My African playmates thought me crazy when indicating in my childish bravado that I would one day travel to those African countries to experience firsthand to what I had the privilege of listening too and learning about, and I in my wildest dreams never expected that to occur when it did. I think what set that determination was when obtaining a book about South Africa called South Africa’s Story by H. E. Marshall and printed in London in 1912, which I still have. After having the true historical story told to me, that biased piece of English literature of early South African history painted a picture of white was right and black was slack. In it, it had no qualms of classifying Africans as wild, savage, ignorant and lazy ‘Kaffirs’, and it painted a picture of the wrongdoers as the African tribes who had done nothing to improve the land. Ignorant to me, would see the Africans not knowing anything about agriculture whereby they wouldn’t have been able to supply the first Dutch settlers with cattle, goats, poultry and maize. Nor would they have any knowledge of the smelting of copper and iron, clay pottery, gold mining, house building complimentary to the environment, wild animal hunting only for consuming and no cultural laws governing their behaviour. Lazy would see them kicking back and enjoying the fruits of their labour that had kept the land in prime condition for centuries. Wild and savage would be an attitude they had the right to adopt when observing what was rightfully theirs been stolen, and then to top it all off see it scoured and destroyed by a measly 20 000 white colonists in comparison to the millions of its original owners that had kept it in pristine condition. Personally, I’ve kept that book as a reminder of the wrong doings of the Dutch, British, Boers and Afrikaners all in that order as the centuries elapsed, and even though my ancestors were of those four categories and because of them my family and myself were classified as designated Coloureds, which was a blessing in disguise for it saw us go through the apartheid era with not the Afrikaner mentality. With my knowledge of the African peoples and living eventually as a South African Coloured person within the same category as a non-white, instilled in me a respect for those so branded because of unforgettable inhumane experiences that had to be endured due to the Afrikaners segregation and then apartheid culture of wanting to bring all races classified as non-whites to their knees.
The Afrikaners ideology was that they were superior to all people of colour, and that mhlope (white) supremacy was the answer. To implement that, all Africans carried native passes over the age of sixteen that had to be shown to any white policeman and employer. That document stated their name, address and clan, and whether an annual African levied poll tax, which was only akin to Africans, had been paid. Also, to leave a district for working or living they had to have travel documents, a permit and an employer’s letter, and if none of it was carried and shown on demand it would lead to arrest, trial, and either a jail sentence or a fine would eventuate. Their school education was another area for government regulation. Saint Joseph’s Catholic School in Langa taught the same curriculum as other Catholic schools, which wasn’t appreciated by the then Afrikaner Nationalist Government. They though defied the Nationalist Bantu Education Act that wanted all church run African and Coloured schools to be turned over to them so as to be run as they saw fit and paid for by the government. The Catholic Church option was to continue without state aid and carry on with all their schools on their own.
Two other things were attributed to my time spent in Langa in which I could hold my own; stick fighting and the drinking of skofaan (an African bhiya; beer). My first initiation was on a Saturday afternoon while waiting for Father Jerome who was hearing confessions. The African church parish umfana (boys) were practicing stick fighting in the school grounds and while watching them they asked me if I wanted to have a go. Welts and bruises attested to my inadequate skills. By fashioning my own fighting sticks I practiced in front of our full-length wardrobe mirror and also destroyed quite a few tree branches pretending that they were my opponents. On my next encounter with the Langa parish youth I introduced a few of my own moves learnt from my prowess as a boxer. My weaving, ducking, back peddling, feinting and counter moves did me in good stead for they were the ones then wearing the welts and bruises. They were so impressed by my quick uptake or a way to see me get beaten that they organized a contest for me against their senior youth. Although getting in a good few licks, my arse landed on the ground more times than that. I associated that with my shortness in comparison to their tallness and strength. Been a glutton for punishment and wanting to prove to myself that they could learn a thing or two from me, on the next time around I incorporated a few wrestling moves also learned and skilled in that , but was frowned on by the elders. By crouching and using the defense stick in a whirling motion above my head, the sudden upward trust of my attack stick in their groin area caused a dropping of the arms to protect that region. That left them defenseless and for me to execute a body slam with both sticks and pin them to the ground. Another counter move was a fast hembe (shirt) fronting plus a sudden leg sweep that sent them sprawling, which proved the point that the bigger they were the harder they fell. The adult Africans were quite amused at an nsundu umntwana (brown child) who was annihilating their youth at their own game. Africans that knew me preferred to call me either that or Herry instead of Harold. It didn’t bother me at all though, for at times even their names were tongue twisters and they too didn’t mind if I would shorten it if finding it too long to pronounce or use part of the English translation of their names or their baptismal English names.
‘Halala! Wenze kahle’ (‘Congratulations! You have done well’), and then celebrations were in order, and that lead to the drinking of skofaan that was sneaked to me by one of the older youths. A heady brew concocted mainly from wheat products or sorghum (a cereal grass native to Africa) with yeast, brown sugar and water that was mixed together in a four-gallon tin drum and then left to ferment. My initiation wasn’t circumcision but intoxication. My first drink of milky, bland tasting, hint of yeast and oats with the smell of the veld drunk straight from a large tin can really got me canned, and the large tin can was the way served and consumed per person. Others would incorporate their three legged pot in which everything seemed to be cooked in, and wherein maize porridge that was not only partaken of as a staple diet but also used in the brewing of alcoholic beer. A variety of traditional ways were incorporated that saw at times the porridge cooked until the bottom of the pot was scalded with it and then scraped off so as to be mixed with the porridge brew and left to ferment. Or just the porridge brews and plant sprouts for fermentation. It became an acquired taste for me with preference over other alcoholic drinks because it left me with no hangovers when I continued to do that in later life, and that was whether it was illegally brewed or eventually when it became government controlled when visiting other African townships in South Africa or other African countries.
My duties as an altar boy at Saint Joseph’s were simple and easily done. Filling the church fonts with holy water, removing dripped candle wax off brass candle stick holders, replacing burnt down candles in their holders, inspecting the altar boy cassocks and surplices worn during services to see if laundry was required, checking charcoal and incense for requirements, and tidying up generally. An African alukazi (old women) and her young daughter tided the inside area of the church by sweeping, scrubbing, polishing and dusting. We had a good relationship with a cheerful repartee that made it pleasant to be in their company and we even shared our brought lunch. Her daughter and I at times annoyed the mother because we ran races up and down the church aisle, and that to her mother was akuvunyelwa (not allowed) in God’s house. She was good fun to play with and an ngane (friend), and out of sight of her mother we even played hide and seek amongst the pews. She was also mischievous and spirited, and would sneak up behind me to tickle, bump and pull my ears, or when bent over doing a chore would jump astride my back and either slap or pinch my bottom. Chasing her amongst the pews and on been caught I would tickle her while pinned flat down on the bench seat to make her stop, and the effect of that on her would cause her head, arms and legs to go everywhere, but the effect on me was of a different nature. With my young growing up environment being sexually orientated, pubertal at ten years old and with testosterone urges, I was always stirred by the sight of semi clad female anatomy and she was no exception. Especially as she always wore traditional short skirts, but what I bore in mind at all times though was that there was a whole township of big African amadoda (men) out there. There were also other African boys and girls of the parish who invited me to their homes to play while waiting for Father Jerome when hearing confessions; some of those intombazane (girls) though conveyed other intentions besides playing. With them having crinkly hair and me with curly wavy hair, their hands were never far from it, which I found flattering. But their hands though would also travel to feel and squeeze my biceps and thighs, and with the closeness and smoothness of their black velvet skin and their ample soft breast pressed against me while squeezing was a different kettle of fish. African girls mature and develop physically and sexually earlier than other South African girls, whom I found to my pleasure; however, they knew nothing could eventuate to a further outcome because of their parents and tribal strictness. What didn’t aid too was the compactness of the township for privacy, so they derived whatever pleasure they could accomplish by teasing.