Black people and reading just do not mix. First things first: before anybody tells me about the string of degrees they have, I am talking about general (i.e. non-academic) reading.
In this country, with almost 50 million people, a book has to sell only 5000 copies to be regarded as a bestseller. That can only mean one thing: South Africans – of whom almost 90% are black and about 95% of those African – just do not read.
I have often wondered why blacks don’t read. I have narrowed it down to two reasons: Firstly the inferior Bantu education – which most of us were exposed to – never, ever encouraged us to read. The last thing the National Party wanted was vast numbers of knowledgeable blacks.
Go to any black household and you will find lots of music tapes, LPs, CDs and DVDs and a handful, if any, of general books. That, by the way, includes blacks in the suburbs. The lack of reading is a black thing, irrespective of where you live. It is way more fashionable to have loads of music than to be truly knowledgeable. But then again, will it suit the ANC government all of a sudden to have a vast number of broad-minded, knowledgeable black South Africans? I have my doubts, because that would mean singing talent alone would not make you a senior government official.
The second reason why black people do not read is, admittedly, because reading is not a basic need. So as long as they have to worry about basic things like where they are going to sleep and where their next meal will come from, the last thing on their minds will be: “what book am I going to read today?”
Another reason (read: excuse) for the lack of reading is that most books in this country do not appeal to a black audience; and thus the vast majority of people cannot relate to the products on offer. Bullshit! The fact is that there are countless books written by black (and white) South Africans, which an average black person can relate to, but those books never seem to crack it in the market. Why? Because the vast majority of black South Africans do not even know that such books even exist.
Another famous excuse is that there are no bookshops in the townships. Well, the only bookshop in Soweto – a location with more than a million black people – closed down at the end of August because: “Eish, business was very slow.”
In my new book, Heart of Africa, I mention that readers can read more about my late friend (to whom the book is dedicated) at this blog.
Here is my dedication to Sifiso ‘Bru’ Sibisi, who was almost my best man. If you want to download the document, or share it online, see the Scribd link below.
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A confidant who almost was my best man, Sifiso ‘Bru’ Sibisi
With only twelve days to go before my wedding, on Monday the 30th of September 2007, a great friend of mine died. Sifiso “Bru” Sibisi was my confidant and was, until that tragic event, supposed to be my best man. His death, as is expected when someone very close to you passes away, shocked and rattled me. I had last seen him 48 hours earlier when, together with the bridesmaids and the other groomsman, we met to do the dry run of the wedding program at my brother’s place in Westville Durban. He was – as usual – in high spirits, joking around and looking forward to the wedding.
He died of a suspected heart attack. Even today, I still cannot believe how a 33 year old energetic fit young man could leave us so suddenly. As expected of us black people, soon after his death, there were some grumblings (and gossips) about him being bewitched and so forth and so on. You know the usual story: neighbours were jealous of his success, achievements and progress in life
A few days later, as I was slowly starting to come into terms with his death, I kept asking myself ‘why now.’ My life was distraught. My friend, confidant and a man who was supposed to be my best man was no more.
“Not a good sign for your wedding and marriage” one person told me. Within a day or two, I received a lot of unrequested advice from a lot of people. Advice ranged from
“Cancel the wedding”
“Get saved and give your Life to the Lord” to
“Go and consult with isangoma”
“Cleanse off bad luck by slaughtering a black ox.”
I did not take of any of the advice.
That Friday night meant that the following day will be exactly week after I last saw Bru alive and exactly a week before my wedding day. I also knew that the next day I had to drive to Mtubatuba in Northern Kwazulu Natal to pay my last respect which, consequently, meant canceling the bachelor party. Not having the final party as a bachelor – to me at least – was not such a big deal because, I had had a very long and hard (pun intended) bachelor life anyway.
I spent about two hours – whilst lying in bed – reminiscing on all the good and not-so-good times we have shared. I thought about the Mozambique trip we did together in 2002. Together with Bru; and after attending a friend’s wedding in Swaziland, we asked the other guys to drop us at the Lomahashi border post. From there we took public transport to Maputo. It was whilst seated in that battered taxi where a decision that – one day – I will do a huge African trip was cemented. In 2005 I did the Cape to Cairo and my first book, Dark Continent my black Arse, covers that trip.
Back to the 2002 Maputo trip, after a few days in Maputo; Bru got lucky. This was his second time in Mozambique’s capital city and it was my first. So he came prepared with some few Portuguese pick up lines. He chatted to one gal at a bar and, within 30 minutes a beautiful Mozambican gal of mixed race had fallen for his charm. All three of us – with Bru in the arms of his newly found companion – walked back to our backpackers. There was a small problem though. Visitors were not allowed at that particular backpackers. So, just like the boer, we had to maak ‘n plan.
Whilst I distracted the security guard, with my almost non-existent Portuguese; Bru and the gal sneaked through. There was, however, an even bigger problem. We were sharing a 10 bed dormitory with other travellers. Itsseems as if the powers that be genuinely wanted Bru to screw that chick because when we eventually got into the dormitory; we could not believe our eyes. There was nobody. It was empty. Although we could see – judging by the backpacks lying on the beds – that other people were occupying sharing a dormitory with us but they was no one at that particular moment. We had to make another plan very quickly. In fact it was his plan. In retrospect, I am surprised he could still think because, I am sure, his blood had left his upper head and descended to the lower part of his body.
He instructed me, in no uncertain terms, to stand in front of the main door leading to the dormitory whilst he together with the gal – who by now was gently stroking him behind his neck – carried on with the business inside. Very reluctantly, I closed the door behind me. My biggest worry was how was I supposed to stop someone who wanted to enter the dormitory he / she was booked in.
Within two minutes – or three minutes maximum – Bru opened the door from the inside and the gal was leaving. I could see from the look in his eyes that he was disappointed. He did not get lucky, I reasoned. An hour later, once we had settled in another bar, he told me that – in fact – that gal was a hooker. It was after they had finished having sex that she mentioned and he had to pay. Due to the fact that we were on a very tight budget, she ended taking the bottle of whisky that I had brought to Mozambique because we were aware that alcohol is pricey in that country. I sat there; a bit tipsy, thinking this man negotiated with that woman and still managed to have sex with her, all within three minutes. His only response, as he smiled – showing his character black gums – was
“Izingane zala e Maputo ziyashisa.” – Maputo chicks are real hotties.
We agreed that this story should remain between the two of us. Although I slipped it once to another good friend of ours who had earlier dropped us on the SA / Moz border; it was kept a secret. Well until now.
Another incident which came to mind as I was still reminiscing about Bru’s life happened in 2005. He gave me a call and he did not sound happy which was very uncharacteristic of him. We went to Jack Rabbits Bar in Glenwood, Durban.
“Sihle” he said before sipping a cold Castle draught “this woman that I thought we had deep understanding with has disappointed me” He explained the story of how he had found out that that woman was unfaithful to him.
I can’t blame her. You are a two minute man, bru; I was tempted to say.
Anyway we drank vast quantities of alcohol that night. I could see the he was hurting. Naturally I had to change the subject and – as such – we ended up talking about a variety of other issues. As we were about to leave the bar, he said, as he was about to finish his 5th of jar of Castle draught;
“Sihle I am telling you mfowethu, from now on I am going to deal with upper class, high caliber, sophisticated and refined women. I am sick and tired of this Pick & Pay cashier”
I was gob smacked. I sat there in awe. I could not help but think, eish this guy is being frustrated by a Pick & Pay cashier. I know they say love is blind but hey, although he was on the negative side of the handsome scale, the man was a successful architect who also had other business interests. He could have done better and, besides, the damn woman was cheating on him.
As he got into his car which was parked right next to mine, he said “Uyabona manje ngizobabhevuza ngophondo lwami kukabhejane” – From now on I will pock them with my rhino horn……
It seems he did exactly that because few months later he phoned me and, this time around, it sounded even more serious. We went to the same bar and – again- drank vast amounts of alcohol. After the 4th jar he said
“Sihle, I am in deep shit” before taking a deep breadth. He took a small sip of beer from an almost empty jar before continuing.
“There is this woman from Chesterville that I had a fling with. Now she tells me she is pregnant.”
“Hhayi bo!” I interjected
“That is the least of my problems. A few days ago she also told me that she is HIV positive”
As he put the jar down I could see that his hand was literally shaking. In the 10 years that we had been friends, I had never seen so much fear in his eyes. It was as if, by looking through his eyes, I could see his trembling soul. His lips were dry and he was –uncharacteristically – winking non-stop. He was not only shaken, he was distraught. He also told me that besides Mthokozisi (his other friend) nobody knew about “this thing” .
Although there were people around us having loads of fun; I could feel, smell and almost touch the tension. It was like – although we were sharing the same environment with the bar patrons – but we were on another consciousness.
After downing another round of draughts; we agreed – amongst other things – that he needed to go for an HIV test and ‘we will take it from there’
He went for the test and the results – a few days later – brought some good news and, above all, a huge relief: he was HIV negative. After that we never really spoke about that event again and, as a result, I am not sure what eventually happened to the pregnant woman and the baby. In fact I was very surprised at his funeral that he had three kids and not a single daughter – Zime – as I knew. As Mthokozisi – who was the Programme Director in his funeral – said that Bru use to consistently and proudly proclaim:
“Mina ngiqhulula amazibulo odwa – I only give birth to first-borns”
Whilst reminiscing about Bru’s life; and just before switching off the lights and dosing off; I made a commitment to myself:-
Irrespective how long it takes, one day I will write a book and dedicate it to a confidant who almost was my best man, Sifiso “Bru” Sibisi.
“Bru; although you use to irritate me especially when you scratched your neck non-stop or, even worse, when you consistently picked up your nose with your little finger; after all this time I am still puzzled by your death and I still miss you mpintshi yami (my friend). You were a good man and I learnt a lot from you. You are, without a doubt, one of the handful people who have directly sculptured the man I am today. It is only now – that you are gone – that I truly appreciate your priceless contribution to my life. You were indeed a true friend and shining star. You managed – without loosing the sense of who you are – to be dynamic, accommodative and easily associate with anyone and everyone. Hence most people could easily relate to you. This world, I am convinced, is much poorer without you. I cannot begin to explain the sense of loss to myself, to our circle of friends, your family, the community and the society at large. I certainly hope – wherever you are – you have not lost your awkard’ish-dry’ish-will-tell-you-this-stupid-story-whether-you-laugh-or-not sense of humour. Your unfunny crap stories, which were meant to be jokes, use to drive me against the wall. Ironically it is one of the things I miss about you. There is so much that we were still going to do together. Remember the Rio de Janeiro trip which we promised each other that we were going to do together? How can I forget our plan to open a high-class brothel for the 2010 FIFA World Cup? Kindly relay the message to your ancestors and / or Jesus and / or Allah plus other gods or whoever is in charge; that it’s about time they get their priorities right. This ongoing death of good people is emotionally killing some of us dead
My brother, my latest book – Heart of Africa – is for you.
I am very happy to announce that my second book, Heart of Africa, is now available at bookshops nationwide. People who enjoyed “Dark Continent My Black Arse” will thoroughly enjoy my new baby.
Eish, I hate blowing my own horn. So let me leave it it another person:
“I can’t imagine a better guide into the heart of Africa than Sihle Khumalo – a no-nonsense traveller, an astute observer, a lover of people and a man with a fine sense of humour. Where to next, Sihle? — Max du Preez
I have just returned from exploring Central Africa. Unlike my previous trip – the Cape to Cairo – which had a clear destination, this one could have ended anywhere. In approximately 30 days, I travelled by public transport from Johannesburg – through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and then back to Uganda and Kenya. Besides just travelling, I had six things on my TO-DO List:
1. Take a ride on a ferry (MV Liemba) on Lake Tanganyika
2. Stand on the equator in Uganda
3. Bungee jump on the source of the Nile
4. Visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre
5. Get upclose and personal with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda
6. Visit the remote source of the Nile River at Nyungwe forest in Rwanda. » read more
On the last Friday of 2007, I – together with my nine friends – decided on continuing with our ritual of celebrating New Year in another African country. This time we decided to visit Victoria Falls. Due to reported unavailability of fuel in Zimbabwe, we thought of – instead of using the direct route – driving the two cars through Botswana.
We rushed through Rustenburg, Zeerust and got to the Skilpadshek border gate which – thank goodness – had extended its operating hours until midnight because of the festive season.
We got to Botswana’s capital City – Gaborone – just before midnight and drove throughout the night to Francistown. We left Botswana’s second largest town at sunrise on our way to Kazungula border which was still more than 500 kilometres away. About forty kilometres outside a non-descript town called Nata, we hit a massive pothole which led to – due to the bending of the rims – the puncture of both front and rear left tyres. Another car had to go back to Nata where we were helped by a young man operating on the side of the road. He basically, using an old hammer, hit and straightened both rims. Unfortunately one rim cracked and that meant we were not going to have a spare tyre. Although we had been delayed for more than three hours, we were all in great spirits again as we continued – albeit slowly – heading to Kazungula. Now and then we stopped and let the elephants – at their own pace – cross the road. Only in Africa, I know. » read more
Does Zimbabwe epitomise what main stream media often refer to as a ‘dark continent’? Has Robert Mugabe ruined what was at one stage referred to as the Jewel of Africa? Has Zimbabwe reached a stage of no return?
These are some of the questions I will be trying to answer in the next couple of weeks. Just after Christmas I – together with my friends – will drive up to Victoria Falls for the 2008 New Year celebration. We want to party with the locals. We want to experience and see if – at all – Zimbabweans have lost hope?
History, especially in Africa, has proved over and over again that the human spirit eventually triumphs against all the injustices of this world. Therefore I want to see for myself if the human spirit will do it again.
I will let you know – in the New Year – what my ‘findings’ were. In the meantime, take it easy and have loads of good clean fun!!!
“Although it is possible to travel from Lusaka directly to Tanzania — by making a 36-hour train journey from Kapiri Moshi, less than 200km north of Lusaka, to Dar es Salaam — I thought I would travel via Malawi in order to see Africa’s third-largest lake. This would be my second attempt at visiting Lake Malawi.
One question that bugged me a lot whilst I was doing my Cape to Cairo trip is why is Africa so rich but yet so poor? Why is the cradle of humankind so underdeveloped? Why are we the least developed continent in the world? Why are vast majority of Africans living way below poverty line? Why are her children dying of hunger and malnutrition every day? Why is her infrastructure as good as non- existent in other parts of the continent? Maybe the question should be: what caused all this havoc (for a lack of better word) that we find ourselves in today and, even more important, how do we – as Africans – get ourselves out of this mess?
Welcome onto my blog where, I hope, we will be able to share wonderful, incredible, good and bad stories about Africa. Definitely not a dark continent*, although, I have to concede, sometimes she is dusty. Very dusty.
The fact is, it just cannot get any better than Africa – the cradle of mankind. Something of a motto for this blog. Feel at home… you are most welcome.