“Setaishane mma se segolo Mafikeng x 2; Ko terena di chenchang teng x 4. The sharp voices penetrated the dark night. The baritone was unmistakably my brother’s as he led the song with pompous arrogance. What a pity I couldn’t watch him sing it.This singing was always spiced up with prolific dancing.As he bellowed about far-away lands you would swear he frequented visiting such places.Whenever he mentioned Johannesburg his face beamed with pride as he placed his left hand in the area believed to be the location of the heart! The ladies’ singing was also similarly angelic; they sang the song with so much gusto, almost as if their lives depended on it! Listening to the far away crescendo of voices and yet knowing one could not go there was absolute torture.Sadly we knew all wishes were just that… wishes. For my mother’s word was law, the buck started and stopped with her. At a time and age only known to her she will issue permission for yours truly to start joining the older siblings to the evening night out. The singing was happening almost four kilometres from home and yet it sounded like it was just a stone throw away! Every Saturday all the young men and women gathered at a neutral and central venue to engage in a singing competition. It was also rumoured that it was at such venues that romantic relationships hatched. As for my siblings such relationships, if any, remained largely platonic, for they proceed straight home the moment the competition ended. There was no official judging. The choir that drew the loudest cheers from the audience declared itself winners. Minutes after their arrival my siblings were subjected to a military like roll call for my mother never really slept until all her children were safely home. I always wondered to myself why she tortured herself by waiting. Why did she not just refuse them permission the same way she did to me and my sister? ‘Obuseng o rekile tie e tshweu Rimbose x2; ‘Tie e tshweu Rimbose x 3’.Whenever the song was sang in my uncle’s presence he would proceed to the front of the choir, his shoulders proudly raised, his hands hanging loosely like a character from a Cowboy movie about to draw a gun, his face wearing a wide smile and he would dance in such uncoordinated and strange manner almost bordering on grievously injuring himself. This weird dance, he claimed, had made him a very popular figure at the mines!
Although his dancing skills was a subject very close to his lips, those in the know revealed albeit in hushed tones that no such dance ever took place in the mines! In fact they swore that my uncle was never anywhere near the miners’ dancing fields, for it was in those fields that bare knuckled fights between miners took place. These were territorial battles that pitted men along their tribal lines. While it was common knowledge that the “Shangaans” referred to derogatively as Machangane dominated the fights, my uncle claimed to have been a champion of sorts. Interestingly, my uncle only narrated these stories when no adult was within ear shot, especially if such an adult had worked in the mines before! My uncle’s sojourn to the mines was short lived. It is whispered that his brief stint at the mines was as traumatising to him as it was hilarious to his peers. He was said to have cried like a baby the first time he was to enter the mine. As they were packed into a cage and made aware they will be lowered down an open pit mine, my uncle is rumoured to have erupted into fits of uncontrollable weeping. Looking the foreman in his eyes and perhaps as his last line of defence, my uncle told the white foreman with his voice trembling and his face contorted “bomma baite keseke ka jena moledeng”’-translated loosely to mean “My mother said I should never ever enter into an open pit!” He was dragged down nonetheless. Kicking and screaming! “Tie e tshweu Rimbose” …went the song. This was too much. I very quietly crept out of the grey blanket, careful that the dry cow hide that was our bed and mattress did not make enough noise to wake my mother up. Stark naked, with my oversize shorts in one hand and a torn shirt on the other, I gingerly opened the makeshift door.The door was a master piece created in its entirety by my one and only uncle. It was made of “mogwana” branches tied neatly together by strong ropes made from the bark of the same tree. Closing it needed two big poles crossing each other infront and behind the door. Just as I was about to close, having cleverly exited the hut, one of the poles fell down landing on a bucket that we used as a toilet at night, and all hell broke loose.My cousin, famous for his excessive cowardice instinctively screamed “Moloi!” Quick as lightening my mother whisked from under her wooden bed a metal rod and was just about to unleash her terror on me when I shouted ‘ke nna!’ She froze! Metal rod in mid-air! And there I was still stark naked and holding my clothes in both hands! I must have looked like a real wizard for we have been told repeatedly through folklore stories that witches and wizards plied their trade in their birthday suits!
I knew a hiding was coming and I trembled with fear knowing how the cane would pierce through my naked body. My mother was an uncompromising disciplinarian and boy could she swing that cane. And why was I naked you may wonder? Well, sleeping naked was a cautionary step against an occasional and rare bedwetting misfortune. While officially I had graduated from bed wetting, there were those rare nights where I would dream relieving myself in the kraal only to wake up to a warm liquid flowing quickly down my skin! Besides my school uniform, the only other pair of pants was the one I was now holding! Much as they were two sizes bigger I treasured them dearly for I had inherited them from my elder brother, the same brother whose baritone had led me into temptation! Instead, my mother knelt down and asked us to join her in a very long prayer.She asked God to protect her children, especially those currently away from home, but most importantly, she implored the almighty to guide and direct her youngest son who seemed hell-bent on pursuing the path of self-destruction! When morning broke my verdict was out. I was to collect our share of milk from the kraal indefinitely. Under normal circumstances, collecting milk from the kraal was a duty every boy my age would execute with relative ease, but this was my uncle’s kraal we are talking about and there was nothing normal about going there. Whoever was to collect milk for his mother’s homestead was to report to the kraal in the wee hours of the morning. This was so that the lactating animals were taken to the grazing field before they were milked. Hours later, we brought the animals back to the kraal and the milking routine started. The calves were allowed to suckle for exactly 30 seconds and then whipped away! The idea was that the calf will unlock the mother to release generous amounts of milk, believing in its assumed idiocy that the calf was still suckling! My uncle’s cows had names. Names that asked questions, names that challenged haters and admirers alike, names that bordered on pompous arrogance! Names such as Baditswelapelo (they envy them animals), or Bataantheng (what can they do to me). As I stood keeping watch by the entrance I noticed just how dripping wet I was. I also developed a chronic nausea, for I remembered that sooner rather than later, my uncle was going to force me to drink over two litres of warm, foul smelling cow milk! As it started drizzling I started crying, but only after checking that my uncle was a safe distance away.