SA resembles 1960s bathed in blood

2018-09-16 06:03
Faith Muthambi

Faith Muthambi

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The metaphor of the “Benoni phenomena” carried in City Press two Sundays back remains incomplete, and the story has to be concluded. Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s commission on state capture is the theatre. Last week I discussed family violence in Lesotho in the 1960s – which resembles in many ways where we are in South Africa today – where family violence, wanton crime and murder took on crisis proportions.

Ntate Benoni Teele, who finally got killed by his son to defend his family from their father, was a man of dangerous theatrics. Even in death he was defiant. He was always at his best when he smelt blood. It is these aspects that my column focuses on today.

The response to the news of Benoni’s passing on at the hands of his son was received with shock. The wailing cry of his wife in the dark just scared the hell out of us as the youth of the village.

Old Sema came to my father trembling. He was always terrified by death and Benoni’s death was most shocking as he represented the tower of immortality. He was all tears, with words failing to come out of his mouth. When he finally belched his emotions it was about how death was encroaching, as well as how and where he and others should hide. He saw first-hand that the sting of death is painful and the victory of the grave is unstoppable. How else could the towering Benoni die just like that? He could not be comforted by the mantra of the sweetness of the sting of death. Seeing an elder cry just deepened our fears.

On the other hand, old Mosesi went through the village celebrating and demanding that he be the most feared man in the village after the demise of Benoni. We were so scared that going outside to pee at night was no longer possible for fear of Benoni’s roaming spirit tormenting us. So we had to improvise.

What was Mosesi’s claim to fame? Mosesi was a veteran migrant who used to work as far afield as Cape Town, where a one-way trip from Bloemfontein could take up to three days. He had ensured that his children went to school – his two daughters were teachers and his son trained in technology. His mental faculties had degenerated somewhat over time. Mosesi was deeply hurt by the decision of the traditional court to fine him an ox for the alleged transgressions of his son. As a result he embarked on what became, in retrospect, well-choreographed and systematic revenge on those who presided over his case.

Minutes after Benoni’s death, Mosesi recounted his exploits and justified why he stepped on to the throne and demanded the title of the most feared man in the village. His first victim was Ira, who met with Mosesi’s anger at a funeral. Ira was reaching for a piece of meat from a communal dish and Mosesi unexpectedly struck him on the head with a knobkierie and blood sprung from Ira’s bald head. Mosesi shouted: “Ira, how can you pick up the piece of meat I was targeting?”

The second victim was old David, whom he struck and left for dead in the veld. The third victim was old Sema, whom he also knocked with a kierie and left for dead, and proudly came to tell Sema’s wife to go and pick him up. The fourth victim was a daughter-in-law to Senthebane, whom he slapped in the face. He would go in song through the village, recounting those he had struck and threatening that the fifth to be struck would die. Such exploits were the basis of his claim to be the most feared minutes after Benoni died.

Benoni was a spear fighter who used to be excited at displaying his prowess. Summer was always the best time for him. After a work party, for harvesting wheat, there would be an occasion for the people to congregate at the home of the host for “moroko” – to celebrate the successful completion of harvesting. The harvesters would partake in drinking umqombothi. The moroko party always ended with provocations. A sickle, knobkerrie or spear fight among the jolly bunch of men would ultimately ensue. I remember Benoni brandishing his sickle, going for old Makhala; he gashed his head open and blood filled Makhala’s grey hair as the older man sought cover lest Benoni finish him off.

I was later told that Benoni and the chief of the village, Chief Ntsepe Masoetsa, were once at it with spears at the ready. Chief Ntsepe fought in World War 2 and he could wrestle a bull single-handedly. He stood at 1.82m tall and when his mother saw what was about to happen she called for peace. My mother, I am told, walked straight to these blood-thirsty hounds, stood between them and instructed them to drop their spears forthwith. They did, like little schoolboys. She was a respected schoolteacher.

On the news of Benoni’s brawl with his son and his imminent demise, Chief Ntsepe arrived in minutes and found Benoni groaning in pain. He asked: “Benoni, what is the matter?” to which he replied: “It is the children chief.”

“What have the children done Benoni?” asked the chief. “They are full of sh*t chief,” answered the defiant Benoni as he gasped his last breath.

This metaphor of the life and death of Benoni is very apparent in the life of South Africa. Even in death it appears relevant. As the Zondo Commission takes on the crucial path of its inquiry into state capture, those implicated are not likely to go down easily, they will be on a scorched-earth defence strategy. For in their minds future generations must be blamed and condemned just like in Benoni’s mind as he gasped his last breath. He blamed his children.

- Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and the former head of Stats SA

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