Bheki Mashile's Letter from Umjindi

Apartheid. Water under the bridge. Not

Boy oh boy, talk about the angry black man. Yes folks there is a lot of anger in Mzansi. Being the scribe that I am, I am constantly being asked my opinion about everything from politics to business, to, say, the mining charter. But one of the most challenging opinions I have been asked recently was about the water crisis in our fairest Cape.

Now here is the problem that occurred during this Q&A session: one fellow radical said he had a not-so-funny answer to the Cape crisis: “Hey, to save water they should instal bucket toilets for the people of the Cape.”


Michael Jackson

“Whites need to know what it feels like not to have water services,” he reasoned. But what this fellow’s comment demonstrated was the anger that persists among our young black folk, especially the [jobless?] men.

Clearly this is a troubling attitude, which might explain crime such as farm murders. And unfortunately  some of our government officials don’t seem to be helping matters by uttering comments along the same lines.

And surely, those who insist on demonstrating with the old flag are not helping either.

Yes indeed we have come a long way since the days of that dreaded apartheid nonsense. But it appears that Madiba’s calls for reconciliation have fallen on some deaf ears. So how does one respond to a comment like the young fellow’s, because clearly his mind is made up and he harbours a lot of anger?

Well, take a page from the Bheki Mashile book of diplomacy: you buy the young man a beer, sit him down and try to educate him about life’s social, political and economic realities and challenges. You try to point out, as I did, the good things that Mzansi has to offer, while throwing in a measure of the challenges we face as a nation with water scarcity.

Then of course, being the comedian that I also am, I threw in a story that succeeded in making the fellow laugh. This was about when I attended the 20th anniversary of this-here Nose. I shared with him how the Nose had booked me into a guest house that was so fancy I was almost afraid to use the toilet. As any man knows, no matter how many times you shake it, there will always be that drip that makes its way on to the seat. Yes, I know the rule; lift up the seat. (Hey, I am telling a story here to a very angry young man, so I am allowed to embellish, thank you very much.)

But just when I thought I had won him over. I just happened to add how the guest-house owner had mentioned that members of the British royal family have also stayed there on several occasions.

No, he was not impressed. “What the heck do I care about the British royal family when the Maginsi (the English) have been stealing our gold?” Ah!

Hey, how about another beer? I asked, trying to save my butt. Of course he accepted. But alas, it did not do much to save my argument. Instead he turned the tide on me and, as happens too often, threw the line: “What would you know about a black man’s suffering here in South Africa when you grew up in America?”

I wasn’t having it. I am in my early 50s and, despite leaving for the States at the tender age of eight, I too experienced apartheid. I wasn’t done. I also threw in a challenging question and commentary. First: “Do you think living in America as a black man is all hip-hop and Michael Jackson? You guys have just been given free education. I had to work in the mess hall at the military college to supplement my soccer scholarship.

“And speaking of scholarships, are you aware that many a young black man in America prays for and relies on getting a sports scholarship to attend college or varsity?”

I continued, “Look here, my angry friend, as it has been said many a time, you need to focus your energy on the positive; some guest-house owner in the Cape being subjected to a bucket toilet is not going to help you in any way.” He had to laugh at that.

Yes, we most certainly have a disgruntled sector of the population here in Mzansi. So I think that next time I am confronted by such an angry fellow I will duck and dive because, man oh man, our people can get easily riled up and violent over the smallest of things. Albeit the pain still left behind by apartheid is no small thing.

But it is not for Bheki to ease the pain and anger of such a young man. That should be done by our politicians who have a responsibility not to agitate and stir an already boiling volcano.

For tomorrow that young man will be greeting me as I walk past the Barberton Prison having perhaps been convicted of some violent crime. To him, that would be okay, because he is an angry young man and no one tried to ease his pain and anger.

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