and it becomes difficult to get married.” If a child is born before marriage, a goat and a cow have to be paid to the bride’s family. “My father was unlucky. He had not paid the iLobolo when I was born,” Sipho tells. He himself is not willing to give any iLobolo: “I want to be with a girl because she loves me, not because of the iLobolo. I rather marry a coloured or a white so I don’t have to pay it”, he smiles. “When will Themba come to see you again?” “Maybe for Christmas,” Zethu says, and then she accompanies us a bit along the river on our way home.
The day we leave Busingatha there is a hot wind. Early in the morning the wild horse has come down from the mountains, and gallops through the village, chased by the dog. The horse turns itself around, whirling its mane in the air, as if it had been running for days, trying to escape this silently running dog. Lindelani’s mother accompanies us to the gate. Little father shakes our hands and raises his hat. We wait in the shade of the shop’s veranda. The village seems to be emptied today. Through the tiny windows of a car we see Busingatha become smaller in the dust. Before we arrive at the taxi rank in Bergville, we already feel a pang in our stomach. “Give our greetings to Gogo and everybody.” Sipho and Lindelani bring us to the Durban taxi, which leaves immediately. They stand still in the crowded market square. We will see them again very soon; we will be back before the wedding.
Moses is waiting at the taxi rank in Durban. “Let’s go home”, he says, and suddenly we realize we have been in a different world. It is busy this Friday afternoon, people shout, the buses start off quickly and blow their horns; it smells of gas. We squeeze in between the people who have worked all day. The driver makes his way through the thick traffic, past the busy shops and sellers out to the ugly highway and into Clermont. We pass broad streets, some old warehouses with coffee shops and large signs, an unpaved market square where taxis load and unload, and vendors close their small kiosks. There is a flat building on a corner: funeral parlour. “That is my in-laws’ business,” Moses says. “KuLuthela,” we get off atthe Lutheran church which is an empty ghostlike grey building with high glass windows. The two small dogs meet us at the gate, Mbheki is standing in front of his door, smoking, and nods his head to greet us; somebody is screaming, and in the next second Moses’ sons Nsikende and Sanele come running. “Makathini! Lungile!” Buyi is welcoming us with a big calm smile. “How is it?” and then we tell stories while we are having tea and eat the sandwiches that Thandi and Oros bring in from the kitchen. There is loud music, an audience is clapping on the television, Sanele jumps around, dancing wildly and shouting, Nsikende asks questions all the time, and their elder sister Oros sits in the red chair, watching her brothers disapprovingly.
The neighbours have no electricity and wake up early. The mother is taking a shower in the yard, pouring water from a bucket over herself, a taxi vibrating from the loud music passes by, and in the church across the street there is a wedding. We walk with Moses through the streets of his township. There is a clinic built of graffiti-sprayed iron planks on the corner where people can come to get their medicine on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Along the long alley, framed by thick old trees that blossom purple, people open their shops and booths where they sell fruit, muthi, herbs, small mineral stones, and round clay balls with which women cover their faces to protect themselves from the sun. There are chicken in cages, a goat trots across the street, a boy is selling yoghurt and newspapers. “I think I know this place better than myself”, Moses says.
Moses has been living in Clermont for all of his life, and everybody seems to know him here. He was working as a street photographer, and got to know all kind of people in the neighbourhood. Sometimes when he passed the taxi rank after dark, he could hear voices shouting: “Moses, go home! It’s our time now!” His old studio lies in a narrow street where women wash their clothes in iron basins. A man is sitting at a table in the corner of the studio, which is a bar nowadays. “Sawubona,” Moses and the man greet each other. Boxes of his photographs are still stored on a dusty shelf above the entrance. “He has kept them there all these years!” Moses is surprised, and carries home a little box of yellowish and wrinkled portraits. He came to live in the township some time after the death of his mother, rented a room, earned some money, and started school when he was eleven. He became a child of the whole neighbourhood, and called his neighbours mother and father. Moses later tried to find out about his mother, and went to see an iNyanga, who told him that he fell sick when his mother died because she wanted to take him with her. She knew that there would be nobody to take care of him once she had died. His father had married another woman shortly after. “The iNyanga lit seven candles and advised me to have a function for my mother to tell her that I was fine so she could find peace,” and so he did. Now Moses is part of a huge family; Buyi’s relatives all live in the same neighbourhood, and see each other often.
All is calm and dark in the evening; there are small flickering lights on the horizon from other parts of the township; some dogs, seldom a car. The public transport, including the taxis, stops late in the afternoon; after that you cannot get anywhere without a car. Buyi’s aunt Maldobie lives in a little house some streets further down. The houses seem silent, and we walk under the streetlights until we reach a house with a little door that Maldobie opens. “Welcome,” she says with a broad smile. “This is my sleeping room, my dining room, my kitchen, and my living room”, she declares and stretches her arms out in the tiny room that about ten people have just filled completely. Her niece Ngenzeni from Orlando West has come for a visit with her little daughter Phele, who is dragging Ngenzeni’s long braided hair. “I am so happy Mandela took the apartheid away. Now we can be together, and we do not have to be scared anymore,” Maldobie says. She is wearing an enormous black hat, and pours tea into little cups on the table. Some years ago, it was illegal for blacks to be in white areas after nine o’clock at night. Once, when she had brought her brother to the station, Maldobie was caught by the Black Myriah. “They would drive around with trucks and collect all the people from the street at night. My watch had stopped, I thought it was eight, but it was already after eleven, so they took me to the police station and fined me ten shilling for being illegally in the street past nine.” Then she fits a massive round cake onto the fragile table. Phele’s father comes from Malawi, but will have to pay the iLobolo anyway. Aunt Maldobie makes a scolding gesture with her forefinger and looks upset: “This child is illegal, I want two cows for it,” she announces, “and a goat for the younger sisters, so they will not have children before marriage,” and then she laughs, “my father did not believe in the ancestors. He just slaughtered the goats for the relatives.” Previously, a Zulu used to be buried with his drinking cup, his sleeping mat, his pipe and a grain, all covered with a cow skin. They were buried in the yard the day after they had died, and still today, some funeral guests wash their hands in water that is blended with the intestines of a goat, when they leave. “When my brother died, we put branches on his grave, which everybody took home after the funeral.”
Buyi’s brother Zazi is driving up and down the hills of Clermont, trying to organize a driver for a funeral since their own driver is drunk. He is standing in front of the Zamani Funeral Directors and is, as Zazi puts it, “out of his mind”. Mbheki puts his black costume on, and follows Zazi with Buyi to the graveyard, where the funeral party is waiting. One of the men is carrying a gun. It comes into view as he adjusts his jacket. There are about a million inhabitants in Clermont; the Madinane brothers have about ten funerals a week, most of the dead are between 25 and 35 years old. Crime and aids are among the major factors for the high death rate of young people in South Africa. “It is obvious that something is different”, Buyi’s brother says, “before, you would not bury anyone on a working day. Only on Sundays to make sure everybody could come. Nowadays, we have several funerals a day.” aids is spreading very quickly in KwaZulu Natal, and with one out of four people being hiv positive, it has the highest prevalence of hiv infection in South Africa. “We are an hiv/aids friendly hospital”, it says on a sign in the McCord hospital in Durban. “Yes, there’s lots of aids patients here, lots”, a girl who is working there, says, “I might be one of them. Tested? No, I don’t have the guts.”
The bus to KwaDabeka, where Mr. Gumede lives, is huge; some rows are meant for five people. We pass a squatter camp, a hostel, and finally walk up a green hill. Mr. Gumede is a peaceful man with big dark eyes that are a little sad even when he smiles with all his heart; he has been fighting for a non-racist South Africa for most of his life. “We never believed we would see the end of it. We were thinking of it as for the third generation,” he says, and serves fizzy drinks while the birds are making a noise among the green leaves outside the burglar bars. “Sometimes we were only seven people when we met here in
Durban,” he laughs. His bookshelf is filled with knowledge about the history and politics of his country. “We fought to become part of the human race. When they started bombing post offices, it was too light. There was no other way than to start fighting,” he says. “The younger generation was much rougher than ours; they thought that you have to start at home. Truth and Reconciliation Commission? It is the best. Where would be without it now?” Mr. Gumede’s round calm eyes look at us. “The future of the struggle is up to the young people. The scars of apartheid have to die with us. When you build a house, you start with the basement; we started with the Constitution.” Asked about the western influence on the African way of life, he talks very quickly: “No, no, no, don’t worry, it will pass. All the big empires in the world have crumbled. We have survived the worst. This is easy.”
Buyi’s parents have invited the family for dinner. Already from the other end of the street we can hear Nsikende shouting. “Makathini!” He is jumping around the stairs of the house with his cousins, the sun is about to set, and we smell the fire the men are building for the braai in the backyard. There is a vivid murmur and laughing, the women move with bowls of food in the kitchen, Mbali’s and Thabile’s heads stick out between clouds of foam in the bathtub, and some girls have occupied the bedroom. The little house seems to be bursting at the seams with people, all part of the Madinane family. Buyi’s father is telling stories from the Orange Free State where he used to live; he was one of the first blacks to have a car there in the 60’s. His grandfather was the brother of Gogo’s husband; he has not been in Indanyana for some time. Suddenly, there is complete silence; Buyi’s father is giving thanks for the evening and says a prayer for the family. “Amen.” Everybody sings and claps their hands, until the eldest start leaving through the open door. Immediately after they have left, the music changes, and the room turns into a crowded dance-floor: Thabile’s and Banthi’s mother dances on high heels, Sanele, with his feet steady on the floor, gyrates his hips and arms. We drive home late at night in the boot of the family’s dark business car.
Albert’s father, Ntshona Ngubane, has three wives that live in three houses on the top of a hill. We meet Albert, who is a good friend of Moses, in Pinetown close to Durban where he repairs watches. At night, we arrive in the hills where his mother and father live. Albert’s father has lit a candle on the floor of his house, and kneels down to welcome us. His ears have big holes that have been stretched by the earrings. His eyes are shining in the dim light while he is talking to his son. Around his wrist, he is wearing a cow skin from a feast he had for his grandfather. Since he took over his brothers’ widows after death, he has three wives. “I love them all,” he smiles.
We continue to walk along the rocky path in the darkness together with Albert’s son Siyabonga. Some cows start shuffling in front of the house where they have been sleeping. Albert’s mother has been expecting us in a round room, and welcomes us before she returns to sleep. There is the gall bladder of a goat hanging from the ceiling in the corner of the room. “This is to thank the ancestors for the house”, Albert explains, “it is still new, and we have to introduce it to them.” When you were sick, you used to boil water with some herbs, dip the bladder into it, and “then drink a lot of it, and throw it up again,” Moses says, “a little bit of it would stay inside and cure you.” Moses likes these rituals. Once he described the cleansing with water that has been boiled with muthi as “steam — vomit — wash,” you steam in the muthi water, then drink it, vomit, and wash in it. “Steam — vomit — wash”, Moses moves his arms as if he was throwing water over himself.
“In our family, we have a very special custom,” Albert says as we are having tea in the night. He holds his hand up, the shapes of which suddenly become clearly visible in the candlelight: a part of his little finger is missing. “Every Ngubane child has a third of its little finger cut off at about three months old. My grandfather, my father, and my children. The fingertips are all buried in the kraal. It is like a sign that you belong to the Ngubane family and can be related to the belief that people with the same surname should not fall in love with each other. This is why we call cousins ‘brothers and sisters’, and uncles and aunts ‘fathers and mothers’ if they share the same surname.” Albert smiles proudly. “Some Ngubanes no longer practise this tradition, out of western reasons, like writing on a computer — but such things are not important to us. You will be able to work even without this little finger. And if you break the tradition,” he continues, “the child will start doing funny things, like sucking its little finger until it gets smaller, or not answering questions, but putting the finger in the mouth instead. This is to remind you of that you broke a custom that should have been followed.” So the other Ngubanes, who do not have their finger cut, make a scar in the finger and press it on half the finger of another Ngubane relative.
In the morning a bee is circling around in the room, and leaves. “Visitors”, Moses says. It is a Zulu belief that a bee that comes in, makes a circle and leaves, foretells a visitor. We think it is the bladder that has attracted the bee, but now as we look outside, a girl is standing in front of the house. “There’s a party. Are you coming?” Sewleni stands barefoot, hands on her hips, and smiles. She lives in an old shop where she has opened a crÃ¨che for little children. They are on holiday now, and there is a function for a girl in the neighbourhood who is getting married soon. We follow her and a friend over the misty green hills, and are joined by Khetani, her sisters, and several other people along the way. Sewleni moved here a couple of years ago because her family was in trouble. “My father was involved in politics. If we had not left our home, they would have killed us.” The tensions between Buthelezi’s Inkatha and supporters of the anc developed into a violent conflict before the elections in 1994, and politics is a sensitive issue here. After a long walk we reach the home of the iSangoma, who is thefather of the bride. He is wearing long robes and rushes about his yard in the valley, sprinkling a liquid on the houses to protect the home from evil spirits. Several people have arrived in the yard, and all the round houses have been emptied for the guests. Sewleni, Khetani and the other girls sit on grass mats; the iSangoma serves amahewu, a soft fermented porridge, while the men pass around a pot of Zulu beer.
The children start singing outside, and walk with the burning impepho grass to the kraal where the cow is tethered from its horns to a tree. They sing that the cow must not die, the iSangoma replies that it has to, the children sing the same refrain over and over again, the iSangoma pushes a knife into the cow’s neck, a loud roar is heard, its eyes turn, then it sinks to the ground on its weak legs. He slits up the throat and collects the blood in a bowl. The children walk away; the animal’s legs are still moving in the air until the singing fades away. Everybody is involved in the slaughtering; boys hold the legs, while men peel the skin off the body, and the first pieces of flesh are hung on the fence of the kraal. The boys slash the ribs with axes, while women prepare food in huge pots.
The colourful family of the husband-to-be has assembled in front of the gate. Finally they come walking in, and the women, wearing bead-embroidered headgear and huge umqulu rings around their hips, slowly move across the yard, carrying mats, mattresses and boxes containing food and other iLobolo gifts. The iSangoma’s children sing along with different choirs, men with sticks and girls with pearls dance, throw their legs up in the air, fall and laugh, and fall again. More and more people come to eat, drink, dance and sing with the iSangoma’s family; the feast lasts for two days.
On our way home Khetani and her two sisters invite us to have tea in their house on a steep hill. The younger sisters and brothers are playing in the dark room, in the corner of which a fire is burning, and Khetani puts a kettle of water to boil. In a little chamber clouded with smoke from the pieces of wood that are burning in a little rusty tin, her grandfather is lying in his bed. “He was struck by lightning, half of his body is paralysed,” Khetani says. Her grandmother sits next to the bed, holding his hand. Khetani and her sisters follow us a long way over the nebulous dark mountains before they turn for home themselves.
There is a little white shop up the road of the nine-finger family. We sit with some people on a bench and a bottle crate, sucking the only drink they had, which is frozen. The man on the crate holds a little handbag in his hands, which he swings around in the air while he is explaining the political situation of the area. The milk delivery van turns up, he jumps up and the gun falls out of his bag.
V The Inyanga
The dust is flying around our ears; it is hot and we are driven on the back of a truck through the bush on a long sandy road. The driver shouts out of the window: “Where do you want me to drop you?” Moses leans forward, his shirt flapping, and shouts: “I don’t even know where we are going to!” We look at each other, Moses smiles and shrugs his shoulders. We are bumping along the endless green bush of which we can barely see anything through the dust. Suddenly, the truck stops. About sixteen men with long knives are sitting under a tree, and as they see the truck, they stop working the wood blocks and raise their eyes to us. The driver exchanges some words with the men; we decide to continue with him for a while.
At an open space we jump off. A little sandy path leads us into the bush; the birds sing differently here. Makathini finds a yellow fruit that we try to crack open by stepping on it and by hitting it against a tree. Later we learn that the stones of the fruit have to be peeled, cut open, boiled and dried. We suck them raw as they are and think they are delicious. A beetle crosses our path. Moses draws a circle around it, and spits in it. “This means that we are going to meet a special person.” We continue along the endless white road framed by the thick bushes. There are voices in the bush, but we see no people, until a man silently passes us on his bicycle. As he looses a paper, Moses shouts after him, and they engage in a conversation. “There is an iNyanga living not far from here, to the right”, the man says and rides away. It looks as if it was going to rain soon, the sky becomes dark and threatening, and we have to decide whether to take the last bus back or to follow the track of the iNyanga. “iNyanga or bus? Bus or iNyanga?” Moses gestures with his hands and looks at us. “iNyanga.” We try a sandy way to the right. “I hope that man knew what he was talking about”, Makathini says as we come to a point where the way splits into small paths. We take one and continue, as it seems, for hours. “Signs of life!” Moses has found footprints in the sand, and from a distance we hear drums. As the path turns around the corner we find a spacious yard with some huts, a huge kraal with cows and, at the gate of his home, the iNyanga is standing, looking at us. He has been waiting for us, he says, and leads us towards his ixhiba. There are long rotting snakes, the fat of which is eaten against the poisonous effect of a bite, hanging in the tree for drying. Reptiles and birds on long threads turn in the breeze, and small boys are cooking muthi in a big pot. Children are walking around in the yard; fires are burning under shelters. We sit in the dim hut; hundreds of small dusty bottles, of all shapes and sizes, stand on the floor, and from the roof, animal skins hang as protection from evil spirits. The iNyanga looks at us, and says we were lucky, the car we arrived with the day before was faulty. We had come with a little bus that was wavering its way and seemed to fall apart so much that the passengers were tense and silent. Before we arrived, a long crack appeared in the windscreen. The iNyanga shakes a bottle filled with milky water and a long and mighty stream of words starts streaming out of his muscular mouth. His eyes are rolling, in them the light is reflected, and the first raindrops start falling outside. His speech is like music. “You don’t tell them anything. These people you just listen to”, Moses says as we ask himhow he could know all he just said about us.
The iNyanga and his family did not always live here. He, his four wives, and twenty children came here some time ago as the iNyanga’s activities were not enthusiastically met by everybody in the area they had lived in before. He used to find stolen cars and lead the owners to the thieves, but he had to stop this habit because it became too dangerous as the car owners and thieves would start shooting when they met. So instead, he made the thieves regret the theft and return the car by themselves. One day, a group of criminals had decided to eliminate all the people who made their lives difficult, one of them the iNyanga. Two people had already been killed, and their homes burned. The iNyanga would be the third, but as the men encircled his home to kill the family, they could not do it. Instead they shot each other, and were consequently found dead in the kraal. The one who survived the shootings blamed the iNyanga for the killings. The court case finished some time ago; it was found that the iNyanga had gone to town with two of his wives, and could not have been there at the time of the shooting. The iNyanga is sitting on the floor with two of his wives, leaning his head on one of them and nibbling the grainy jam of the yellow fruit from a big bowl. Now, he has protected his house against evil. People with bad intentions who want to come close to his home, will not see anything but a pond in the bush.
Patients sweat over a pot with boiling water in a hole and are cleansed, that is, they are cut at the throat, back, and other parts of the body down to the feet with a razor blade to let the blood carry out all harmful substances from top to toe, or have a traditional injection made through applying muthi on the open wound. The iNyanga is talking with the same fluidity of words, and smears some green liquid from a dirty bottle on Makathini’s back. Makathini has to talk to his ancestors, and must not wash for the night. He stinks like a rotten lizard. The iNyanga tells us that he usually dreams of how he has to treat the persons that are coming to see him the following day.
The bush is filled with sounds of frogs and birds; we walk in the sand where snakes have left their marks, through the endless labyrinth of thorny tree sculptures. “It is very easy to get lost here. I could take you some way in there and you would never find your way back again”, Zacharias, the iNyanga’s eldest son, threatens us. Moses says it is true, “there are some iNyangas who can make you walk into the bush never to return. People disappear there forever.” The moon is shining; the sky is clear and dark as we enter the yard again. Somebody has just killed a chicken. The white feathers are flying around everywhere, and the children chase their father across the yard. They have lit a fire under the shelter, and a woman with a baby on her back walks across the yard to fetch water. Moses and Makathini sit inside the house where the chickens come to eat, and chew the puthu.
The yard is covered with the cold light of the moon and a slight warm wind is shaking the leaves in the tree. All of a sudden, Moses comes running out of the house. “Lungile! Where are you?” Afterwards we realize he was scared because he thought the iNyanga had put a spell on me and made me go astray into the bush. Moses knows about the power of an iNyanga. He can make a fool sane in three days, and make a sane man a fool, in less.
VI The Wedding
Indanyana. We have returned, and it is magic. Gogo is sitting in front of her house where usually all meet in the late afternoon just before sunset. ”Sawubona ndodana, sawubona ntombazane”, she says, and holds our hands. Melusi is waving from a distance; he has just brought in the cows for the night. Thando is happy and immediately crawls up into our laps as we have tea in the kitchen. After a time, Nobuhle, Sebenzile, Cebo, Lindo, Sindi, and Joana have come to join us; they have all been working hard for the wedding.
Sipho came to meet us in Bergville. As we drove up the road where we saw the people of Indanyana for the first time, we got a shock: all the pupils seemed to be bald. There was Nobuhle waving to us, she was bald as well. “Did the hairdresser come to school?” “Yes”, Sipho smiled, “the headmaster had forbidden the girls to start decorating their hair before the final exams until he would give them permission, but some girls had started already, and they were all shaved.” It was a sad sight. Some girls wore hats and cloths on their heads.
The preparations for the wedding are extensive, and after a while, the home under the tree has changed completely. Lindelani and Thokozani have gone to Busingatha to look for the cow, Jabulile and Gogo’s friend Sisi have come to help cleaning the houses, while Melusi and some neighbours are digging a huge water hole for the cows. The little radio is playing in the middle of the yard where Joana is smearing a new layer of mud on the ixhiba to fix the cracks, Sebenzile paints Thokozani’s room blue, and Gogo knits the grass roof of the ixhiba together with a rough thread. “Hhayibo!” she chases away the cow that has come to pick some blades from the hut. As three little boys haul a big sack of dried maize for the Zulu beer into Melusi’s house, it breaks open, and everybody comes to pick up all the yellow corns that are shining on the ground in front of the round house.
Sisi is brewing the Zulu beer, her face is covered with red mud, and with one arm on her hips, an enormous cloth on her head, laughingly stirs the bubbling liquid in the black pot. Cebo tiptoes around in the ixhiba where the Zulu beer is brewing and producing bubbles in big barrels. He is trying to catch the chicken that has fled up the ladder. As he approaches it, the feathered animal cries out, flies over his head and, with its wings spread, flutters and scrambles on its escape through the door. Sipho walks around with Makathini, sprinkling the dark liquid that Mbheki got from the iNyanga, on all the houses. At dusk Sebenzile, Joana, and Nobuhle carry big sacks of flour and sugar to their house, light a fire in the stove, and start baking biscuits until late at night. Makathini gets the hiccups. “You have stolen something”, Lindelani smiles.
Several weeks before the wedding, friends from the area start coming to Melusi’s house after dark. They sing and dance together until late each night, rehearsing the songs for the wedding. Soon, Melusi’s little round house is vibrating from the sounds of the loud and powerful voices in the choir, the flame of the candle moves in the rhythm, and sometimes Sipho’s and Lindelani’s heads pop up in between the deep voices of the boys in the back of the hut. The powerful steps whirl up the dust until it fills the air in the room. Cebo watches the rapid movement of the shoes, Sindi blows her shrill whistle, and the girls laugh until the leader suddenly jumps through the crowd with a whip held high up in the air, and hits somebody, with the result that everybody falls on top of each other. “Someone was not dancing in the rhythm”, Sipho says later, “the boys like to be hit, it’s part of it.”
Dust and sand are flying around the shabby white church that lies on an open dry plain close to Nompumelelo’s home. Cars and little buses are arriving. The whole Madinane family from Clermont, Banthi and Thabile, little father, Petros, the girls’ twin mothers from Johannesburg, Buyi, Moses, all of Nompumelelo’s family, and hundreds of friends and neighbours have gathered. Jabulile tells us that, the day after we left Busingatha, a snake in the river where we had been swimming every day had attacked a man. A woman who dragged him out rescued him. “The place is now called ‘the snake home’, and nobody swims there anymore.” Hats of many different colours turn in the church to see the priest swaying to the tunes with the microphone and giving a speech in between. People gather around the church and look in through the windows while a man, who has climbed on a bench at the back of the church, is getting more and more restless. He shifts from one foot on the other, sweating. A little later he is bodily carried out of the church. He turns out to be the bride’s ex-husband, who in front of the church has announced that Nompumelelo was his wife, he had paid for her, and that he was going to kill Mbheki. The police arrive to watch the situation while the wedding guests drive off to Nompumelelo’s home. She is going to say goodbye to her family before she moves to her husband’s home. This shouldusually happen at night, but people are scared that the jealous ex-husband might follow them, so Nompulelelo hurries to move out. She is spending thelast hours at home with the women, who give her good advices for the future. Outside the house the girls are singing the songs that will entice the bride to leave the home. “It is a very difficult moment, many women come out crying,” Moses says. They carry out her belongings and a kist. When Nompumelelo finally comes out, she is not crying. The party accompanies her on the way to her new home. It is almost dark, and a warm wind is blowing over the yellow fields.
The cows are mourning for their dead sister that was slaughtered at dawn, and the rice is boiling in big black pots under which wood, cow dung and bones are burning. The bride’s family is welcomed in Indanyana, and Gogo sits down on her new grass mat with a pillow. One blanket after the other is put on her lap; soon she is covered with a mountain of blankets. “Gogo!” Thando shouts, and runs over to hug her great-grandmother, not to leave her during the whole ceremony. The children of Indanyana and their friends start singing; the songs that have been rehearsed in Melusi’s house over many nights are echoing around the houses, and soon begin to mingle with the powerful voices of the bride’s choir; they are having a competition. Later there is only one whip left, and they all sing together.
Gogo is exhausted. She sits with her granddaughters in her bedroom. There is a blue wooden kist, “1944” written on it. “Is this Gogo’s kist?” “Yes, she was twenty-one when she married.” Gogo smiles and touches the head of Nobuhle who is sitting at her knees. Now, a new daughter-in-law is coming to the home. Late at night, when the guests have departed, we have gathered in Sipho’s room. “It’s a different place now,” he says. His father’s room has changed, the old bed and cupboard have moved out, and big pieces of dark wooden furniture and soft carpets have moved in. Thobeka, their little daughter, is sleeping in her bed. Nompumelelo and Mbheki will return to Durban before they leave for their honeymoon in Johannesburg.
VII Sipho’s Birthday
It has begun to rain outside; everybody has gathered in Gogo’s kitchen, where a gas stove has replaced the old paraffin stove, which has been moved down to a corner on the floor now. It isSipho’s birthday, he is turning nineteen. Thando crawls from one lap to the other, Cebo learns to whistle through his fingers, and Gogo holds her head in her hands, watching her grandchildren. Sebenzile and the other girls sing many songs for Sipho, and finally, everybody joins in to sing “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika”.
Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Yizwa imithandazo yethu
Nkosi sikelela thina
Two lights appear in the window, and make the room shine for some seconds. Nompumelelo has arrived to pick us up. She is going to Durban tonight, and comes to sit on the kitchen bench to talk to Gogo for a while. We go outside with Sipho and Lindelani. “We will miss you.” A cold wind is blowing, the girls have gathered along the wall. We hug quickly. “Makathini! Lungile!” Melusi shouts and lifts his arm: “Goodbye!” Gogo comes out with a blanket around her shoulders.“Uhamba kahle my son, go well, my daughter,” and then we roll down the rocky road in the drizzle. Thobeka draws some figures on the steamed-up window screen, lights pass by, and soon she falls asleep in my lap.
A Voyage to iChickenMoon Â© Cia Rinne 1999