Barney’s been there, seen it all

2017-03-23 06:03
Ibrahim “Barney” Hendricks serves another happy customer, with his son Luqman and assistant Duze Tsotsobe on the far side. PHOTO: Tarzan mbita

Ibrahim “Barney” Hendricks serves another happy customer, with his son Luqman and assistant Duze Tsotsobe on the far side. PHOTO: Tarzan mbita

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Gugulethu will be celebrating six decades of existence in 2018. Its a milestone. Although it may not be a big deal for some of the older folk, but when you consider that whoever celebrated their sixtieth birthdays until then, would not have been born in this township. It will be someone born during the month of August of 1958 or thereafter.

Those born earlier would have been from Simon’s Town, Kensington, Windemere, Retreat, Athlone, Steenberg and other areas, from whence they had been forcibly moved to Gugulethu. New areas tend to develop new characters and take new shapes. Chief among the shapes and characters is the new “furniture” that moulds itself out of this new settlement. Think of tat’uGasela, Tshabalala, Mandla, Sibaya, ‘Mhlozayo’ Dikeni, ‘Mzala’ Mafanya, ‘Tolo’ Mqulwana, Gqiba, Sokoyi, Tibini, Njobe and many other fledgling entrepreneurs. Against all odds, this was the furniture that made Gugulethu a home for all to sit down and continue to live. They may be occupying a fast fading legacy in the minds of those who had the fortune of their comfort, but for once upon a time, without them, Gugs would not have been.

Enter Ebrahim Hendricks. An insider from the outside; Rylands, to be exact. He rode into town in a horse pulling a cart, with a brass horn in his hand, blowing it to announce his presence. That was way back in 1967.

Time was when “Barney”, as he was and still is affectionately known, got the boys and girls playing in the street to abandon whatever they were doing, only to scramble home to inform their mothers that “Barney is here”.

“Mamies, snoek vis, mackerel, aartappels, uiwe en kool”!, Barney or one of his assistants would scream at the top of their voices. Most times, the horn could be heard without being seen, and his faithful customers would line the streets in anticipation of the moment Barney’s horse would trot onto their street, albeit at a pace even less than that of a trot.

“Stuff was sold by the bags then, or you cold walk around with a pound scale and brown paper bags, as opposed to the plastic packets of today,””he says.

Depending on which part of the township he started, customers on the last of his rounds always received the worst of his wares, which led to a lot of animosity among them, prompting him to rotate his rounds, in an effort to be as equitable as possible. When I mention this to him, he laughs. “I remember those years clearly,” he says. “The women used to fight over me, hey” he adds with a naughty twinkle in his eye.

Barney,65, is one of a generation of “brokers”, that included his sister Valdiela, Bhut Linksie and Jusuf Idris that cut their teeth selling fish, fruit and vegetables around Gugulethu.

“Valdiela operates in Fish Hoek and Houtbay, Jusuf retired after both his feet were amputated because of ‘sugar’, Linksie, who was from Gugs, passed on many years ago,” he says.

Himself the eldest son of a ‘broker’ father who abandoned his offspring with their mother, Barney says he coaxed his mother into buying him his first horse so he can go into business to keep the wolves at bay. “I had to drop out of school to help feed the family.”

“A horse could set you back a whooping R3,50c, tjoe,that sounds next to nothing now, but that amount of money was hard to come by then.”

In July, Barney will be celebrating five decades of “brokering” to residents of Gugulethu. He says although people take things for granted now, he remembers a time when he even had to obtain a permit from the local BAAB(Bantu Affairs Administration Board) office-which used to be situated where the shell garage in NY3A stands today-in order to enter the township.

It was during the pass laws, when ‘dompass’ raids were a daily occurrence in Gugulethu and other townships around South Africa, to snuff out the ‘non-desirable’-Blacks without the necessary documents to be in an urban area.

He tells the story of a man who was part of a group running from the police because they did not have a pass book.

“He must have been very fit, for he seemed to hop on the cart and onto the back of the horse in one go, pretending to be one of the assistants, only that you did not ride the horse, but stood on the cart during the rounds...we laugh at it now, but it was not funny then.”

Barney says he is proud to have introduced fish and vegetables to the township diet.

“Back then, it was just offal, tripe and the binnegoed, then I introduced fish to them.”

He says the locals displayed a lot of dislike for Mackerel at first, for depending on the species, some looked like snakes. “Until I cut off the heads,”

Years later, the horse cart gave way to a Bakkie, from the back of which he sold his vegetables and fish. He says Gugs has changed for the better and worse over the years.

“Attitudes have changed for the worst...I watch in disgust how the young treat the elderly. Drugs have never been a big problem here, but now, the young cause all sort of problems because of the drugs.”

Then as now, Barney is adamant that the brokers were not into it for the money, but to serve the community.

“Had it been for the money, I would have been out of business a long time ago...it was for the respect and the spirit of being in the lokasie people,”.

Times and circumstances have changed, and Barney’s customers are the great grandchildren or fourth generation offspring of the first inhabitants of Gugulethu. He now plies his trade next to the local day hospital, which, he says, he has seen change in size and shape.

“I will not stop coming here...only death stands between me and Gugs.” he said.

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