Selebi-Phikwe has always been a town of choice for my people, the Tswapong people. At any given time if you carried out a snap survey one in every three people will be one of us. Travelling from Lerala to Phikzana, as the town was affectionately called, was through an open Bedford truck owned by one gentleman known only as Gabatshele, a shrewd businessman who drove the truck himself. Going to Phikwe was every boy’s dream, so when Mmei’s mother told him they were to visit his brother in Phikwe way back in 1977 how could he possibly sleep! He had long dreamt of this mystical town. Boys went to Phikwe and came back as men, complete with afro hair and bellbottom trousers. On the other hand, girls went there and returned as young mothers with children bearing English names, names whose pronunciations tortured the poor grannies who were forced to look after them with the young mothers going back to town now to look for husbands. This migration to Phikwe caused untold misery to the local boys. They found it extremely difficult if not downright impossible to date local girls any longer. The girls were now sophisticated, demanding money and other expensive gifts that the local boys were never expected to give before. The boys were told to their faces that they must start appreciating that dating wasn’t as cheap as they seemed to assume. They were reminded that men must provide; it was called “go becha”. Whenever the old women took these children with English names to the clinic they had to face the staff nurse and tell her what their grandchildren’s names were. Tapping on their wisdom of age the grannies decided to mutilate the names beyond repair! They had to find a way in which they could be able to positively identify their own grandchildren. James became Jimisi, William was referred to as Belemo, Emmanuel transformed into Manoele, and Shepard answered to Chepete! The names were to be later corrected by the teachers when the children started primary school or when the boys later as young men absconded to the mines. The open truck traversed the village canvassing for passengers. It stopped almost every two hundred metres, provocatively honking until the entire neighbourhood woke up. They did not seem to mind for the neighbours secretly wanted to see who was travelling to Phikwe on that particular day. Somehow being the one to break the news of who left that morning was some form of heroic exploit. The bearer of the news will of course always exaggerate claiming to have heard how the father of the child had forgotten to send money for milk for the last three months. More often, when it was an elderly woman travelling, it was whispered very softly that her husband has found a younger urban girl whose name was almost always Getrude. That notwithstanding, the passengers were made to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to wait by the stop. Mmei’s brother worked at a shop known as Botshabelo Superama and he was the envy of every boy in his ward back home. Unlike many his age who worked in faraway mines in faraway countries, Mmei’s brother could actually be visited. He wore a white shirt and a “just coat”, for that’s what the folks called that white long coat. Mmei never knew what his brother did at the shop except that it was through his earnings that he bought his mother a prestigious blanket, brown with a leopard print known back then as a “Puma”. The blanket was a symbol of status then. Impatient that the neighbours would take long to discover she owned one, Mmei’s mother took to hanging the blanket on the fence for no apparent reason other than showing off and boy did it draw envious attention from passer byes!
Rumour has it that in one such trip in Gabatshele's truck, the truck which was affectionately referred to as “Ema re botse” tragedy of untold proportions struck. Being an open truck and the roads being as narrow as they were somehow the truck shook a tree by the road so violently that an animal that was minding its own business fell into the truck and all hell broke loose. The animal - small as it was - caused untold misery, fear and pain Seeing only its tail the first person on whom the animal fell assumed the worst and without talking threw it as far as he could. Upon hitting the second fellow he realised what animal it was and immediately thrust it as far away from himself as he could. The animal did not help the situation with its shrieking and irritatingly sharp voice as it protested being manhandled! And so it was that for over 70 kilometres the people threw the poor animal around like a volley ball, each person screaming, “Kgwatthe ke yoo” as they threw the animal. An hour and a half later, the animal barely alive, the people were still throwing it around. Only they were so tired and had no voices, so they continued whispering slowly now...kgwa......the....ke..yoo....k...g..w..a...tthe...ke yooo! The driver unaware of what was happening was busy driving at the highest possible speed. Meanwhile, echoes of...kg...w...a...thhee...ke...yo...oo...kg...watttheeee...ke...y.ooo reverberated through the thick mophane trees! When he got to the rank, the driver was shocked to see the animal now being quietly and peacefully passed from one person to the other, only the lips were moving, but no sound came. The iguana meanwhile had long died...long before the truck even passed Mogapinyana, the same village at which the misery had begun! Upon realising that the animal was now dead, the lorry boy who up to now had sought refuge underneath the benches in the truck and had kept his eyes shut for the entire spectacle suddenly found his voice and wisdom. He informed the all and sundry that being the second in command after the driver, he was now officially declaring the iguana his. Besides it met its demise in his ‘office’ he argued. Unknown to him, the issue was not at all that simple. You see the iguana happens to be a delicacy amongst the Tswapong people and the elderly were not about to allow a small boy such a delicacy. Even if he had gone out and hunted the animal himself, protocol dictated that he handed it over to the eldest person within sight. Judging by the serious looks in the elderly people's faces, the lorry boy gave up the fight and proceeded to go and look for some change for his customers. The screaming and wailing, the very same that he had endured during the ill-fated journey drew his attention. Back in the truck a battle of epic proportions had ensued. The senior citizens were having a bare knuckled fight over the iguana. It was a sight to behold! The oldest of all the passengers was trading blows with a relatively young man whose trousers had since broken open right from the hips downwards. Still he was throwing punches aimlessly into the air. The old man waited on him to blindly throw the next punch before catching him with an upper cut that thundered as it landed on his left ear, a rapid throw of left hooks and another uppercut sent the youngster crumbling down landing painfully on his now bare back. Quietly the old man picked up the iguana, stepped triumphantly on the fellow’s chest and looked around for any other challenger. Realising that none was coming forward, he quickly left the scene of the crime. A crowd of on lookers that had immediately gathered around the truck was shocked to see the young man spitting out his entire front teeth. Mmei's maiden trip to Phikwe had ended in a sombre note!