An eeriness fills this place, as though something substantial that once inhabited it has been made to evacuate it abruptly. If you close your eyes, you can still hear the buzz of a regular township Saturday night: the loud, slurred speech of inebriated shebeen patrons, the 'tjovitjo!'s of gang members signaling each other to congregate and the 'Ayoyo!'s of impromptu dance-off audiences cheering on the acrobatics of a bum-jiggling, tongue-wagging, mean-mugging beatnik’s complex routine! The high-pitched moans of the working girls and the guttural grunts of their grateful clients...this, dear friend, is but one chord of the vast soundscape of Nyanga - the only place I’ve ever called home!
Squint your eyelids even tighter and you’re bound to hear the last remaining echo of the neighbourhood gossip: whose son, just yesterday a tottering tot, has gone rouge and robbed the Somali’s spaza shop, which spinster is shacking up with whose philandering husband, whose daughter was spotted disembarking a Nigerian mogul’s car and who owes the mashonisa for the weave his girlfriend is busy posting selfies in, while their two children go hungry in some drought-ridden village the couple only visit on Christmas!
Listen carefully and you will hear the residual screams of a makoti meeting a tragic fate too common to filter above the screeching gqom anthem to which the attendants of so-and-so’s 21st are rendered oblivious by their revelry. An orchestra of chaos, really. Yet there is a musicality to this place which defies the most melodic sheet music. The tempo is frenzied, at times syncopated, harmonised by bated breath and gleeful laughter alike. We cannot tell you for sure when we resigned ourselves and accepted this as our dwelling place. At times it feels like a silencing of the thunderous voice in one’s head that bellows, 'Run! Run before the maelstrom swallows you!' Yet we have miraculously turned into good swimmers, for, lo and behold, this sinking (township) keeps failing to swallow us whole, so we live another day! Despite the rife unemployment, the bewildering crime statistics and the devastating impact of the lockdown regulations, live.
See us with our flashy, branded clothing, attained at the price equivalent of a month’s rent somewhere 'better'. Our ornate jewellery, gold teeth and elaborate hairdos. See our houses, standing shoulder to shoulder, coughing up flame-grilled smiley smoke into each other’s faces, as though mocking the social distancing regulations. This place is defiant like that: a belligerent middle finger to decency and modesty! Here an elbow greeting will not suffice, lest the recipient of such equate it to 'Current ngawe!'- a snappy, tongue-in-cheek dismissal colloquialism best interpretable as 'Piss off!' No! Here an old lady will insist on holding your hand in her leathery palm, surely tracing the brail of your bloodline while clandestinely corroborating the skinny morsels you supply, in your impatient response to 'Ungubani?'- an invitation to delineate your ancestry. Your response will determine whether or not you’re further embraced in a camphor cream and Zambuck- fragrant hug sufficient to cement together the pieces of you, your adversities have broken...Tell her whose child you are, which street and what struggle credentials your progenitors hold. Failing that, what school you attended and which church you were baptised under.
when asked which party you vote for. People here prefer their dreams sold in black, gold and green packaging, thanks very much! Whatever you do, say 'Enkosi' and laugh coyly when this stranger who is now your (other) mother casually remarks on how suitable a romantic partner you’d make for her random relative’s offspring!
If you should brave taking a taxi back where you came from, be sure to greet the resident maphara-phara perched at the 'danger' on the street corner, with a combination of courtesy, street smarts and a congenial camaraderie. Remember that a request for R2 is actually a tariff levied in exchange for your safe passage and possible further defence from fellow marauding crystal meth addicts. Pay up and you may even be escorted to the taxi rank, where vehicles of varying degrees of decrepitude will be ready to ferry you to your suburban bliss. With any luck, you'll find yourself ensconced between two buxom women and a lad whose skin yet perspires last night’s spirits. You’ll be just fine if you can survive the deafening gospel music blaring from the speaker above your head.
You’ll marvel at the futility of everyone wearing masks, the driver passing hand sanitiser around, when everyone is practically cradled on each other’s lap in a mobile road hazard with closed windows! But yaz’in? You'll have had such an adventure, you’re likely to hurry back with a friend, eager to immerse yourself in the kaleidoscopic gallery of horrors we call home. Wamkelekile!