The snakes that are eating our kids’ future
To this day I look at the Blesbok River with love and awe, because it is the foundation of the mythical stories that carved my childhood. It was home to two legendary water snakes. The smaller one, uMaMlambo, preyed on Christians who came to be baptised.
It waited for them to get into the water, and when uMfundisi was dunking the faithful, it came from underneath and pulled them into the deep water, and the bodies would never be found again.
But sometimes, uMaMlambo only wanted to snack.
So, she ate out only the eyes, the tongue or anything that would scare a child, and then let the body resurface.
The second was the larger monster snake, called Inkanyamba.
It rarely moved, but one day it was disturbed, and it decided to abandon its home for another river.
It flew past our township, Payneville, and in its path a ravaging tornado followed, destroying homes and killing people.
If you don’t believe me, there is a section called Tornado in KwaThema; this is where the people who lost their homes were moved to. Pity my only two witnesses have passed on. Bra Justice saw its head, and Uncle Tom saw its tail.
As a child, I was glad that we got our drinking water from the Vaal, and not from this deep and stagnant dirty river that hid monsters and snakes.
Crossing the Blesbok towards Mpumalanga from Gauteng, I drive back to a time of corrupted innocence.
The cosmos have bloomed exactly as I remember them as a child – pure white and majestic purple. They are all over, as far as the eye can see. What is glaringly missing on this road are the beautiful Ndebele houses that once stood there.
The world-acclaimed photographer Peter Magubane saw it coming and tried it to preserve it in his great book, Vanishing Cultures of South Africa.
It is warped progress, because in one place where some of these majestic houses stood, flavourless RDP houses and shacks have been erected.
The countryside is asking a piercing question: “Is our past our best?” I arrived at Leslie. I hadn’t been here for years, but as I was driving slowly I heard someone shout: “Sawubona, Malume.” Isn’t that the beauty of Africa? That you are not only an uncle to one child, but to his friends and the whole village?
So, when an uncle disappoints – and we do it all the time – he disappoints us all.
This perhaps explains why the people of Nkandla feel so disappointed by their uncle, President Jacob Zuma, that at the last municipal elections they voted for the opposition, the Inkatha Freedom Party.
I got to my Sbaar, discussed the business of the day and finished.
Before leaving, I asked him, “Sbaar, may I please hit the boy.”
“Eish, Sbaar, we have no pipes. The boys who smoke nyaope have ripped them out so they could sell them.”
“Where are the cows?” I asked, hoping to change to a more positive subject. “They’ve all been stolen.” I said goodbye to my entourage of nephews, toddlers and grandchildren by rank, who walked me to the car.
On my way back, I saw the deep stagnation of spirit that hides the monsters that eat up the souls of our children.
They have to face joblessness and the indignity of having to ask for money for a loaf of bread.
Will their uncles and aunts in all organs of state – in Parliament, in the provinces and municipalities – put them first, or will they continue to grow their own outsize potbellies while our future starves?