Archive for February, 2011

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I’m married (in a very unofficial and non-legal way of course). My betrothed’s name is Mr Mabika and he ‘s probably pushing 70-something by now. He’s done quite well for himself; four actual wives and one honourary one. And I think I’m his favourite to be honest; I never make demands, I don’t nag him and I’d never max out his credit card (if he had one).

I met Mr Mabika while I was living with a community up in Zululand in 2004. Myself and four friends were working for the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park at craft developers (see my post iCrafter).  It was our second trip into the community and we were asked to visit the Induna (headman/chief/CEO) in order to get his approval for our stay. Of course, being the only white face for a 50km radius, made me a bit of a novelty and this is how wife number four got traded in for a younger, skinnier model.

One of my favourite memories is of Mr Mabika leaning on a low wall which surrounds his house. He’s got this beautiful face which is lined with age, memories and experience. I look back now and wish I had spoken fluent isiZulu so that we could have spent a few hours talking about the last 70 or so years of his existence. How does he handle the four woman who very likely rule his world? Does he consider himself a rich man – with his cattle, his homestead, his wives and his community around him. Has much changed for him since the fall of apartheid and 20 years of democracy?

There is a wonderful man who works as a security guard on the road on which my parents live. His name is John and he reminds me of Mr Mabika, or what Mr Mabika would have been like at the age of 50. John has this twinkle in his eye and a greying bushy beard which makes me think of a black Santa Claus every time I see him. I sat in John’s hut last year and we talked about South Africa and our Prez, Jacob Zuma. We talked about polygamy – which is the practice of one man having many wives; John is a polygamist but he scoffs with derision when he talks of the polygamists of today in South Africa. If you’re going to do it – you have to do it right. John’s wives live in Eshowe, which is near the area where I was born (Empangeni). John’s youngest wife had a baby boy last year, while his eldest wife died. John goes back home every couple of months to visit his family and take back food and anything that they might need. It’s an old way of life and while not always particularly popular with the women in South Africa, John seems to be happy with his life.

Every day we cross paths with the same people; most of who me we know so little about. The woman who cleans your house, the security guard who watches us over as we sleep at night, the woman who raises your children while you are at work. All of these people have a story to tell; do you know their story? I found out recently that the lady who has worked for our family since I was in diapers had a relative who fought for Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1966. He was in exile in Mozambique, fighting for freedom from apartheid.  Why has it taken me nearly 30 years to ask her about that time in her life? I think we could learn so much about each other if we simply asked.


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