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Abenea Ndago | Out of Limpopo

January. Maphisa Johannesman waited for his supervisor to return the thesis manuscript so he could send it to an editor. Nairobiman confirmed he would proofread the work for a half of what white editors charged and they kept the deal in the pot. Now they were leaving Maphisa Johannesman’s house in Limpopo, northern South Africa, where Nairobiman had visited, for their journey back to college in central South Africa.

‘Stop it, wena,’ Maphisa Johannesman crawled his Mercedes through the gate. ‘What did you say about Mzansi?’

‘That I like your country for one thing.’

‘Ke ing? What?’

‘Black and white people are both aware neither can do without the other.’

‘Voetsek,’ Maphisa Johannesman waved him away with the Afrikaans curse word. ‘You Kenyans don’t understand apartheid. White people are devils.’

‘Do not say that.’

‘Haikhona, wena,’ the car stopped. ‘Listen: the “kref” you see there it belongs to my late fada,’ Maphisa Johannesman pointed to the cemetery. My fada he didint die well – tcho!’

‘I am sorry.’ The “grave” had a green bowl on it like the rest.

‘He died bad-bad. And my mada we buried her on the other side of the cemetery.’

‘Sorry. Tell me why you put bowls.’

Maphisa Johannesman slid the car forward. ‘It’s my culture. Pedi culture.’

‘Tell me about bowls.’

‘Two things. One, “The most handsome bowl never lasts.” It falls and cracks – like Steve Biko. Two, bowls for blessings. We place Rand coins in them for the dead to bless.’

They were out of the small town and the Mercedes flew on the wide South African roads. Limpopo, one of the nine provinces, was rugged but with expansive white farmland in many places. The province was hotter in the South African summer than their destination, Free State Province, a child of the old, exclusive Afrikaner Orange Free State. Nairobiman liked Maphisa Johannesman’s joke that Limpopo was hotter because of the heat Robert Mugabe had left in the Zimbabwean economy after the late leader’s death. Limpopo bordered Zimbabwe.

‘Tcho,’ they approached Groblersdal, the last main town along the road from Johannesburg. ‘I didint tell you why me and these Boers we don’t drink from one bowl.’

‘You can tell me now.’

‘My fada. He worked for a white construction company in Pietermaritzburg in the ‘70s. I was a child. One day we received a telegram. My mada. It said “Come.” Under apartheid that meant “Report here forthwith.” My mada obtained a pass and travelled to Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal and they told her the name of the mortuary where my fada was. He fell from a high building and scattered on the ground. And the Afrikaner Company gave us only one hundred Rands in an envelope.’

‘I am sorry.’

‘Tcho, and I was a child. So if I’m mad at these white people that’s it. After apartheid in 1994 I was in a bank in Limpopo and a white woman tried to jump the queue. I raised hell and the other black people joined me. The white woman queued. With racism you don’t keep quiet man. You stop it with the loudest noise, tcho!’

They finished crossing Mpumalanga Province and entered Gauteng. Past Pretoria, Johannesburg, and they entered Free State when the sun turned orange. Proper darkness found them past Kroonstad.

July. There set in four months of silence after the journey from Limpopo and Nairobiman did not know where Maphisa Johannesman had disappeared to. One morning Maphisa Johannesman knocked on the door to Nairobiman’s room carrying a manuscript in the winter month. ‘Tcho, write it well for me.’

‘What do you mean.’

‘My thesis. I told you about it in January. White examiners failed it. Help me, asseblief.’

Nairobiman knew “asseblief” was Afrikaans for “please.” He did not understand the guilt until he saw the rubber stamp of Kruger Editors Ltd, the well-known white editors in the city, on a receipt attached to one of the last pages.


Image: Andra C. Taylor/Ben Allan Unsplash remix

Abenea Ndago
Abenea Ndago
Abenea Ndago is a Kenyan writer/scholar. He has published Voices (2017), Crossing the Border (2018), Lord Kitchener (2023), and several short stories.

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