City Press 30: Welcome to the world of the civilised

2012-03-02 13:04

To celebrate thirty years of City Press, we feature gems from our archive.

I can still vividly recall the good old GMC, International, Desoto

or Toyopet with all the trappings of Westernisation on the then “carriel” which

later came to be known as the roof rack.

The trappings ranged from kitchen schemes (new straight from the

box, courtesy of Triangle or Ellerines) to kharbots to 25-litre containers. The

GMC was always bent up, like a tired camel, it’s whooping cough and backfire

being part of the package. Pietersburg, Pee-Pee-rus, Spitkop, here we


The ritual is imprinted in my head like a recitation. Come December

holidays, Park Station was the place.

Johannesburg’s central station’s taxi rank

was always a hive of activity with Jims going home from Jo’burg.

The ghetto-blaster, the Long Tom, the mielie rice takkies, the

first-stop greenline pants and, wait for it, the brown hat with one feather

sticking out.

Others, in a classic attempt to separate the novices from the real

ouens, would be clad in mathand’ ekhishini. The readiness was all there: Home!


Free enterprise, as far as as taxis were concerned, was rife. It

was a question of jumping into the back of a panel van and then cursing yourself

for having such a long neck.

The best part was when the van stopped (circumstances beyond the

driver’s control) in Pienaarsrivier or Naboomspruit, whichever came first, for

us to start digging into the provisions basket – dumpling and full chicken, in

that order.

The Jim’s-en-route, Long Tom in hand, would tuck into the meat and

madombolo, occasionally disappearing into the bush to jettison the grog before

the next take-off. Oh! The good old days, before the Zola Budd put paid to all


Pietersburg is 350km away from Johannesburg. But it used to take us

two full days to get there in the GMC, El Camino or whatever “van” you happened

to board. Exaggeration? No chance. Remember, the vehicle had to be overhauled en

route. There was always something wrong with the “cupparaytor” or “sanaraytor”.

Rings and bearings, “top silinda” and fan belt had become familiar words even to


Of course the trip would not be complete until almost all four

tyres had been changed and 50 litres of water poured into the boiling radiator.

And in between the driver had to negotiate with traffic cops all the way.

What happened to all that? No-one knows. It still happens, albeit

on a small scale. Urbanisation and “civilisation” (ukuphucuka) have rendered the

“great trek” obsolete. Who wants to spend Christmas “by the plaas” anyway?

But I disagree. We used to take the old lady and family lots of

presents, including the crème de la crème slippers: the ones with a fur ball on

the top. One thing we never bothered to bring along was food. It was considered

rude to take food along when visiting unless it was, of course, those

“city-ticket” items which we only bought to impress. Those were the days.

Enter the northern suburbs. Today, doll, when you visit friends you

bring along something to eat, otherwise you are looked upon with scorn. Before

you get me wrong, I am talking about those visits where one spends more than one

day, you see.

And yes, you bring your own dop. Gone are the days when you could

just rock up and roll. The rules have changed.

Welcome to the world of the civilised. Where black men wash dishes

and fix gins and tonics for their wives who are sunning themselves by the


Where babysitting has become the buzzword among progressive black

me. In the north it’s bring-and-braai, not slaughter.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no chauvinist, only a victim of the

nineties. Culture shock? No, culture strangulation. The cultural schizophrenia

is upon us. Our mothers – no, grandmothers – expect us to be men and to marry

basadi (there is no English translation) and not just women.

So come December, the Grisson girl wants you to visit her “there by

the homeland” but the wife will have none of that. You see, during the festive

season the latest trend demands that you take the wife to the coast, or if you

have arrived, the tropics.

And Mr Husband would like to serve both gods loyally, wife and

grandmother that is. So what do you do? Go for the compromise.

We first visit the old lady during the Dingaan weekend and do the

“holiday” after. Fair enough? No way. Wife spends the weekend in the bundus with

the old lady nogal? Fat chance? You guessed it.

Sweeping the yard at 5am;

morning tea for grannie and grandchildren, all 30 of them; cutting 100 slices of

bread and peanut-buttering them; tea again; lunch (the whole ritual of

slaughtering the chicken and going through the motion until the thing is cooked

– eggs and all); and then sour milk for the grandchildren; and afternoon


You must be out of your mind, unless you’ve been secretly planning

a visit to the Supreme.

During all this poor wife will not even get a chance to spend five

romantic moments with the husband. He must spend time with all the other men of

the house you see, and before you can say “Darling it’s only for two days,” it’s

supper time.

And for some odd reason, all families have the demanding

pot-bellied uncle who is always asking for “Sa more meat, makoti”. Gents!

A full production, supper is. Remember the men will have

slaughtered a sheep and now the feast must begin. No butchery to trim the mutton

into cutlets, chops and brisket. Manual labour: tripe, gall and all.

But I disagree. The ritual of going home during the festive season

used to be an enjoyable occasion for the kids.

And by the looks of things our

mothers seemed to enjoy it too. If they didn’t, they certainly weren’t vocal

about it.

So, what happened? Sure our less progressive brothers and sisters

still do undertake the journey, although on a less frequent basis. But the

northerners! I shudder. And why? Is it maybe because there is no electricity in

Nopoti and therefore no microwaves. Possibly. Or is the problem bigger than


Remember the one ritual our mothers and grandmothers will never

forget called ukukotiza, where the wonderful bride gives the in-laws a taste of

what we progressives would aptly refer to as a “treat”. Well, many northerners

will tell you that “isidala leso” (it’s archaic).

But none has bothered to inform our mothers. They may not tell you

straight-in-the-face, but rest assured they have discussed it among themselves.

In fact they blame it all on “isilungu”. She thinks she is white. And this is

where the crunch comes.

Nobody wants to be labelled “white”. No-one. So what do we call

this practice? I think sociologists would term it change. Culture must be

dynamic and allow for change. True.

But let me paint another picture for you. A group of northerners is

having a bring-and-braai. The host and his wife or live-in girlfriend serve the

guests with food, or the first round. When everyone has finished eating, the

ladies, naturally, pick up the dishes and help clean up. Most of the ladies,

that is.

Well, if anyone should find herself in the untenable position where

she fails to take part in the helping exercise, woe betide. The others will gang

up against her and, short of ostracising the non-conformist, will accuse her of

“thinking she is white”. Cultural schizophrenia.

Where do we draw the line? Well, it’s still early in the New Year

and no one can afford to go to the homelands to visit grandma anyway. Maybe

around Easter. No, the traffic is too heavy then. Besides, the Easter holidays

are too short. We need to spend more time with the old lady. Maybe we will go

around in June, dear. Oh no, we can’t, I only qualify for leave at the end of

the year. Besides, December is a good time.

I am patiently waiting for December. Because December is coming,

and so is Christmas!

Hide those Frequent Flyers, guys.

– City Press, February 28 1993

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