City slicker gets to dig the real meaning of life in a rural village

A wake-up call to a young man from upmarket Jo'burg. (Madelene Cronjé)

A wake-up call to a young man from upmarket Jo'burg. (Madelene Cronjé)

Angelo could be my son, or yours.

The young fellow met the beautiful Lerato in upmarket Jo’burg and the two fell in love.

Then one day, Lerato – who could be my daughter, or yours – suggested to Angelo that they spend the weekend at her home village of Legonyane to attend a funeral in the neighbourhood.

Now the Bakwena of Legonyane – and indeed all the other villages ­bordering my home town of Brits – are brutally strict about who attends and who misses out on the burial of a neighbour.

The “neighbour” in the context of the villagers means any funeral anywhere in the village.

Angelo, your typical born-and-bred upper-class Jo’burger, was excited about spending time at a tranquil location, where the locals still use mule carts to transport firewood. Ah, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city of mine dumps.

Lerato had assured Angelo that the Bakwena of Legonyane were a peaceful people, who welcomed visitors from the big cities, or anywhere else for that matter.

She told him that he was also likely to stumble into the odd subsistence farmer working the land, with a plough pulled by oxen or donkeys. Africa at its most medieval.

The day of the departure from upmarket Jo’burg went smoothly, and the couple arrived in due course at the cattle and goat trails of Legonyane.

From time to time, Lerato alerted Angelo to certain rules, such as that no mourner was allowed to dish up after the burial before the chief had had his rightful share.

Angelo was even taken for a walk by a male relative of Lerato’s, to introduce him to those of his age around the village.

As Lerato had assured him, the villagers embraced Angelo with hugs and cheerful smiles. They also familiarised him with the Bakwena of Legonyane’s custom of burial rites that dictated, among other protocols, that menfolk had to wear a jacket on the day.

Having digested the basics of what the villagers expected of a visitor, Angelo went to sleep next to Lerato, looking forward to a revealing experience at the burial the next day.

The loud knock at the crack of dawn came suddenly. Angelo’s ears could pick out the voices: a group of young men.

“Wake up mokgonyana [son-in-law]!” they demanded.

With these words, Angelo was taken away by the diphiri [gravediggers], to help dig out of the new grave, ahead of the burial.

And so, the city slicker got a real taste of what life in Lerato’s home village was about.

I am not going to reveal Angelo’s real name, nor indeed his race, because Angelo could be my son, or yours.



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