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The cost of the great masigodukeni

In my family, it all starts on a specially created WhatsApp group. Last year’s was titled “Xmas Lunch 2016” and there were no less than 15 members who, for months before December, sent all manner of texts, gossip, selfies and (church, car, driveway or mcimbi outfit) portraits, inspirational quotes, “funny” videos stereotyping people from Limpopo and countless other vibrating interruptions that had nothing to do with the planning of the Christmas lunch for which the group was created.

The idea was for all of us in the group (all women) to collaborate on a menu, delegate the cooks for the meat, the vegetables, the salads, the desserts and those responsible for beverages.

Miss Moneybags (one of my aunts) calculated the amount of meat needed — two sheep, a dozen chickens, pork, tripe, sausage and mincemeat — against the number of mouths to feed (at least four dozen) and a total monetary amount was decided.

We split the costs and, if I remember correctly, I ended up contributing R1 200 in November. And that’s just the Christmas meal.

This measly amount doesn’t take into account the centuries-long costs of going home for amagoduka — people who live and work in metropoles such as Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban.

Take an Eastern Cape person, for example. I live in Jo’burg for most of the year and goduka a few times a year for imigidi nemicimbi such as weddings, funerals, unveilings, thanksgivings, anniversaries and Easter.

In addition to the travelling costs of going back and forth throughout the year, the cost of the annual Dezemba return is especially sobering, whether you’re a single person with no kids like myself, a married professional with children or a divorcee in her late 40s who is eternally filled by the fact that the children no longer spend Christmas with both parents — a guilt that is annually placated by a special getaway or an expensive gadget to outparent the other parent.

Although it was written in jest, a frighteningly accurate calculation of the costs of ukugoduka made its rounds on Facebook recently and inspired a discussion in our office about the money we spend consciously and unconsciously at this time of the year, an exercise I’m borrowing to illuminate this point further.

For the first time in more than a decade of ukugoduka, I sat with a calculator and counted the money I have spent in the past (and that I’m likely going to spend this year) so that family members can rest comfortably in the knowledge that “kaloku uyaphangela usisi”. 

The Financial costs of going home

Getting there: Johannesburg to East London and back

The airports are overcrowded shitshows but better than the roads, which at this time of year are death traps where I’ve seen people drive and drink alcohol with family and unbuckled toddlers in tow.

One year I went by car with an uncle and the costs were pretty much the same as flying.

• Flights to East London: R2 200 and R3 500 return

• Drive to East London: R1 200 for two full tanks

• Food, drinks, snacks on the road trip: R380

• Tips for the petrol attendants: R20

• Toll gates: R100

Once you get to East London

The annual homecoming for city dwellers is built on a long-standing tradition of expectation placed on the travellers to come with something. “Awunokungena uphaca,” they say.

As a result of an uneven combination of duty and wanting to floss that you’re a working girl, you’re independent and you’re in the realm of making it, you oblige and make a little showy spending to prove a point and to pay (back) your dues to the village that raised you.

Those dues include but are not limited to:

• Groceries for your mom’s house (iinto ezimnandi): R1 500

• Contribution for umqombothi, ibhekile or another homecoming msebenzi: R500

• Airtime, data and smallanyana e-wallets for your cousins, domestic worker, that relative who is always helping out at family functions (be it cooking or cleaning) and your functioning alcoholic of an uncle who knows izinto zamasiko (traditional rituals) more than all of you combined: R700

• Imali yokuthunywa: for when your mom or dad asks you to go to the shop quickly to buy bread (for the, like, 12 people) for ibreakfast and then to sommer just also buy sausage, charcoal, firelighters, ice and some cool drinks for the braai later. There will be at least three of these occasions depending on how long you are staying: R1 200

• Alcohol and snacks for the first night reunion braai: R300

• Christmas presents for your grandmothers: these could be anything from a walking ring, new shoes, a blanket, an outfit or groceries. Note the plural in grandmothers: R600

• Christmas presents for a family member that you’ve chosen: anything from Mr Price Home, the Crazy Store, Milady’s, Queenspark, At Home, Boardmans, Woolworths or Edgar’s. This gift-buying business is relatively new. We didn’t grow up buying gifts beyond getting new Christmas clothes, but it’s become a thing: R300

• Lunch with your high school or varsity friends at Café Neo, Beach Burger, Grazia, Sanook, Hemingways or any new restaurant that opened just in time for iFestive: R150

• Going out with your high school or varsity friends at Bar Kulcha, Bora Bora, Wise Guys, Blackspades or Numbers: R400 

• You will inevitably attend a wedding, amabhaso, a bridal shower or a baby shower and have to have a gift and an outfit: R500 

• Umbhaco and other traditional clothing to wear to said mabhaso and imigidi that lead up to Christmas: R350

• New hair, nails and lashes: for some people, you kind of have to look like you live in Generations: R1 000 to R10 000 

• Wine, vodka, gin and mixers that you keep in a secret stash because you’re home: R300

• A bottle of bubbly or some cash for what the group decides to buy when you visit your childhood family friends: R200

• Petrol for when you have to go to the rural areas: R500

• Snacks and lunch for the trip bought at the Shell Ultra City in Queenstown or the one-stop Kei Cuttings. Or burgers from the perpetually overwhelmed Steers in Dutywa: R200

• Contributions at your ancestral home: R500

• A sheep that you either split with siblings or buy as your main contribution: R1 800

• Three or more live chickens: R75 each

• Two or three nips of brandy for your rural uncles: R180

• An expensive bottle of whisky for your city uncles to share: R500

• Three six-packs of Savannah for your extended aunts and cousins: R240

• Treats for the children and elders (Milo, choice assorted biscuits or large packets of Doritos that they can keep throughout the new year): R150

• A bottle of brandy for each mgidi you will attend because you can’t come empty-handed: R300

• iKrismesi: small gifts of airtime, data and e-wallets for people you haven’t seen in a long time whom you love dearly but are not necessarily close to: R200

• Returning to East London snacks and takeaway meals if you haven’t packed meat and bread in a skaftin from your grandmother: R150

• Petrol: R100

• One more braai before going back to the city: R200

Back to Jo’burg

• Petrol for the drive back: R1 200

• Snacks and food (you have skaftin): R200

• Toll gates: R100

Obviously no two people’s spending habits are the same. Some people spend much less than this and others spend a lot more on, for example, hiring cars for the holiday, giving their parents expensive appliances, cars or houses, as well as “cleaning” your ancestral home (that is, renovating). But this is a sample of the kind of expenses that are on the menu alongside that unavoidable Christmas lunch.

P.S. There’s still the annual getaway with bae or with friends either somewhere along Southern Africa’s long coastline or Zanzibar for New Year’s Eve.

And, of course, those with offspring would have the cost of having a holiday Anti to help to look after the children.

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Milisuthando Bongela
Milisuthando Bongela is the Mail & Guardians arts and culture editor. She is a multi award-winning writer, blogger and collaborator. She has experience in the arts having worked in fashion, music, art and film as well as a decade-long career in consulting, entrepreneurship, blogging and cultural activism. She is also directing a documentary about hair and black identity, a film she calls the report card on the rainbow nation project.

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