Leav­ing be­hind a life of crime for hard work

He learnt to jug­gle and made it his source of in­come

Saturday Star - - NEWS - DAVID GEMMELL

HIS name is Kgut­lang (“come back”), but he calls him­self Snake. I im­me­di­ately thought of all the worst rea­sons why he might have earned that alias. “Why Snake?” He ex­plained it was a nick­name he got at school, be­cause of his pen­chant for col­lect­ing rep­tiles.

In­ter­est­ingly, just as kids at pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive, posh pri­vate schools get nick­named af­ter their in­ter­ests; so was he at his town­ship school. At first he was re­luc­tant to chat and dis­played a gen­eral air of ap­pre­hen­sive dis­in­ter­est. “Sorry,” he said, “I don’t trust any­body.” “Why is that?” I asked. “I got put into prison for three months. A woman lied to the po­lice; she said I tried to pull her win­dow down,” he re­sponded. “Did you?” I asked. “No, I’m not a thief – I’m a jug­gler,” he said proudly.

He then told me a com­pli­cated story which seemed to in­volve mis­taken iden­tity, ly­ing, un­sym­pa­thetic po­lice­men, lost pa­per­work and three months in Rand­burg prison.

Just as I thought I’d like to hear the woman’s story, he said: “Worst of all, she told the po­lice I tried to take her car keys. Why? How could I take them when I don’t know how to drive?”

By then, in the in­ter­ests of be­ing able to hear him above the traf­fic, I per­suaded him to get into my car.

Ini­tially he sat un­com­fort­ably on the side of the pas­sen­ger seat with the door open; seem­ingly pre­pared for a quick get­away. I ig­nored this and car­ried on chat­ting to him as if we were old mates. To my pleas­ant sur­prise, it didn’t take long and he pulled the door shut and got com­fort­able.

“When did you start jug­gling?” I asked.

“In 2007, af­ter I had been a bad per­son…” “Bad per­son?” “Yes. When I was 18, we used to rob peo­ple in the street at night when they came home from work.

“How did you get into that?” “Friends. Wrong Friends. I got caught and was sen­tenced to 15 years. Seven years in jail and 8 years sus­pended. In the end I did 3 years and 6 months in jail.” (It might be ap­po­site to note here – Os­car Pis­to­rius got 5 years for mur­der…)

“Were you scared when you went in?”

“When you go in you must show ag­gres­sion. If the oth­ers see you, just look sur­prised you are there, they leave you alone. Also I was in Mod­der­bee prison, Benoni, which is near my lo­ca­tion Davey­ton, so I knew a few peo­ple from out­side. It wasn’t too bad…” as an af­ter­thought he added, “but the food wasn’t good be­cause they steamed it.”

“What would you do on a daily ba­sis in jail? How did you pass the time?”

“When I got into prison I went to school again. I left school in Grade 8. In jail I did N3. I’m short one sub­ject – be­cause I had no text­book.” “Then, when you left jail?” “When I left jail I knew it was go­ing to be dif­fi­cult. But I found my lit­tle brother could do this jug­gling. He learnt it from a guy who had been in the cir­cus. On the ba­sic jug­gling I took a month. In the be­gin­ning it was dif­fi­cult be­cause I am left-handed and the other guys were right handed so it was dif­fi­cult to catch their skills. My brother gave me a break- through when he told me I have to watch the mid­dle ball.

“I can also do stilt walk­ing and uni­cy­cling, and I can jug­gle clubs. But I can’t af­ford those things.”

“How long have you worked this in­ter­sec­tion?”

“Since 2011. You know, some peo­ple are good; they give you a hun­dred bucks. It costs me R70 a day trans­port to get from Davey­ton. On a bad day I am lucky to make enough to pay for my trans­port. I don’t watch the oth­ers – I fo­cus my­self. I am pleased if they do well. I like the feel­ing of be­ing in front of peo­ple. I don’t worry. Also it took me out of crime. I do get tired.”

“What do you do with any ex­tra money you make?”

“I buy stuff for the house. My mom is not work­ing. I look af­ter her. She lives in a tworoom shack with my nephew and I look af­ter my aunt’s shack nearby. I try save money, but I don’t have a bank ac­count. My mom was poor. I’m the one mak­ing some­thing for her. I am buy­ing her food. Now she gets piece jobs. We get on well. I have a girl­friend. No kids.”

“What do you do if you need the toi­let?”

“We go to Pick n Pay – they know we are also their cus­tomers. Some­times, if we have money, all us guys (at the lights) join hands and buy some food…”

“What do you do about other meals?”

“My mom cooks me my own stew. I don’t eat meat. I am a Rasta.”

Coin­ci­dently, I just hap­pened to have The Best of Bob Mar­ley in my CD player. I pushed play… As the hyp­notic, thump­ing reg­gae beat of Buf­falo Sol­dier filled my car, he looked at me aghast. Then he shot his hand out in a fist-pump and nod­ded ap­prov­ingly. From that mo­ment on he was a dif­fer­ent per­son. He even smiled. It was fas­ci­nat­ing.

“This is a good song; but my best is Three Lit­tle Birds.”

I didn’t re­call the track, but later lis­tened and idly won­dered if it was the op­ti­mistic sen­ti­ment of the re­frain, that par­tic­u­larly res­onated with him… “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, Cause every lit­tle thing, is gonna be al­right…’

“Tell me more about the snakes.”

“I have love for an­i­mals be­cause the an­i­mals show me this thing is not only in me; they also have love for me. I groom other an­i­mals like tor­toises, ham­sters and birds… It’s what I like from when I grew up. I like snakes.”

“Can you tell which ones are poi­sonous?” He nod­ded and ex­plained how he ex­tracts venom from them by putting straws on their fangs.

“What do you do on week­ends?”

“On a Sun­day I hunt. Jack- als, bosvark, por­cu­pines… a few of us train grey­hounds, and then com­pete to see whose dog is the best hunter. I love my dog.” (Who would have thought?).

“You some­times come across as a bit un­friendly, are you?” (I was tempted to tell him I’d tried to run him over, but thought it wasn’t the right mo­ment.)

“I am a very short-tem­pered per­son. I grew up with a lot of anger. My step­mother used to beat me all the time. She would hit me with a rope – for small things. My fa­ther didn’t stop her. He was a good guy, but he lis­tened to her, not us – his chil­dren. He didn’t have a prob­lem with her pun­ish­ing me. My fa­ther didn’t want us to know where our real mother was. But I left. In 2002, I found her my­self.”

He con­tin­ued: “I also get an­gry be­cause I can jug­gle for around an hour and 20 lines will pass, and I get noth­ing. Makes me cross.”

“Do you think it’s a racial thing – (the usual SA de­mon)?”

For the first time, he laughed: “No, of course not. It’s a money thing.”

THE JUG­GLER: His name is Kut­lang (‘come back’) but he calls him­self Snake.

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