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Published by Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd in 2013 10 Orange Street Sunnyside Auckland Park 2092 South Africa +2711 628 3200 www.jacana.co.za Š Mongane Wally Serote, 2013 All rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-4314-0530-5 Also Available as an e-book d-PDf ISBN 978-1-4314-0531-2 e-PUB ISBN 978-1-4314-0532-9 mobi ISBN 978-1-4314-0533-6 Cover design by publicide Set in Ehrhardt 11/15pt Job no. 001990 See a complete list of Jacana titles at www.jacana.co.za

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RumouRs

Mongane Wally Serote

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Part one

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one KeKe was running. He Had been running a long time, up and down steep slopes. His chest was burning, ready to burst, and he was pouring sweat as he pushed himself uphill. His legs felt elastic, rubbery. But he had to push; he dared not stop. He had to run even faster, then the downhill would follow. He had to be careful not to slip going down because his legs were lame and about to give in. But he had to keep running; he had to push as fast as he could. He was on a mission and he couldn’t fail. He couldn’t stop or slow down, he had to run and run. He was coming, the product of Oliver Tambo, of Moses Kotane, of MmaMphosho. Nothing could stop him unless his limbs broke or he fell down dead. Push! Keke’s chest was on fire, it was bursting! But he had to run. Behind was a gigantic force. A tsunami? He laughed; what did he know of tsunamis? He must stay serious. It was close now. It felt like the wind. But he couldn’t let it get there before him. He had to run, run, run! Now he had reached the downhill. He felt himself trip but he righted himself and ran on. He had to keep on running. That was all he could do. This wasn’t what he’d been raised for, what he’d trained for! No! Yet a guerrilla mustn’t be afraid to dodge and evade, to avoid a battle he clearly couldn’t win. He had to run. So he ran. There was a rumour in the air about America and Europe. They planned to fight the African Renaissance, to cut Africa up into pieces and then rule it. The force was closing in! He heard a familiar rumble. It wasn’t one – it was many! They weren’t trying to match his speed; they had set their own pace. Could he outrun this formidable force? He had done so before; he had evaded them in the camps. Their fire had scorched the earth and burnt the trees, leaving gunpowder heavy in the air. But they had never found him as they roared and raised the dust. They were like animals with fire in their bellies. Or had it just been a rumour? No, no, here they were, alive and breathing, roaring, puffing, steady and calculating, keeping his pace. He had to leave them behind. Their intentions were evil. He had to run as fast as he could. Even the rumour said they were evil. They meant no good. But look! They were changing their course towards Alexandra! Why? To destroy the place and its people like molten plastic? Could its people create a no-fly zone? He 1

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smiled at the thought and laughed as he ran. Had they gone the wrong way? No! This was their mission, they had been directed there. But he too had his mission. So he had to run. He was running, soaked in sweat. He had tamed his legs that had threatened to betray him; he had brought them under control. He had to get to Alexandra before the force! Alexandra’s avenues had taken the names of its heroes: Florence Mophosho, Joe Nhlanhla, Alfred Nzo and Vincent Tshabalala. He had to warn Alexandra that the force was coming. He could see Khensani walking, he could see Yusuf and Eddy wandering about, lost. He tried to call out but his lips were leaden, his hands bound and his legs too heavy. Yet he kept on running, running, running… Now he was far ahead. From a distance the force looked like a flock of butterflies, but with a terrible sound that he knew so well. He had arrived in time. He could outmanoeuvre the force; he had been a fighter before. He could see smoke curling from an endless sprawl of rusty shacks, leaning like drunkards. He could hear dogs barking, children giggling, women singing. How could he warn them? What could he do? Did the force not remember that apartheid had created this poverty and disease, this corruption, this degeneration and dehumanisation? Why had everyone forgotten, even the historians, the learned people? He tried again to call his comrades to help him in the struggle. Eddy began to laugh, and soon Keke was laughing too. He had far outrun the force now; they could no longer catch him up. But just as Keke thought this, he saw them turn towards Pretoria. Should he still run? The force sent a voice. ‘You can never outrun us and you cannot wait us out. We will find you and beat you down, even if we must wait you out.’ Keke tried again to call, but his mouth wouldn’t open. Then he saw Mmabatho shouting, although he couldn’t hear her words. He felt the sweat running down his spine. The force was ahead of him now and he was running as fast as he could. Now he knew it was for real; he had heard its voice. His chest felt fit to burst but he couldn’t stop; he had to run. His arms and legs began to feel like wings. He was almost lifting aloft like a bird. As he thought this he saw that the force had morphed into a familiar shape: a squadron of helicopters headed for Pretoria. He could see the pilots. Some were black and looked like Obama. Others were white and look like Bush, Reagan and Thatcher. ‘Hillary Clinton is chief foreign minister of the world,’ said the voice. Keke was confused. Could it be just a rumour? But no, they were flying to Pretoria! Had he been tricked? Did Vorster and Botha still rule? It wasn’t yet Uhuru in South Africa; it was just a rumour that Mandela was free. Thank God he was still in prison. Did Mandela yet know how the West dispensed with leaders, sending firepower 2

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by night and then announcements by day? Lumumba, Cabral, Mondlana, Moyo, Machel, Hani, Toure, Nasser… the pattern was forever repeated. And what of Thabo Mbeki? He heard muffled explosions, gunshots and bombs. A plane flew past low, almost hitting the mountain. Dikgosi were being beheaded – Bambatha, Makgoba, Hintsa and more. There was a thing called colonialism. Before that was slavery. Two hundred and fifty years later, the leaders were still not free. In Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, they had to follow the democracy of Europe and the US. Those who would not had to pay. ‘Hear! Hear!’ shouted the voices to deafening applause. From whom? Keke could hear chanting, singing and dancing, but he had to run. Why run? Because these presidents had to be captured and paraded on CNN and Sky, to be tossed in the air, beheaded and thrown away so their remains could not be found. An American voice was calling for Castro. He had to run. The West would check dental records to confirm that they had their kill. They had cut off Che’s hands to take fingerprints, these mighty lords of the world. Keke kept running and running, and his visions kept floating like dreams. Where was he running to? Pretoria? No! He thrashed and tried to resist. He was angry, exhausted, his mission clouded and confused. He was struggling as if to wrench himself from the claws of an eagle and yelling, but he had no air… Keke sat up sharply, fighting for breath. He was wet with sweat but relieved to find that he was in bed in his home, alone. The issues deep in his mind began to float as he reoriented himself in his present reality. Nelson mandela had been out of prison for eleven years and state president for one term. Thabo mbeki had been president until the movement had recalled him. Now Jacob Zuma was president, praised at first by the press and now vilified, according to the culture of the country’s media. What was behind his dream? Who once said that dreams were rumours of a reality that wasn’t yet understood, and that nightmares were dreams distorted by fear? Why did he feel so overwhelmed, so sad? He was damp with sweat and filled with dread. He needed to see mandla. It was a while since he had spoken with his comrade. The last he’d heard, mandla was facing grave accusations at the university where he was a professor of Architecture. mandla had sounded strained on the phone; the university senate was convening to determine his fate. They were concerned not only that mandla had been creative with the rules; there had been suggestions 3

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that he’d embezzled money. The projects he was working on in Alexandra and Temba had still to be funded, and he was in discussion with the local government of umlazi. Keke hadn’t seen mandla’s wife Thuli in a long time, either. she was a smart woman and had been doing well. The democratic dispensation seemed the ideal environment for her. she was flying all over the African continent in search of peaceful solutions to the issues between its countries. At times Keke wondered how she managed in this male-dominated environment of presidents, ministers and powerful African leaders backed by strong armies, who were still trying to work out what to do with the continent and its people. most of these powerful men were rumoured to be suspicious of south Africa, unsure of its role on the continent. They had fought side by side with the movement against apartheid, and suddenly, one day, south Africa was an independent state, powerful, politically free and equal to their own countries. Yet despite being politically free with a strong economy, its economic power was still out of reach of the majority. It was both powerful and disempowered.

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Two Thuli was due in durban on The laTe flight from Cape Town. mandla spent some time watching television while he waited for her, though he barely noticed what. Whenever he read a newspaper, listened to the radio or watched television, he found the media hostile, reactionary and anti the revolution. A demonstration in Kwamashu had become violent, and the media now promoted this as anti the movement. How so? Weren’t the demonstrators exercising their democratic right to protest because they were entitled to quality of life? Wasn’t that the issue? He always felt this horrible mental conflict after an encounter with the so-called south African media. What they said didn’t represent his views; he was being asked to be what he wasn’t. The media were foreign to south Africa. They told him that blacks were inefficient and ineffective, blacks were thieves, their past struggle against apartheid wasn’t worth discussion or contemplation; that blacks merely used it to excuse their unjustifiable behaviour. They told him that the present was in danger because blacks didn’t know what to do with it; that the future as planned by blacks was bleak. The media had nothing useful to say to his children, but sought to make them little Americans, little Europeans. The media continually brought violence, political vengeance and vendettas into his home. under the banner of ‘south Africans who fought for the liberation of south Africa’, they separated the heroes of the struggle from the movement itself and from the other liberation organisations they represented. In this way they protected the political parties that were in parliament while the apartheid system tore the people of south Africa apart. At all times, the south African media dished up to him whatever the American or European politicians said was the final, ultimate truth. south African newspapers were owned by Europe and depended on the news from there, not only about what was happening, but also the way it was interpreted. It wouldn’t have surprised him if the print media, in particular, had instructions from abroad to destabilise the movement. The media in south Africa always angered him. Why did they say nothing about Africom? Why did the local media not expose ordinary south Africans to what Africom was doing in Africa? mandla was an African. He knew better than all this. Except for madiba, all 5

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other leaders of the movement had been concertedly and relentlessly attacked by the media. This undermined the movement. He understood why the media were hostile to the movement, sometimes subtly and at other times blatantly, but he couldn’t condone it. A combatant of the movement is a combatant of the revolution and a combatant forever. Whenever his mind drifted in these directions, he would laugh and warn himself to remain objective, not be a demagogue. At other times he felt extremely angry. many years ago, he recalled, his father had once laughed and laughed until the tears ran down his face. The radio had reported that some men who liked to stop at the beer hall after work had been waylaid by their women. As they settled down for a beer – throats aching with thirst, mouths salivating in anticipation of that bitter liquor – their women had burst in waving sticks and knobkerries, landing blows on their heads and shoulders. They were tired of their men being married to beer and treating the beer hall as their homes, and returning penniless late at night because they’d spent all they earned on beer. As a young man in Cato manor then, mandla had associated the radio with his father’s amusement as he regaled everyone with the story. ‘The women’s dresses were flying; the men were running helter-skelter, yelling and groaning,’ he would exclaim. ‘miracle of miracles! some men were ashamed to utter a word of pain at the blows and humiliation meted out to them by their women!’ The men he told this to would then walk away quietly, like dogs with their tails between their legs. There were regular news reports then about train and mine accidents. Even now, he wondered about that. so many train accidents all over the country; so many black people killed in these accidents. ‘What do you expect?’ his father would say. ‘A boer driving a train full of thousands of blacks? Why wouldn’t he kill them? It would be so easy. Just jump the red light, and if an oncoming train appears, he could jump out of the train. Why wouldn’t he feel it his duty to kill them? They killed us in sharpeville like flies,’ the old man would say angrily. ‘And these mine disasters,’ his father would say. ‘Hundreds of black people killed underground and no white deaths. Imagine being alive and knowing that you’ll eventually die there in that big hole, that no one will rescue you,’ his father would say. ‘You wait and wait and wait, trapped, unable to go anywhere, buried alive in the depths of the earth until death grabs you.’ In such moments, which seemed frequent, mandla hated the radio. It made him angry. He learnt then to approach the news with care; he became cynical, sceptical, critical. What he couldn’t understand then was why the men agreed to work in the depths of the earth, ‘earning peanuts in these graves where the living die’, as his father put it. 6

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Today it was a free-for-all for the loudmouths, and everyone spoke of nonracialism. Blacks spoke among themselves about reconciliation, but no one else spoke of it. Those with the big mouths who shouted the loudest at the movement must have been cooped up in holes like rats while the struggle raged. Now they were out of their holes and in the square, yelling and hollering… No, no, no, he admonished himself, don’t be like the south African media; be objective. In a democratic state, tolerance must prevail. He was caught up now in this battle of the mind. He had come to understand that, for Africa, the emergence of the global village meant that the continent must rise from its quagmire and use its experience to provide leadership to an otherwise leaderless and radarless world. He had this image of the world staggering like a drunkard, talking to itself, armed to the teeth, complaining about humanity and saying, ‘I’ll fix all this, just wait and see…’. The image in his mind suddenly became so real that he laughed. maybe he should try his hand as a cartoonist. There was a rumour in the media that some members of the African union were compromised; they were on the payroll of the West, and their duty was to ensure there was no unity in Africa, that the continent remained Francophone, Lusophone and Anglophone. Religion, ethnicity and language were being used to divide Africans, and instructions issued from Western capitals were being carried out by certain members of the Au and some journalists. Yusuf, a diplomat who was mandla’s comrade, had once said, ‘Whenever there’s a serious matter on the table in the African union, watch how there’s never any agreement among Africans about how to resolve these challenges. The telephone lines from the West to wherever the meeting is being held grow red hot as their Western paymasters issue instructions.’ ‘Ja,’ mandla had merely said. ‘But don’t be too disgruntled,’ Yusuf had added. ‘We’re a long way from the slave trade, colonialism and apartheid. The truth is we are victorious.’ Yusuf, ever the optimist, had been in the reconnaissance unit based in Lesotho that mandla was commanding, and they had worked well together. It was Yusuf who had recommended that mandla apply for a job at the university in Durban. mandla, Yusuf and Eddy – a Capetonian – had spent three years together in the unit before they were split up: mandla remembered Eddy’s farewell words when Eddy was made commander of a special unit for assassinating collaborators. ‘The issue of black people and white people is an issue of black collaborators. Without black collaborators there would be no black and white issues.’ ‘Eddy, you know that’s not true,’ Yusuf had said. 7

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‘You should know Eddy by now,’ mandla had said. ‘He’s just convincing himself for his new task.’ ‘What I said may be a simplification,’ Eddy had said, ‘but believe me, there’s truth in it. I could elaborate, but what the heck. I’m no academic, I’m a freedom fighter.’ ‘An armed combatant,’ Yusuf had said. ‘I like that, I like it,’ Eddy had replied. ‘so I’ll enter the terrain as an armed combatant. This race matter is supposedly slowly disappearing in the world, but it won’t, because the white countries have needs and interests, and what they need is in black countries. When others have what they lack, they grab it by firepower. When they needed free labour, they crossed oceans to capture and enslave men, women and children from the African continent. But without African collaborators the slave trade could never have happened; white slave masters would have had to negotiate rather than enslave people. And there would be no racism. The slave trade and the culture of profit by any means is what gave birth to racism.’ ‘Wait a bit. Let me try to follow what you’re saying,’ Yusuf had said. ‘Eddy’s thinking aloud,’ mandla had said, ‘to motivate himself. He went on like this when we were holed up for almost three months on the Bophuthatswana mission, remember?’ ‘I do.’ still oblivious to the TV, mandla recalls another saying of Eddy’s. ‘You never know what’s going on until you look over your shoulder.’ Eddy came from the Western Cape winelands where his father worked in the vineyards. His mother’s face was forever sad, he remembered, but she fought like a buffalo for her six children. she fought their father and anyone she thought was being unfair to her kids. If she thought other parents had been unfair to her children she even punished their children. Like buffaloes that trample lion or leopard cubs if they find them. But she also whipped her own children if they disrespected their elders. ‘Respect is wery important,’ Eddy would say, mimicking his mother’s accent. she came from a clan of Indians whose alphabet lacked the letter V. ‘Imagine a pepergat woman and a Hottentot man, raw from their different backgrounds,’ he would laugh. ‘sometimes it was like water and paraffin! But sometimes it was like vegetable soup – warm and tasty. I miss home sometimes.’ Eddy never forgot the poverty of his background. ‘on our long walks to school on winter mornings we would stand in a circle and pee on our feet to keep them warm,’ he would say. Eddy had a way of saying things. 8

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mandla stared at the TV, wondering where his friends and comrades were at this moment, oblivious to the moving band at the bottom of the screen announcing a library burnt, a police car torched and two people seriously injured in a demonstration in mafikeng. He chuckled as he recalled his days with Yusuf and Eddy. Eddy’s logic could be hilarious. ‘The crimes are committed in the name of white people, but when African collaborators commit crimes against blacks, malicious whites use that spirit of betrayal of black against black to justify their own injustice.’ mandla tried to stop thinking about the south African media. You know better, he told himself. stay positive. It’s futile to engage negatively with these issues. His grandfather used to say that only a clean, healthy heart could receive knowledge, and only a clean, healthy brain knew how to use knowledge; when we let poison contaminate our hearts and brains, they malfunction. We must be selective, and protect our hearts and minds from rubbish. Then our spirits stay strong and our minds can help us do great things. This black and white thing appeared to be vanishing, yet it remained in subtle but brutal ways; lurking like a mirage, like the eyes of a rabid animal waiting to pounce and destroy. It appeared to be vanishing because the emphasis was on the victory of the West, the victory of capitalism, of imperialism. All these systems were now in full swing, supported by the strong firepower of the West, enough to obliterate the earth… Eddy was right. How could he discuss these matters with his daughters, Waha and Wanjuri, he wondered, without poisoning them? Without his noticing, the TV had gone on talking, in dialogue with the walls and the purring of the fridge. His mind had been elsewhere. Now the TV was delivering another rumour into the room: obama would give back Guantanamo Bay to the Cuban people. He tried to pay attention. Then he heard the key turn, voices, and then high-heeled footsteps announcing Thuli’s arrival. He stood up in the midst of his delirium, struggling to disentangle himself from the grip of world issues, and went to meet his wife at the door. The two bodyguards were there, receiving their instructions from Thuli for the next two days. He found himself ogling her, suddenly aware of how much he had missed her. she was her lovely self and as fit as ever. Their elder daughter, Waha, insisted that her dark skin combined with her dreadlocks and spectacles made her look part masai, part Rasta and part intellectual all at once. And she had the build of an athlete – tall and slim with long, beautiful legs. she looked young until she started talking, and Waha was taking after her, he thought, admiring and 9

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emulating her; they looked more like sisters than mother and daughter. His only reservation was that his wife was forever overworked. When the door was shut and the bodyguards had left, he embraced and kissed his wife. He took her jacket and suitcases to the room, then reached for the remote to silence the TV. ‘so,’ he enquired, ‘did you hear the rumour that the Americans are thinking about giving Cuban land back to the Cubans?’ He paused. ‘Why did they occupy it in the first place? What’s democratic about that? What does it say about American human rights, and about peace in the world?’ ‘my dear, what’s surprising about what the Americans say and do? They hang presidents; they create coups – what’s new? Isn’t that the foundation of the American dream?’ ‘something to drink?’ he asked. ‘I’ll make us some tea,’ she said. she went into the bedroom and emerged in comfortable shoes, a wrap she’d got in Tanzania and a T-shirt announcing something about climate change. she got busy in the kitchen, which was spotless – mandla was a very tidy man, and the flat was in impeccable order. ‘How have you been, mandla?’ she called from the kitchen, and he went to join her there. ‘Well, very well. And what about you, my thing? And how are the girls?’ ‘slogging, but okay,’ she said. ‘I bypassed Jo’burg, so I didn’t see them. But I phoned them from the airport.’ He put his arms gently around her, kissing the back of her neck and her cheek, and then turned her around and kissed her full on the mouth. ‘I couldn’t wait for you to arrive today,’ he said. ‘And I’m here now. so what are you going to do?’ she teased. But he looked away as if thinking. ‘Ha, that’s not like you,’ she said. ‘You don’t have plans? Are you getting old, my dear?’ He looked at his watch, but she interrupted him. ‘Let’s stay home, sweetheart. I’m so tired. We can go out tomorrow.’ ‘You’ve read my mind. Tomorrow then.’ They sat opposite each other at the kitchen table with their tea. He switched on some music. The first CD was Herbie Hancock’s Imagine Project, and the blend of piano and strong voices filled the space gently, rich with life and the earth. For a while they were quiet, Thuli stirring her tea, happy to be here with her man, while mandla tapped to the rhythm of the music. ‘sweetheart, tell me about you,’ she said. ‘I feel greatly relieved.’ 10

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‘I’m sure you do.’ ‘A bit violated, but vindicated.’ ‘Will you stay here then?’ she asked. ‘of course. I have a lot to do here. I’ve been to Greytown and had discussions with people there. It’s all systems go. When you left for Europe, I said I’d go to Temba and Alexandra, remember? And I did.’ she looked at him. she could tell when he had made up his mind and was determined. He watched her studying him, and laughed. Then he looked away, partly absorbing the song, partly searching for the right words. He leant back in his chair and sighed. ‘That surprise meeting you organised came as a shock at first, walking in and finding all those people – malume, Bute, Abo mamcani, mkhulu, Gogo – all that family. At first I was scared that maybe someone had passed on, but they looked too happy, laughing, eating and drinking. Then I thought maybe you’d told them something about us. But you would have told me first. Was someone perhaps getting married? my mind searched in all directions at that moment, trying to work out why they were all gathered at malume’s place.’ she folded her arms and sat back, relaxed and listening. Their elder daughter Waha had been at the gathering too, but only to listen, not to speak. Thereafter she could ask her mother or anyone else in the group to clarify anything. she had called someone outside to ask what the meeting was about, and been told that it was to discuss her father. When they returned to the meeting, mkhulu was opening the gathering, speaking deliberately and thoughtfully. Thuli called him mkhulu because he was her children’s grandfather on their father’s side. mkhulu was ninety-eight years old, and mandla was the youngest of his four sons and two daughters. ‘Well,’ mkhulu was saying, ‘I asked my daughter what we could possibly do when such matters are for educated people. How could we participate, we who have never seen the inside of a classroom? But she insisted. It touched me when she reminded me of my own words – that as Africans we have our own ways, and for the world to respect this, we ourselves must show respect for our ways. And then she asked me how we could ensure that our ways work unless we gather as we know we should, and put our heads together? I took time to reflect, and eventually I realised that we must meet, as we are doing now. mandla is our child, and anyone who wants to hurt him wants to hurt us.’ Thuli liked to spend time with both mkhulu and Gogo. Her own parents had died when she was thirty, and she still missed them; she had never recovered 11

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from their passing. she had been close to them; as the lastborn she had stayed with them after the others left to fend for themselves, their parents and her. she spent as much time now as she could with mandla’s parents, and regularly spoke with them from wherever she was. When he closed the gathering mkhulu had looked exhausted, and Gogo hadn’t said a word, but mandla was so moved by what had happened that he was speechless. malume, Thuli’s uncle, had been a bit tipsy from too much whisky. ‘Thuli once told me something very important,’ mkhulu had said. ‘she told me that it’s not a mistake for us Africans to have such big families. They teach us to be social, to negotiate, to share. And they also teach us to help each other and close ranks. But I want to add,’ he had said, ‘that they also teach us to claim each other, as we have done today. Through Thuli, malume, your parents are here, although they have both passed on. she represents them and reminds us of them in her manner, just as you also reflect the way that they taught you. I am proud to be family with you. This mandla is not only our son, son of the Dlaminis, but also yours, bomshengu, boTshabalala. We can only hope that we have strengthened mandla. Go out there and fight, mandla, knowing that you fight on our behalf and that we are fully behind you. most importantly, you are fighting for the African cause. We hope that these white people will one day discover the African in themselves and stop fighting it. of course things have changed, and if so, they should not have privileges just because they are white. may they find that it is a privilege for all of us to be African.’ ‘Do you remember what mkhulu said?’ Thuli asked as she sipped her tea. ‘I remember everything he said,’ mandla replied. ‘He asked you why the white people were fighting you so much, and when you said because they wanted power, he asked if you had taken their power.’ ‘Yes, that was funny, wasn’t it? He asked how I’d taken their power, and what I was doing with it. I explained that I hadn’t taken anything from anyone. I had merely gone to school and done well, been offered a job and taken it, and committed myself to changing the lives of my people. I had done nothing wrong, only what anyone in my position would have done. But I understood that they would be feeling extremely insecure in their positions, which not long ago had been theirs without any challenge. But now with blacks coming in, some with higher qualifications than their own, it was about discrimination and the class struggle. “so your education threatens their privileges?” mkhulu asked me. “And the whole matter about your qualifications is just rubbish, an excuse? How could you claim to be educated if you weren’t, and what uneducated person 12

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would know better than you? That’s why they gave you the job. And if they’re changing their minds, they owe you an explanation, and you must demand it!”’ ‘I liked his comparison with chickens,’ Thuli chuckled. ‘When you throw a mealie among chickens they all fight over it, and even if one gets it in its beak, the others chase it until the mealie’s been eaten. People aren’t supposed to act like chickens, but here you have food in your mouth and they’re chasing you, hoping you’ll drop it so they can grab it. You’ve got it, so they’ll chase you. Why are you surprised?’ ‘It was even funnier when he compared us with dogs chasing a bitch on heat,’ mandla said, and they both laughed. ‘Dogs can get injured or even killed in the fight, but only one eventually mounts the bitch, after which he looks like he can’t understand what all the fuss was about!’ ‘sweetheart, it’s one in the morning,’ Thuli said, getting up. As they undressed he asked if she’d heard about Bin Laden. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘They’ve killed him.’ ‘so it’s true, not just a rumour?’ ‘They sat and watched the killing as if it were a movie,’ she said. They were quiet for a while as they got into bed. ‘so, professor,’ she asked, face down while he lay on his back, ‘have you managed to convince the white establishment that you’re qualified to do your job?’ He didn’t respond immediately, and as she lay there her mind drifted back to the day they had first met. It was early one morning when she had been hurrying along Alexandra street in soweto to her part-time job. Workers were streaming through the clouds of smoke curling into the air from the many braziers lining the street, off to catch their buses, trains or kombis to get to work. And amid the roaring and hooting of the traffic, mandla was suddenly in front of her, huffing and puffing, glistening with sweat. on several previous mornings when their paths had crossed, he would slow his jogging pace and run straight towards her as if for a head-on collision. But that morning he’d stopped dead in front of her, asking, pleading, almost demanding to borrow her handkerchief to wipe his brow. she gave it to him automatically. ‘Your hankie has a lovely fragrance,’ he had said. ‘I’ll carry it with me and think of you.’ she grew aware now that he was speaking, and caught his last few words. ‘… it wasn’t only whites fighting me, you know.’ ‘sorry, what were you saying?’ she asked, and he repeated it. ‘I know,’ she 13

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replied. ‘All these universities aspire to be oxford or Harvard, and you’re deviating from that. But remember what mkhulu said. The war is about white domination, but we mustn’t be about black domination. We must fight for a principle, not stoop to fighting like chickens or dogs. We’re fighting for integrity and dignity.’ ‘mmm. He’s such a funny old man, but I learnt so much that day. Even malume was in his element.’ ‘That generation has seen it all. Life taught them well.’ ‘The movement is surviving on that experience, on that history, on that reputation only.’ ‘How old is malume?’ ‘seventy now,’ Thuli said, turning and putting her hand on his chest. ‘You’ve now been initiated as an African man,’ she said, laughing. ‘once again, you mean. First when I was eighteen, then when I finished training in mK, when I finished university, and now when the white establishment publicly challenged my qualifications, humiliating me, playing power games with my life by declaring to my peers, students, comrades – to my whole country – that I was a cheat!’ ‘It’s over now, sweetheart.’ ‘Yes, and we took them on. White domination can’t be tolerated, and as mkhulu said, the real trial is just beginning. How are we going to establish the role of human beings in the universe? That’s the challenge.’ ‘I was just thinking about how you and I met.’ ‘sometimes it feels like yesterday.’ ‘You were so insistent.’ ‘I’d been aware of you for a long time, and I was wondering how to make sure you wouldn’t reject my proposal…’ ‘I really should have! How could you borrow someone’s handkerchief ?’ ‘To symbolise intimacy between us…’ ‘I didn’t see it that way. I thought you were ridiculous, you took me by surprise… it was so unhygienic!’ ‘I’m glad I did, or you wouldn’t be lying here next to me.’ They grinned at each other and began to kiss. ‘I became so conscious of you. I hoped I wouldn’t meet you again, but I carried a serviette in my bag, so that if I did I wouldn’t have to give you my handkerchief again.’ ‘I watched you and made sure you were close enough when we crossed paths so you could hear me greet you.’ 14

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‘I knew you were up to mischief.’ ‘I was so in love, I thought about you day and night.’ ‘You told me you were very attracted to me.’ ‘And you looked so dumbfounded.’ ‘I should have run away.’ ‘But you just stood there.’ ‘You said you wanted a kiss. What kind of proposition was that?’ ‘And you said you didn’t kiss boys.’ They laughed and began to kiss again. It was very quiet in the bedroom, but outside it was alive, and the sounds reached them. ‘The day you and I agreed that we loved each other, you said we would gobble each other up as if it was the end of the world. I went home wondering how anyone could say such a thing!’ ‘But don’t we?’ They laughed and fell into each other’s arms.

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rumours3 1

2013/04/26 3:48 PM

Rumours  

Keke, a veteran MK cadre who was once the CEO of a mobile phone company, wakes up one day to find his life in ruins.

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