Meeting Susamatekkie

2007-09-21 00:00

“UBANI igama lakho?” What is your name? “Susamatekkie.” “Isibongo sakho?” And your surname? “Gumede” “Igama lami nguToto, isibongo nguKollinsi.” My name is Tod, surname Collins.

The young Basutho was taller than I and his teeth were sparkling white, not my sort of ivory-yellow. A grey blanket hung from his neck and shoulders, and he wore gumboots. When he bent down to calm one of his surly dogs his blanket opened enough that I saw he had on a pair of shorts, no shirt. All my clothing was state-of-the-art Alpine stuff from Chamonix, Kathmandu and Bush-and-Bundu.

When we’d first met I’d asked if he spoke any isiZulu. Some herdboys and shepherds in this remote part of Lesotho can.

He was in his mid-20s and had been living in this remote valley between the squaretopped mountain known as Thaba Koto and the pyramid-shaped Walker’s Peak for about 15 years. I had hiked from Sani Pass, a couple of days to the north.

“Is it okay for me to sleep here? “I asked him. We were on a flat bit of ground on the stream bank.

“Eeeeh,” which sounded like an Australian from Darwin saying “air”. Yes.

“But it’ll be cold!” he continued, with a laugh, “this is a sheltered place and the sun rises late.”

I told him I had a tent and a stove to cook hot food and drink. He nodded, then asked where I was from. When I told him a smile came over his face and he asked why was I carrying a backpack and sleeping in a tent among these izintaba and he waved at the mountains towering over us. I tried to explain that some of us like to get away from stressful telephones and people and their animals’ problems. “Oh,” he said, “I have a problem with my cattle too. I did have sixteen but my bull died.”

I asked how his cows would get calves next year then.

He shrugged and looked into the distance. He would ask at Thamathu village when he bought his mealie-meal next month. Somebody might have a bull that he could use.

We were silent for a while and when he looked as though he was about to walk away I asked:

“Do you eat mealie-meal every day?”

“Eeeeh, but sometimes the dogs kill a wild animal. We ate the bull’s meat for a long time. And sometimes when a cow calves, I get the afterbirth before she eats it herself, and that is a treat.”

From my pack I pulled out an orange and a R3,99 Jungle Energy Bar. He put down his stick, and accepted them. After a moment he put them on the ground too then grabbed my hand with both of his and shook it with enormous vigour. His eyes were filled with delight and his perfect teeth shone.

As he bounded down the valley towards his stone hut and kraal where his herd had ambled to during our discourse, he yelled at the top of his voice.

“… uswidi… iwolintshi … ” were two words that I understood, and from much further down the valley his neighbour shouted something back.

I saw Susamatekkie the next morning while I was drinking steaming coffee outside the tent. The frost lay thick. He was driving his cattle up the valley for their day’s grazing and didn’t even have a balaclava on his head.

“Are you going home now?” he asked.

“Yes, I should be home by sunset.”

“Will you come here again?”

“Yes most definitely I’ll come again before I get too old,” I replied.

“Could I visit you if I came to Underberg?”

“Yes indeed Susamatekkie, you must come!”

“Well, do you think that you could arrange for me to ride in a motor car? That’s something I would like to do before I become old.”

“Yes I could arrange that,” I replied in wonder, then “what will you do after you have taken your cattle to the grazing now?”

He looked at me as though I was a bit stupid, “I will go back to my hut and wait until it is time to bring them back this evening.”

That was a few months ago, in May. We are experiencing one of the coldest winters for more than 30 years. The snows have fallen very heavily. After two weeks the south-facing mountain slopes and valleys are still heavily covered.

Thaba Koto, Wilson’s and their nearby peaks and valleys are particularly spectacular. We can see them from our veranda. The snow must be at least waist deep up there.

Hordes of people from the cities have come in their smart motor cars to touch the snow, play in it and take photos with digital cameras.

• Note: The Snapshot category is for stories under 800 words. The prize for the best story is R2000. The winner will be announced on November 24 along with the winners in the other two categories of our True Stories of KZN competition.

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