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MABHUJWA v/s TOWNSHIPS

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Responding to: “Lost and found in Soweto”

Contrast the Soweto experience to my first encounter with the African bhujwa class in Lusaka, Zambia, first half of 1975, and subsequent years. I was born and brought up in Thabong Township, Welkom. By the time my family and I get to Zambia I’m a sharp and alert young man nearly 15 years old.

As the car we were travelling in from the Lusaka bus station branches off from the highway, Great East Road, we entered into what immediately struck me as an opulent residential area very similar to the parts of Welkom city where only White people lived. We were heading for my uncle’s home and he, being Black Like Me, couldn’t live in a fine neighbourhood like this, I thought. We are surely driving through to get to the township beyond, I concluded.

It was a fairly long ride through this neighbourhood, enabling me to take in a lot observations: the streets were tarred, wide, and clean, with well-kept trees lining up them; the yards enclosing the finest-looking houses were nicely hedged, and I could catch a glimpse of a fine garden and a swimming pool here and there; there weren’t any people seeming to roam about aimlessly; there were a few children of the races on bicycles here and there; there were many fine vehicles whose African male drivers seemed just a little more sophisticated than my father. Guess then my total astonishment when our final destination actually turns out to be in this super cool area, and we are received by the blackest, most exuberant, Black Man I ever saw, speaking the sweetest English language I ever heard any Black person speak!

My uncles’ house stood on a 10 acres plot, had a carport for up to 4 vehicles, a kitchen the size of the standard township match-box house, a dining-room with a 12-seater dinner table, a bar, a spacious living-room, a lounge with the best stereo unit of the time, and lo, a separate TV-room! On the other side of the carport stood a fully serviced guest wing, with a library. My then only cousin aged 5 had his own bedroom, bathroom and toilet; my aunt had a sewing room; the bedroom my younger brother and I were allocated had two separate beds, a dressing table, and a desk; we also had our own separate bathroom (bathtub & shower!) and the works. For a long time I was convinced that my uncle and his wife never had a bath despite them looking real good everyday as top executives in banking and energy industry respectively. I found out later that their master bedroom had a self-contained bathroom!

There was this unforgettable constant nice vibe in and around my uncle’s house, with everyone soft-spoken, and nobody ever getting on top of another. So much space around! Such peace and quite 24-7! At any one time everyone had a private space if they so wished to have or needed. No stress. And, ahhh, electricity!!! I could at last read in peace all night long. I recall one day thinking that under conditions like these, I could be anything. That’s when I understood that the whole thing about SA townships- planning, design, over-crowding, control, (mis)management, etc.- was all part of the grand plan to break and destroy our people in the long run. From then on my hate for townships became profound. Indeed, I am the proudest Black Man I know, but like you, Milisuthando, “…I cannot relate to the choir that glorifies the idea of the township. To me it is just a ubiquitous symbol of everything that apartheid intended for black people”

My earlier township thoughts here.

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3 Comments

  1. maggie says:

    Wow Simon! You should write a book. Amazingly intriguing way of telling your story!

  2. […] time, I had already figured it out that there was much to learn about human behaviour in books. So, my uncle’s private home library became the perfect hide out for me. I had never before been surrounded by so many books on all […]

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