The day Joshua Nkomo head butted me.

The moment I spotted Janet last Saturday, my mind raced back to the days when she and I were students at a boarding school. 

Back then, Janet’s claim to fame was being best friends with Sibongile, the school’s most popular girl.  Along with many other boys, I would have kissed the dusty ground Sibongile walked on.  I was however painfully aware of the fact that such action would have done nothing to raise her assessment of me.  She and I were worlds apart. 

Sibongile hailed from the affluent suburbs.  I was a product of the crowded townships.  She spotted designer clothes that accentuated her shapely figure.  I wore oversize hand me downs that made me look smaller and shorter than I really was.  According to our missionary teachers, Sibongile’s accent when she spoke English was impeccable and soothing to the ear.  Mine was said to be unclassifiable and grated the ear. 

‘Never mind,’ my English teacher assured me, ‘we are here to civilize you.’

The missionaries thought my accent was not the only thing needing their civilizing crusade.  They set up various evening clubs to address our backwardness.  When I saw Sibongile register for the dancing club, I did likewise. 

Given my background, I looked forward to being made the club’s assistant dancing instructor.  Before coming to boarding, I sold wild fruits and cigarettes at the township beer gardens.  During that time, I watched patrons from the rural areas perform various African dances.  With friends, we later tried out the dances and coached each other.  By the time I went to boarding I had mastered several dances.

‘Can anyone show us what you can do on the dance floor?’ Mr Undy, the dancing instructor challenged us on the first evening of the dancing club.  The dining hall tables had been rearranged to line up along the walls, leaving a large dancing place at the middle.  I strode forward and announced that I would perform amabhiza traditional dance.

There were no drums but a friend improvised and drummed on a table.  I sprang into action.  Both my feet shot up and down stomping on the floor like a galloping horse.  My hands jutted up and down pointing to the roof, my entire body shook like that of a possessed sangoma, and I charged towards Mr Undy like an enraged warrior.  

Mr Undy threw up his hands in horror and backed away.  ‘No no no!’ he shouted.  ‘That is not dancing.  Too vulgar and vigorous!  Fortunately I am here to teach you respectable dances.  Waltz will be our first dance.’

When we were paired I manoeuvred myself to be with Sibongile.  On our first dance, I brought in the passion and quick moves of amabhiza into waltz.  I quickly realized waltz is a little different from amabhiza.  I trampled on her toes a couple of times before mastering the dance. Within a month Sibongile and I could float on the floor with the grace of a pair of eagles performing mid air displays.

 I strove to show her that contrary to what Mr Undy had said, I was not vulgar.  I handled her like an egg. When dancing, my hand lightly touched her wasp-like waist.  No part of my body was ever less than a foot away from hers.

 In between dances Sibongile and I discussed decent subjects like school work, the Bible and our noble dreams for the future.

I hated it when we swapped dancing partners.  Nothing was wrong with Janet, my alternate partner.  My fury sprang from the way a chap called Zenzo danced with Sibongile.  His arm tightened round her waist, creasing her dress.  He jerked her close, forcing her pointed breasts to crash against his chest.  He thrust his foot forward, forcing his thighs to brush against Sibongile’s.  How vulgar can one get?  Of course he did this when Mr Undy was not looking. 

So much for waltz being a decent dance, I seethed. In African dances boys and girls never touch each other.  Had we performed African dances only, Zenzo would never have had a chance to indulge in such indecency.

All these thoughts raced through my mind last Saturday as I greeted Janet beneath the Joshua Nkomo stature.  Janet and I sat down on the concrete benches below the stature and we laughed out loud, reminiscing on those boarding days.  I did not mention Sibongile.  Girls resent it when you show too much interest in another girl.

We were about to part when Janet remarked, ‘by the way, why were you cold and aloof when dealing with my friend Sibongile?’

‘What?’ I frowned.

‘Maybe not aloof but certainly too formal.  The poor girl was crazy about you.   She used to moan that you saw her just as a sister or a study mate.  Your topics with her were limited to school work, the Bible and some hairy fairy ideas about your futures.’

As she spoke, Janet’s face became blurred and her voice trailed off.  I blinked but the ground suddenly started spinning.  Worse was to come.  Joshua Nkomo’s stature dived down towards me, his head coming for mine.  I ducked but it struck me on the forehead, sending a searing pain right down to my toe tips.

Seconds later, I tried to pick myself up from the ground.

Still in a blur, Janet tried to help me sit up.  ‘Are you alright? You hit the floor with your forehead.’

The stature had jumped back and was now pretending to be gazing north.

‘Where is Sibongile now?’ I asked.

 ‘In Harare, but I….’

‘Excellent.  I am going there on Tuesday.  Give me her phone number.’

‘I don’t think Zenzo will be overjoyed to see you.’  Janet said.   ‘He married the poor girl and between you and me, that beast often beats her.  Anyway, here are Sibongile’s details.’

She handed me a business card.

I wish I were an Old White Lady.

‘At  the risk of sounding racist,’ a customer services manager of an organisation once said to me, ‘whenever I receive a call from the receptionist advising that a customer wants to see me I ask her – ‘Customer A or B?’

‘Meaning?’ I asked.

‘Customer A means a black customer and B is for a white one.’

‘That is racist,’ I said.

‘Hold your accusation,’ the manager said, shaking her head.   ‘If the answer is A, I immediately tell the receptionist to direct the customer to my office.

 If the answer is B, I go deeper, ‘Customer B1 or B2?’  B1 is for male and B2 is for female.  If it’s B1 I instruct, ‘give me a minute and I will see him.’  If it’s B2, I sigh, shake my head then instruct, ‘give me five minutes and I will see her.’’

‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself,’ I said to the manager.  ‘That’s racial profiling.’

‘No.  Racial profiling is when you pick out someone from a particular race suspecting or even accusing him of committing a crime.  Evidence of the suspicion will be belonging to that race.  Me, I’m just classifying my customers to make it easier and faster to do my work.’

‘Please explain.’   

 ‘Black customers usually bring their complaints without any evidence to back up what they say.  All I need to pacify them is to listen patiently, nod at the right places, make sympathetic sounds here and there and then explain what would be happening.  The customer may not be satisfied by my explanation but they have no facts to support their complaints.  They may grunt, shout, even curse but in the end, they just have to leave empty handed.  All I need to deal with them is to be calm.

The male white customer largely behaves like black customers although it usually takes longer for him to leave.’

‘Why then do you need the minute before he comes in?’

‘English for me is a language to be written, not spoken.  I need the minute to practise a few English phrases before I speak it.  And I need to build up more patience because he takes a bit longer to leave.’

‘Why the 5 minutes for Customer B2?’ I asked.

 ‘Aah, that one is a whole different ball game.  B2 comes in with a file of all the correspondence, invoices and receipts for at least two preceding years.  She is as patient as a vulture waiting for its victim to collapse.  Whatever explanation you give, she peruses her file to check.  The older she is the more thorough she gets.  When Customer B2 pins you down, she asks, ‘may I see your superior?’  So you see what I mean,’ the customer services manager concluded, ‘when I say I need more time to prepare for the meeting with Customer 2B?’ 

Though not convinced, I just nodded.  Some discussions are not worth pursuing to the end.

Last month, a week after my pension was due I marched into the pensions office breathing hell and fire.  At reception I demanded to be immediately attended to.  Sure enough the nervous looking receptionist rushed me to the administrator’s office.

‘We sincerely apologise for the delay sir,’ the bespectacled administrator said.

‘I don’t eat an apology,’ I said, waving a hand of dismissal.  ‘When is my pension coming?’

‘Soon.’

‘Soon is meaningless.  What I want to know is…’

‘Actually, this delay is not our fault.  There’s a systems breakdown that has nothing to do with us.’

‘Don’t you start,’ I wagged a threatening finger at him. ‘From the onset you people were hopeless.  First, you delayed with my lump sum.  I forgave you.  Then you…’

‘We never delayed with your lump sum.’

‘Yes you did!  It came two months after it was due.’    

‘Sir, that’s a serious accusation.’  He looked hurt.  ‘Any proof?’

‘What proof do I need for something that happened to me?  Do I need proof that I’m talking to you now?  Then there was the time you, without warning, changed from quarterly to monthly payments.’

‘We warned you in advance,’ the administrator claimed.  ‘It’s not our fault you people don’t read your mail.’  How I hated the triumphant tone of his voice!   

‘And by the way,’ he continued, ‘check our correspondence and you will realise your pension is supposed to be at the end of the month.  For all your anger, we have not delayed.  This depositing of pension mid-month is just a favour.’ 

Favour!  I stood up and stormed out, slamming the door behind me.  At reception I hurled the kind of insult a football fan would love to use on a referee.   

Now at the pavement outside, I stood still to regain composure.  Though livid, my thoughts were clear.  I wished I were an old white lady.  I would have gone into the battle prepared.  I would have sauntered into the administrator’s office armed with my file.  Calm as a puff adder, I would have produced the evidence of how the pensions people had messed me up.   That cheeky administrator would now be apologising and promising never to mess with me again.

Any magician out there who specialises in turning black elderly men into white old women?     

What is your idea of Heaven?


Forty years after the offer, my friend Sindiso still wonders how his life would have unfolded had he grabbed that opportunity.  Whilst studying in London, Sindiso was invited to join the cast of the musical – Iph’ intombi.  He considered the appetising offer for two days after which he turned it down and opted to slug on with his dull studies.

Iph’ intombi went on to be one of the most successful musicals at the London West End and in Broadway.  Dancers who Sindiso knew to be less talented than he was were showered with praises by critics.   ‘It should have been me,’ Sindiso winced as he read the glowing reviews.  ‘Did I make the right decision?’ He wondered.

Have you ever wondered how life would have turned out had you made a different choice at some stage in your life?  Relax.  If you will make it to heaven you will not only know what joys the alternative choices held in store for you but you will also experience those good times.

First, we must appreciate that the joys of heaven cannot be experienced by all members at the same time.  For instance, I love watching my football team beat a major rival. In heaven no such pleasure is possible.  We will all belong to one team.  Special arrangements will have to be made for football fans to pursue their passion without hurting the feelings of rival fans. 

Music fans may argue that because their passion is not at the expense of anyone, they will forever enjoy dancing and singing in heaven.  But will they still be enjoying music after singing the same songs for over a thousand years?  Check yourself.  Do you still enjoy one song with the same passion you had for it five years back?   

What’s more, naughty lyrics and raunchy dances will not be permitted.  Can clean lyrics and decent dances remain exciting forever?

Heaven is place of continuous and eternal happiness.  I therefore believe that to maintain the happiness, heaven has a dazzling variety of ways to entertain us.  Take my friend Sindiso.  He will be given an opportunity to experience all the pleasures he missed out by not being part of the Iphi intombi cast.  As part of his heaven reward, Sindiso will relive parts of the life that he would have lived had he taken the offer to be a dancer.  

I admit the Iphi intombi choice would not have been smooth sailing all the way.  Sindiso will only live the happy moments of that choice.  After all, heaven is for happiness only.     

I sense your doubts dear reader.  You want to point out that even if the dancer choice is relived, it cannot go on for thousands of years.  How then will Sindiso spent the rest of his time in heaven?  Remember the Iphi intombi offer was not the only time Sindiso had to make a decision.  Throughout life he has been making choices.  He has had to choose friends, girlfriends; sporting disciplines, television challenges, political parties, churches….The list is long.

In fact all of us are constantly making choices that affect our future.  Alex, a colleague of mine recalls the time he was interested in a beautiful girl called Bongi.  He did not bother to tell her because he thought she was above her league.  Later, he heard from a reliable source that Bongi had been interested in him.  Alex was furious with himself for not making the move.  By then Bongi was married to someone else.  Alex now spends his days murmuring, ‘if only I had…’

Never mind Alex.  Just make sure that you get to heaven and you will experience all the joys the Bongi choice had for you

These different experiences are not limited to events resulting from one’s alternative choice.  If the different choice of someone else in heaven results in your happiness, then you will experience with him his good times.

For instance, I think my football team lost some matches because the coach made the wrong selection or tactics.  Like all other people in heaven, the coach will be given an opportunity to try different selections and tactics.  Should these produce victory, all supporters of the team will relive and celebrate.  Supporters of rival teams will also be celebrating their different victories.

Even today, I still feel the pain of Mohammed Ali losing to Joe Frazier in 1971.  I therefore look forward to the rematch when we get to heaven.  Ali will change his tactics.  Yes, he will win the bout and regain his title without having to wait for a further three years.  What Highlanders supporter will forget the agony of losing to Rangers at that grudge match of 1972?  Why worry?  Team manager, Silas Ndlovu will change tactics for the heaven rematch and we will win.

What about you dear reader?  Which exciting experiences do you look forward to in heaven after different choices are made?      

‘I don’t have much to say…’

Introduction

How about kicking off our blog with the definition of a powerful force that has not yet been given an official name?

Speechiolotis

Speechiolotis is the situation in which half the audience is praying for the speech to end whilst the other half has already fallen sleep.  If you have ever addressed an audience you may have at some time caused speechiolotis. 

How many times have you heard these second most beautiful words in a speech: ‘I don’t have much to say?’  You sit back, smile and wait for a quick dash to freedom.  Alas, the speaker proceeds to drone on and on.  Finally, when all hope is lost the speaker utters the most beautiful words, ‘with these few words, I now conclude.’ 

What’s the cause of this force that’s now as widespread as the effects of climate change?   

Research has shown that three overlapping factors are the major causes of speechiolotis: love of the sound of one’s voice, passion for a certain view and lastly, the time stoppage complex.

Love of the sound of one’s voice

Icelanders have a proverb – Every man likes the smell of his own farts. In other words, humans have a natural tendency to like and be comfortable with what is theirs.  The expression – love of the sound of one’s voice – is an acknowledgement of the existence of this natural tendency.  This love propels speakers not to stop talking.  Chocolate lovers will tell you how difficult it is to stop eating that delicacy once they have started.  So it is with the sound of one’s voice.  Smitten speakers just can’t get enough of the chocolate coming out of their mouths.

Further, own voice lovers believe that audiences are also in love with their voices.  They feel the entire audience enjoying with them.  Whatever time set for their speeches becomes an enemy of the gathering.         

Passion for a certain view

Every once in a while some humans get to believe a certain viewpoint or ideology.  They see all competing viewpoints as wrong or even a danger to society.  These believers see it as their mission to convince the rest to their viewpoint.  When they get an opportunity to speak the believers can’t stop talking until every listener announces that he or she has been won over. 

For instance, an elderly man may get convinced that all current problems are caused by the new law that permits an eighteen year old girl to marry without her father’s consent.  Such a man constantly longs for an opportunity to warn everyone that this law is destroying the very fabric of society. Give that man a platform to talk about weather; he will rephrase it so that he talks about his belief.  He won’t stop talking until the audience agrees to reverse this harmful law.

Time Stoppage Complex

Albeit Einstein is quoted explaining relativity as follows:  “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”  Time stoppage complex can be explained in a similar manner.  For some, time stops the moment they start on their favourite topics.  Time starts ticking after they finish talking.  It is therefore not unusual for such people to urge all who speak after them to be brief.

Curing Speechiolotis

Whoever will discover the cure for speechiolotis will in my book be a strong candidate for the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

A break 

Friends, enough of this heavy stuff!  I believe it is now time we rested our brains by enjoying a fable.  One of my favourites is that of The Lion and the Impala.

The Fable

 Lion was so old that he could no longer hunt.  Hungry and weak, he often lay in his cave watching animals go by.  One day a young impala passed by.  Lion invited her for a chat.

‘Sure, old timer,’ Impala said, trotting along the path leading to Lion’s cave.  Lion smiled and just held back licking his lips.   

 Impala stopped at the cave’s entrance looking down and then back.

‘What’s the matter dear,’ Lion asked.

‘I see several sets of footprints going in.’

‘Oh yes, I’ve lots of friends,’ Lion said.

‘Aah,’ Impala said, shaking her head from side to side, ‘but I don’t see the footprints of your friends coming out.  What happened to them?’  Lion mumbled and Impala insisted that she wanted an answer before going in.

Receiving no answer, Impala galloped away.

Back to curing Speechiolotis

Aah, therein lays the cure of speechiolotis.  Like Impala, we must study our situation and surroundings and then act.

A friend once told me how he and his mates dealt with a Councillor who loved making long speeches.  Whenever they wanted the Councillor to make a thirty minutes speech they would say, ‘Councillor, you have five minutes, to give your entire speech.  Please stick to that, we are pressed for time.’  The Councillor was a reasonable man.  He would cut his planned speech to just thirty minutes.

Sometimes a more direct approach is called for.  I once addressed a meeting in which I went a minute over my time.

‘By the way,’ an attendee interrupted, ‘when is the meeting supposed to end?’  Just as Impala, audiences must be observant and look after their interests.  They must remind speakers when time is up.

I suppose bloggers too must not go on and on.  Cheers!

More Views on Appropriate Behaviour at Funerals


You may recall that a fortnight back I wondered aloud what the appropriate behaviour was relating to funeral vigils and funerals.  Several readers responded by adding their views on the subject.  I believe three of the responders are representative of the views expressed.  I therefore requested the three to summarize their views.  Here we go: 

Bakhaliphile Sibanda, Glasgow, UK

I have always had an issue with singing and dancing at funerals.  These are times when ALL ought to be sombre. Each time, for politeness I’ve kept my mouth shut. Seethed inside of course! Silliness or shenanigans don’t do it for me.

My first proper job was Junior Doctor at Bulawayo Central Hospitals (Zimbabwe) in the adult male ward. Being at the bottom of the medical food chain meant that after bosses went home for a glass of wine or Ingwebu (traditional brew) I was left to ensure drips were running, no one was in pain and definitely none had a cardiac arrest. The latter caused me so much anxiety I could have arrested myself. Let’s leave that one for now. I survived, and so did my patients.

 So there I would be meticulously clearing a blocked drip or wondering what dose of pain killer not to give (lest that alone killed the patient). Which lecture was it on painkillers, 4th or 5th year; Mmnn? Where is that note book again? Think, think, think. Now the last thing I needed to hear was a bunch of … (don’t say it) gathered at bed number 6 singing and preaching. Yes, preaching and casting out imaginary demons when I’m trying to concentrate.  Arghhhhhhh!

And what did they preach?  That if the patient survived, all credit was due to them.  It was proof that they had the anointing to heal.  ‘If you don’t believe us,’ they would forever say to their patients after that, ‘look at one of the many miracles we performed.  We cured a patient after all those pretenders with impressive medical degrees had failed.’

On the other hand if the patient died, ‘well it was because the patient’s relatives did not have enough faith in our healing powers.  It could also be because the hospital staff had been negligent.’  These holy men!  They had a bag of possible explanations, none of which put blame on them.

Maybe I’m being harsh and un-understanding.  A few letters after my name don’t entitle me to disparage people who, at the end of the day mean well. That brings me to filming at funerals.

As a Diaspora I missed my grandma’s funeral and was quite upset about it. Ugogo just came short of a century and I wasn’t there to see her off. This was the lady who gave me the name Bakhaliphile (They have expertise).

My mother had a difficult pregnancy when carrying me.  Several self-appointed experts told her that her baby would not make it to birth.  But I did.  Grandma said it was all thanks to the hospital staff that had monitored mother during her pregnancy and had ensured a safe delivery. 

‘The hospital staff has expertise,’ grandma noted.  ‘In their honour, my grandson’s name will be Bakhaliphile’.

A school teacher and lay preacher, grandma was a respected figure in the community.  As a child I saw her as some kind of rock star and my parents her backing singers.

Anyway, a relative filmed her funeral and sent me a copy of the video. At first I thought how morbid and wasn’t sure about watching it. Against my better judgement, I finally did. Next to being at the great service myself it was the best thing. And I replayed it over and over. Highly recommended!

So we’ve come full circle. The singers at Bulawayo Central Hospitals drove me nuts but witnessing a funeral I was sad to have missed and seeing who was there, what they were wearing blab bla bla was 100% worth it.

Isn’t it funny that the things in my country that I used to disparage are some of those that I miss? I keep my country in my heart.

Cathy Adams, a retired NGO worker in Nottingham, UK

Having lived and worked in three different continents, I enjoyed the blog on different views on how to behave at funerals.  Recently I helped organise the funeral of an old widowed friend.  My friend and I worked for an NGO in the 1970s and 80’s in Central Africa.  We both now lived in Nottingham.

My main task was to organise the church service.  Most congregants at our church are understandably English and could be described as musically challenged.  We are far too scared of our musical voices to stand up and sing spontaneously.  Welsh people are naturally very musical and have been known to amaze the English by singing spontaneously.

On my last visit to my friend she was bedridden.  She was singing Ishe Komborera Afrika with her Zimbabwean born carer.  It was fantastic that in spite of her damaged memory she still had the hymn word perfect. 

About eight friends of the carer accompanied her to my friend’s funeral service.  I had warned congregants that the black mourners may include dancing.  There was no dancing but they rendered moving hymnal singing.  I loved it and knew that my friend would have enjoyed every second of it.

No video was taken.  I wish we did.  I would be reliving my friend’s lively send off.

Gerald Moyo, Johannesburg, South Africa  

Nice piece brother but I disagree with you.  I personally don’t like videos and pictures being taken at a funeral.  I’m ok with memories and don’t want to view and relive the pain and misery of a funeral.  I however think there are Millennials with different views and will continue with videos.  We just cannot stop them.  I’ve never watched any one of the funeral videos posted on my family chat group.  Just does not sit well with me. 

Well dear reader, I suppose a variety of views on how to conduct funerals is one of the spices of life.

No one knows what fattened the pig.


No doubt about it, another night of similar ear agony, I was a dead man.  At 7.00 a.m, I started telling my doctor how the pain in my ears had started.

Before I finished the first sentence, the doctor summoned his cashier and verified if I had completed the medical aid forms.  He then instructed her to establish if there would be any shortfall.  Satisfied that the most important part of my visit had been taken care of, he quizzed me on my ailment. 

‘It is fortunate that you took this ear problem seriously and rushed here,’ he said after examining me.  ‘You have a dreadful ear infection.  One more day without treatment…. ’ He shook his head and left the sentence unfinished.  Following a pregnant silence, he smiled: ‘Have no fear, take the right medication and you will be healed.’  He gave me a prescription and I left for the pharmacy.

My people say ‘it is not known what fattened the pig.’  I wanted to make sure the ‘dreadful ear infection’ would be permanently driven out of my body.  From the pharmacy, I rushed to my pastor to get a second opinion.  I poured out my woes and the Man of God listened with the patience of Job.

‘A stubborn demon has forced its way into your ears,’ the pastor declared.  ‘Only prayers from an anointed one like me can drive the evil spirit out.’

I knelt down before him and he laid his hands on me.  Like a top-drawer lawyer arguing his case, the pastor reminded Jesus of the many miracles He had performed and of His promise that all those who had a personal relationship with Him should walk the earth with no fear.  Their problems would evaporate at the wink of an eye. 

‘I already feel some movements in my ears,’ I told the pastor.

‘Excellent,’ he said, ‘the movements would have been even faster if you were a faithful tither.’

‘From now on, I will tithe faithfully,’ I promised.

‘I take your word for it.  However, woe unto you if you tell a lie in the house of the Lord.  Disease and misfortune will follow you all the days of your life.’

Later that day, under cover of darkness, I drove to my sangoma in Makokoba Township.  In their hit song Zonke Izizwe, Soul Brothers have sung:  ‘All nations have their customs/they respect them, they keep them.’  The musicians go on to encourage all self-respecting individuals to uphold their customs.  Who am I to ignore a band that has dished out valued social commentary for over two decades? 

I took off my shoes and tiptoed into the sangoma’s room. He threw his bones, studied them, shook his head and sighed.  ‘Yours is a difficult one.  I need to reinforce my powers if I am to help.  You see, the elders are angry with you.  You have not visited your father’s grave for a while.’

‘Just three months,’ I pointed out.

‘Too long!’ he almost shouted.  ‘Go ahead, take whatever medicine the western doctor has given you but it is ineffective unless you visit your father’s grave.  The cemetery is only a twenty-minute drive from your house.  Take this bottled water, sprinkle it over his grave, tell him your problems and ask for his intervention.’ 

Right away, I drove to Pelandaba Cemetery.  Guilt assailed me as I approached father’s last resting place.  Overgrown grass surrounded the slab.  Thanks to the afternoon showers, the ground was wet.  I uprooted the grass, sprinkled the bottled water over the grave then crouched at the grave’s head.  In solemn words, I updated father on what was happening in the extended family since the last time I visited.  I pleaded with him to continue to guide the family and to cure my ears.

Back home, I took my medication.  I slept well that night.  A week later, I had gone for a week with no ear problems.  I was healed.

To whom did I owe my healing?  Just in case it was the medical doctor, I now check my pay slip to make sure that my medical aid premiums are always deducted. 

I will not disappoint my pastor either.  I am a faithful thither.

The traditional healer refuses to be insulted by the colonial practice of being paid for serving his fellow human beings.  He insists that his services are free.  However, like the pastor, he expects a bit of gratitude for his talent.  Failure to do so results in the cured disease striking back with renewed energy.  To save me from this misfortune he gave me a list of groceries to buy.

‘Such gratitude,’ he assured me, ‘will keep the disease away.’ 

Last night I delivered the groceries at the sangoma’s house.

I am revealing too much about myself. What about you, how do you deal with your ailments?

‘You can keep your country….’

Lies are bad; I enjoy the singing at a funeral.  Is this a sin?

The melody seeps into my body, soothes and caresses me.  The lyrics assure me that one day I’ll reunite with the departed.

During the burial of a relative at the cemetery, I’m sometimes drawn by the singing at another funeral.  I confess there are times when I steal away from my people and drift to the beckoning music.  I join the singing but of course I’ll be mourning for my relative, not the unknown deceased person.

In mourning at the wrong place, I’m not alone.  My sister once told me that she had been illegally working in a foreign country for three years when she was summoned to that country’s immigration offices.  She truthfully answered all the questions thrown at her but the officials clearly didn’t believe her.  Their demeanour and questions made it plain that they were bent on deporting her.  Suddenly my sister thought of all the relatives’ funerals she had not been able to attend in the preceding three years.

A miracle unfolded before her eyes.  The faces of her tormentors transformed into those of her departed relatives.  Her angry uncle accused her of not attending his funeral.  Shaken, my sister tried to explain.

‘I’m sorry uncle I just couldn’t come.  My papers were not in order.  Besides, travel costs were too high.  But I did send money for the funeral.’

‘Stop talking nonsense and answer our questions,’ the immigration officer shouted.      

‘Why am I in this country?’ My sister asked herself.  ‘Is it worth it to be harassed by these heartless officials?’ 

Anger and sorrow swelled up in her.  Without warning, streams of tears ran down her cheeks.  Her body shook as she wailed for all her departed relatives.  The stunned officials stared at her.  They quickly recovered then fell over each other offering tissue papers and tea.  She pushed away the offers.

‘You can keep your country,’ she fumed, ‘I’m going back home to suffer with my people.’

 She didn’t need to leave the country.  Her application for a work permit was fast tracked and she got the permit.

***

Once upon a time, members of a clan all belonged to one or two churches.  Not so nowadays.  The mushrooming of new churches has resulted in clan members being scattered over several churches.  The Christian body now enjoys unity in diversity.

At my father’s funeral wake my cousin came accompanied by members of her church.  As they walked past the gate and came near the house, the church members sang out loud, clapped hands and even danced.

Looking at the visitors, my aunt’s jaw dropped

‘Lafa elihle kakhulu (Cry the beloved country),’ a grey haired neighbour muttered shaking his head.  Nicknamed Tshaka because of her lack of tact, my niece marched forward and confronted the singers.  ‘Stop this,’ she commanded.  ‘Grandpa would not like it.’

The church leader glared at her and scowled.  ‘Sister, this is how we always bid farewell to a loved one.’

‘Not my grandpa,’ my niece insisted.  ‘He never danced at anyone’s funeral wake and so no dancing for him.’  The leader looked past her and his eyes landed on me, appealing for my intervention.  I looked aside and walked away.

The lecture notes of a course I facilitate advise that ‘avoidance’ is the worst method of solving conflict.  When facilitating, I stress this nugget of wisdom and urge course participants to meet problems head on.  ‘Always take concrete steps to resolve issues,’ I often conclude, ‘otherwise the problems will come back to haunt you.’

However that evening I found it easier to walk away.  Fortunately for my niece, other clan members joined in and asked the newcomers to stop dancing and tone down their singing.  They sulked but complied.

I walked away partly because I had other things on my mind.  My cousin, the eldest male grandson of my grandfather was on my case.  He demanded that during the wakes, I stay at my father’s house all night.

‘You see,’ he explained, ‘all these people are here for you.’

‘My mother and siblings are also here,’ I pointed out.  ‘I need to rest.’ 

‘But you are uncle’s eldest male child.  Tradition requires that mourners see you, talk to you, only then….’

‘In which book do I find that tradition?’

‘No need for that.  With uncle gone, I’m now the highest authority on family traditions.  Another thing, we have this group of youngsters that wants to shoot a video of the funeral.  Can you imagine, our own children wanting to do this?  Of course I’ve told the ‘no’.  My uncle’s funeral is not entertainment material.’

‘I’m with you on that one.  No glamour at my father’s funeral.’ 

Except on the last night, I did not stay at the wakes.

On the day of the funeral, the youngsters defied us.  They secretly hired a video crew and we found ourselves being filmed.  Tshaka was on their side and so there was no one to stop them.

I refused to watch the video.  Diasporians texted and phoned, praising the video.  They claimed it made them feel they too had been at the funeral.  Who were these youngsters trying to fool?  I knew what they had done.

Social media has this provision for self promoters to ask someone to ‘like’ what they are doing.  Obviously our youngsters had asked Diasporians to like the video.  All this just to justify their cravings for glamour!  Shame on them.

 I finally decided to watch the video during the first anniversary of the funeral. To my embarrassment, I found myself absorbed.  I enjoyed reliving our gathering at my father’s house.  The drive to church was orderly and dignified. 

What joy I had when the camera scanned the people in church.  I hadn’t realised some of them had been there.  The sight of all these good people lifted my spirits.  Nkosi yami, it was as fulfilling as listening to well sung hymns.

Slang, the Language Killer!


One day I woke up to a transformed Bulawayo.  Everywhere I went, boys called each other Jeki.  I wondered how this revolution in names had taken place without me catching a whiff of it.  On enquiry, I learnt that Jeki was not a name but the latest slang word for friend.

This was not the first time a new slang word for friend had wrong footed me.  In good old Ndebele, the word tshomi meant friend.  In their infinite wisdom, slang speakers decided to change the meaning to boyfriend.  Nobody bothered to notify me of the change.

One Saturday morning my younger brother showed up at my place.  ‘Where is your wife,’ he asked after we had chatted a bit.  The two of us were standing at the veranda.

‘She has gone to town with her tshomi,’ I said.

‘With her what?’ My stunned brother asked.

‘Her tshomi,’ I shouted.

‘And you allow that sort of thing?’  My brother was breathless.

I shrugged.  ‘Why not?  You know these people.  They have certain things they want to do on their own and I don’t want to get in the way.’

Water suddenly in his knees, my brother wobbled and slumped on to a garden chair.  ‘My dear brother,’ he whispered, ‘what has this witch done to you?’

I called him unprintable words and he continued to call my wife a witch.

After further exchanges, the confusion cleared.  We both realised we had different meanings for the word tshomi.

‘Thanks to you younger lot,’ I moaned, ‘our language is an endangered species.  Soon it will be dead.’

Friends, does anyone think slang is a threat to mainstream languages?

In spite of what I said to my brother, I believe slang is the salt of a language.  Without it, the plainness of languages would kill us with boredom.  Then of course without users, languages themselves would die.

Slang in Southern Africa and other parts of the world give the youth an identity.  Creation thrills.  It makes youths feel good that they have created their own way of communication.  Yes, they feel cool. 

My estimate is that several Zimbabwe slang words have an average lifespan of 5 years.  Thus someone with a good knowledge of slang words can assess the age of a speaker by the words they use.  Slang now goes further than separating the generations of parents from that of their children.  It indicates the 5 year age group one belongs.

In the Diaspora, the preferred slang words indicate when the speaker left Zimbabwe.  Users outside the country tend to continue using slang words that were the in thing when they left, even after being told that new words have since sprung up.  I guess Diasporians behave like music lovers who when listening to a re-recording of an old song they love are never impressed.  They continue to prefer the old recording.  It is after all their identity.

Instead of going out of fashion some slang words are co-opted into mainstream language.  I remember a time when the Ndebele word chaza only meant ‘explain.’  The youth added a new meaning to the word – to entertain. Now both meanings are acceptable.  

Several linguists have argued that slang is more vivid, forceful and expressive than formal language.  This is partly because slang users do not hesitate to borrow words or expressions from other languages.  Blogger Katey-Red writes: 

‘Eish is a colloquial exclamation in South African slang originally derived from Xhosa. It can indicate surprise, awe, shock, exasperation, excitement, or resignation (it is out of my control but I am going to make the most of this situation).’ 

Notice how in a word one is able to express a wide range of feelings and the listener is left in no doubt what you mean.  Not surprisingly, the expression is now used throughout Southern Africa.

The introduction of a slang word broadens expressions and frees some words to concentrate on other shades of meanings. For instance, in old Ndebele slang, the word for happiness faro was borrowed from Shona.  In its new home the word faro took a new emphasis.  It now depicted the kind of happiness imbibers may get at a pub.  The Ndebele word njabulo was left to concentrate on the laid back kind of happiness.

Similarly the Shona language has borrowed the word gogo (grandmother) from Ndebele.  This has freed the Shona word ambuya and it need not be confused with other similar sounding words.

Politicians and preachers delight in denouncing tribalism.  Slang has no time for just talk.  It demonstrates in a practical way how languages and tribes can benefit from each other.

My favourite quote on slang comes from  Carl Sandburg:  ‘Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work.’

Come to think of it, I should have thanked my brother for teaching me a new slang word.  That was progress.

For now dear friends, let me vamoose.

Church versus Sports: Where do you stand?

C

Imagine a churchgoer and a sports fan get out of bed on the day their two organisations will be assembling.  What do they have in common?

Both spring out of bed with songs in their hearts.  At last the week long wait is over.  Today both will do what they are really living for.  Today they meet and mingle with their kind.  They look forward to hearty greetings and hugs.  They will chat, gossip and laugh with people whose beliefs, biases and tastes are similar to theirs. 

Both dress up for the occasion.  Churchgoers prefer formal dressing while sport fans go for smart casuals.  In both camps the decoration of the face is important.  Female churchgoers carefully paint their faces with lipstick, eyebrow pencils, eye shadows, mascara and powder.  Similar care and dexterity is displayed by sports fans.  Only colours of their teams are good enough to grace their faces.

Later, on the streets churchgoers proclaim their faith through their glowing faces and the Bibles they wield.  Exuberance separates sports fans from the rest of humanity.  They show allegiance to their teams by scarves and other team regalia.  Just in case, horror of horrors, some observers may confuse them with a rival team, sports fans fly their team flags on the vehicles they travel in.  They blow horns and shout the praises of their teams.

At their different assembly points, churchgoers and sports fans are required to stand or sit in an orderly manner.  From rows, they watch, listen and participate in the day’s proceedings.  Most congregants and fans demand to be on the same spot they were the previous week.  Many a quarrel has erupted after someone has tried to invade another’s space.  Seats or standing spots are private property and therefore not transferable.

Church or sports stadium, a passive presence is frowned upon.  Everyone is expected to be lively.  Neither side disappoints.  When the pastor walks up to the pulpit the entire congregation stands up and claps hands.  Sports fans shout and whistle as their heroes enter the stadium.  In short, church or stadium, excitement expected.

When moved by the pastor, congregants shout: ‘hallelujah, praise the Lord, go deeper pastor, and amen.’  They raise and wave their hands.  Perhaps to encourage the Holy Spirit to enter them, some tightly close their eyes, contort faces and murmur with passion.  Often they stomp the floor to utterly destroy the imagined Satan under their feet.

Like churchgoers, sports fans delight in raising their hands as they root for their teams.   At football matches at Barbourfields stadium, Bulawayo, one often hears the animated cry:  ‘Tshis’ ubhare! (Roast the bugger!).’   Fans stomp the floor to pulverise the imagined rivals under their feet.  Dear reader, haven’t you heard about this stomping of the floor before?  

After investing so much money, time and energy on looks, churchgoers and fans would feel cheated in no-one notices them.  Several attention grabbing tactics are employed.  Late arrival and then making a grand entrance when everyone is seated is one tactic.  Another is frequent visits to the toilet.  To try and draw the attention of television cameras, sports fans make a lot of noise and perform energetic dances.

Indeed music and dance play important parts in both groups.  Emotions of joy, solidarity and hatred for the opposition find expression in music and dance.  Music entertains and skyrockets morale.  It convinces all that they are the chosen ones and victory is certain.

A feeling that ‘no-one can stop us’ often seizes the singers.  The inspired singing and enthusiastic dancing at Pentecostal and Zionist churches are similar to those of sports fans at the noisy stands.  Similarly, the laid back support of fans at VIP stands resembles the restrained singing at most old school churches.

What else do churches and the world of sports have in common? 

Scandals!  Yes, scandals have dogged both church and the sporting fraternity almost from the time the two came into being.  One is spoiled for choice when citing past scandals in both camps.  As early as 309 AD the Catholic Church supreme council threatened to defrock church authorities who sexually abused boys.  To this day the abuse of children persists.  Every denomination has its share of sex scandals.  Show me a denomination where women and children have never been sexually abused and I will show you the first fly that flew and landed on the sun.

Compiling the sex scandals in sports would require a life time.  Suffice to say the list is as long as that of various churches.

Still on scandals, both church and sporting bodies have an encyclopaedia of financial scandals.  Friends, are not the activities of the two camps more similar than different?

Perhaps we need not marvel at the similarities.  Church and sports are two sides of the same coin – the coin of people’s group activities outside work.  No one needs to decide which of the two groups one belongs.  If you own a coin, both sides of the coin are yours.  If you are a human being, you can belong to both activities. You can stomp Satan at church in the morning and later stomp your imagined opponents at the sports stadium.

Remembering Kenneth Maltus Smith


Ken Smith

On 5th October 2015, I attended a memorial service of a man I hold in high esteem.  Kenneth Maltus Smith was a teacher and headmaster at Inyathi Mission from 1954 to 1968.  He was the headmaster in 1968 when I was in Form 1.

Ndodana (Son), as we called him in reference to the way he pronounced the word without a trace of his English tongue, loved to lunch with students at the Ukuthula Akubekini Hall.  I still picture him sitting on the bench at the corner of the prefects’ high table up on stage, wolfing down isitshwala and beans.  The man always left his plate cleaner than the bald top of his head.  Rumour had it that to try and win back her husband for lunch, Mavis had tried to cook isitshwala but the Cambridge University maths graduate could not match the high standards of Mr Mbambo, the mission chef.

‘I don’t understand you gentlemen,’ Ndodana teased us one Saturday morning. ‘You complain that you are not getting enough food but after every meal I see several big dishes of leftovers.’  Standing up erect on the hall’s stage, he smiled, indicating that it was one of those occasions he lifted his authoritarian mask and wanted to reason with us.

‘You see, sir,’ Johnson, a student in Form 3 said, ‘In our culture a man does not hit and sweep his plate.  Hayi bo!  That would be saying, ‘I am a greedy pig.’  A real man must leave something in the plate.  No matter where we are, we love practising our culture and what better way of showing it by never sweeping our plates?’

I did not know the meaning of the word culture but I joined in when other boys shouted, ‘We love our culture.  We will practice it everywhere.’

‘I know the culture,’ Ndodana said ‘but remember leftovers at your homes are never thrown away.  It is food for dogs and chickens.  Neither dogs nor chickens are part of this school.  Who are you leaving the food for?’

‘It is our culture!’ we shouted. 

‘Think about it,’ Ndodana chuckled and walked away.

‘Guys, I think Ndodana is right,’ Zweli, a dormitory mate later said after lights were switched off and darkness surrounded us.   ‘At a boarding school there is no need to leave food.  We should sweep our plates just like him.  We should….’

‘Huh,’ Albert sneered, ‘Ndodana may be an excellent geography teacher and a good preacher but what does he know about our culture?  Listen people, we may be at a mission school but we stick to our culture!  The mission must cook and dish enough food to fill us up and we still have leftovers.’

‘Come on guys,’ Zweli pleaded, ‘we are refusing to see something that is out in the open like the private parts of a pig.’

‘It may be out in the open,’ Albert bellowed, ‘but how do we see it in this pitch dark night?’

Rowdy laughter filled the dormitory and the argument ended: Albert 3, Zweli 0. 

Forty seven years later, the argument still rages in my head.  Should we tamper with our culture to accommodate changing circumstances?

Nothing delighted me more than when in class we heard the shout: ‘fire in the veldt!’  This was the only time Ndodana suspended classes.  In a split second he transformed from a smiling gentle teacher into an energetic fire fighter.  

The neck tie was yanked off and the sleeves of his white shirt rolled back.  He barked instructions to staff, villagers and boys.  In the veldt, he raced the tractor in all directions, mowing down the tall grass before the fire got there.

We always put out the fire before much harm was done.  Ndodana would then go round, thank and shake hands with each fire fighter.   To this day, I often remind myself to thank everyone whenever a job has been well done.

Of the many enjoyable story-sermons Ndodana delivered, one still rings in my head. 

Ten year old Dumisani won three shillings at the finals of the Sunday School quiz.  ‘I will not spend this money on myself,’ Dumisani said.  ‘I will seek Jesus and personally give him my prize.’

On Monday morning Dumisani set off.  At the post office he spotted a sad boy standing by a telephone booth.  Dumisani asked the boy why he was sad and he explained:  ‘I passed Standard 6 with flying colours and have a bursary on condition that I get a Form 1 place at a reputable school.  I need to phone Inyathi today but have no money.’

‘How much is the phone call?’

‘One shilling.’ 

After a debate with himself Dumisani gave the boy one shilling.  The boy phoned and got a place.

Though disappointed that Jesus’ money had been reduced, Dumisani continued his journey.  He passed by a hospital and saw a distraught mother with a coughing baby.  Dumisani asked what was the problem and the woman explained that she needed a shilling for the hospital fee.  Once again, Dumisani used Jesus’ money on someone else.

‘I may now be having only a shilling, but I will still seek Jesus and give him,’ Dumisani vowed.   At a bus stop, Dumisani saw a crying girl.  She explained that a bully had taken her money and now she had no bus fare to get back home.

Dumisani sighed and gave her six pence for the bus fare.  Hungry and dejected, he now had no strength to press on.  He bought four buns and two penny coolers.  Sitting on a store stoep, Dumisani ate his food.  He trudged back home a defeated lad.

That night Dumisani dreamt each of the three people he had helped thanking him.  Then Jesus appeared and smiled down at him. ‘Thank you my son,’ Jesus said, ‘I received your gift.’

‘Those who have ears,’ Ndodana concluded the sermon, ‘let them hear.’

Reverend Kenneth Maltus Smith was born on 22 November 1926 in Jammalamadugu, India and died on 19 September 2015 in Norwich, United Kingdom, surrounded by family members.  He departed to the background music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and was buried on 5 October 2015.

Note:

Part of this post taken from the book:  ‘A Cradle of the Revolution.  Voices from Inyathi School.’  Edited by Pathisa Nyathi and Marieke Clarke, Amagugu Publishers.