Alexandra has always been an interesting place. Full of life, full laughter and peppered all over with pain, poverty and suffering. There weren’t as many people then and there were even fewer lights. Gomora, Gamampyane, dark city and of late, Gom town.
We lived in the women’s hostel back then. It seemed like a gas stove powered, self-catering prison looking back now and we’d soon have to move as my elder brother grew too big to live there. It echoed in every direction and the communal kitchens and laundry areas on each floor bustled with laughter and gossip. Every floor looked the same. It was easy to get lost in the endless echo and dark pockets. So I never strayed more than a single floor away.
We moved into a small shack not too far away from the hostel. There were three round, pointed roof bucket toilets behind our little shack and it was in that esthetically poor but love-rich place where I first noticed my mother’s cape and it has never escaped my gaze ever since. She seemed to make miracles happen every day from the smallest things and would soon erect a brick structure to give us a modicum of dignity.
Now and then we would go to Ga Rankua. The questions from our peers would hit us like a title wave and we would lap up every moment like dogs with a fresh stake. I would explain how Setjwetla, a shantytown on the banks of the jukskei, meant something different from the then-contemporary name of a dance in which the object was to get naked. We were rock stars. The kids from the big city.
While Bophutswana sang Lefatshe leno la borra rona side by side with ditonki diapoka, Alexandra was on the cusp of its bloodiest era and to this day, many dare not enter it. Nelson was coming and the song K’sasa eksen’ ngo 4 o’clock was about to lose all meaning.
Dipek was deployed to pave and tar our roads while slowly, Mustelek began installation of prepaid electricity. Change would come thick and fast to appease the masses and stay a bloody civil war and my grandfather would die in the arms of his beloved wife but not before Nelson, his CODESA and democracy came.
Word came that the IFP had deployed from the deep of KwaZulu and was headed for the small township of Alexandra. The men’s hostels had been mixed then. Tswana, Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa, Tsonga, Pedi, Venda all lived side by side.
But this would soon come to an abrupt and bloody end. The IFP impis arrived by train from the heart of the Zulu Kingdom. They had on their person, knives, pangas, knobkieries, guns, and on their itinerary…death.
Busses took them to from Johannesburg park station and brought them to our door, the bridge that led into pan Africa at the mouth of the township. Our worst fears, the truth we didn’t want to believe had come knocking. They alighted with a thunderous battle cry. It was all the quarter and pleasantries they would give that day.
They hacked down anything that was in their path and what would follow would hold the entire township hostage for a long time to come.