On one Friday morning, late last year, I happened to be sitting in my car contemplating the flagship nonfiction book – Blame Me on Apartheid, I was about to release and how it scared me.
Was I on the correct path? Was I not stirring a hornet’s nest in a polarised society? Was I not elevating a sense of dejection in those already seeing doom and gloom of their situation of being stuck in forgotten and rotting townships?
In trying to escape conjuring answers to these questions, I tuned to the GoodFriday morning drive on KayaFM which is hosted by comedian Skhumbuzo “Skhumba” Hlophe and Mbali Dhlamini.
This happens to be the one weekly feast I enjoy especially if I am out driving on a Friday morning. From the days pre-lockdown, whether I am playing daddy chauffeur or driving the missus to work or lazily making my way to the office. Even during lockdown while sneaking to Pollas in Diepkloof to buy that morning coffee accompanying delicacy that is fat-cakes, I always never miss the opportunity of tuning into the show, not just for Skhumba’s witty humour, but I love the mix of the sweet and sour that the show offers.
The duo that is Skhumba and Mbali and their production team have built the show to be something the offers versatile issues, crisscrossing between serious discussion about mental illness and dabbing into frivolous township chronicles and often, everyone from the hosts to callers and guests alike, will be laughing at Skhumba’s twist of the topics on hand or him conjuring stories of black life in the townships.
Skhumba’s quips would often hit closer to home for me as an avid listener because I identified with the stories either through personal experience or shared experience as a person who grew up in various townships.
I remember how at some point, the show focused on rewarding women, since it was women’s month. They made soothing calls to these matriarchs which they were later to visit on a drive by of gift drop-off.
Such is their repertoire in that they are able to bring comfort to their listeners’ grim plight and even throw in a tang of comic relief. In one show they reflected on the death of 16-year-old, Down’s syndrome sufferer, Nathaniel Julius, at the hands of the police in the township of Eldorado Park in the south of Johannesburg.
There was anger in Mbali’s voice as she spoke about the “black plight” – lack of social services, blacks dying at the hands of the police during the first wave of Covid-19 lockdown period, the recalling of the Marikana massacre and so many other incidences of the suffering of those who are seemingly forgotten in the periphery.
At this moment I reflected back to my book about townships being a peripheral legacy of colonialism and apartheid for “non-beings”.
I felt the pain in Mbali’s voice as she asserted the fact that anyone with a black skin is something that is not considered “worthy”, a notion that I consider to be the legacy of apartheid.
Listening to the duos’ discussion, it no longer mattered if I was on the right path with my book or not, I was now asking myself as to how can black people escape the albatross of “non-being”. The answer was a painful realisation as affirmed in the conclusion I had pen that black people in townships cannot escape the legacy of non-being because these townships, in which the majority still reside, are an enclave that was constructed to remind them of such.
I was fascinated, as I am every Friday, by Mbali and Skhumba’s tackling of the issues affecting black people. This was because I remembered a part of the book where I reflected that “we might have found ways to make townships “our places”, created our way of living (others might call it survival), took lemons and made lemonade and created our happiness, but we are just like those slaves in plantations who created communities and went on to create a state of mind where they saw themselves as free”.
Skhumba and Mbali have, through their show, brought to us a way to escape the heart-rending life of the townships with their mix of sweet and sour content. We laugh at Skhumba’s narration of township chronicles because we identify with them as sour as they are. Behavioural researchers have commonly agreed that humour is one of the possible ways to react to pain which is framed in the behavioural endurance strategies next to pain persistence.
Townships are a painful place for most people who live there and will forever remain such for generations. Yet, every Friday morning we tune in to GoodFriday on KayaFM to laugh at ourselves and our condition with Skhumba and Mbali. We cry as they touch the lives of people in our neighbourhoods. We have found escape in their humour, true to the isiZulu saying “kuyahlekwa noma kushoniwe” – we laugh even in a state of bereavement.
Townships are a harsh place. They are a legacy of a system that made us “non-beings” and cast us to the periphery where, for generations to come, many will remain trapped in. We toyi-toyi for jobs, electricity, houses and basic human needs such as water. We die every day and every day we wake up with a sense of hope and get despondent by midday.
Throughout all of that we have found a way to make lemonade out of the lemons that townships present to us on a daily basis and with people like Skhumba and Mbali we have found a refuge where we laugh away the pain. Maybe they know, or perhaps not, but their show is such a joy that offers not only escapism but hope where we see none. They give us a loophole to get out of depressive state. Most importantly, the duo has given us a remedy to laugh at ourselves and look forward to the day. We thank you.
• Thamsanqa D. Malinga, columnist, blogger and author of ‘Blame me on Apartheid’