Why I refuse to dance

2009-11-05 00:00

WHEN we were young, every December holidays our parents would send us to our grandparents’ place, at a farm in the Dargle, about 25 kilometres from Howick. Mr Kohly’s farm was very beautiful and for us children from the township, chasing calves, climbing trees and killing birds made for a very entertaining experience.

My sister and I would look forward to these holidays where we would meet with our cousins who were also sent by our aunts and uncles for holidays at kaGogo (Grandmother’s place), as we would call the farm. It didn’t matter to us that my grandfather was only a farm worker there and the farm didn’t belong to him. We were proud that he was a foreman managing Mr Kohly’s farm.

Of all the days spent at kaGogo, it was Christmas that we most looked forward to. Christmas was very different there to what it was like at KwaMashu where we lived, or Hammarsdale or Mpophomeni where my other cousins lived. Even though there were not many households on the farm, we visited all of them during Christmas, all six of them, and ate like famine was around the corner.

And of course, what could be more exciting for a 10-year-old boy than dressing up in new Christmas clothes and playing with your new toys? I personally enjoyed toy guns rather than cars, trains or helicopters (I’m not sure if that was ominous). The Christmas ritual was that we would start eating at Gogo’s place, and from there, we would visit all the other households with our cousins and other children from the farm.

After that, we were required to go to Mr Kohly’s household, not for food this time, but to perform Indlamu (Zulu dance) for the Kohly family and their guests. This is the part I hated and dreaded the most. It didn’t help that I was from the city and had not been exposed to the art of ukusina — as a Zulu child I was expected to know how to dance Zulu-warrior style. Abelungu (white people), as we called them, would sit, holding many plastic bags of sweets and watch us do our thing.

My parents, because I asked them of course, were fond of buying me three-piece suits for Christmas (it was the waistcoat that really fascinated me). Now imagine me, with a three-piece suit, performing Indlamu, which I did not know how to do. No wonder abelungu would laugh their lungs out. It must have been very entertaining for them, especially after a few shots of brandy. For me this was the lowlight of the day.

Needless to say, I would be very tired from walking about 10 kilometres from one house to another wearing my three-piece suit and tight-fitting new John Drake shoes, eating in each and every house we went to, and then dancing the afternoon away for my grandfather’s employers.

I don’t think the Kohlys meant any malice by having us entertain them. It was part of a farm Christmas ritual. Besides, we didn’t show that we didn’t like it (and our grandparents would have eaten us alive if we had sulked in front of white people). Since then, however, I get very annoyed when I see Africans performing traditional dances for white people or foreign guests. When I saw Ghanaians dancing for Barack Obama at the airport and others dancing for Hillary Clinton during her African visit, I said to myself, there we go dancing again. Maybe there is nothing wrong with it. Maybe it is just me carrying the baggage of the past and being sceptical of the motives of other people.

I can’t wait to see the day President Jacob Zuma goes to America and has Americans serenading him as soon as he lands at John F. Kennedy Airport, since they are renowned the world over for being excellent musicians. That would be a pretty good sight, don’t you think? Better still, think of the president going to Brazil and having the Brazilians showing off their fine soccer skills at the airport, just to have our Msholozi entertained. Knowing our president, he would laugh for the duration of his stay in Sao Paulo.

As for me, now that both my dear grandparents have departed, and I can sulk as much as I want, I refuse to perform Indlamu or Pantsula for anyone. At least not until the Russians show me how to dismantle an Alexandra Kalash­nikov 1947 (AK 47 to you) on my arrival at Moscow Airport.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is an independent social commentator.

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