More than one trip in a

The wheels of the bus turn and turn on the way to Mpuma-Koloni and the Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val

Mail & Guardian - - Personal Essays - Zaza Hlalethwa

Pre­to­ria Sta­tion, or Bos­man as the lo­cals pre­fer to call it, is my plek. When I ar­rive there from the Gau­train at 3pm, it is its usual af­ter­noon self. This chang­ing spot for com­muters was built in 1910 just be­fore the Union of South Africa was formed. In­stead of hand­ing ex­cess funds over to the new gov­ern­ment, the Transvaal colony spent it on what stands to­day as the first colo­nial site that I will en­counter on my trip.

Com­muters spill out of the Metro­rail and Gau­train sta­tions to make their way to their des­ti­na­tions on foot, by taxi or us­ing long-dis­tance buses. I’m us­ing the lat­ter to get to Makhanda, formerly Gra­ham­stown, for the Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val.

As I make my way to the bus sta­tion of­fices to check in my lug­gage, the heavy buzzing sound, sim­i­lar to that of an un­ser­viced trac­tor, es­capes from the idle buses’ engines. At this time of the day the guardians who pop­u­late the sta­tion while it sleeps in the late hours of the night, with their worn-out Home Choice blan­kets and trail­ers that carry plas­tic bags and heaps of folded card­board, are up and about in­ter­act­ing with com­muters. All they ask in re­turn for guard­ing it is loose change, half-eaten McDon­ald’s spe­cials and the last puff from smok­ers’ cig­a­rettes.

While I await the char­iot with mir­rors that pro­trude from its head like bug eyes, I watch other long-dis­tance com­muters board Translux, Ci­ti­liner, City to City and Grey­hound buses. I also see peo­ple us­ing un­fa­mil­iar services such as APM, Ea­gle Liner, Eldo Coaches or Mzansi, all marked with dis­tinct colours to distin­guish them from their com­pe­ti­tion.

I sit on a bench ad­ja­cent to a large “no hawk­ers” sign, which a large num­ber of the Bos­man pop­u­la­tion chooses to defy. The de­fi­ant mer­chants have stud­ied the tar­get mar­ket be­cause they have many of the bus es­sen­tials — fleece blan­kets for the early-morn­ing cold, snacks, air­time and wa­ter — sell­ing for cheap, cheap. The sound of rolling lug­gage on the brick pave­ment sig­nals the ar­rival of the bus that will be my home for the next 15 hours.

From Pi­tori to Jozi

When I reach the up­per level of the dou­ble-decker Mar­copolo bus I savour the smell of clean car­pet be­cause I know it will soon be re­placed by that of meat pies, KFC Street­wise meals and damp feet. I find my seat and set­tle into the sound of crush­ing foil from chip pack­ets be­ing opened, cam­eras click­ing for de­par­ture self­ies and the idle bus mim­ick­ing the sound of a dis­tant vac­uum cleaner. Be­fore long the bus moves and we drive past New Lock, the gal­lows and the Voortrekker Mon­u­ment. While the se­quence of these sites moves my stom­ach, the wheels on the bus con­tinue to go round in a way that shrinks the per­spec­tive of these mon­u­ments.

We drive past the mush­room­ing town­houses, of­fice parks, malls, bill­boards and fac­tory out­lets that char­ac­terise the high­way be­tween Pre­to­ria’s and Jo­han­nes­burg’s cen­tral busi­ness dis­tricts.

In Jo’burg’s city cen­tre, my fel­low pas­sen­gers and I look down at pedes­tri­ans with a god­like glare be­cause of how high up we are from the pave­ment un­til we reach the metal and con­crete beams that form Park Sta­tion’s bus de­pot. When the gold that en­sured the city’s rise was dis­cov­ered in Gaut­eng, Jo­hann and Jo­hannes were com­mon names in the Transvaal Re­pub­lic. Some say the city’s name, Jo­han­nes­burg, was sourced from Chris­ti­aan Jo­hannes Jou­bert and Jo­hann Ris­sik who went to Bri­tain to get min­ing rights for the area.

I meet my seat-mate for the jour­ney at Park. The flu-rid­den man eases the un­cer­tainty I have about whether he is equipped with bus eti­quette by nap­ping qui­etly next to me once he is set­tled. To sup­port my neck, which will have to stay up­right while hold­ing up the high bun of thick braids on my head, I fold the blan­ket I packed as hand lug­gage into a makeshift pil­low and re­cline my seat.

Soon the hum­ming engine qui­ets the rest­less ex­cite­ment in the bus down. One by one we fall asleep only to wake up when the bus goes so fast it feels as if the wind is swing­ing it vi­o­lently from left to right.

The next 10 hours

The heavy smog of in­dus­tri­alised com­mer­cial cities is ex­changed for

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