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from P.S. by Liberty Henwick

Chapter Nine

My mother also worked at Skukuza Camp, she cleaned out the guest chalets every morning while Josephine and I were in class. With some other women, my mother took up weaving and selling baskets to tourists to earn extra money in the afternoons. She would go out early in the morning before work with my sister to collect the long grass, being careful not to stray too far off into the bush, and then in the afternoons she would sit under the shade of some trees with other hawkers selling crafts and curiosities beside the road at the entrance to the camp where tourists would find them. After school my sister and I would sit with her and sell baskets until late in the evening, we were afraid to be with my father at home. My younger brother – Jacob Mihloti, which means tears - was born during these years and he was reared on the side of the road.

Tourists would praise my mother for her find handiwork and pay a few coins for the baskets that took her so many hours to make. We learnt to speak English and Afrikaans from listening to their conversations. One day when I was close to eleven, around 1985, I remember a family coming to look at our baskets. The three children were around my age, maybe a little younger although they were tall and well fed, they stared at us over the ice creams they were licking. The father had bright red hair and I remember them as I had never seen hair that colour before. One of the girls had the same colour hair. My sister and I were offered some sweets by the mother and when we went up to receive them, the oldest girl looked at us and said, ‘Are they boys or girls Ma because they all look the same to me?’ I took the sweets but I was angry, I was a child but I wasn’t stupid. I had seen how the whites had better everything in life than the blacks. I watched and remembered all these things.

The winter that I was twelve my parents told me it was time for me to go to matlala. This is a school of initiation with the other boys who were growing into manhood. I had heard some worrying stories about matlala, like the year before when two boys actually died from their circumcision injuries so I planned to explain to my parents that the modern way was for boys not to go to these schools nowadays. My plan didn’t go the way I expected. ‘We are not a modern family’, said my father, ‘we have royal blood and it is your duty. It was fine for me and your uncles’. He put his hands together as though he was protecting his manhood. I am happy to report that I survived that matlala, but it is secret and I cannot tell you what happened. But there I met some boys who became my friends.

As I grew into a youth my friends and I decided to create a secret political activist group although we didn’t get up to much politics. Mostly we just got wasted on beer and dagga. We chose nicknames for each other that was something to do with what we were like: there was Bossboy (he called the shots in the group), Shoes (spent all his spare cash on them), Unlucky Dube (he had dreadlocks and was always injuring himsel...

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