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STIMELA, THE COAL TRAIN

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STIMELA

(In response to M&G article here: http://mg.co.za/article/2011-08-27-bra-hugh-black-to-the-future)

“Unga worry, mfan’a kithi, inkululeko ise duzi phela/ don’t worry, homeboy, freedom is just around the corner!” the older exiles would say to me in the mid-late 1970s, and later years in Lusaka, Zambia, my fatherland. My family and I had managed to sneak into Zambia a year before the Soweto ’76 student uprising. Anybody who had anything to do with the subsequent large numbers of young teen-age exiles in the immediate post-’76 years will recall how traumatic those years were for all.

I’ll today acknowledge the great work the veteran exiles did in helping us young aspiring cadres keep it together. I’ll never forget the long lectures on ours, and global history; such that by the time I entered UNZA to study Politics I already had an appreciable grasp of Dialectical Materialism, Philosophy, and critical thinking. Somehow I never caught on with the game of Chess, my younger brother, Thabo, is a formidable player.

And then there would be cultural activities and parties. We’d sing and play liberation songs, there’d be powerful poetry recitals. But when STIMELA came along, I would withdraw into a mental cave and ride along this train to the Promised Land. On this ride I would have Moses-like experiences, with the rivers Zambezi and Limpopo each stopping and parting at points for the on coming STIMELA. The hills and the mountains would part too, though somehow the train seemed to prefer to zoom onto Table Mountain so as to swoosh over to Robben Island to fetch Nelson Mandela and the other Greats. It’s the thought of the conditions of the miners that would often jerk me back to reality, more determined and inspired than ever to fight for our freedom. Coming from Welkom, I knew well the harsh and dehumanizing conditions under which the miners lived. I like to think that South African mine workers of all times deserve much more recognition than they receive in our time. Just a thought, how much more honour does a formerly AK-47 wielding Comrade deserve contra a goldmine drilling veteran?

Soon I’ll be ending my extended exile. I’m coming home! I’ve heard it told of a Gravy Train criss-crossing the land since 1994 …  Mmm, ohhh, Groove Me, Baby!

Simon Chilembo
Oslo, Norway
August 28, 2011

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