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Has South Africa’s labour movement become a middle class movement? An extract from Labour Beyond Cosatu

Labour Beyond Cosatu goes well beyond the previous volumes of the Taking Democracy Seriously project in some of its sorties, and is not shy of pulling its punches in what is now a highly charged environment. Deeply sympathetic to the project of organised labour yet highly critical of its present trajectory, this collection deserves to attract wide attention internationally as well as domestically. Roger Southall, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

South Africa’s working class movement is still powerful, but pressurised and polarised due to major shifts in its structure, base and forms of struggle. This timely, rigorously researched collection draws attention to key developments within Cosatu and beyond … Highly recommended. Lucien van der Walt, Professor of Sociology, Rhodes University, South Africa

Labour Beyond Cosatu is the fifth publication in the Taking Democracy Seriously project which started in 1994 and comprises of surveys of the opinions, attitudes and lifestyles of members of trade unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). This survey was conducted shortly before the elections in 2014, in a context in which government economic policy had not fundamentally shifted to the left and the massacre of 34 mineworkers at Marikana by the South African Police Service had fundamentally shaken the labour landscape, with mineworkers not only striking against their employers, but also their union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Cosatu leaders had started to openly criticise levels of corruption in the State, while a ‘tectonic shift’ took place when the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) was expelled from Cosatu at the end of 2014.

In its analysis of the survey, Labour Beyond Cosatu shows that Cosatu, fragmented and weakened through fissures in its alliance with the African National Congress, is no longer the only dominant force influencing South Africa’s labour landscape. Contributors also examine aspects such as changing patterns of class; workers’ incomes and their lifestyles; workers’ relationship to civil society movements and service delivery protests; and the politics of male power and privilege in trade unions.

The trenchant analysis in Labour Beyond Cosatu exhibits fiercely independent and critically engaged labour scholarship, in the face of shifting alliances currently shaping the contestation between authoritarianism and democracy.

This article, written for The Conversation, is based on an extract from a chapter by Andries Bezuidenhout, Christine Bischoff and Ntsehiseng Nthejane:

Do South African trade unions still represent the working class?

The South African labour landscape has undergone massive changes in the past few years that have left the country’s trade union movement almost unrecognisable from yesteryear.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, still the country’s largest trade union federation, has been bleeding members for a while and has been shaken to the core by the exit of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa. This exit has led to a new formation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions. Both labour federations still claim to represent the interests of the working class.

Something else, perhaps more fundamental has been changing within South Africa’s trade union movement. The membership base has shifted significantly from one dominated by unskilled and semiskilled workers to one that shows bias towards skilled and professional workers. This is captured in a series of surveys undertaken between 1994 and 2014, before the National Union of Metal Workers’s exit.

The data shows that less than 1% of members within the trade union movement classified themselves as professional in early years of democracy. The picture had changed radically by 2008 with 20% of the respondents classifying themselves as professional. It would therefore seem that South Africa’s trade union federation had become a home for middle class civil servants, rather than a working class federation.

The evolution

A group of labour scholars has been conducting surveys of Congress of South African Trade Unions members before every parliamentary election since 1994. The intention of the survey, titled Taking Democracy Seriously, was to study the impact of union democracy on parliamentary democracy.

The data set (drawn from five surveys, with the last conducted in 2014 just before National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa was expelled) tell us much more than just what union members’ attitudes towards democracy is. It paints a complex picture of who trade unions actually represent.

At its high point, the federation had a membership of 2.2 million. This was the result of three waves of unionisation.

The first wave of members comprised of workers who were organised into the initial manufacturing unions that resulted from the militancy of the 1973 strikes.

The second wave started in 1985 with the National Union of Mineworkers – the first to organise black miners and what was to become the largest union in the country – joining the Federation of South African Trade Unions in 1985.

The third wave came with the public sector unions that emerged after 1990. This wave benefited from the Labour Relations Act of 1995 which brought public sector employees under the same dispensation as the private sector in terms of collective bargaining and organisational rights.

In the early years of democracy public sector unions were so marginal to the federation and debates in labour studies that the researchers did not even include any unions from the public sector.

The professional factor

From 1994 union members were asked to classify themselves as being professional, clerical, supervisors, skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled. Less than 1% classified themselves as professional in 1994, 1998 and 2004.

The data reflects a major shift in the last two surveys conducted after the inclusion of public sector unions in the sample. 20% of respondents classified themselves as professional in 2008, and 19% in 2014. This constituted a fifth of federation membership base, certainly a massive shift from the early 1990s.

Those members who classified themselves as clerical remained more or less constant, with those classifying themselves as supervisors increasing slightly from 4% in 1994 to 6% in 2014.

What is interesting though, is an increase of those who classify themselves as skilled increasing from 21% in 1994 to 37% in 2014.

Continue reading here.

Book details

  • Labour Beyond Cosatu: Mapping the Rupture in South Africa’s Labour Landscape edited by Andries Bezuidenhout, Malehoko Tshoaedi
    EAN: 978-1-77614-053-4
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

"Marikana changed everything, but nothing has changed" - an excerpt from Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh's Democracy and Delusion

Democracy and Delusion
A fresh, different perspective on South African politics.

Many common political arguments come pre-packaged in a very old and dusty box – and in this book, Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh sets out to dismantle that box. The self-evident truths are not, in fact, so indisputable. He argues that free education is far from impossible, the ANC did not liberate South Africa, land reform is not the first step to chaos, and the media is not free…

In this incisive, informed book we find not only challenges to commonly held opinions, but optimism about South Africa’s future and new solutions to old problems.

Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh is an outspoken political commentator, scholar and musician. He is a co-founder of the InkuluFreeHeid Organisation and was prominent in the Rhodes Must Fall movement at Oxford University, where he is currently pursuing a doctorate in international relations. He has made popular videos about South African politics, available on his site www.sizwempofuwalsh.co.za and his social media accounts. Visit the site for the companion rap album to this book, also titled Democracy and Delusion.

Read the chapter ‘Option 2: Lonmin’s Housing Failures’:

Marikana continues to haunt South Africa. The tragedy is that Marikana changed everything, but nothing has changed. If anything, those responsible have struck a double blow to the victims, stripping them of their dignity and refusing to acknowledge wrongdoing through appropriate acts of atonement.

One of the major factors at play in Marikana was the mining sector’s appalling record on providing adequate housing for workers. Even Judge Farlam admitted that inadequate housing contributed to the events at Marikana.

In 2006, Lonmin talked a good game. It enlisted the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre to facilitate dialogues between its stakeholders. Following this, it committed R56m per year to education, health, and housing programmes in the Marikana community over five years. Brad Mills, then-CEO, announced the steps alongside Bishop Tutu himself. Tutu was similarly optimistic about the initiative, saying ‘this is not about altruism, but is rather the best form of self-interest, because once your workforce is happy, efficiencies are sure to rise’. The announcement was a public relations boon. Mills spent a night in one of the worker hostels, and cashed in on his own narrative as a former drill-rig operator in the United States. Lonmin looked set to implement an ambitious socio-economic plan.

The plan is important to scrutinise, because it secured Lonmin’s mining rights. The plan’s signature was a pledge to build 5 500 houses by 2011. By 2012, Lonmin had built just three. And those three were only ‘show houses’ to exhibit what the final ones would look like. In 2011, it abandoned the 2006 housing plan altogether, while never obtaining written consent from the state to change its targets. It’s difficult to imagine a failure more spectacular. What went wrong? When events at Marikana eventually illuminated this failure, Lonmin could only give a litany of flimsy excuses.

Its first defence was that it ‘lacked the necessary financial resources’ due to the 2008 financial crisis. But this argument was crushed by Adv. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi when he cross-examined Cyril Ramaphosa at the Marikana Commission. Even if the financial crisis was to blame, why had nothing been done in 2007 and 2008 to reach the goals of the plan? Surely, more than three houses could have been built in two years? In fact, at least 700 should have been built by then, per Lonmin’s own reports. Ramaphosa fumbled, citing the ‘broader context’.

Asked if he had ever queried the actual number of houses built, Ramaphosa then shockingly admitted he ‘never had sight of a report to that effect’. These figures were presented in the Lonmin Annual Report of 2009, released a year before he became Chair of the Transformation Committee. How could he not have interrogated that report before assuming such an important role? Either he was extremely ignorant, profiting from a board positon without paying regard to working conditions; or, he was satisfied with the progress of three houses out of 5 500. Either way, his conduct was a serious dereliction of duty, and a sad indictment on his commitment to transformation.

So, Ramaphosa didn’t have a clue about the housing situation, despite his senior role at Lonmin. He blindly accepted the management reports. If we can forgive this, we can’t forgive his ignorance of Lonmin’s financial position. Surely, he knew whether the 2008 financial crisis did necessitate scrapping the entire housing plan? Let’s look at Lonmin’s financials in the years between 2006 and 2011 to see if their excuses stack up. First, Lonmin’s revenues were high in 2006 and 2007, at $1.9 and $2.2bn respectively, as Figure 2 shows. Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) in these years were $842m and $796m. The 2008 financial year was Lonmin’s best: EBIT was $963m. This changed in 2009: EBIT fell to -$93m. But profits rebounded immediately. In 2010, EBIT was $228m, and in 2011 Lonmin made a profit of $311m (equivalent to approximately R4bn). How could Lonmin possibly have claimed financial hardship for a plan that cost R56m per year when it was consistently earning an average of R3bn per year? Lonmin’s poverty excuse is absolute hogwash; nonsense that makes Jacob Zuma look like a paragon of virtuous truth-telling. And, sadly, it’s hogwash that Cyril Ramaphosa accepted unquestioningly.

It gets worse. Ramaphosa’s company, Shanduka, was receiving R3m per year to advise Lonmin on ‘black empowerment’ while Lonmin was crying poverty. Somehow it could afford these payments, but not wage increases. To put this number in perspective, the money paid to Shanduka could have funded the R12 500 wage demand for 500 workers. Lonmin also claims the plans failed because other ‘stakeholders’ like local government failed to avail land. But Lonmin’s original plan never mentioned a lack of access to land. And Lonmin’s own reports say that by 2008, they had secured enough land for at least 800 stands. In 2009, an additional 1 500 stands were approved by the local council. So, 2 300 stands were available by the time Ramaphosa became Chairperson of the Transformation Committee. Why then did Lonmin only build three ‘show houses’?

Lonmin tries to mitigate these failures by saying it’s still managed to convert several hostels. Hostel-conversion means turning rooms that used to house eight people at once into single-person accommodation. In 2014, it completed its hostel conversion programme. But this was no cause for celebration. The goal was to convert 124 hostels by 2011. They only began conversion in 2008 (the year of purported financial difficulty), and by 2011 less than half of hostels had been converted into anything that approximated an adequate standard. But hostel conversions mask a larger problem. As Judge Farlam pointed out, conversion meant that there was a resultant housing shortage, since old hostels slept eight to a room. That’s why new houses were so important, because converting hostels meant that many people would be without housing given the size of the new units. According to Amnesty international, this affected 13 500 workers. Their only option was to seek housing in Marikana, one of the most shack-dense places in South Africa and an ode to our country’s grotesque inequality.

Most miners ended up in Nkaneng, an informal settlement adjacent to the mine on Lonmin’s land. Nkaneng is one of the saddest sights in South Africa. Rickety shacks along beige dirt roads sit cheek-by-jowl with towering mineshafts, like tall mirrors reflecting South Africa’s ugliness back at itself. If Lonmin could just focus on improving the lives of the Nkaneng community, it could dent inequality, and ease the national wound caused by Marikana. Instead, it has reneged on its housing promises, and rubbed salt in the wound. When it was put to Ramaphosa that Lonmin’s housing performance was a ‘compete failure’ he said, ‘he wouldn’t put it like that’. Rather, he said, Lonmin ‘underachieved’. Quite.

Lonmin’s arguments just don’t add up. They tricked the Department of Mineral Resources into giving them a license, then pocketed the profits and back-peddled on their commitments. In my view, their license should be revoked. At the very least, they should be heavily fined for breaching their own legally binding plan. Instead, government has stayed eerily silent. That’s the real farce: even the killings could not provoke Lonmin to budge an inch.

In many ways, Marikana is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with South Africa today. It’s what happens when we let the ten myths I’ve discussed in this book fester. It touches on land rights and illuminates the failures of land reform. It implicates President Zuma, and spotlights his lack of accountability. It shows the persistence of racial oppression. It reveals the deep biases in South Africa’s so-called ‘free’ media. It shows how living conditions have worsened for many since 1994, exposes the flaws of the ANC’s ‘we liberated you’ narrative, and highlights the importance of reworking our education system. Marikana is South Africa today, and we hide from it like we hide from the horror of our reality. Justice delayed is justice denied, but justice delayed and denied is justice destroyed. It’s time we wiped away the miracle narrative, and faced our twisted, beautiful country anew, with the only weapon that can help us navigate the future: the truth.

Book details

"How we emerge from this terrible tragedy will depend on how seriously we take the challenges it has placed before us." In line with the anniversary of the Marikana massacre, read an extract from Z Pallo Jordan's Letters to my Comrades

In line with the anniversary of the Marikana massacre, read the following extract from Z Pallo Jordan’s Letters to my Comrades: Interventions & Excursions. Here Jordan wrote about the massacre and his views on the role of the ANC.

The book is scheduled to be in stores next week.
 
 

Remembering Bisho – and Marikana

September 2012

This (untitled) lecture was an address to the Eastern Cape legislature in September 2012, the tenth anniversary of the Bisho shootings, but also just weeks after the Marikana massacre.

The credibility of the ANC is probably the lowest it has been since 1990! The leadership has been stripped of its dignity! The best advice one can offer our movement caught in a hole is: ‘stop digging!’

How we emerge from this terrible tragedy will depend on how seriously we take the challenges it has placed before us.

It demonstrates the determination of the government to get at the truth that the President appointed a Judicial Commission of Inquiry within days of the shootings. Commendable as the appointment of the commission is, its primary concern will be to establish legal matters of fact relating to the specific events of that fateful day, August 16th. We are confident that the Judicial Commission of Inquiry will conduct its investigations with the appropriate rigour and uncover all the relevant facts.

But Marikana is symptomatic of a much deeper malaise. The all too easy recourse to lethal violence on the part of the Police tells its own terrifying tale. Besieged by new forms of violent crime perpetrated by criminals armed with military hardware, the South African Police Service has been exhorted to meet fire with fire by more than one minister and National Police Commissioner. This might have had the unfortunate consequence of encouraging the use of lethal force.

The sources of the tensions that led to bloodshed on August 16th go far deeper than the specific events that unfolded that day. I want to use this platform to call upon the leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions to organise a Workers’ Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana tragedy. COSATU should invite the other two union federations to participate in such a Workers’ Commission that should investigate, amongst other things, the return to South Africa’s mining industry of the ‘native labour touts’, who pitted workers against each other for their own profit in yesteryear, in the shape of labour brokers. The ‘outsourcing’ of recruitment was through labour brokers prevalent in Marikana played a notorious role in piling up the dry tinder of conflict. It should also shed light on the manner in which the mining industry is evading its responsibilities to its work force who live in shanty-towns around the mines.

A Workers’ Commission should also be tasked with investigating the shockingly high levels of violence in our society. An aspect of this violence is the alarmingly high incidence of private gun ownership in this country. The close correlation between high levels of gun ownership and gun-related crime is now well established. The best way to curb gun related crimes is to move towards a gun-free society. The police service in a gun-free society will have no need to carry firearms.

Madam Premier,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Comrades and friends,

Does it sit easily with the membership of the ANC? Does it sit easily with the millions of ANC supporters here at home, and in the world at large that during its centennial year, the government, led by the ANC presided over the first post-democracy state massacre?

How do we explain to the shade of Uncle J.B. Marks that today it is bullets fired from the automatic weapons of our democratic police service that are creating widows and orphans in the villages of the eastern Cape, of Lesotho, of the North-West province?

Who will explain to the martyrs of Bisho that the Police service they laid down their lives to create, also fires live ammunition at demonstrators?

The tensions that erupted in the continuing strike that led to the events of August 16th are in many respects the result of the compromises the movement made to attain the beach-head of democracy in 1994. We substituted BEE for wealth redistribution; we persuaded ourselves to be content with less than what we had fought for, because it was much more than what we had had.

In another context I once raised the question: Will our Black captains of industry behave like the Randlords who incited the Anglo-Boer war and the atrocities of the Concentration Camps? Or will they behave like the latter-day White monopolists who mouthed liberal sentiments, voted for the UP while they profited handsomely from collaborating with apartheid? or would pioneer a new path of corporate responsibility by promoting better working conditions and wages for workers?

Regrettably, it would appear the emergent Black capitalist class have bought into and are being incorporated into the culture of White capital. It might be unpleasant, but the current ANC leadership and the government it leads must accept that it has probably presided over the years of the ANC’s most profound crisis. Which poses the matter of the quality of the movement’s leadership at this moment.

Every movement for political transformation has arrived at this moment of truth sooner or later. During the French Revolution it came on the 18th Brumaire; during the Russian Revolution it was Kronstadt.

Has that moment also arrived for South Africa in the shape of Marikana?

Let Marikana be the moment when to once again take hold of the movement of our people and steer it again towards the sound and sober strategies of the past.

The elective conference that the ANC holds at the end of this year must rise to the challenge of producing a leadership corps that has the will, the moral courage and moral standing to take on task of cleaning the Augean stables of corruption!

The elective conference of the ANC must rise to the challenge of producing a leadership corps that will restore the credibility of the movement amongst its friends and opponents.

The elective conference of the ANC must rise to the challenge of producing a leadership corps that will restore the movement’s reputation and record of compassion.

Only by correcting itself in that manner will the ANC regain the confidence of the democratic forces of this country and take us all on a higher trajectory to a better life for all our people!

Book details

"Poverty does not know what shame is" - read two excerpts from Lesego Rampolokeng's third novel, Bird-Monk Seding

This place is called SEDING, short for Leseding, place of light. Quite ironic given the darkness throbbing at its core and spilling out bubbling in the blackest rage when least expected. Surrounded by farmland in all directions, it is a settlement of about 700 households crammed in tiny structures. Average 7 souls per hovel. It used to be made up of ramshackle corrugated iron shacks that seemed tossed down regardless of aesthetics. Then the new administration’s housing programme kicked in.

Man in the bush in quest of Bosman’s ghost. Finding AWB rabidity. Tranquility so deep it kills. Hate-hounds. Beneath the surface quiet, such racist rotten-heartedness. & children dying. Starvation abounds. Raw sewage in the water supply. Crap in the taps. Skin matters. Ancient white beards sexing black teens for tins, food exchange. The soul’s impoverishment. The starved get their humanity halved. And weekends of sex-tourism. Alcoholic stares everywhere. Deep fear too.

Read two excerpts from Lesego Rampolokeng’s third novel, Bird-Monk Seding, here:

Bushveld dawn bird-orchestra. Deep growls, horses-n-trailers in the freeway distance, growling changing down. And then off into the Botswana-bound distance or back from there. They pull breath in and out, shake heads and in satisfaction, or bad mood, depending, go on eating up the asphalt. Road-graze. Predatory, still.

Tiny community, Seding. The country’s smallest municipality. But the regularity of graves opening up beats average middle-town. You see it in the expressions walking. Always on the verge of waking. And never doing it. Just going through. Doom walks here. Hangs on the shoulders, a monkey clinging tight. An air of resignation surrounds.

‘All we have here are our bodies, and they fade. First goes the elasticity under the constant pummelling, the hammering, the getting beat down. They shrivel up each day, get turned inside out until the red parts come out to the sun. Then no grip remains. And without that, what is woman? So you cannot earn by it, then… ’ She looks earth-beaten, jaded is not a description. Standing by the freeway roadside sticking her thumb out at passing motorcars, but only the ones with the sole male driver. Or the ones with no female occupants. She is going nowhere but to the end of a negotiation. And back. And then again. Just a ride to some sweat-laden rustling paper.

She is hitching flesh-sales, she tells me. Just open-faced. Poverty does not know what shame is, she lets me know. Morality is not edible. No destination except perhaps a pot on a stove. If that. ‘And the children shall eat.’ ‘I will shovel shit if it will feed my seed.’ That is the wish but often it is first, and then last, a frothing plastic mug brimming with potency’s brew. Then, perhaps… next the children will hunger-stare. & she will beat them, accusing them of being spoilt, they ate last night so why the tears. And then her man will beat her in turn. And sleep will come. For all.

***

Old socialist-communist-comrades gone capital is like THE YEARN. Ultra-straight man on crack cocaine sticking massive phallic objects up his rectum when the rush takes on. & Gael said: ‘It makes you know the truth about yourself. It is a serum. Gets you paranoid still, and you go scared of even yourself. Your shadow tails you, stalks you, talks menace to you…’ The sexual exhilaration is without outlet though. Builds up to explosion and then just peters out, leaves you whimpering, it is majangling electric-wired like the brain cells will explode, and you feel them, on the burn, the ends going to ash. The ultimate white-lit end of it just beyond your reach, and you grasp, your nails wanting to tear out even, if the need arise… and you try a hold on the nothing out there, just… outside your grasp… your arms not long enough… always just micrometres away, you never get to it. And know that for truth but no matter, you have to… so you hurry up and light up away before it disappears forever, you think… but inside you is knowledge of how vain it all is … and that even if it were not and you got to it, you would be smashed to bits, what smithereens means… and that will be the end to minuscule you in the universe floating up there before coming crash-landing on your being. And still you want it. And the hunger makes demands like starvation is your all…. and just one bite will be your salvation. IT IS MASTER, YOU ARE LESS THAN SLAVE NO RELATION MORE DEMEANING.

But you must obey because your genitals will it, the crotch reaches out, desiring deep. You want to fuck to the end of the tiniest crevice. And the biggest juice-dripping orifice beckons. And you want to squeeze the extent of your very self out of your body, it is a casing you don’t need anyway. You need your obliteration in the pleasure promise. So you stoke up white, open the coils. And the glass-pipe hums, mocking. And the rock sizzles and opens its legs for you to come in. Penetration time. You clutch the lighter tight. Don’t want it running away and gone. Need no loss now. And the seconds ticking seem centuries… and you flick and flame up, trembling in anticipation. You torch up, and solid turns liquid turns gaseous and your inhalation makes it shoot up your tunnels, seems running in and out all your holes. Like the hair is in shock standing up. Hold it in long as the lungs can withstand without collapsing, coming down hard. Joyous like nothing else ever since time. Hold, keep it in, still, blow out, sigh. & the wash comes. And baptises and blesses. And the warmth floods. And you grab your cock and pull. And it is to cry… it comes closer. & cums inside you. You pump harder. Fuck images flash, dance in your head behind your eyes and a million pussies yawn wet hot open and you sink your skull in them, all of them, same time. And you feel them wrap around you. You are your cock. And cunt. And arse. And sucking mouth. And sucked. Cunnilingused & fellated to all sevens. And still it calls you and you’re staggering. All the while you are running on your haunches though, like your legs amputated above the knees. Hard as you gallop can’t get there. Just on the point of coming it fades. & it is back to the beginning. Of your time, your existence. You tremble, shake, shiver, collapse into yourself again. Spent. And you did not even ejaculate. The call comes again. Seduces. And you realise your eyes are closed, so you open them and stare. And the black green yellow red stars exploding behind your eyelids retreat. You flop down defeated.

Lesego Rampolokeng is a poet and performance maestro, the author of 12 books, including two plays and three novels. He has collaborated with visual artists, playwrights, filmmakers, theatre and opera producers, poets and musicians. His no-holds-barred style, radical political-aesthetic perspective and instantly recognisable voice have brought him a unique place in South African literature.

Rampolokeng’s third novel Bird-Monk Seding is a stark picture of life in a rural township two decades into South Africa’s democracy. Listening and observing in the streets and taverns, narrator Bavino Sekete, often feeling desperate himself, is thrown back to his own violent childhood in Soweto. To get through, he turns to his pantheon of jazz innovators and radical writers.

 
Bird-Monk Seding

Book details

"My mother died seven times before she gave birth to me" - an excerpt from Mohale Mashigo's acclaimed The Yearning

How long does it take for scars to heal? How long does it take for a scarred memory to fester and rise to the surface? For Marubini, the question is whether scars ever heal when you forget they are there to begin with.

Marubini is a young woman who has an enviable life in Cape Town, working at a wine farm and spending idyllic days with her friends … until her past starts spilling into her present. Something dark has been lurking in the shadows of Marubini’s life from as far back as she can remember. It’s only a matter of time before it reaches out and grabs at her.

The Yearning is a memorable exploration of the ripple effects of the past, of personal strength and courage, and of the shadowy intersections of traditional and modern worlds.

‘A bewitching addition to the current South African literary boom. Mohale Mashigo tells her story with charming lucidity, disarming characterisation, subversive wisdom and subtle humour.’ – Zakes Mda.

Mashigo will be at this year’s Open Book Festival.

Read Chapter One here:

My mother died seven times before she gave birth to me. I am grateful for that corpse that somehow always seemed to resurrect itself. My father is gone but his smile is alive on my brother’s face. There is no life without death; the two rely on each other and we rely on them both for our purpose. A new mother knows her purpose when she holds her baby within her and in her arms for the first time. A man’s work has its purpose in death, as part of his legacy. Why then do we love the one and despise the other? Why do we sacrifice so much of the present to hide the past? Why do we take away the future’s knowledge of itself in order to make the past seem perfect? My brother only knows a father when he looks in the mirror. The Yearning haunts him. My mother turns away from the traditions of the past. The Yearning confuses her. I speak as only half of myself. The Yearning hurts me. The life in me came at the cost of another’s but I refuse to apologise for that. A part of who I used to be has vanished and I’m now faced with the possibilities of who I could be. The Yearning never stops till we embrace everything that brought us here. In our quiet denial, The Yearning devours us.

THE NAME
My grandmother often says she regrets giving me my name. ‘Children always live up to their names. And you did more than live up to yours.’ She shakes her head sadly and laughs as she says this. It is an unbelievably hot day in Soweto and Nkgono is on one of her rare visits to us. She has never been shy to share her dislike for Soweto. ‘My child ran away to be here. I don’t like this place. I never will.’ Nkgono was always laughing, even when saying things that seemed tragic.

‘Your mother was having a difficult pregnancy and you took a long time to arrive,’ she would tell me. ‘Such a stubborn child!’

I loved listening to my Nkgono tell the story of the day I arrived.

‘Your father had been driving like a crazy man. Your mother decided at the last minute that she wanted me with her. It was a long way back from Pietersburg and he didn’t want to risk missing your birth. I also wasn’t comfortable with my only daughter being left alone with that ngaka aunt Thoko of your father’s at such a time. That’s the reason I didn’t complain about his driving. Your Ntatemoholo had also wanted to be there, but I didn’t want my plants and animals left all by themselves. He was the only person I trusted with my plants.

‘Shelling peanuts was the only thing that kept my mind off how fast we were going. Jabu was anxious; new fathers always are. The silence hung between us until we pulled into the dusty yard of the four-roomed house your parents lived in.

‘Your mother Makosha was sitting on the stoep, grinding away at a stone with her teeth. My poor daughter − she looked absolutely uncomfortable with a fully baked baby inside of her. We thought for sure you were going to be a boy, because of the way she was so ugly. Thoko was boiling something smelly in the kitchen, so I sat out on the stoep.

‘“Ma, I’m scared.” That was all your mother said to me. Thoko stopped staring into the brewing smelliness and came over to greet me: “This grandchild of ours wants to stay the entire ten months.” Jabulani busied himself with carrying my bags into the second bedroom, while we mocked Kosha about how ugly you were making her.

‘The Soweto people were complaining that it was too hot; I live in the heat, grow food in it and have even raised a child under that relentless sun. Thoko said it would rain soon. There was not a cloud in the sky but I believed her. Your mother had just started her garden. The sun was not allowing it to flourish. “There hasn’t been rain in weeks. That is rare for Joburg summer,” was Makosha’s explanation for the state of her sad garden.

‘Thoko brought Makosha the smelly brew in a cup and sat down next to me. The three of us just sat there staring at the pathetic garden in silence. Thoko looked at me and said, “I was telling Makosha that Jabulani can help the baby come, but she doesn’t believe me.” I smiled because Makosha hated talking about sex with me. She knew exactly what my response to Thoko’s statement would be. “Oh please, Mam’Thoko don’t get my mother started,” she said, with red gravel in her mouth. She craved the taste of earth more than anything when she was pregnant with you. I smiled and pulled peanuts out of my pocket. Thoko was saying exactly what I had told your mother. Just before your father came to fetch me I was telling one of my neighbours that sex was what would bring you into this world a lot faster than anything else. Sex brings babies into the world all the time.

‘“Ma, the nurses at the clinic told me that I must just walk and that will help.”

‘“Walk to where? You trust the nurses over me, even when thousands of mothers have trusted me with their daughters?”

‘“Hai Maria, you know children never trust their parents,” Thoko said, signalling to her daughter-in-law to drink the concoction. Makosha put the cup down and tried to stand up. Her dress was wet.

‘“The baby is coming … Jabu!” Eehhh this child of mine! Sitting with women who are there to help her deliver and she calls out for her husband. Jabu came running out of the house but Thoko waved him away and helped me take your mother into the bedroom. Hooo the scene your mother made! She was crying for her husband, acting like she was the first woman in the world ever to give birth. Thoko grabbed hold of her face and looked her in the eyes. “This is not a man’s place. Those pains are going to get worse but you and your baby know exactly what to do, sisi.” That seemed to calm her some. I was standing by the window in the second bedroom that Thoko had prepared for us to sleep in. “Don’t worry, wena Thoko, that stubborn child is not coming any time soon. Let Makosha shout until she can’t.”

‘Eventually your mother stopped crying and we told her exactly what was going to happen. Things she had already heard but was suddenly fearful of. What happened next is something nobody can
explain. I knew you were ready to emerge, and the room suddenly grew dark. Thoko stood by the window and said it was starting to rain. There is no way of knowing this for sure, but I felt the rain hit the ground the same moment you crowned. The stubborn baby turned out to be a girl. Your mother took one look at you and started crying again. You had finally arrived and you were alive, breathing, screaming, humming and beautiful.

‘I always tell people that you just slipped out with no fuss and nonsense. Your mind was made up and you stepped out with nothing but the past behind you. You looked like a queen from an ancient civilisation, so regal and certain. That’s why I gave you that name: Marubini. You were a new beginning for us who had lived long lives and needed respite. Marubini is where our past lies, the place of old from where we once came. You emerged and brought us into the future. Thoko loved the name and nobody objected to me giving you that name. Jabu wanted his first child to have only one name and that’s why we didn’t give you a “school” name too.

‘Your father, Marubini … what an incredible man. Jabu never doubted himself. Once his mind was made up there was no discouraging him. Heh, he is the person who brought my child back to me! Ei, your mother was so troublesome you know? She just left home. Did what all girls who have too much power and not enough sense do: ran away from what she thought was the problem. Then one day she stepped out of your father’s car, unsure whether we would welcome her back. Well, you know Peter doesn’t know how to stay angry. He was just glad that his only daughter was back home finally.

‘Jabulani introduced himself and said he was returning our daughter to us so one day he could ask for her to be his wife. That day you were born, you wouldn’t stop crying once you had started. But when your Mama held you, then you stopped. The past was really behind us. Everything changed once you were born. The summer rains fell and Makosha started paying attention to her garden. That same garden that was dry and dying … The rain that you brought with you revived the garden and your mother’s love for gardening.’

I can’t say for sure how much of Nkgono’s story is true. But I liked hearing it. Every year on my birthday, she still calls to tell me the story of how her daughter gave birth ‘to a beautiful but stubborn granddaughter’. We all have the desire to be special. The story of my birth made me feel extraordinary. I was born and I revived my mother’s love for gardening. The little garden that was saved by my rain became her florist business that kept our family alive. I am blessed to have matriarchs who hold their own even when the ground falls from beneath their feet. But even the sturdiest trees fall if the wind is strong enough. My father’s death devastated my mother and the child she was carrying at the time. Her ability to cultivate couldn’t save her garden. It seemed like every tear that was shed took life out of the plants and vegetables in our backyard. The soil dried up and nothing grew there again while we lived in that house. Luckily my little brother didn’t suffer the same fate as the garden. As soon as Simphiwe was born, I felt like he was mine. That may seem a strange sentiment for a little girl to have, but it was obvious that Ma didn’t want to get too close to him, not in the beginning. He came out light yellow-brown like my father, not deep brown like me and Ma. He was too much of something she had lost. So I helped Gogo Thoko look after him while my mother went to work, or lay in bed looking out the window.

Even though she kept him at a cautious distance, I knew Ma loved Simphiwe. Sometimes when she came home from work she would sit down in the kitchen and just hold him; smell his hair and kiss his little fingers. Gogo Thoko would spend the day with Simphiwe while I was away at school. My first years of school were horrible. I cried most mornings because I just wanted to be at home. I was so used to spending week days at home with my Ntatemoholo, my mother’s father. While other children were at crèche, I was with my grandfather. Gogo Thoko said that it was okay to cry because I had lost my grandfather and father in such a short space of time. ‘Kodwa, the crying has to stop eventually, Marubini.’ I really didn’t want to cry. In the evenings I was content to wait for Ma to fetch me at Gogo’s house after work. Then we would take a taxi home and Ma would have her time with Simphiwe in the kitchen, kissing his fingers and counting stars on his toes. She would put him on her back and go outside to work at reviving her garden.

The house was very quiet when Ma and Simphiwe were in the garden. The TV would be on but it may as well have been off because I couldn’t concentrate. I came to prefer the silence, just sitting and watching Ma outside trying very hard to get her garden back to its previous state. But it was futile. Baba died and so did the garden. All we had was sadness and anxiety. Ma went to bed with it and I woke up in its arms. I would be washing myself in a big metal dish while Simphiwe was getting his morning bath, all the while reminding myself that school was not a bad place and that Ntatemoholo and Baba would not like to know that I was crying for no reason. As soon as the minibus taxi stopped outside my school the panic would set in. Lwambo was the man who drove the minibus that took me and the other kids to school and back. Everyone was used to my tears by now so they just ignored me. I didn’t mind because I craved to be left alone. Ma would stand at the door waving until we turned the corner. The further we got from home, the sadder I became. By the time we arrived at the school I would be crying quietly. But the crying didn’t remain quiet for long. It became a full-scale meltdown as we were sitting down for the lessons to start. Ma enjoys telling Simphiwe how his sister ‘almost became a primary school dropout’ because the teachers were tired of my tears.

I don’t know why I’m thinking about these old things now. The words in the report I’m supposed to be working on have started blurring. At this point there is no use pretending any useful work will be done. My apartment is quiet, the TV off as usual. Muffled laughter and unfamiliar voices filter through the walls from next door; my neighbours seem to be having a dinner party. Fridays are a break from my usual steamed vegetables and fish dinners. The plan was for Pierre to come over but judging from the lack of communication he is probably working late at the restaurant again. How did a smart girl like me get stuck with a man who never has time for anything but work?

I sit alone at the table, thinking back to the day we met. I had just started my job at De Villiers Wines and everything was new. Not only was I feeling completely inadequate, but my colleagues were constantly questioning my presence. I had only lasted a year in advertising, in a job I had come to hate. That ivory-tower world made me feel far removed from people. The clients were okay, if you didn’t mind them throwing their weight around, reminding you that your job wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for ‘the budget’. It was the people I had to work with that finally made me quit. Most of them thought that taking a two-hour Township Tour that ended at a tourist-friendly drinking spot was a good way to get to know the ‘target market’. It didn’t help that all too often the ‘target market was me, my family and the people I knew. I grew tired of being accused of ‘overreacting’ and ‘reading too much’ into the crappy campaigns. My colleagues had stopped asking for my opinion, even on campaigns that I was involved with. They just couldn’t get why I would object to the fact that black people were portrayed dancing; why would they be dancing, when the advert was for tea?

One day during lunch break I just started looking for new jobs. There was no point in staying on in advertising; we weren’t meant for each other. I didn’t know anything about wine when I applied for the vacancy in the wine farm’s marketing department. De Villiers Wine needed to put some ‘colour’ into their team, so they hired me. I spent two weeks following the wine from seed to bottle and distribution. Eyes and doubts followed me around the tiny office. All my preconceptions about people stomping grapes to make wine were shattered. Winemaking was actually a very technical and scientific business. I immersed myself in the world of wine. No time to eat or sleep much. I was working for one of the country’s oldest and most established wine farms. The pressure was beginning to consume me. It was the worst possible time to organise a birthday dinner for a friend.

‘Nobody here yet? Am I early?’ The birthday girl, Unathi, stood in the foyer, clutching at the hem of her party dress. Her long legs couldn’t keep still, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. As the designated organiser of this celebration, I smiled to show her that everything was going to be just fine. I didn’t blame her for sounding anxious. I’d arrived late because Stellenbosch is far away from Cape Town and I’d been locked into a late afternoon meeting that had gone on for far too long. Unathi was already there when I arrived. True to her usual panicky nature, the first thing that came out of her mouth was ‘Aphi ama-lady? Where is everyone?’

Unlike me, my best friend is super-organised. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t just remember your anniversary but sends you a reminder to get your partner ‘that thing he mentioned he wanted that day we met’.

‘Unathi, calm down, it’s not even 7.00 yet. They’ll be here. Some of us work for a living, you know.’

My stay-at-home-mom friend wasn’t at all hurt by my outburst. It just rolled right over her. We seated ourselves at the bar of La Cuisine, her favourite restaurant in Mouille Point. She ordered a fruity cocktail for herself and a glass of wine for me. An overly chatty waitress showed us to our table and my head started pounding; there were only four chairs at the tiny table. I had my back to the birthday girl but I knew she was wringing her hands. With my business smile fixed to my face, I explained the situation to Ms Chatty. She didn’t seem to understand the enormity of the error. Ms Chatty didn’t get the chance to do more than mumble inaudibly before she was cut off by my demand to see the manager ‘immediately!’. At this point Unathi was looking around nervously, suspecting, correctly, that I was about to make a scene. She moved closer to me and said, ‘Please, Rubi, don’t.’ I put my overloaded handbag down on the table and counted to ten, something Unathi recommended I should do whenever I felt that I was going to lose my cool.

I was on my seventh recount when a calming male voice greeted us: ‘Good evening, ladies, I’m so sorry about the mix-up.’ As soon as the voice appeared, things started to happen around us: tables were re-assigned, extra chairs brought up and in moments we were being led to our new, much bigger table.

Unathi was busy putting away the tissue that she had ready in her hand, just in case things went from bad to worse and she couldn’t control her tears; that girl is always prepared. I was looking back towards the door where our party had, thankfully, started to arrive when a hand was extended towards me across the table. It belonged to the owner of the calming voice, who turned out to be the owner of the restaurant too.

‘Hi, I’m Pierre; please let me know if you need anything else.’

I couldn’t quite place the accent. He handed me the handbag that I had left on the previous table.

‘Uh, are you wearing contacts?’ Unathi asked him in her tactless way, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. This made me take a closer look at him; and there they were, those green, gorgeous eyes, staring out at me from that caramel face. A perfectly chiselled face, the caramel rising at the cheek bones and dipping into beautiful craters that appeared when he smiled.

Unathi kept staring as he shook his head and answered the question he had probably been asked all his life. I couldn’t look away from him either; it was as if he had accidentally turned us into statues. Summer possessed my body and it seemed to have forgotten how to move. I could feel the pools of sweat forming inside my silk top. He didn’t look like he was trying to keep us there intentionally but there we were, the three of us; us staring at him and him smiling at us. He himself was stuck there too, trying to pull himself away from this process of turning our flesh into fire. Finally his gaze moved from us to the women arriving at the table, and he was able to escape in the distraction.

‘That was nice,’ Unathi sighed.

Nice indeed! All I could think about for the rest of the night was that delicious mix of caramel skin and gorgeous green eyes.

The intercom goes off; it’s the building security downstairs, informing me that I have a visitor. I tell them to let her up, knowing it’s Unathi. A few minutes later my best friend is standing in my kitchen, pouring herself a glass of wine. ‘Why didn’t you invite me over? Woo, it’s bad behaviour to drink by yourself, sisi.’

I just laugh.

‘Serious, Marubini.’ She’s smiling, though − I can tell from the way she says my name.

Nkgono says she regrets giving me my name. But I don’t think my name is the problem. The real problem is all the lies.

The Yearning

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Take a peek into Jude Daly's beautifully illustrated animal fable from India

What is an elephant really like? Six blind mice scamper out of their mouse-hole to find out – and come up with six very different ideas! Is an elephant like a wall? A tree? A spear? A fan? A snake or a rope? Children will love to help the six blind mice discover the true wonder of an elephant in this beautifully illustrated animal fable from India.

Take a peek!

 

Six Blind Mice and an Elephant

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