Dusty Township Memories   

“Kgomo ka Beke”

Ouch! A small stone digs into my knee as I kneel down to reach the bottom of the mbawula (African fire pit made from a tin). I pull the last of my breath and blow into the fire. From the corner of my eye, I can indistinctly see the Koggelmannetjie doing that hop-stop-and-go run on the rock just a small distance from my ouma’s corrugated zinc-built shack. The spiny lizard has mastered the art of relaxation, basking in full sunlight on smooth stones, often nodding its head

Being backyard dwellers, we had the privilege of accessing the resources and infrastructure that came with formal dwellings. E.g. a pit latrine, a tap on a corner five streets away and a neighbours wheelbarrow we could use freely to collect water. A large part of my life was influenced by my ouma (grandmother). She was known as Ouma Maria Charlie, but to me, she was just M’ma – a feisty, no-nonsense kind-of-vibes, garden-loving woman, who made her living from making and selling traditional African beer to her regulars from our community.

Of all the customers M’ma had, there were two gentlemen that stood out in my memory whose greatness deserves to be sung, and their lives documented. Papa Machesa Lekhu le (and) Aubuti David Lekhu will always go down as the alchemists that sparked curiosity in my young mind. I was often mesmerised by their singing around the fire.

Our small town, Lkhutseng (formerly known as Kgomo-ka-beke loosely translated to ‘one cow per week’), is a small town, seventy kilometres from Kimberly. Life then was nothing like it is today. But even then, nothing like the stories before my time, where apparently the people of Kgomo-ka-beke could afford to slaughter a cow every week and feast on it for days. The atmosphere was electric as the vibrant residents of Kgomo-ka-beke were drawn to each other by the spirit of community. Growing up, I remember these festivities as being a permanent way of living. We didn’t need to wait for Christmas to experience warmth and vibrant energy. We would dance our weekends away on the dusty streets to popular music from the likes of Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, Kori Moraba, Steve Kekana and Johnny Mokhali.

Tending to the mbawula fire was my daily task during wintertime. Our home in the backyard of Ous Gladys Sefotlho at 409 Kgadiete Street would be warm and comfortable to host them. This was where memories of storytelling and singing around the fire were birthed.

You could tell by the way Papa Machesa and Aubuti David would speak to me that they had a soft spot for me, probably for my fire making skills. The poultice for my aching hands and out-of-breath experience blowing that mbawula was four cents fortnightly. This income would earn me a luxury life of sweets and niceties. But often that four cents would contribute to the purchase of candles, matches half bread, lard etc.

As soon as Papa Machesa and Aubuti David arrived I would run to the big plastic drum, stir the contents of the brewing beer and pour it into a glass jar for them. We didn’t bother with ice cubes then ‘cause we didn’t have a fridge. They loved the beer and occasionally, they would bring peanuts that we would roast on the fire whilst getting carried away with songs and stories. All this happening whilst Ouma is rubbing my forehead mumbling some few words about how smart I am, a gift I apparently owe to my big forehead. I often wonder which other narratives have been passed generationally to explain the genetics of human beings and their unique traits. I am also processing how some of my childhood memories have influenced the trajectory of my life. It’s a lifelong journey that I have been blessed with all the resources I need to embellish myself and to explore the possibility of life itself. Who is joining me?