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Township Festive Seasons: Laissez-faire?

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In a flash it felt very strange for me to be sending an Instagram Happy New Year 2013 greeting to the world from the platform of the place of my birth, Thabong Location, Welkom, South Africa. Cruising into a new year here for the first time since 1974.  

For me, Festive Seasons in Zambia 1975-1984, and 1986-1987 came and went nonchalantly as did the Independence Day, Youth Day, KK’s birthday, etc. celebrations. My own birthdays 1975-1980, and 1982-1988 were but just notable events on the calendar. Festive Season 1985 I was in Greece. What a ball! 1981 I turned 21, and my parents spoilt me. What a groove!

The Norwegian Festive Season is one climatically cold, colourful, vibrant affair so full of love, where over the years the people I’ve had anything to do with have shown me humbling generousity, kindness, warmth, protection, and care. Seen only with my own eyes, processed in and by my own mind, and felt in my own heart, this time of the year in Norway gives the impression that life is here to stay, cherish and nourish it all life long.

So, every time, since 1992, I come to mark the Festive Season with my mother and my two siblings in South Africa, I come here in a Norwegian-Festive-Season-State-of-Mind. But when my parents came back from exile in Zambia, they bought a new home in Bronville, a formally Coloureds Only township in the old Apartheid South Africa. Here, the standard of housing was/ is better, with bigger yards. So were/ (are?) the provision of social amenities, and service delivery.

More yard space translates to more privacy for neighbours, thereby reducing chances of conflicts arising from occasional or regular trespasses into one another’s private domains. My mother and one of her neighbours have a cat-and-mouse relationship though. Both very beautiful and strong women are extremely jealous of each other. I think though that the essence of their mutual dislike has its core in one fundamental, very sensitive issue in South Africa vis-à-vis Black-Coloured relationship as moulded from the earlier colonial times, and fostered during the Apartheid era to this day: the one Coloured Maria lives in strong denial of ‘Black blood’ flowing in her body, ONS IS NIE KAFFIRS NIE! MY GRANDFATHER WAS SCOTTISH!!!”

My mother Maria on her part has long lived with a painful denial of ‘White blood’ in neither herself nor her people, “RE BASOTHO, HA RE BARWA/ WE ARE BASOTHO, WE ARE NOT COLOUREDS!!!” This, however, is another long and heavy story to tell on another and different occasion.

As the Instagram Happy New Year 2013 greeting whooshed out to the world just after midnight December 31, 2012, recollections of the 1965-1974 Festive Season fun times in Thabong came to mind in a flash. Much as I recalled, there were here many, many people partying out on the streets as the mid-night hour approached. Loud music everywhere, with booze flowing everywhere. Smoke and smell of braai everywhere. Everyone looking good and sexy. Such exuberant, free spirited enjoyment of life. Wow, this IS my element. I love it!

The strange feeling came when I realized that there was also this strong, acrid smell in my nose. This special smell I hadn’t registered since New Year’s Eve 1974. What I knew from the streets as a child was that during the Festive Season everything was allowed, including murder. That another so-and-so killed one so-and-so especially on Christmas and New Year’s eves was as normal as the great anticipation for Father Christmas children will show in Norway.

At perhaps age 6-7 years old, I remember thinking to myself how nice it would be to kill certain people on one fine New Year’s Eve when I’m grown up. By then I had already seen several dead bodies on the streets on various occasions. But it wasn’t till about Easter time 1969 that I first witnessed at close range one man stabbing to death another with a knife. The murderer could have been slaughtering a cow. The dying man’s blood spewed so I could have been watching a burst running water pipe. And then the acrid smell of the man brutally breathing his last’s blood hit me. Festive Seasons were extremely violent those days.

Simon Chilembo
South Africa
Tel.: +4792525032
January 01, 2013 


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