BOOK EXTRACT | Bantu Knots by Lebo Mazibuko

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Bantu Knots will be launched virtually this week and is already out.
Bantu Knots will be launched virtually this week and is already out.

Cultures clash and generations collide in Young Naledi’s world in Pimville, where she lives with her strict gogo, Mama Norah, and her glamorous mother, Dineo.

I found Dineo outside, her forehead glistening with sweat. Her light-skinned face had turned reddish, while her sinuses had yet to adjust to the dust invasion she had to suffer through almost daily, all in the name of sweeping. She hobbled her exhausted body into the bathroom, and locked herself inside. When I walked back into the house after polishing the stoep, Mama was enjoying her tea, reading her Bible at the kitchen table.

‘Go and take twenty rand from my purse o lo reka magwinya,’ Mama ordered while pouring a bit of her tea into the saucer from her ‘Jesus ♥s You’ mug.

I nodded but remained seated. Mama looked at me strangely.

‘Aren’t you going to buy magwinya?’ she asked.

‘I think Dineo is bathing. I’m just waiting for her to finish,’ I said.‘Go, it’s not far. You’ll bath when you come back.

’I shifted slowly out of my chair. Mama never allowed me out of the house before I’d bathed. I walked with the broadest smile, greeting every familiar and unfamiliar face I came across. The smell of snoek and vetkoek danced on my senses.

When I was about three streets away from Ndende Street on my way back, there they were. Sis’ Nozipho and Lolo were standing so close they could probably taste each other’s breath.

Read more | Book extract: Listen to Your Footsteps by Kojo Baffoe

Lolo was slowly retreating from Sis’ Nozipho’s arms when he spotted me. He froze. I froze. A timer went on in both of our minds counting us down …On your marks …Get set …Ready …Fire …Go!

I immediately took off sprinting, with Lolo chasing after me.

‘Naledi, Naledi, maan!’ Lolo shouted, running behind me. Lolo was about as fast as any twenty-three-year-old athletic soccer boy could be, so I really didn’t get very far. He caught me, grabbing hold of my arm just before I could get to our gate.

‘Ke u bone, Lolo!'

’Shh, so why are you screaming for everyone to hear you?'

'What do you think you’re doing?'

'That’s none of your business!'

'Oho! It’s all a game to you, isn’t it? Everything is one big fat joke!’

‘Naledi, why are you taking this so personal?’

I paused and collected myself.

‘You’re going to get beaten. Lolo. Why would you even be busy with her here, where people can see you? What if Bra Joe caught you?’

‘What did you even see, huh? You saw nothing. Stop acting like the people of Ndende Street, always jumping to conclusions when you see two people standing and talking.’

‘Lolo, this is not just some girl or one of your groupies. She’s married and much, much, much older than you. Have a little respect for yourself,’ I said.

‘Wena, you are preaching to me about self-respect? Go and look at yourself first in the mirror before you give me the holier-than-thou speech. You can fool them all, but you forget that I know you!’

I raised my finger and pointed it in Lolo’s face. I was about to cuss him out when I heard, ‘Naledi le Lolo, what are you doing?’

It was Mama.

Mama didn’t even allow me to take two steps into the house before yelling: ‘Keo o busy le basimane ko diterateng. She is wearing yesterday’s panty, she hasn’t even bathed but she is standing in the streets talking to boys. Sies! How many times must I tell you about that boy?’

‘Bathong, Mama, it’s just Lolo. These two grew up together,’ Dineo defended me.

‘It’s because you haven’t been around. You haven’t heard ditaba tsa Lolo. You haven’t seen the things that he does,’ Mama continued. Eventually, it was magwinya and snoek that calmed Mama down.

Mama went to bed early that night.

Dineo suddenly reduced the volume on the TV in the middle of the biggest scene in the movie. I knew what was going to happen next because I had watched The Color Purple a million times, but I didn’t care. I still needed to watch Celie put a knife under Albert’s throat. I wanted to say it too with that Southern accent that I was now starting to master – ‘Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail’ – and then silently applaud the power of Whoopi Goldberg’s performance on the inside.

I was on my feet, irritated. I wasn’t in the mood for another weird attempt from my mother at bonding. I moved across towards Dineo to snatch the remote from her hand when she asked, ‘Naledi, wena le Lolo la jola?’I stopped, then began to retreat slowly back to where I was sitting.

‘Naledi, is Lolo—’

‘For the hundredth time, no!’ I said, before Dineo could finish her sentence. Dineo exhaled a deep sigh of relief. I had missed my favourite scene.

Read more | Book extract: Native Boy by Thabo Molefe

After class, Minnie and I walked down the art department’s corridor, admiring the latest colourful murals, until we reached the classroom at the very end of the passage.

Itu and her artwork made a beautiful contrast with the room where everything was painted white, including the floors. Itu wore a big African print turban with a white overall that was covered in splashes of paint.

I turned down the volume on the CD player before sitting on one of the tables that were pushed up against the wall. Dineo’s question about Lolo was still bothering me. ‘Why are love and sex and even topics that matter to girls so difficult for black people to talk about?’

Itu and Minnie seemed a little thrown off by my question, so I tried to phrase it differently. ‘Why do we struggle so much to have open and honest conversations about anything connected to the opposite sex with people who are older than us in black households?’

‘Well, we do have conversations. It’s just that black people wait until bridal showers and even until the actual wedding day. Then only do they put non-virgins in a room and give them advice on how to please their men and what it means to be a woman.’

Itu voice carried over Simphiwe Dana’s; she always played Simphiwe Dana’s music whenever she worked. She said she wanted to be one with the songstress so that Dana’s music could infect her artwork with her genius.

‘Let’s also not forget that these talks do still take place in initiation schools. The thing is, we’ve become so western that we are destroying the very structures that were put in place to answer such questions. And more especially for us girls – there are different rites of passage that we just don’t do any more, not understanding that there are valuable teachings we are losing along the way, all in the name of following a cultureless white man’s religion.’

‘Excuse me, but the church does teach about sex, we just choose not to listen,’ Minnie added, once again trying to maintain the integrity of her beliefs against Itu.

‘Standing on a pulpit and telling me that fornication is a sin and then quoting a scripture is not preparing me, nor is it teaching me anything about the realities of becoming a woman. It doesn’t magically shut down everything I experience inside of me. It doesn’t stop me from being curious. It doesn’t stop me from being horny. It doesn’t stop my breasts from growing. It doesn’t stop guys from finding me desirable. It certainly doesn’t stop women from being violated. The only thing that it has done successfully is to silence us. And we are all sitting in church and at our dinner tables pretending to be okay when we are really not!’ I said, purging from the place of confusion and conflict where I had often found myself.

"Standing on a pulpit and telling me that fornication is a sin and then quoting a scripture is not preparing me, nor is it teaching me anything about the realities of becoming a woman. It doesn’t magically shut down everything I experience inside of me. It doesn’t stop me from being curious."

I glanced at Itu’s painting.

The image had taken on the form of an afro-headed black girl, standing in the middle of a squatter camp. When I looked closely, I could see she was disfigured on one side of her strikingly beautiful face. I could see myself on that canvas. I was a girl from the ghetto, whose beauty and wounds had been crafted by her environment. And I knew that was the story of all three of us sitting in that room.

This is an extract from Lebo Mazibuko’s forthcoming debut novel, Bantu Knots. Published by Kwela Books, an imprint of NB Publishers, R260. 

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