African Mall, toilet paper and boMachayinyoka
by Rampholo Molefhe
African Mall is not the official name. The place is really Extension 2. The Africans called it the ‘African Mall’ in order to distinguish it from the shopping centre in the belly of the capital town next to Queen’s Road. It is not entirely clear how the road is associated with the Queen, presumably the queen of England. Perhaps it is because she was invited to the independence celebrations in either 1965 or 1966. Princess Marina came instead and had the hospital on the way to the national stadium named after her.
The African Mall is clearly visible from the upstairs windows of the President Hotel, probably so named because that is where Seretse Khama and Princess Marina celebrated Independence to the music of The Metronomes.
But the brand of the president Hotel can also be seen in South Africa and New York. Certainly not in neighbourhoods such as Extension 2, or at the African Mall. The neighbourhood was constructed in part to accommodate employees of the Gaborone Town Council then.
The families that have lived there starting when Gaborone was built have the option of buying the plots.
You will know that you are in the African Mall when you see groups of girls hanging around at the bar serving up litre bottles of Black Label beer in one hand, the other holding up a smoking cigarette that seems to have an eternal live tip.
If you are brave enough to move closer, you will notice that their eyes are usually blue from the daily mix of dagga, cigarettes and beer.
Some of them have boyfriends and lots of kids who keep them company at the bar performing gymnastics on the pavement that passes in front of the shops.
Of course, all these luxuries – staple food for these girls – cost money. It comes from stealing in the neighbourhood. Otherwise it comes from pickpocketing the unsuspecting teachers, journalists and civil servants who seek refuge there because of the extortionist prices of food and beverages at the ‘Main Mall’ and the other casino houses.
Some of the fellows volunteer to be pickpocketed. Only they know what they get in return for their generosity at the bar. All of them have cars, but you will not see them get into the cars. You will only be left guessing the reason for the steady depopulation of the bar and the depletion of drinking couples.
The girls always carry a bag, or a piece of clothing with many pockets. These serve two purposes.
They carry the beer and cigarettes from the last round when the bar closes:
“Tlhe rra, can we go to Gaborone Sun? Or Grand Palm?”
“No, it is too late now. Too late, I have work tomorrow”.
“Ah, but we won’t stay for long. Kana wena, you never take me out. Only once you took me to Tshabong. Please take me out”.
“Look, I cannot lose my job for casino. Am I crazy or what? Look, just get a six pack and we go. And you know this ready-made Klipdrift and Coke does nothing to you. Me I’m tired.
“Ah you, you are never tired when we get home…and you must give me money for chips and cold drink for my son. You know he has been going to school without ‘mopako’.
“Heela mma, can you finish talking so we can go”.
The girl offers to carry the drinks for the fellow. That is insurance so that the fellow does not make off with another girl that they might run into outside. If he does manage to run, the girl will have a man’s drink to share with her live-in boy.
The second purpose of the bag and the pockets is to carry toilet paper. When the girl takes unusually long in your toilet it is because she is stripping the paper from the roll. They call it T.P. Any lapse in vigilance will not only cost the fellow all the T.P that the bag can carry without leaving the roll exposed, the fellow will also lose the loose pieces of deodorants, glasses, coins, packets of soup, watches, CDs, memory sticks and every other thing that will not be noticeable to a groggy customer.
James is a regular customer; always sober when he arrives, and quick to get to that stage of inebriety. The girls fight for him. And he is content with that, the girls report.
They report to the boys who keep them company in the day. They gossip about the other men who live in the neighbourhood and then pass the information on to other idle minds and bodies in the township.
In Ndebele, these fellows are called ‘bo-Machayinyoka’ from ukushaya inyoka – to beat or kill a snake.
The old ladies in the hood know where to find them should they find a snake in the yard. These fellows are experts at killing snakes and chasing rats. They get coins for cool drink for their work. In between jobs, they entertain the girls with stories about the other boys in the neighbourhood. The girls might even buy them a drink or sweets for this service.
Bomachayinyoka finish work at six in the evening when the working men come from town to entertain the girls. The cycle begins.