His Majesty and 60 000 breasts on a hot summer day

2014-09-08 14:48

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Friday. We’re at King Goodwill Zwelithini’s eNyokeni Palace at Nongoma for the annual Reed Dance.

I’m lying. The Croc is at eNyokeni for the Reed Dance. I’m in Melmoth, a good two hours drive away.

I’m smiling. The Croc isn’t. I don’t blame him. A four-hour round trip to work and back over the next couple of days isn’t much to grin about ... Factor in herds of cattle, busloads of half-naked maidens, a 30-minute stop-and-go right outside our front door, blue-light brigaders forcing all and sundry off the road and a nasty at best of times haul up the mountain past the Grump Chief’s hacienda at Nkonjeni and I can understand why the Croc’s pulling face.

The festival promotes the respect of young women and the reeds symbolise their virginity. Many travel from other chiefdoms to attend the event. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/City Press

I’m not the greatest fan of Melmoth. I met my ex-wife in Melmoth. Got me and my man SK arrested by the Babylon in the process. I also got married in Melmoth. I got divorced in Durban though.

I’m not at the Reed Dance because of His Majesty. Normally the Reed Dance is on a Saturday and Sunday. His Majesty made it that way when he reintroduced the event. This year it’s on Friday as well, because His Majesty said so. You can do that kind of thing when you’re king, apparently.

So instead of sweating my ass off in the blazing Nongoma sun trying not to get creeped out by 60 000 breasts being simultaneously shoved in my face, I’m chilling next to a pond in the leafy shade filing copy on land claimants at Ekuthuleni having their houses torched on the local inkosi’s instructions.

A beautiful setting to be telling another f*cked up story about how ordinary punters in rural KwaZulu-Natal are being treated like serfs by cats who just happen to be somebody’s son 20 years into a democratic South Africa. It is what it is.

The rest of my Friday’s spent on telephonic muck raking and trying to get enough 3G signal to file. It takes a while. About five hours later when the Croc stumbles in, all red dust and as talkative as a light pole, I’m done.

I’m also off the hook for Saturday’s gig. Saturday entails waiting the entire day in the sun until His Majesty speaks in the evening. Nobody knows what time His Majesty will speak.

His Majesty has a reputation for being a bit of a Time Bandit. Making the peasants stand around and wait all day while he does his thang.

None of the civil servants paid to manage the royal image has the guts to tell His Majesty that it’s not cool to operate this way, so it’s like that. Every year.

The last time I attended, His Majesty stopped his speech to tell to SK to “tell that boy to take his hat off’’ in the royal presence. Either SK or the Croc – I was too busy shitting my pants to remember who it was – whipped it off my head before somebody cracked it.

King Goodwill Zwelithini’s wives watch the event. The king may select a maiden to be his next wife. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/City Press

Thankfully I get to spend Saturday digging up dirt on some local lahnees before a long-awaited drink with SK, a Zululand resident of some distinction and my host for the weekend.

Not that I’ve ignored His Majesty’s speech. I’ve organised one of His Majesty’s handlers to mail it to me when he speaks, so there are words to go with the Croc’s images.

Many hours and whiskies later, I’m sitting on this hill with SK next to his family home, KwaSokesimbone. We’re watching the moon illuminate Maqwata village at Denny Dalton, where SK comes from. It’s banging.

I remember His Majesty. I hit the iPhone in case His Majesty’s said there’s too much democracy in South Africa. It’s happened before. I’m beveraged, but up for a quick 300-worder in the moonlight.

There’s zip. Nada. Lutho. I consider calling the handler and realise that could end very badly. I power off and reach for the bottle. His Majesty will have to do without me.

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