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African Writing Archives

Current A.W.



Mncedisi Mashigoane



Mncedisi Mashigoane

Mashigoane is a lecturer in film and TV at the Wits University School of Arts in Johannesburg.


 A Sister's Chant

It’s a whole different story, can’t you see? He whispers to her in the darkness.

I don’t understand, no, I don’t see, she wanted to reply, but she kept it to herself, as usual. Every time he said it, she struggled to understand what he meant. He has been harping on it, as if it was crystal clear, as in black and white.

Snoring already! She nudged him mildly with an elbow. It was like that after love-making these days. We are ageing… she shrugged it off.

The wind whistles against the rusty zinc that made up the five walls of their room; their house, which they never called home. Home has always been somewhere else, a distant place that lingers only in their words, and as green apparitions in their minds. She cuddles close to him and quietly says a prayer for Frieda and Pedro. His heart pumps rhythmically under her ear, hushing her like a cradle.

In the morning she places a blue plastic wash basin with water on the chair and begins to wash his blue overalls. He is going to a residents' meeting after work, no need to wait up for him. There are plenty of them lately, these meetings, damn them for occupying father of Jama’s mind.

Where did you buy these clean soup bones, father of Jama, she asks at supper? Everything is fong-kong these days, not even a dog would find flesh in here! She throws her hands about helplessly after putting his plate on the table.

We are the kicking ball of whites and amaKwerekwere, Nolusapho, he answers, his voice heating up as he proceeds, our own government has opened us up to this evil.

Oh father of Jama, poverty is poverty, those of us who are born in dust know its taste, that is the burden of our heritage.

That was his problem with our country, he had told the meeting earlier that evening. Everyone expects us to live on dust like desert plants. Two elections and what do we have? Where are the houses and jobs and equality promised by Mandela and Mbeki? We have more shacks, more Pakistanis, more maKwerekwere who come here with nothing but end up with shops and houses! What about us, eh? It is not right. We must fight.

But, father of Jama, there are terrible wars in those countries, she tried to reason, you yourself know that. Besides, people are people, we must share poverty to make its burden lighter.

I know all that, but poverty or no poverty this is too much. They must go back to their countries and solve their problems, not flock here. We must fight them. If our government cannot protect us from their invasion, we must stand up and fight!

He has been complaining a lot. Sometimes he comes late and just stares at the food and the small tv screen. Then he wears a cover of steel around his brain so that when she looks at his face, he stares without blinking. She searches for his eyes but they are not there. Occasionally, when she does locate them, she finds only smoke-filled sockets.

I’m glad Frieda and Pedro escaped unharmed, she confesses to Refilwe.

Refilwe is too careful, she is a child of the times, this one, solid as a rock. She turns around and peeps in all directions before responding: They say it will not end till the government deports all of them, mmm… what madness is this? Where must God’s people go? Shh… Don’t raise your voice, ntombi*, there might be someone in the toilet, and besides even walls have ears, my friend.

You are right tshomi*, one can never be too careful. But it’s terrible what they’ve done, to take all of a poor person’s belongings just like that. Everything gone like that without shame, sies!*

You know Mimi who is married to Pedro’s compatriot Augustino?

Yes I know her, she goes to the Zionist's church in phase 2 neh*?

Ja, that one. She says her husband fled with their four-year-old son. Augustino called Mimi from Yeoville — they are all staying with other Angolans who live there.

Oh what a relief, they are all safe at least.

Yes. Oh how I miss Frieda, we must go see how they are doing there in Yeoville.

Yes you’re right my friend.

He comes home in the middle of the night, she switches the light on. He is busy undressing hurriedly as she sits up to confront him. Where do you come from this late, father of Jama? And what is that foul smell, where did you get mixed up with petrol?

Go back to sleep mfazi, he whispers, there’s a war raging out there. He washes his upper body in the blue washing basin before joining her in bed. His heart is beating like a mad drum. Loud sirens fill the night air.

In the morning they are woken up by heavy commotion. Mimi’s house is filled with people and the police are inspecting a neat pile of black ashes. A pair of half-burned brown boots lie carelessly near the ashes.

They have burnt him! They have killed him! What did my Tino do, God of the heavens, what did he do? Mimi wails uncontrollably before the crowd. A policewoman in uniform is struggling to calm her down.

Nolusapho stares at his blue overalls jacket smelling of petrol; then she commences to wash it dutifully, slowly, her actions raising and spilling a bright white foam. Later, it flaps violently on the washing line. The heavy wind raises a storm of dust amid a sprawling ocean of shacks and people run for cover in the streets.

[ntombi]   Girl.
tshomi]   Friend
[sies]   Shame – sies is an expression of disgust in Afrikaan
[neh]   Right? Or, not so?
[mfazi]   Woman

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