Mr Makoto, have you thought of running for president?

2011-04-08 00:00

LAST month, I had to register myself afresh in North West Province in order to be able to vote in the upcoming elections. Just across the road from Desperado Hardware Store, I found our Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) office. There were no queues. Mr Makoto took me through the various offices, getting my identity document (ID) checked on computers before I could fill out the relevant forms.

While I was waiting for him, I looked around the walls of his office. Prayer Before Starting Work was printed on eight A4 pages and stuck up on the wall with Prestik above his head. It was a lengthy supplication, asking God to anoint his work, his hands and his interactions with every person he met that day.

Looking at him, I could imagine that on weekends Mr Makoto was a preacher man – perhaps at the Zionist Church. I could see him, eyes closed, pleading for blessings in shack-built churches where crowds of suffering people bent their heads, desperate for relief.

“I like your prayer, Mr Makoto,” I said, taking my cue from the man himself, who had not stopped adding a “Catherine” to every sentence he spoke to me, ever since he had opened my ID.

“Thank you, Catherine,” he answered. “It is a prayer that I believe goes through to all the customers. Because the customers are my boss, and I must treat them like that. Without you, I don’t have a job.”

“Oh Mr Makoto,” I thought to myself. “Have you ever thought of running for president? There are many people in our country in very powerful positions who would do well to emulate you.”

If only beliefs and attitudes started from the bottom and travelled up chains of command.

Just then, his senior manager walked in, clearly needing something from Mr Makoto.

“This is our senior manager,” Mr Makoto informed me.

“Is it urgent, or can I finish helping Catherine?” he asked his supervisor. The man at the top said he could wait, but before leaving the office he stopped to shake my hand. (Because that is how we do it in the platteland.)

Sitting there I got to thinking about the last time I voted. We were in England. We woke up at 5 am to catch the first train to London. Pippa was wearing the maroon velvet coat that Marlene had given us, and the train smelt of England. Hot mechanically generated heat.

Somewhere along the way, another South African woman got on the train, also heading for London. With a mixture of comfort at having found each other and excitement about the significance of the day, we chatted about the voting. We all got off at King’s Cross and said goodbye. As Herman and I struggled to unfold the push chair for Pippa, he asked me if I had recognised her. “Janice Honeyman,” he said. There on King’s Cross Station in 2011, all my memories of 1977, our first TV set and Bangalore Time came flooding back. I looked up to see Honeyman disappearing into the crowd. At South Africa house we joined 4 000 other homeboys and homegirls waiting patiently for the chance to vote.

All a bit teary, our crowd was quiet. That day we did not have to strain our ears to hear whether or not “they were South African”. We just nestled in the knowing. I scanned the faces for Honeyman, but could not find her, and was equally surprised not to recognise anyone else. That is, except for Peter Mulder. I have never voted for him, but that day, given the chance, I could have hugged him as if he were my uncle (sorry, I mean nephew).

Those of us who had babies in prams were taken to the front of the queue. Within an hour we had cast our vote and were sitting on a step in Trafalgar Square, eating our sandwiches and chasing away the pigeons. We could not decide what to do in London for the rest of our day. Homesick and at odds with ourselves, nothing felt right.

“You can just fill in this form, Catherine,” Mr Makoto’s voice brought me back to the hot-from-the-sun electoral office in our dusty town. “Where do you live? In town, or on a farm?” he asked me.

“On a farm,” I answered, and gave him the name of our area.

This time, Mr Makoto informed me, I will be voting at the Klipdrift Kontantwinkel.

I could not quite believe what I was hearing. But I could picture the route. If we head out from our farm towards the next set of silos, turn left and drive deeper into the barrenness, you find it. It’s a little shop in the middle of nowhere with the compulsory Coca-Cola sign.

“The Klipdrift Kontantwinkel?’ I checked, smiling.

“Yes,” answered Mr Makoto. “The Klipdrift Kontantwinkel.”

Bring on May 18. I cannot wait.

• Catherine Smetherham is rediscovering herself and South Africa from a platteland perspective. She lives in Strydpoort, North West Province. Contact her at Catherine@holtzhausen. com

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