One last, ex­hil­a­rat­ing swim with true rebel Peter McKen­zie

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Paddy Harper

Tues­day. The Dur­ban air is thick and heavy de­spite the early hour. The sun is in­vis­i­ble be­hind a sad grey blan­ket of cloud. There’s a spit of rain, but it’s in­de­ci­sive, half­hearted and will flee at the first sight of the sun.

The fu­neral con­di­tions are ap­pro­pri­ate. We’re off to Vetch’s beach for a last swim with Peter McKen­zie.

Peter’s fu­neral was on Sun­day. Peter wanted to be cre­mated and not buried. Peter wanted some of his ashes scat­tered in the In­dian Ocean that he loved so much. He also wanted some of them to go to France, where he lived for part of his life. A third sec­tion of Peter’s re­mains is des­tined for Reed­waan Vally’s farm at Machadodorp, where Peter loved to go fish­ing and where he spent much of his bat­tle with can­cer.

It took a bit of jug­gling to make sure that all of Peter’s clan mem­bers who wanted to be at Vetch’s made it, hence the Tues­day send­off.

The crowd at Peter’s fu­neral was as eclec­tic as his life. Went­worth Calvin­ists rubbed shoul­ders with the town­ship’s gang­sters. Aca­demics and pho­to­graphic ge­niuses were seated next to boil­er­mak­ers, pro­fes­sional drinkers and ganja mer­chants. The French con­tin­gent hung with the bras from Ch­ester­ville.

Dur­ban mu­sic leg­end Steve Fataar rocked a few num­bers for Peter. Jah No Dead, all suited-up and black­tied, ran a three-Glen­livet-bot­tle boot-bar com­plete with proper whisky glasses and ice. Re­spect.

The post-fu­neral wake at the Bat Cen­tre, where Peter’s Dur­ban Cen­tre for Pho­tog­ra­phy was based, was proper. It con­tin­ued un­til Mon­day.

The mo­bile rings. I go cold. Of late, early phone calls mean some­body I know has died. Part of get­ting old.

The news is bad, but at least no­body’s dead. Wed­nes­day’s in­ter­view in Jo’burg with Sihle Zikalala, the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal chair­per­son, has been brought for­ward by a day. I need to move my ass and get there by early af­ter­noon, oth­er­wise the sit-down with Mis­ter Rapid Eco­nomic Trans­for­ma­tion that I’ve been try­ing to get for weeks is dead in the wa­ter.

Zikalala’s not the only rea­son I want to get to Jozi. The Amandla Free­dom En­sem­ble are at the Or­bit this week­end, and they are the real thing. Mad, run-at-the-wall, free jazz. Cool cats, even if they did get me thrown out of the Chair­man dur­ing their last tour.

The lah­nees who go to the Chair­man to do busi­ness deals and drown out the band with their chat­ter don’t dig free spir­its. Se­cu­rity couldn’t throw the en­sem­ble out, so they bounced me in­stead.

We make our way to Vetch’s. The beach is Dur­ban’s heart of white­ness, cour­tesy of the mem­ber­ship pol­icy of the club based there, en­sur­ing the only black faces are those of wait­ers.

Scat­ter­ing Peter’s ashes at Vetch’s is ap­pro­pri­ate: a last finger in the eye of the white priv­i­lege that en­raged the man so much. It’s also in de­fi­ance of city by­laws, which make Peter’s burial at sea il­le­gal, a fi­nal act of re­bel­lion by a true rebel.

We say our fi­nal good­byes on the shore. Peter’s wi­d­ows, Moe­neefa and Caroline, and his sons, David and Issa, walk into the wa­ter. They tilt the urn. The grey ash that was our brother spills out. Some of it is car­ried by the wind. The rest hits the wa­ter in front of me. There’s a grey swirl on the sur­face for a mil­lisec­ond and then Peter is gone. It’s a mo­ment of great beauty and grace.

We push deeper into the ocean. It’s time for a last wave with Peter Mack. There’s a beau­ti­ful, glassy left run­ning in the bowl where Peter loved to body­surf, just south of the pier.

It’s low tide and the wa­ter’s shal­low. A hard kick off the bot­tom and two strokes and I’m up on a wave. For a few sec­onds I’m fly­ing, scream­ing with joy as I drop down the face of the wave, my eyes and mouth full of spray and life as death is for­got­ten.

I kick out of the wave, tuck­ing my chin into my chest and throw­ing my hips over my head. I land on my feet and move to­wards land.

They tilt the urn. The grey ash that was our brother spills out. Some of it is car­ried by the wind

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