Dispatches: Long taxi ride from Soweto
Joonji Mdyogolo's family gathering brings home a few truths.
'Ke kopa le mo thole mosebetsi, le ha kaba tea girl." This is my aunt, Sis'Rose*, shouting from across the room. She is talking to me about her youngest daughter, Phumzile*, who is sitting next to me. "Please find her a job – even as a tea girl." It is that last sentence that makes me wince and Phumzile look down momentarily.
We are at a family gathering at my house, on which extended family has descended. I have not seen Phumzile and Sis'Rose for about 15 years, not since my family moved from Pimville, Soweto, three houses away from where my aunt still lives. I am humbled by the effort they and three other relatives have taken to be here, in Elandsfontein, this remote place of plots we call home because my late father got tired of "living on top of other people" and because it came cheaper than an actual place in the suburbs. From Pimville, it takes three taxis and a walk of a few hundred metres to get to the gate of the house.
When Phumzile and I find ourselves at the table, we have bridged the distance of the long separation.
We were never friendly; she was younger and I spent my teenage years in boarding school. And by the time I left for university, she was already a teenage mother and high-school dropout.
I notice when she arrives that her face is weathered by hard drinking, much like her mother's, yet it still retains the youthfulness and fine features of our maternal grandmother. Phumzile has also inherited her mother's fierce spirit.
Although married into a Zulu family, Sis'Rose rarely speaks in anything but her native Setswana and was always good at demanding what she wanted. Before we went into the house I had found Phumzile quietly crying outside. Maybe being here reminds her of her father, my uncle, who died many years before mine. She claims it is tears of joy. I am not convinced but do not press her, so we talk and laugh in a way that we never did as kids.
She seems more mature than me, with her life a list of the hard choices of a young, uneducated, unemployed single mother. And all I have to offer is a sheepish: "You have to get your matric." I get an almost-nod in response, but sense what she is really doing is rolling her eyes at me. I imagine what sets our fates apart thus far is primarily the opportunity of an education; the financial sacrifice my parents made to ship me off to a better and stable school while the townships were in upheaval.
Then I remember what the author of Mother to Mother, Sindiwe Magona, said at a conference just a week before. "People like me are accidents of apartheid. People like Nontuthuzelo (the mother of Amy Biehl's murderer) are the products of apartheid." And I feel the weight on my shoulders get heavier as the guilt in my heart settles further in.
*Names have been changed