The family man
When you enter our home in Observatory, Johannesburg you will see a family photo in our entrance hall. It’s the one photo that has been reprinted most, and featured most in magazines and TV programmes that have profiled us. It was taken way back in 1998 when the Grace Bible Church gathered at the Home Makers Showgrounds in White City, Soweto.
You’ll realise that everyone in the photo is quite young. It shows Claudine and I with our children, ranging from preschool age through primary school to high school.
Looking at the photo, you could easily mistake our children for our grandchildren. It was a long journey for us to reach the moment of that photo. Allow me to give you the benefit of my journey to this family picture and beyond.
While growing up in Lesotho, I had a wish to have a girlfriend. As I have written previously, I saw teenage shepherds who kissed their girlfriends with that endless kiss that looked like they were holding their breaths eternally. I saw some of them come from the initiation school and then shobedisa (abduct) young maidens to be their wives. It didn’t matter whether the maiden loved the boy or not. He would gang up with a few of his friends and waylay her on her way to fetch water. Custom said that once she had been in the boy’s home, her status automatically changed. She could not escape and go back to her own home. The families would then meet and sort out the matter. But she was a wife.
At that time, I was not aspiring to have a wife. I just wanted a ‘girlfriend’ I could chase after school. One I would have the exclusive right to chase. There was one girl I was eyeing. She was special because her mother worked in Kgauteng (what Witwatersrand was called by locals) and sent her clothes that made her look like makgowa (white people).
I didn’t care that I was poor. My dream was to visit my family in Kgauteng, buy nice clothes for myself, and buy her ‘Beauty Cream’ or Mathamafosa (metamorphosis) that made Basotho women look like white people. When she looked like that, I would give her gifts that you could only find in Kgauteng. I was waiting to visit Kgauteng so I could come back and chase her. I did not know that when I left Lesotho in December 1966 I would never go back.
When I arrived back in Kgauteng, my eldest brother, Dan, was already married. I was later told that he didn’t follow cultural protocol. He made arrangements without my mother knowing, and sent a delegation to go and negotiate with the Nhlapho family in Butha-Buthe Baroeng (traditionally an area where San people settled) on his behalf. By the time my mother met Ausi Mammiki, she was already Bra Dan’s wife. They had a daughter (born in 1964) by the name of Irene. She was the person who renamed my mother Mamkopi, as she could not say Mamakopo.
My sister was the first person to show me what it was like to have an engagement ceremony. She was attired in a ‘dress and coat’, which was the outfit to wear in those days. She wore makeup, and looked great in her wig. I was the designated DJ for those kinds of events. My brother had a powerful Pioneer hi-fi set that did the job for the required sound in those days. My sister was the first one among the siblings to get married and leave home.
My Lesotho accent gave me a serious inferiority complex. I did not see myself in a relationship with the Kgauteng girls. This was the case until I fell in love with Lebo from the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society Church. She was my first girlfriend, technically speaking. She is the first girl I ever seriously kissed.
When that moment came, I was nervous. Unfortunately, there are no kissing classes, so I had to find my own way through that moment. I just knew that something happened with the tongue. So it happened.
Lebo’s dad saw red when he realised that we were in a relationship and I was responsible for her occasional disappearance. I had to hide every time I visited her in Orlando East. I would send one of the smaller kids to go and call her brother. He in turn would find a way for her to sneak out and come see me. She was only sixteen. But she was my dream. So I managed to get her to sneak out and go to the movies in Fordsburg with me.
Honestly speaking, it was the preaching at Youth Alive that made me break up with Lebo. I was convicted to date a Christian, as I myself was a Christian. The day this happened, I could not sleep. My heart was bleeding. I ran to her the next day to ask for her heart back. She refused. I regretted that I had let her go.
Then in 1976 my brother Seth got married. I, on the other hand, got myself a new girlfriend at Youth Alive. I felt justified because she was a Christian, and other young men had girlfriends without any scolding or dire consequences. Those were the days without cellphones or Uber. The journey from Orlando West to Dobsonville was a mission. I introduced her to my family. At the time my mother didn’t object. The girl even attended Bra Seth’s wedding.
As you may be aware, the 1976 uprisings brought a lot of instability, both at school and at home. For a while I went to live in Qwaqwa with relatives from my mother’s side. That created a distance between me and my girlfriend. Things went well in 1977. But when classes resumed in 1978, she was sent to a boarding school five hours away from Johannesburg. Communication was non-existent. Eventually a friend located her and even came to advise me on how to get there. I eventually took the long ride and visited her. She tried to be nice, but she was cold and distant.
In July she came home for a winter break. I received a message that she’d like me to go and see her. I told a friend, ‘I’m going to meet my fate today’. And I did; the silver cup was broken. She was in a relationship with her teacher. There was no room for a third person in the equation.
What I had done to Lebo was done to me. So I know what it means to get your heart broken. I was a sorry sight when I got home.
The next morning, I did not wake up to make morning tea for my mother. She woke up and made me morning tea for the first time ever. In those days, I slept on the sofa in the dining room. Basically, she told me it was better then rather than later, and there’s a Sesotho saying that goes, ‘se nkganang se nthola morwalo’ (those who deny / refuse me actually relieve me of a burden). She then told me that she had had misgivings about the girl in any case. My ears heard what she was saying, but my heart did not.
I wrote in my diary, ‘Forgiveness, Yes. Reconciliation, Never.’ In principle I told myself that I would never have two lovers at the same time. Therefore, the one who had the 100 per cent opportunity would have it only once. Her chance was gone forever. I also came to an agreement with God that I was going on leave on matters of the heart. Nothing was to be entertained in that year. We would consider them in 1979. I had committed God to my own resolution, and meant to keep things that way. I was wrong.