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©Simon Chilembo, 2014

On Monday morning, walking the breadth of my old Kassie, Thabong, Welkom, for the first time in 40 years, by way of pungency in the air, nothing has changed.  After 2-3 weeks of torrential rains, there is stagnant water in many places. The superlatively build storm canals are clogged; green sediment/ moss and wild vegetation growth all the way. Burst sewerage pipes here and there; long, open canals of slow-moving, if at all, shit created as a result of slow and/ or erratic maintenance. As if ordered, there’s a carcass of a cat on the edge of a busy taxi street. Indications are at the cat hasn’t long been run over by a vehicle. No doubt, there is also a dead dog nearby, perhaps somewhere in the messy storm canals. No need to confirm. Dead dog eKassie? I know it when I smell it. Just keep on moving straight ahead. Nose getting blocked. Getting a headache. Feeling queasy. How did I grow up in these conditions? How do people, how can people still be living in these conditions in Mzansi, the golden land of milk and honey for sho? No wonder old people seem ever so tired, and “ugly” here. Been away too long.

In 1974, my mother and father were 34 and 43 years old respectively.  This could have more or less been the representative age range of old people in the eyes of my contemporaries and I at that time. Of course, there were many older grandparents and others. But about all these were still able to run after us to whip us when we’d been unruly, be it at home, or on the streets. However, what I saw on Monday was like a scene from a bad Zombie movie, or something similar. There were so many old, old people walking very slowly, heavily, and painfully on the sides of the streets, if not standing/ leaning on their walking sticks on the corners of the streets.  Almost without exception, all these old people leant forward on standing, and were hunched as if they were carrying on their shoulders all the problems and miseries of my old Kassie, 40 years on. Or are they looking on the ground, hoping to find and read the answers to Mzansi’s challenges? I don’t want to get old here.

Some things have changed and not changed at the same time. Houses. The former apartheid township 4-roomed-match-box-houses were (are) not only small and substandard qualitatively, it was illegal to do any structural modifications on them. It didn’t matter whether there were two, or twenty people living in the 35- 40m2 floor area; you don’t break walls, you don’t add walls. Privacy? What’s that? These houses provide (-d) fertile ground for much of the family dysfunctionalities reflected in the largely violent and abusive nature of Kassie life across the country. In the Mzansi for sho era, house things are different, though.

There are people who have extended, and made their houses more sizable and truly beautiful, using modern architectural designs and materials. Unfortunately the sizes of the yards/ plots are fixed from before. So, some of these funkerized houses have taken all available yard space, such that some of the elegance of the houses disappears. This also has a tendency to create neighbour tensions as the houses crowd one another in this regard. But I would imagine it’s the more open inner spaces that matter the most, with decent kitchens, and bathrooms; parents’ bedrooms distinctly separate from the children’s. Jepp, this is progress fo sho. Some may not have extended the houses, but have done some serious improvements on the facades; with the lawns and flower gardens done up real nice. Beautiful!

But there are still many other houses it seems time has stood still for their owners since the late 1950s- early 1960s when these houses were first built. Not only are the yards ill-maintained, with neither gardens nor lawns, the houses have never been touched with either a brush or roller since the municipality washed the walls will some coloured chalk mix for paint. Ugly. Very depressing. I remembered a childhood friend saying to me several years ago, “You don’t want to come back here, Simon. This is because for many, Kassie life is like living in a constant circle of sameness. You could easily get caught up in it if you are not careful” Gotta get outta here. Fast.

No, not so fast! There are more new things, actually. Whereas in the old apartheid days it was also strictly regulated as to how many shops/ grocery stores would be, and where, there are Tuck Shops almost every street corner these days. I counted 5 mortuaries along the way. And, not long ago, somebody said to me that our Kassie seen as a whole unit, mortuaries are sprouting up everywhere like Tuck Shops! It’s let live and let die, all at the same time, much like change and stagnation, eKassie. There is a Medical Doctor’s surgery in the garage of this non-improved home, looking as ordinary and as uninspiring as the next Tuck Shop. I guess to survive here, you see what you see, you get what you get, do what you do.

The streets are teeming with people, all kinds of people: Smart and clean, dirty, tired-looking, fresh and alert, municipality street cleaning workers in their bright orange uniforms, children, youth, adults, and, yeah, hustlers and gangsters. Important to be yourself (good luck to you if “yourself” means arrogant fool with coconut tendencies) here when you are at home but still a stranger. You walk differently, look around too much, you look different, you smell different, and you dress different. You wanna get home well and safe? See people, smile, greet, be nice to people.

The street hustlers look more hungry and thinner than I recall from 40 years ago. There was real and ever-fresh wealth then, with signs of opulence everywhere in Welkom. Even street hustlers looked good then, they wore the finest clothes, moved with the most beautiful babes, and little older and more sophisticated of them also drove the finest cars. Clearly, things are not the same any more in Welkom of Mzansi fo sho days.

As I reach the northern outer edge of my Kassie, the old graveyard looks well kept. I’m positively surprised that the fence around the establishment is still intact despite the raising of yet another informal settlement nearby. I reckon ghosts are still dreaded badly out here. Next to the graveyard is a 3 metre wide storm canal forming part of the system surrounding the Kassie. It’s only now I realize that without these storm canals, Thabong Location would have long been swept away in heavy rains during rainy seasons. And what, who, would I be without my Kassie?

In the open space between Thabong and my new suburbian home I’m brought out of the Kassie vibe trance by some sweet smelling cool breeze blowing over the veld. The sweet sounds of birds and insects is broken by a Ducati bulleting through on the road towards the suburb yonder. “Ahhh, home!” I thought with satisfaction.  Reaching the outer street of my suburb is like reaching a heaven’s door contra the Kassie experience. LawnEverything is so fine and different here. A completely new and different world. Here, there are no non-changing circles that suck. Any direction you look in this neighbourhood is all geometric shapes possibilities. There is more relative order; there is evidence that people spend time and other relevant resources to make their own residences and neighbourhoods beautiful. Almost every yard has a flower, or tree you want to take a closer look at as you go by. This is where I wanna be.

I get to my suburbian house refreshed and inspired. In the evening I go out to train and teach Karate. After Karate it’s Isidingo, Generations, and Muvhango. Then office work till way past midnight, as it has been custom for many, many years. 0115HRS Tuesday morning I hit bed. 0248HRS security alarm screams. 0249HRS I’m at the front door to see security patrol car arrive. In the interim 60 seconds or so, someone had managed to enter my leaving room through a window, snatch neatly away my younger sister’s Plasma TV, and disappear into thin air. Defied a search team of 6 people another 2-3 minutes later. Another 5 minutes later Police arrive, open case of burglary. No suspects. 0457HRS Police send an SMS with case number info. 0900HRS Forensics comes over. No finger prints; just as in all the 6 previous instances of same nature the Forensics Officer had just been to. “Gosh, it’s been one of those nights … “ says Forensics Officer. Organized crime? Wow, just like in the movies!
1000HRS, CID officers arrive. Investigation continues.

Forensics Officer had said further, “Rude awakening, huh? Welcome home, Sir!”

Simon Chilembo
South Africa
February 13, 2014
Tel.: +27 717454115



  1. […] me I know, Sy has a problem with women. I know these Black White Men, nna/ me. I suggest we go e-kassie right now. All the cherries will be all over him. A comrade from overseas? Iyoh, he’s just too […]

  2. […] across the board in the country, perhaps even beyond the South African borders: EXCERPT – “Kassie mentality … espouses and epitomizes the most base of manifestations of arrogance, […]

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