Marabastad, Marabastad!

2012-12-09 10:00

Percy Mabandu pays homage to Tshwane’s very own kasbah, a shabby pearl of the working class, and a rumpus hive of activity and contradictions

The pungent stench of human excrement and other foul odours claim Marabastad’s air like resilient markers

of some sordid past.

This decaying part of old Pretoria is a rumpus hive of contradictions.

Seen from the hill that hosts the Tshwane University of Technology’s main campus at the western end of town, Marabastad’s skyline offers a sewage plant, minarets of the two mosques, a Hindu temple, and a mass of billboards and shop signs.

Smog and steam rise from countless burning dumpsters too.

One wonders how the city council’s energised talk of renewal will fair against this living rot.

The council has since installed new pavements and drainage pipes to line the old roads.

It’s a neat detail, but on bad days, the dirt seems too galvanised to be cut out.

This is the place where small-time thieves, oriental merchants, priests, sex workers, booze pedlars and addicts compete for pavement space.

But cynicism is one thing that doesn’t live in Marabastad. countless mothers and other breadwinners walk these streets with a riveting, hopeful resolve.

I followed a few of them into the Putco bus terminal located on 1st and Berber streets last week.

It’s marked by loud shouts and merry goodbyes as many make their way home amid the craze of month-end activities.

Once settled in the madness, I buy a flame-roasted mielie from a makeshift brazier of a soft-spoken woman who appears Ndebele, with her checked blue blanket and beaded rings around her neck and legs.

I gather from her conversation with another woman sitting next to her that they are both from Tweefontein in KwaNdebele, about 18km east of Tshwane.

Everyone here speaks isiNdebele and knows one another like familial, old-style urban migrant workers, domestic labourers or factory staff.

Noticing the Friday afternoon sun dipping its orange ray in the west to conclude the day, I commence my walk again.

Cutting through the labyrinthine network of shops that sport old American Mafia-movie clothing brands like Bendone, Florsheim and Brandwood, along with enduring ones like Converse.

It doesn’t take long before a ­fast-talking chancer offers me a deal.

“Anything you want bra, I can make a cheaper plan for you,” he says with his hand behind him and a folded plastic bag in his arm.

But we know how these sort of stories end, so I decline the dodgy offer and keep walking, passing the curtain shops, blanket stalls, electronics stores and more.

And so the cavernous sprawl spews me on to Mogul Street.

This is where the Islamic information centre is situated in Masjid-ur-Rahman, a mosque that was recently built to relieve the now-decommissioned jama’at khana (not formally sanctified Muslim place of worship) that was opened in 1929.

It was the second oldest in Tshwane after the Queen Street Mosque in the Pretoria CBD, which was built in 1928.

Running parallel to Jerusalem Street is 5th Street, the seat of the Mariamman Temple.

Built in 1905, making it the oldest Hindu temple in Tshwane, it is dedicated to and named after the South Indian Hindu goddess Mariamman, whose devotees believe she cures all so-called heat-related diseases like pox and rashes.

The eastern wall of the temple faces the CBD.

Its delicate splendour emerges out of the rot with untainted beauty.

Poetically, the Hindu pantheon that has been sculpted to decorate its pyramidic body seems to hold quiet council as it overlooks the two ZCC congregations below, which are located two blocks down the slope that drains into the Appies River’s many tributaries.

The Star and the Dove Zionists gather here to worship every Sunday near this relic of Marabastad’s oriental heritage.

So as Masjid-ur-Rahman’s muezzin calls the town’s Muslims for prayer, competing with hooting taxis and thumping radios on pavements, Marabastad’s complex meaning finds an instantaneous completion.

Just like with the other historical townships that were racially diverse in pre-apartheid South Africa – District Six in the Cape and Sophiatown in Joburg – most of the original inhabitants of Marabastad were forcibly removed and relocated to single-race areas situated away from the city centre.

That was then, though, because in Marabastad’s battered meandering streets today, the brutalities of capital economics have succeeded where the anti-establishment defiance campaigns of old have failed.

The people of these streets are cosmopolitan, albeit mostly impoverished.

Marabastad is now officially known as the Asiatic Bazaar, a name no one ever uses in casual conversation – not even the hordes of shabby men who make their living as taxi drivers or small-time mechanics on the town’s back roads and crannies.

They all battle daily with history and dirt.

Sights of Tshwane

» Come enjoy Belgian beer at the city’s oldest bar, Cafe Riche, on Church Square.

» Visit the Union Buildings and the botanical gardens in the old east of the city.

» Experience a meditative historical moment from the spectacular view of Freedom Park.

» The Pretoria Art Museum houses a rich diversity of fine arts on display in Arcadia Park.

» Visit the 85-hectare zoo in Pretoria with its 3 117 specimens on display, including the Big Five.

» There’s the Sunday flea market at Hatfield Plaza, with falafels and hubbly bubblies among the many treats.

» Join the Tshwane Jazz Collectors’ Association for musical merriment at their regular meetings across the city.

» Go to Jack Buddha in Mamelodi, Lentswe’s Bar or The Taliban Pub & Grill in ­Ga-Rankuwa for funky township weekend party nights.

» The State Theatre in the CBD and Breytenbach Theatre in Sunnyside provide for great stage productions.

» You can join the party on Gerhard Moerdyk Street in Sunnyside and enjoy African cuisine and music.

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