Saturday, January 23, 2021

A journey into Terre’Blanche territory

It’s a lazy Friday morning and I’ve just had my breakfast whereupon I decide to cross the border and spend the weekend in Mafikeng, a town in the North West Province of South Africa. Mafikeng is not far from Gaborone and as such I frequent the place more than I do my home town, Maun, which is 1000 kilometers from Gaborone. By lunch time I’m already seated at one restaurant in one of the shopping complexes in Mafikeng. Anyone who has been to Gaborone and Mafikeng will tell you the difference between the two places is insignificant. Infrastructure wise, Gaborone is a bit ahead of Mafikeng. There is no language barrier between the residents of Gaborone and Mafikeng as Setswana is widely used in both cities.

The World Cup fever has caught fire in South Africa, as many people now wear the national team jerseys. I am told that on Fridays employees are requested to come to work wearing Bafana Bafana replica t-shirts.

A lot of people sell world cup regalia, including merchandise like flags, scuffs and vuvuzelas.
It’s late in the evening and really Mafikeng has nothing to offer for my insatiable appetite for fun and adventure. I ponder on my next move and in no time I’m on the road to Lichtenburg, about 60kilometers from Mafikeng. I have been to Lichtenburg before where I once stayed for two months attending some course. I therefore decide to check in at the place I lodged in at the time of my stay back then. Unfortunately they are fully booked for the night. Instead of going around and find alternative accommodation, I decide to have a drink at a nearby pub. When I was in Lichtenburg during the time I attended a course, this pub was patronized by Whites only. Back then I never really had the curiosity, let alone the guts to go into this pub.

This is the chance to find out if racism still exists in South Africa where people used to socialize along racial lines. During the apartheid era, black people were not allowed to mingle with white people in bars. They could not even ride the same taxi or bus. As I enter Elgro pub, all eyes are on me. I realize nothing has changed from the time I was here. It is evident the patrons of this place, who are all white in race, are either surprised or disdainful of my presence. This is what I want. I grab a chair by the bar counter and order a drink. I am waiting for just one brave soul to approach me and instruct me out. I strike a conversation with Yacko, the bar attendant. Just like the patrons, he too is of the white race. He welcomes me with a smile and I must say he is very waggish. I enquire as to why the place seems to be patronized by whites only despite the fact that Lichtenburg is a multi racial settlement. Yacko tells me the place is open to everyone regardless of their skin colour. Apparently it is just a perception created by the black community in Lichtenburg that the place is for whites only. Two beautiful blondes come in and occupy seats just next to mine. Truth be told, my heart skipped a bit at the sight of such beauty.

I ask Yacko if I stand any chance or luck with one of the ladies, sotto voce. My aspirations to have a white girl are shattered when Yacko tells me the girls won’t speak English. I’m dismayed to learn they can converse in English but they would prefer to be approached in Afrikaans. My knowledge of Afrikaans is next to none. I can only say ‘Ek jou lief’ which translates to ‘I love you’ but beyond that I would be in the dark. I decide to leave the pretty girls alone but I’m glad they have massaged my eyes.

It’s almost 11 pm and it dawns on me that I have not secured accommodation in Lichtenburg. There is a hotel just next door. Infact this pub is housed in this hotel so I just walk next door to find out if they have any room available. The receptionist tells me the price for me will be an extra 100 hundred Rands to their normal charges. I ask him why so and he tells it’s because of the car that he saw me driving when I got to the pub. “You must be f..ken joking”, I tell him with a serious frown on my face. He responds that he was only joking but I don’t take kindly to his remarks, even if they were in jest. Besides, there is so much noise coming from the pub and I know it will be hard for me to find any peaceful sleep.

Lichtenburg is littered with guest houses. Perhaps in anticipation of the many visitors who will be in South Africa for the world cup, many homes have been turned into guest houses. My next stop is a guest house just two blocks away. I press the intercom but there is no response. I drive to the next guest house where a lady peeps through the window before opening the reception door for me. She tells me they are fully booked but her body language betrays her statement. I have a feeling she has a room and it’s only that she does not trust a black guy like me, more so that I was dressed very casually, more like a Kasi boy. I check at the nearby guest house where I also have to press the intercom. It is just a residential house turned into a guest house. The old lady gives me a ridiculously high price just to sleep in one of her bedrooms. I decide to drive back to Mafikeng.

Luck is on my side as I secure a room at Lorato Inn. In the morning of Saturday after having breakfast at Wimpy in Mafikeng, I decide not to drive to Gaborone but Johannesburg instead. I take the Mafikeng-Zeerust route and after driving 60 kilometers I’m fuelling in Zeerust en route to Gauteng. It’s while buying ice cubes in Swartruggens that I see a sign board showing the direction to Ventersdorp. This is the place where the slain AWB leader, Eugene Terre’Blanche lived and died. I have second thoughts. Should I divert my trip to Ventersdorp and abandon the Joburg mission? Well by now my cellphone has run out of battery and I had already phoned and promised some friends in Joburg that I was coming over. The fuel attendant informs me Ventersdorp is about 90 kilometers from Swartruggens.

I decide to drive to Joburg anyway. I will drive to Terre’Blanche’s farm on my way from Joburg to Gaborone. In Johannesburg you can feel and see the vast difference Gaborone and Egoli, the place of gold as Johannesburg is called. Joburg is so highly populated. People are always busy. I struggle to secure parking space at Carlton Centre but after driving around, a shabbily dressed, self imposed traffic controller signals me to a vacant parking space. The Carlton centre shopping complex, the most famous in South Africa, is teeming with people. The complex is a three storey building and houses all sorts of shops, restaurants ,game rooms and anything you may wish to find in a supermall like that one. I spend almost six hours shopping and having food and drinks with my companion in Joburg.

On my way out of Carlton centre I stop by Luthuli House. This is the head quarters of the ruling ANC and it is where Julius Malema berated and insulted a BBC journalist a few weeks ago. Talking of Malema, everywhere you go in South Africa people are using his famous line, tjatjarag in their conversations. Radio stations play remixed versions of his insults to the BBC journalist, which have now been turned into songs. Anyway back to Luthuli house. My intention is to meet the boy himself, Julius Malema. Up to this day I don’t know what I was going to say to him had I been able to meet him. The security guard asks why I want to see Mr Malema and I tell him it’s private. Our conversation is disrupted by a lady whom I found standing by the door. She tells me Julius is out of the country. He is said to be in Venezuela where he has, apparently, gone to learn about the revolution and nationalisation.

I’m disappointed that I failed to meet Juju Boy. Was he going to say “come out” or “go out”? Was he going to tell me “this is not a newsroom, this”. I’m now off to Ventersdorp. My intention is to have boervows or biltong with Terre’Blanche’s ‘people’. It’s almost dark when I arrive in Ventersdorp. I ask for directions to Terre’Blanche’s farm and even though the people in Ventersdorp have no qualms giving me directions, they wonder why on earth would I risk visit Terre’Blanche’s farm when there is so much racial tension in the area. Most of the people I talk to seem to rejoice in the demise of Terre’Blanche. However, it’s worth noting that atleast two black people I talked to, sympathized with him. Although they agree he was at some point a brutal racist, at the time of his death he was a reformed old man, who had done away with the mentality of looking at black people as sub-human.

I’m standing by the gate when a white Isuzu van pulls over. I’m looking at the wilted flowers and sun-beaten papers with messages of condolences in the aftermath of Terre’Blanche’s death. A huge guy, the size of Umaga the wrestler, disembarks from the Isuzu. I smell trouble and I quickly introduce myself and inform the huge man that I’m a visitor from Botswana. The guy relaxes and we chat. I paint Malema as a bad guy so as to endear myself to this Afrikaner who is wearing a T-Shirt inscribed “Proudly Boer” at the back. The guy cannot finish one sentence without swearing. I cannot recall his first name but I still remember his last name, Viljoen. He boasts that if Malema wants to fight, they are ready to “wipe them out”. It’s late and Viljoen doesn’t think it’s necessary to go and see the room where Terre’Blanche was found lying in a pool of blood. I had asked him to take me there. I stepped on Terre’Blanche’s soil. Not that it means anything special. I hit the road back to Gaborone.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper