A Handsome pile of rubble
“They are handsome in that pile, aren’t they?” Menzi looked at me demanding a reply. Soon after I could realise that he must have been just teasing me. I saw him laugh- laughing at me and perhaps as himself as well. What he had brought me to was no handsome pile of any sort, it was the Christmas of all the stacks of everything uncertain, a family man’s life. From the stand of his wedding cake to the film tapes of old antique cinemas; it was a planet of its own. Just a quarter of hector backyard. This was to be my work for the next two weeks...
I had never seen anything like it, a cruelty like in the movies were black people were snitched and chained skin to metal. What I can remember was the bracelet on his wrist, stainless steel and shiny with a cross pendent in its centre, a clear indication that he was a man of religion. The way he beat that dog, it was as if he had promised it he will kill it one day. Its face was stripped with ancient scars, with teeth missing from a fight, “I thought this man had fought with this dog before, they really don’t seem to like one another, and the only thing that separates them from a fair fight is that there is a slave and a master in this living arrangement.”
“They used to make us bait, I see it now. Not for us to get eaten, (I hoped) but for us to tame the animal.” Petro’s the Game ranger told me he trusted me and he thought that the buffalo trusted me too.” Menzi told me.
“You are like a painting before the animal a resemblance of his master, yes a Master given off by the source of the Universe, God himself” do you understand what I am telling you Menzi. “Look when you are before the big cat your hair doesn’t stand in fright; look at my hair” he said.
His words had no lies in them; he believed everything that he was telling Menzi. He believed that when God in one of the religions bible said, let man have dominion over the earth and the animal. He was talking to a certain type of man. Not a man who ate meat, hunting, pleasure killing, not man who needed a weapon and industrialised manufacture camouflage in order to fool the animal.
When I first met Menzi he had been told by some of his comrades that I was a good handy man especially when it comes to “valuable clutter”. The type of clutter that people bought with good intentions and a list of plans to spend with that object. For a collector of clutter myself, I arrived to a heaven, a dimmed formally organised quarter of car, furniture, tools, indigenous trees, tree and fencing equipment. He was truly a God of ideas, dreams, DIY and a ticket to the Milky Way evolving time machine. There was no other way to describe him. The shine of his eyes and deep sadness of his voice when he tried to describe and organisation strategy to me, got me to listen to understand. We ended up spending two punctual days moving things from this pile to the backyard shack and from the backyard shack to that pile, involved in educational histories and sci-fi craft crimes ideas.
To my distraction of the unbearable noise, Menzi had 4 more dogs, dogs of different breeds and interest and all seemed to want to escape rather than to bite my bum. He didn’t seem to care, in fact the violent noise and paw screeching of the dogs made more annoyed that his reaction was to speak louder.
A few hours passed; the slow pace at which we were working together in his direction made the shade and breeze of his beautiful trees gave way to the sun’s ray’s plant its dew on our anxious faces. Just when I turned back to looked at this non-German dog saw the bloody rope twirl around the deep wound of its neck; my very own neck felt a deep pain ; an unexpected strangle of a chine’s grim reaper. His house was filled with his hobbies and probably his talents.
“My daughter came to me and said “may Afrikaans teacher said, if you want to hide something from a Blackman put it in a book.”
Well it broke my heart he said I mean it was bad enough that the children came back from school one day fascinated form what they have seen, Mr Hart was delivered on the school’s sports ground with a soldiers helicopter. It was too my surprise that the children were not at all scared at this site but they we fascinated, they though this man must have been some sort of a hero or soldier celebrity. He explained to me that in his mind at that time he knew that this education was going to be long term brains wash to our children, they were going to look at themselves and hate the skin they see. “you see, in our dark area of the Umkhonto wesizwe the fear we had in us for the oppressor drove us to be angry, so angry that other that running away and hiding we learned to procrastinate, we learned to plan dangerous tactics against the oppressor. The time came when we would talk out loud in the streets that we did not want the Afrikaans, We did not want the White teacher before us, those were the infants that brew into toi tois and 1970s uprisings.”
He had a collection of knitwear jerseys. They looked very out of fashion but rather expensive, though clearly he bought them at a discount or special sale. He had a peculiar style and understanding on the purpose of clothes. “We use to eat while pap and our soup was salt water “he said. “My father died when I was 11 years old. He was a painter, a priest, a hustler, a well-respected man in the township.”
“He changed our surname after a research he did, seeing that his surname was different and unknown by the locals, he didn’t want to be a kwerekwere. Our surname was foreign to the Swati national, it didn’t sound at all like we were people of the Transvaal or Swaziland” Menzi Said. His father arrived in the small town of Mbuzin after he had found a job as painter in the big Shongwe hospital. The man with 5 children had to compromise his work and commitments as a door to door pastor, in order to bring feasible money on the table.
One a cloudy Sunday afternoon, Menzi woke up to find me already in the yard. My hands occupied with a rake and a shovel. That day my work was to collect of the leaves and biodegradable handsome stuff and dig a whole , it could have been a hectare if I had listened to him, but there was not enough space in that backyard. All the leaves, grass, brittle wood and soil generating stuff I was allowed to put in that whole. “This is not junk, this is not rubble, and he said “this will be food for my plants”. I looked at the pile that he was showing me and I wondered if he could see all the plastic, hangers and shoes sticking out from that handsome pile, and that I was to shuffle through all of that rotting vegetation and wood to get those out. I looked at him and I laughed “what about those I asked?”
“Well you can’t feed those to my plants, those you can pick out with a garden fork and burn in another pile; he laughed as if to ease the tense situation he was dragging me in again. We going to be leaving in an hour, if you are done you can come with us, he said with a frown.
Was I exited to go fishing with him and his daughters? Not really. What kind of a man goes fishing with his daughter while his introvert son is sitting inside one of his broken cars listening to Rap music the whole day”? I wondered.
Thandokuhle and Lithemba were girly girls, weird, soft spoken and very protective of their father. In my fast pace of work trying for the “to burn pile” in between the 12 untitled piles, I guess I was thinking about seeing one of them catching a fish.
We drove off in Menzi’s double cab van. At the back I was sitting with Lithemba and the fishing equipment. She was a technically curios girl who asked a lot of questions and when you asked her questions his r conclusion was always coupled with a giggle and smile of shyness. We got out into a deep rainforest like jungle, wet on the feet, from its luscious mud and water spitting grass. I wasn’t told I should wear gum boots so my feet plunged in and out of that mud, it was tickly but not pretty.
Thandokuhle was always just behind her father trail while Lithemba walked me little behind me swaying her arms, singing as if talking to the trees. The girls didn’t seen at all annoyed or grossed out by the realities of the eerie fishing environment. I thought that Menzi invitation for me to go with them meant that I was more the runner boy who carries the golfers clubs, so I offered my carry hands before him, to my amazement he denied them, he carried everything himself and let the girls hold the baits and hook cases.
There we were sitting on these benches like structures build for the bums of fishermen, trying their luck on the beaches on of the Meadow River. They were a lot of crows and funny insect cries along with other birds and an occasional sound of hippopotamus calls. Thandokuhle started jumping and running towards the edge of the river.
“Look, look, look, and look!” he said.
“Hey wenah where are you going, come back come back” Menzi shouted to his daughter.
We all found ourselves running after her, with the fear that the river was calling her to sink her into the deep water. A myth many of us have heard off before in this area. Well it wasn’t like that, she was running to shop us about 13 hippopotamus, a whole family of fat blobs prostrate on the little river island and larger rocks
“Woooooooooow!” I stopped with my on foot already in the back of the river.
Thandokuhle had entered into the river half body, not realising that the river tide was quiet heavy it actual dragged her from the back, but her face was full of laughed still. I didn’t understand, was this girl crazy or what.
Just behind me Menzi passed me with a swoosh! running after Thandokuhle, shouting at him still to go back. I saw the old man trip on the grass and falling face fist too into the muddy water. Those them made Thandokuhle look back and actually realised that she half her body was in the water. I was left there standing in shock; my mind was telling me that I am moving towards them to rescue them, when actually I wasn’t. I was frozen. Lithemba ran quickly passed me and grabbed her father’s arm.
“Yoh Yoh Yoh, grab the stick, grab the stick!” she shouted at he, handing me the long fishing stick. I followed her instruction to grab it. Next thing I knew there was allot of paddling and splashes all over I couldn’t see anything or what was going on. I felt that someone was holding the stick and pulling it, that was my cue to pull back and drag the person out of the water. When I later recollected what happened in my time of disorder and confusion; I hear that Thandokuhle actually ran out of the river in fright after realising that she wasn’t standing at the banks anymore she was actually in the river. Lithemba ran to grab her father’s arm that had fell face first trying to rescue Lithemba, and she gave me the fishing rod to hold as Menzi and her grabbed the other end of the stick and I pulled them out so fast we all fell backwards into the muddy meadow. We were all out of the river; we stood up and looked at each other as if we were going to laugh at what just happened.
It became evident that it was no laughing matter, we were in shock, embarrassed, muddy and wet and just before any of us could utter and words, we spotted the faces of too hippos just 3 feet from where we were standing. They had come to attack, they had been watching that entire rattle happening in their territory and the biggest bull hippos of that family were being showed by Thandokuhle had come to defend our cry for war. I had never ran so fast in my whole life after seen the face of that hippo slowly rising on the surface of that water getting ready to launch its huge mouth with its grand opening. Thandokuhle had held my arm running at my pace, screaming for help. Just right on my heal Lithemba had grabbed my pants almost hanging and depending on my thigh strength to light her up.
When we had reached the car just above the meadow on the dry land we found a group of people waiting by Mendzi's car. We all looked at each other with question. We dragged our self up the slope, wet and weary individuals. An old white man from the car came toward us, confused and almost like they were in a hurry to kidnap us or collect their dept. We had noticed form far that these were white people; at face to face it was even stranger for them to be in our presence.
“Ahh Menzi how are you my friend, still an award winning fisherman are you? The old while man reached for Menzi's hand and helped him up. As the other two people a woman and two grown up boy came towards me and Menzi’s daughter with big smiles also excited to see us. “Who are these people?” Lithemba whispered. The three of us were sceptic and uncomfortable, to be help by these fair skinned strangers. When we were close enough the family notices that we were wet, muddy and had facial expressions of trauma.
“Mr Wys, it’s you, how did you find me?” Menzi laughed accepting his hand for a greeting.
Clearly they knew each other but the three of us were in the dark with this encounter.
“What happened with all of you”, he looked at us with a sad face “Yesi Man, you look like your boat fell off and spit you out the muddy meadow.
“You know I don’t have a boat,” Menzi shouted with laughter. “We were running away from a hippopotamus, it was chasing us because Zama, here is wearing a red shirt! You know the story of the hippo with the red shirt” he laughed.
Mendzi’s sense of humour was always amusing, rather I was like a game you had to understand before you would participate. We were not actually chased by a hippo until the last moment. Even I did see its face emerge form he water up close as the other hippo cheered it one, we can’t really be saying that was a hippo chase, I thought to myself. Menzi gave me the a frown (showing I must recognised that the fabrication of the story he was telling this man was just one of his jokes) as he continued to tell his white buddy what had just happened to us, a very different and movie like story. His fiction gave us a chance to go back to the Bakkie, passing the woman and his children as they greeted us softly with sorrow in their eyes. They surely thought we had escaped the hippo.
“This is my family he pointed at us proudly, we are here to fish” he said “I found me some new fishing buddies since you relocated to Swaziland, he told the Whiteman.
So I figured that this man was one of Mendzi’s old friends that he uses to fish with in the mediocre life. A man he wasn’t going to tell the really truth that we were all chasing after his daughter who went to the water infested with hippos. Somehow all of us including Lithemba thought we were doing to rescue her, but we ended up rescuing Menzi with a fishing rod. Look at it now it is broken and we were wet.
The girls climbed me the back of the Bakkie annoyed and barely speaking to each other. Lithemba was angry with Thandokuhle at what she had just put us through. I on the other hand had not one to react too because it was reposted to our spectators that the hippos chased us because I was wearing a red shirt. I was wearing a red shirt, but if that was a problem; why Menzi didn’t say anything to me before we left, I wondered. I knew nothing about the story of the hippo and the red shirt, I was no fisherman or man of the water, and I had just followed my Baas to his fishing hobby with his daughter.
I went to sit inform of the Bakkie to listen to Menzi and this Whiteman friend of use to work his. They hadn’t seen each other for over 5 years, they use to work together but what got them to break their stereotypical boundaries was their love for these hunting meetings.
They eventually got to a point where they had to share new establishments and stories. Mr Wys had come to this particular spot to find Menzi; this is where he knew that Menzi could me on a sunny Sunday afternoon. He was excited to have found him just where he imagined he could be, doing what he’s known Menzi would be doing on this day.
“Mr Wys waited to take Menzi to this new place he had discovered and he insisted that we all travel with hem to this place. To Mr Wys it was perfect time, taking into account that we our clothes had dried off by the sun and we had enough energy for something new after being chased by a hippo I the river.
Do want to know how we met? He asked.
“Yes, sure!” I answered.
“It was back in 1996, April a month as hot as a granny tea. The rest of us parent were driving our children to the private school, until came a time when we had to change cars as it rained for two whole weeks. "I mean rained nonstop without a break". He added. Many of the townships were being flooded while the suburb drainage systems also filled up and lost function. The school was quiet far away in the bush. A mutli-racial school it was yet far in the bushes. This man was a ranger at the Kruger national park and he had this big jeep bakkie that no any black person was driving at that time.
That day I first met Menzi we were not told just how hard it had rained in the Uitkyk area of Nelspruit. The dust road toward the school was muddy and had developed dangerous sink holes. Most of the black children from the township travelled to school by bus. One of the buses arrived only to find that most of the parent had parked in front of the gate farm as it was too muddy and transport had to drop the children at the gate of the for the to enter. I suppose it was fun for the children to walk just 5 km to the school premises. Some clever parent decided to drive back with their children looking at the roads and river tributaries growing stronger and stronger. This bus driver decided to drive anyway through the short muddy river that had emerged on the school road. I had arrived early still parked by the gate to assess the situation to whether I should allow my children to walk like the rest of the pupils or to go back home like the rest of the cowards that did leave. Menzi drove pass and parked right next to me also coming out of his car to assess the muddy road, he care full took out his binoculars and took a serious look at what was happening out there.
By that time all of us we looking at this bus full of children struggling to pass through the mud. Before we knew it. I saw Menzi run to his car and took out his two daughters and send them off to me, a stranger, look after them he said “that bus is going to fall. I didn’t understand what he mean as I took the hands of his two girls. He ran to his car and drove of straight to the mud. And there it happened, the bus swayed awkwardly to the right and slowly and brutally it fell wholesomely- It sinking at the time. It was horrible, I tell you, the screams form their children in the bus and those who were walking close by. Menzi reached the bus with his mighty bakkie and climbed on top of the sinking bus, some of the children had already coming out of the windows and we all watched helpless and Menzi, alone started pulling the children out of the bus one by one.
"He saved it man! I don’t know how but he saw that the was a sink hole in that river and that bus was about to going to get trapped, “Mr Wys said. Most the children that came out of that buss went to cling to his Bakkie for dear life. And fortunately the bus had stopped sinking, as soon as the was no else left stuck in the bus, Mendzi rushed off to his Bakkie and struggled to get it off to move as to many people were on it, on the roof, on the book, at the back in the passenger seats, the children were terrified. But he managed gently to move the Bakkie and drove off everybody to safety. "This man is a hero man! He was all over the papers" he said. You know mouse stories like that soon get forgotten. "But you see I have never forgotten. I hunted him down and found him a few months later and made sure he was my friend, yes I forced him to be a friend of the lunge" Mr Wys described. He taught me fishing and after he lost his job at the game reserve I made sure made a good position for him in the municipality and we have been in there for years working at the same department for many years. I moved five years ago to Swaziland, but I have never forgotten my friend Menzi and on a Sunday afternoon like this one I knew just where exactly to find him.
Menzi, I found something really fascinating just 5 km for here and I looked everywhere for you because I want to take you there to see for yourself,” Mr Wys said with a serious face. “Let's go, come with you family" he instructed.
Menzi took a few seconds to think about Mr Wys’s proposal. He looked at me from head to toe and asked: “Do you think we should go?”
I felt privileged to answer the question though my gut gave a strong guidance that I should ask to go home; I had other things to do. I followed my intuition and told Menzi we should go and off we drove behind Mrs Wys SUV vehicle, curious where the road and this Whitman was taking us. In the car Menzi turned to his daughters in the back seat, who looked rather tired, angry and sleepy.
“We were going somewhere with Mr Wys, you can sleep if you want maybe this time we are going to catch some blind crocodiles he laughed at his own joke as the rest of us relaxed in annoyance.
He brought us to a dusty road up a hill in the middle of a highway. It was a deep dark forest. There were animal persuasions of territories on our first encounter. This place was fresh and pre, almost as a virgin forest should be, full of life. Deeper and deeper into the forest we drove. We followed Mr Wys’s car until it came to a stop just before the edge of the hill. We came out of our cars and followed Mr Wys, as he care walked us into an architecture hole within the forest, a whole to which the south of the water met our ears forcefully. Mr Wys’s two young sons ran passed us and took out their shirt, singing with excitements. Menzi held the hands of his daughter and yielded them to not think crazy. “Don’t worry Menzi, it’s just an amazing water fall that I have found!” he said as we came closer to view the opening.
We came close enough to the edge as we could and there it was as auspicious and frail like a new born baby brought to the air for all to see. It was like a picture moving before my eyes, it was huge hidden scenery of the lively water fall and rocks, trees tangles and hugging in front and above it. A hole in the middle of the forest. There were loud sounds of unidentified animal and insects with the loud sound of water gushing though the uneven ground.
We looked up and down sideways and even to each other. The girls were the first to utter words “Wow” Thandokuhle said “what in the world is this” she muttered to her spirit. It was a beautiful waterfall and reverie meandering through the rocks as if painted. Mr Wys’s boys were already standing on that large rock, stretching their hand to the waterfall. There stood at a spot where this amazing earth raining water became a heavenly shower to mankind.
Like me- Menzi had no words yet to comment but his face was more suspicious and surprised than it was amazed. “You have really discovered something here boet” he said to Mr Wys.
“No. Wait “Mr Wys said, “there is more, and follow me he said. He took us down to the river street and showed us how to cross it respectably. Across it there was another side much similar to the one we had just seen. A water fall, dark tall trees and strand of bark hanging for the tangled tree's family sky. The noises coming out of this whole were immediately overwhelming. Baboons! A large family of baboons all over the trees. They were just sitting screaming in their dialect, some were even in the water. I couldn’t believe what we were seeing. I saw the girls faces this time lighting with fear. We were almost surrounded by these baboon and though their recognised our presence they moved further away from us not changing their activities. It was a scene of the laid back Sunday afternoon for the baboons of the forest, diving and owning their waterfall park. Before we could run away of say anything further Mr Wys was walking calling us to follow him again. This time his heart was pounding fast and he was panting form the heat. Just a few steps from where we were standing him lead us into an opening of a cave. This cave looked like a man made structure. The entrance looked like the opening of a bowl in the potter’s hand. There was no time to make decision as Mr Wys was walking fast signalling us with his hands for follow him. We were inside this came, it had light and it was very cold. After a few minutes, looking around and following this Whiteman before us, he looked at us and laughed.
“Scary hey, this must be an old mental institution for the apes or maybe it was a zoo or something in the Voot Trekker War, he suggested in a hilarious point. It did look like a dungeon or maybe an old mine.
“They are we not inside a sheol Fish” Menzi asked Mr Wyss.
“If Johnna lived in a fish for a few months; I am thinking it must have been something like this” the two men both giggled, still going deeper into the cave. We walked slowly dragging our feet. Seeing there were more passages and it had light coming on from storage looking globes or solar powered lights.
We heard a door open just infront of us. I looked at My Wys he was frozen. I looked at Menzi he was taking short steps back. We heard the sound of a human voice, murmuring as if complaining in a language we did not know. Then came a sound of a child, like a breeze sound wave- immaculate and brave. Now the five of us were taking steps b back slowly, I held the girls arms so that they wouldn’t run away in fright and course a causing situation we were not going to be able to handle. She came out slowly with her arms reaching touching the air, an Indian woman...
Horrified we could have lost our consciousness but all we could do is staring at her face. She had burn-scars on her eyes. She was blind. The door screeched again and there came our two men. One of the men was holding walking stick and the other was hanging onto him, they had bad bruises and scabs on their eyes, they were blind.
As we shifted slowly backwards preparing to run, the gild started screaming and clinging to their father. Indian children came out running and screaming from the same door. There was so much commotion, out feet were moving and we were bumping against each other with the mind and though that we were running away. Before we knew it, the baboon came running and jumping on the walls, vertical, and upside down there was a huge storm of baboon feet and slaps surrounding us, I could hear Mr Wys scream for his boys and telling the baboon to let him go in Afrikaans. I knew right then that we were under some sort of an ambush attack. I held my eyes in horror, still standing on the same spot. It was suddenly dark yet still the screams were heavier that my eardrums could take.
Khethiwe Mndawe: "I am a 30 Media and PR practitioner with a background and community development, education and social development. I’m passionate about Africa and it's transformation, uncovery and representation in development, business, media, research, Academics and documentation. I am a creative who also enjoys doing exhibitions and international exposure programs for African literature, history cultures and creative arts and untold stories."