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Cousin Willie: Still beyond the pale as a loveable rogue

Johnny Masilela

Saying thanks to the mourners is a special task.

South Africa's first working albino model Refilwe Modiselle is at once embraced and rejected by the accolade. (Supplied)

Cousin Willie Ntsele is proud of his calloused pair of hands.

These hands, he boasts, are testimony to the power of a real man. A tough man who works with a pick and shovel.

To be specific, Willie works for a car parts business. “These tough hands work with iron, staalwerk!”, he brags.

As for me and you who work with laptops and tablets, Willie dismisses us as sissies with hands as soft as a baby’s.

On this particular occasion our family converged in Mabopane, outside Pretoria, for the burial of our uncle, the erstwhile jazz session dancer Sipho “Goldfinger” Ntsele.

Bra Goldfinger died the day after I wrote a column about him. The column also looked at similarities between the deceased and the vibrant midget Tebza.

On Bra Goldfinger’s funeral, like he always does, Willie drew a lot of attention to himself. I refuse to call his behaviour semantics; my cousin is a hard-working man who gets things done.

Before the procession to the local cemetery, family elders decided that Willie would deliver the vote of thanks, as he often does.

There he stood by the side of the grave, smart in an expensive leather jacket and a peak cap almost covering his eyes, clutching a shovel.

After the Zion Christian Church mfundisi had concluded the burial rites, Willie joined the “real” men, shovelling soft earth to cover the grave.

When our little girls brought flowers to decorate the mound of earth rising above the grave, Willie cleared his throat ahead of his favourite role: delivering the vote of thanks.

But then for some reasons known only to family elders, uncle Monareng took over and thanked mourners instead.

Visibly furious, Willie stormed away from the graveside and stood lonesome next to my car. Uncle Zura and yours truly were dispatched to comfort Willie.

“Why? Why? You people said I would do the vote of thanks,” Willie blurted, near tears.

By the time the mourners had filed back home, Willie had calmed down and was his usual vibrant self, offering to buy the lot of us drinks.

His dad, the veteran Mamelodi shebeen king Bra Musa, says from as early as his childhood, Willie had been troublesome.

One day the little one bolted out of the house into the busy street, with Bra Musa in pursuit, snatching the child and taking Willie back into the house. A passing motorist, the apartheid-era Afrikaner township manager, screeched his car to a halt and followed dad and son into the house.

The official charged that he saw Bra Musa snatching a wit kind, and then hiding the toddler in the damn house.

For cousin Willie, Bra Musa’s “white” child, has albinism.

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