Friends & Friction: When you’re lost, make a U-turn

My grandmother and I always fought about one thing. She thought I “loved the road too much”. Even before primary school, I would jump on to someone’s cart and disappear all day, selling coal. I was too weak to carry a bag of coal, and I often found the 5-litre bucket too heavy. So I would sit on that thing as the horses hauled it throughout the township, shouting “Yho-ho-ho-yoyo!”

My boyish voice was too soft to be heard by any housewife in the kitchen. The vetkoek and chips that the coal guys served on that cart were always sumptuous.

No one ever cared about washing their hands. Hands with long nails that were closer to black than white were breaking bread together. Once in a while, someone would complain about a smudge on the white bread.

The itch to leave has never left me. One day, when I had started working, I bought a map, spotted the places I wanted to visit, bought an off-roader and hit the untarred road. I went south. I was told to always go south – until I could go no further.

I went through Phuthaditjhaba and disappeared into the mountains behind it. My goal was no more important than to see the land, speak to the people, hear their different accents and try to understand their views. So I was more than generous at offering strangers lifts, because I could chat to the locals or fellow travellers. Sometimes, police officers stopped me and told me to give someone a lift. I didn’t object. I made room.

I travelled with a bag full of cameras, lenses and rolls of film that could get to the moon and wrap around it many times over. When I found myself deep in the digital age, I had no choice but to cryopreserve my film in the fridge, where it fought for space with lettuce and broccoli.

My cameras – expensive pieces for their time – are slowly becoming obsolete as their batteries are getting harder to find. Thank heavens for the camera phone – I capture everything.

There is a worrying trend that I see on the back roads. Farmhouses are becoming emptier. Deserted, even. Townships are sprawling and swelling with unemployed and often unemployable youngsters. Despair is growing like weeds. Nothing is worse than seeing an old person who has finished tertiary education, but who has never had a job.

We started well with our juvenile democracy. There is ample evidence to support that view: schools; clinics; RDP houses. But they now look like evidence of an era gone by, when politicians and civil servants were the servants of the people.

Like the driver who is enchanted by the beautiful views and forgets the treachery of the cliffs, we got distracted by the promise of capitalism, followed its mirage of endless riches and we set up our camps on sand.

It is easy to get lost on the roads, even with the latest technology, but when you realise that you are lost, make a U-turn.

As a country, we need to do the same. We need a visionary who loves the people and who can inspire them to greater heights. It is when people are united in a vision that is far up in the sky, seemingly unattainable and yet grounded in humanity, that social cohesion blossoms and good things flow in our direction. We raise crops and our children, and with that our living standards – and the pessimism of the disbelievers is blown away.

This is not the time to throw in the towel, because the journey of our nation has just begun. The story is still to
be told.

I know from the bends of Satan’s Nek that the road to the top is never easy. Mist, rain and snow often conspire against the travellers. It is not the driver’s duty alone to get through to the other side safely, but the duty of the passengers as well. We are all in this together.

Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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