Zozo, the darling cappuccino child

2013-10-20 06:00

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It is Saturday afternoon.

Outside dusk is settling in the wake of a bloody long week. I can smell the weekend downwind from here, but before I rush to greet it, let me pause briefly to impart a small story, a memory, a tender glimmer in my mind’s eye.

It is somehow relevant this week, a week that saw passionate discussions around race and transformation. In the course of this debate, the word cappuccino was uttered as symbolic of the nonracialist society we long for.

‘Cappuccino’ made me think of my cousin, Zolile.

Zozo was calm and peaceful, as implied by his name. To me, he became the face of reconciliation in the microcosm of our family.

Zolile was born to my father’s eldest sister and her husband. She was from a middle class Afrikaans background.

My grandparents lived in Durban, Stellenbosch and eventually in Pretoria. My uncle is Xhosa and was raised by his aunt in a township in Port Elizabeth.

My aunt was a beautiful, headstrong and politically minded woman back in the 1980s. She was a member of women’s resistance organisation the Black Sash and met her future husband through union actions.

They fell in love and moved into a PE township home with oregon pine floors, which she sanded and varnished herself, and a toilet cubicle, which they shared with neighbours.

They got legally married as soon as legislation allowed.

My aunt recalls with signature humour how shocked the magistrate was to wed them – it had been his first multirace union.

He was speechless and sweating profusely when they arrived at his office.

A pragmatic woman, my aunt told him not to worry, that they would have the reception first, affording him opportunity to regain his composure. When they returned to the magistrate’s office a few hours later, he was ready.

Her love affair with a man from another race caused a huge rift in our family for over a decade. It was the late 80s, heady times, my grandparents could not process this development (how could they tell their friends?) and for years my aunt was notably absent during Christmas gatherings at their Pretoria home.

I remember sensing tension as a child, watching the grown-ups speak in hushed tones, but I didn’t understand.

Rummaging through my dad’s stuff – as one does as a child – I was transfixed by a fascinating discovery one day: a crumpled newspaper clipping wrapped around a black-and-white photograph of my aunt.

The picture showed her drawing on a long cigarette, smoke curling from her fine nostrils. She had made headlines after interrupting PW Botha during a presidential talk in Durban.

My grandparents were having none of it.

When she fell pregnant, my dad went to visit her in Port Elizabeth. He started negotiating with her and my grandparents to reconcile.

After years of talks backward and forward, in 2000, when her twins were six years old, our family was finally reunited at my grandfather’s 70th birthday party in Pretoria.

My grandparents invited all their friends too in a poignant display of acceptance.

A few years later, Zolile was diagnosed with brain cancer. He endured gruelling chemo sessions, but continued to smile, always.

I think it would be safe to say that while our family’s hurt had been on a road to recovery, Zozo was the band-aid that truly healed those wounds.

My grief-stricken grandparents lent a hand wherever they could.

At 12 years old, Zoz was terminally ill. Reach for a Dream organised for him to meet the Proteas, who gave him a signed cricket bat.

He had it auctioned for R10 000 and gave the money back to the charity organisation. He surprised my cricket-mad sister with a special gift: a T-shirt signed by her sporting heroes. Such was his nature.

In the summer of 2005 our family gathered in Sedgefield. We were saying goodbye for Zoz was dying. He was in great pain, his head was swollen and misshaped. I remember sitting talking to him, basking in the love he exuded.

As a confused 25-year-old, I couldn’t understand where this little boy found the reserves of light he emanated so generously, his situation notwithstanding.

Zozo passed away soon after, and my grandfather six weeks after him.

Somehow Zoz embodies the dream I harbour for our country. I will never forget his smile, his humour and his love.

Zoz will always be the darling cappuccino child held dearly in the utopia of my heart. His memory fills me with great sadness and hope.

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