“Heyyy sister! I saw you on Good Friday with the other sisters”. You know the Trevor Gumbi skit about always being “the black guy at a braai” – I am the contra image of that.
It has taken me a while to get my head around the concept of Buhlanti. People gather en masse in a park and drink a lot and braai meat. There are no toilet facilities and the park is no longer beautiful. Crime is said to be rampant. White people roll their metaphorical eyes at the noise, the litter and the sanitation issue as they reminisce about “when Marina Glen was lovely… the Smartie train… the tea-room…” I always had an instinct that the occupation of Marina Glen by middle class black revellers was a good thing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now I can: It is the every-weekend equivalent of the annual New Year’s Day beach invasion.
And it is really, really social. Last weekend, in addition to colleagues, cousins and the broader social circle of lesbians, we were joined briefly by the woman who twists my girlfriend’s dreadlocks (she’s really nice). And, of course, the car guard.
Saturday night was warm and wet. Spectacular lightning. Zama and Thabisa took our meat to their preferred professional braaier who, for R20, will cook your meat and return it to you in a clever container made from a beer box and aluminium foil. My meat is always identified by a toothpick (Thabs is very diligent in this respect) because everyone else has a thick coating of braai-spice on theirs and I have a light dusting of salt. We sat on our camp-chairs, under an umbrella in the warm rain, chatted to our friends and watched the world go by. The heady scent of dagga wafted past and music from competing car stereos somehow managed to sound good. (“Cheers to the freaking weekend”).
After we’d eaten, we decided to head off to Mdantsane where someone knew someone (who knew someone) who was having a party. Mdantsane is the second biggest township in South Africa. Home to more than 330 000 people, 99.8% of whom are black, it was established as a “dormitory town” to house labour well outside of white group areas, a full half-hour commute from anywhere. There are good “units” and bad ones. Our party was in NU 2. Dodgy, according to Zama.
I drove behind Zama all the way to Mdantsane, via a very odd route, through Amalinda, past the SPCA. The rain had stopped and the night was still. Zama stopped at a BP garage on the outskirts of Mdantsane, and called Zikhona to refine the directions. Then we were there. Down a narrow road between two rows of classic township four-roomed houses. There were people milling around in the road and outside of the party-house and we milled a bit too, waiting for everyone in our pack to arrive. (We move around like teenagers – in groups of at least six, always).
We went into the house and were ushered past the area that was clearly designated as the dance floor, into a small lounge. We were seated and introduced to the birthday-person, who was holding the sweetest baby. The mother gave the baby to Zikhona and disappeared. Two six-packs of Castle Lite were delivered by someone, and put on the floor. No-one seemed to want to be the first to tuck in, so Thabisa cracked open the first pack and handed each person a beer. Then we just chatted amongst ourselves really. It was quite odd, but not unpleasant. I could follow some of the conversation (isiXhosa is a f difficult language to master), and Thabisa interpreted where necessary.
After a little while, Thabs turned to me and whispered, “Do you see what her mother has done?” She had stuck a small square of paper on the baby’s forehead and put an unlit match in her hair. “That is how we cure hiccups” she said, very matter-of-factly.
After an hour, we all got up and traipsed off out of the house and into the road again. After milling around some more (I am not sure why, this time), we drove all the way back to East London and that was that.
I had tea with my mother the next morning and related the story of the hiccup cure. “Completely crazy,” she said. I had to agree, but pointed out that it was no more crazy than believing that the communion wafer and wine really do become the body and blood of Christ. She couldn’t argue.