Crossing the Zambezi!


The Travelling Adventures of an Apartheid Township Boy

It was a chilly morning when I woke up in 8 Miles at the massive plot where my buddy Willie lived. I scrambled for the digital clock and saw that time had just passed the 5:00 am mark. The female presenter on Radio 3 confirmed this when I pressed the radio on button. Out here on the open plains radio reception was crystal clear so I turned down the volume so as not to wake my hosts. A quick cowboy splash which took care of the vitals and a few minutes later my bag was packed and I was ready to leave. After a weekend of such heavy enjoyings, it was finally time to pick up my new friend Catherine and head for Zambia. No doubt some of my friends were still smarting heavy hangovers from the weekend and some were even calling me on the Monday to look for their “barbelaas” shot.

But that was in the past now. I quickly learnt in Johannesburg that yesterday and today are not related at all. My boss Jannie, would storm into the office on a Monday morning ready to take on the world despite looking like Saturday nights chief reveler. Sometimes his eyes would be blood red and you could sniff a little of the Whiskey he had’s fragrance, but he was all work and no play. I emulated this and ignored Mikey and Sid’s calls coz it was time to work now. Back home Shamba and the others were waiting for my return, no doubt with their share of the sale proceeds of the Opel Senator with which I had by now bonded. Tommy found a spare rim somewhere and Willie’s younger brother Frankie, donated the tyre and tube. Whenever I was in Harare these guys would take super care of me to the point that even a car service was done. I can truly say these were the kind of friends I always wished I had. As a giver you normally attract takers; vultures who will invent sudden needs once they sense that you have resources of any kind. But these guys expected nothing from me.


Willie was up by now and we said our prayers and goodbye as I left for Glen Norah A. The road was still dark but unlike back home, there were no hi-jackers and thieves to worry about in a city where cops on patrol did not even carry guns. The people of this country had a respect or fear of the police like nowhere else I had been. When I got to Catherine’s house she was ready and waiting. I knew no one in Zambia except the few clients for Andiro I had spoken to over the phone when the company was still open so Catherine’s contacts would be my life saver. The drive through a dark and still sleeping Capital City was relaxed as the first of the early morning busses made their way into Market Square. We entered the city near the Cold Storage Commission behind the Kopje where my dad’s younger brother Patrick worked for years. I smiled because I remembered the short walk from Kopje House, the block of flats we lived in around the corner. Whenever supplies were low my uncle would ask that we come to the CSC to get some fresh meat. I wondered if he still worked there. I hadn’t seen him since my dad’s funeral in 1984 and it was now 1989. I said to Catherine, “On the way back I will have to touch base with this man who looked exactly like my dad.” Doubt she heard a word coz she was dozing off. Women and their beauty sleep issues I guess!

We were soon on open road after completing the housed part of Enterprise Road and daybreak saw us an hour out of Harare. I had never been this side of the world so I was enjoying the countryside whilst Catherine decided she needed to grab the last bit of sleep from the morning. I wondered what Zambia was like. Would I meet exiled ANC members, would the apartheid regime react negatively when they saw the passport stamp that I had been to Lusaka and would I be treated as a returning terrorist or even arrested. I must admit I was a little worried but the determination to make money triumphed over fear. Besides the money I had left from what Tommy and Willie gave me was sufficient to get me to my destination but not back to Johannesburg so there was no turning back now. After about 3 hours we saw the Chirundu border and Zambezi River on the horizon. By the now my lone passenger was fully awake because she would have to be the human GPS as I had no clue on what to do. I always heard about people complaining that the border posts between the two countries were very busy but we sailed through there with no drama. In a little more than 20 minutes, I was officially outside of Zimbabwe and standing on foreign soil. I was excited.

Hopefully after completing business I would be able to meet my Zambian counterparts in the DJ game and although I had quit by now to focus on business, it would be nice to meet DJ legends like James the Rap star, Hanief and P-Funk. Word had reached me back in Harare whilst I was still rocking the house that they had respect for my skills and pulling power. Particularly James was said to have obtained a few of my pre-recordered mixtapes of Afternoon session and apparently gave me some complimentary lyrics. It was an endorsement I treasured coz these dudes were blazing when it came to the art of making the masses dance. But I was here on other business and the Zambian part of my jollifications would have to wait. In brutal honesty, what I heard of SA DJ’s in my two years back in the country did nothing to impress me. Besides Boogey Harry on Metro FM radio, Oscar Renzi on Capital Radio 604 and clubs, Treasure Tshabalala and Cocky Two Bull Thobejane, the rest could not hold a handle to the guys up north. Apartheid isolation meant no progress and the music they played and still play mostly, is ancient stuff released by long dead artists. It’s like their world stood still. This was one of the reasons I decided to stop playing. Where I came from the latest tracks and hits from abroad were on radio and in clubs a few hours later. I let Zim to join Metro but when I was asked who the Delphonics and Inspirations were, I flipped. These were acts from the 50’s! I walked out of the audition when I heard their offer of a monthly salary was about what I earned in a weekend before. It was time for a new hustle.  

Lusaka is not very far from the border. As South Africans we are used to doing hundreds of kilometers from Johannesburg to my birthplace of Cape Town so the one hour plus from Chirundu into Lusaka central was like going down to the local to meet my mates. The roads were not kosher though. They were slightly better IN the city but the short distance from the order to town was a hectic. I heard about potholes when I was in H from my friends at school at Lord Malvern. Terrance Murangari was quite animated whenever he regaled us about road conditions back in his home country but he exaggerated a little. Never one to let an opportunity to shock and awe pass him bye, my former class prefect in Mr Chanakira’s class would come alive when praising Zimbabwe’s then smooth roads network in comparison to “back home in Zambia.” We heard it all from shops with no foods on the shelves to no electricity and water for days. But I was of a different mindset. When you highlight lack and shortages, my mind translates that into opportunities and profit so I had to go and see this place at any cost. When the road sign said “Welcome to Lusaka” I was as alert as a man who woke up at 5am and drove 400 kilometers through the African bush over potholed roads, can be. “Lusaka, Zambia, you have just been had,” I said quietly. It was time to work.  

Catherine asked me to drop her in what she called the Wall Street of Lusaka, Katondo Street. This road would open my eyes a few days later to the ingenuity that happens when shortages reign. The town itself was sizable but not as developed as Harare, probably due to proximity to the regional giant South Africa. Wide colonial roads with lots of roundabouts stood out as well as the friendly smiling faces of Zambians going about their business. After dropping her, I had no clue where I would be going or staying but I drove around the CBD like I did. Lol. I saw a sign that said “Mr Roosters” and parked the car so I could grab a bite. Too early for a chicken and chips treat I thought but the only thing they had on the menu was rice and chicken. Never had that combination for breakfast before but what the heck, when in Rome do as the Romans do. I have always prided myself in being an acclimatizer of note. I will eat whatever you eat, well almost. And I will just act like I’m at home. The restaurant was bare and flies accompanied me to my seat. It didn’t seem to disturb the waitress so I waved them away and had to eat fast so they don’t come back with more members of the Lusaka Fly’ing Squad. When I was done I got up to leave but not before having a pint of the local brew Mosi. I had just violated every dietary law I held, chicken and rice in the morning in a joint with flies and a pint of beer in a country where I knew no-one!

But what the heck, it was my first time here so all personal laws and don’t do’s were immediately suspended. After all, how many people will drive without a license half way to the Equator in a car with no spare wheel and tools, share a chicken and rice breakfast with the local insects and gulp down an ice cold beer called Mosi!   

 

I know a first when I see one. The freakin’ Guinness Book of Records are nowhere near when you need them. It was a sheer adventure and I was loving it!

The mighty Zambezi River, which I learnt so much about in primary school history and Geography was awesome to see that time of morning when we crossed the border. It made a roaring sound like a thousand oceans gunning for each other. Simple folk in rural homesteads not far from what used to be the highway lived their lives as livestock wondered on the vast open plains of the land. I gulped the fresh breeze of the clean morning air into my lungs and felt alive like never before. Even in its apparent struggles, this looked like a special place indeed.  

And now the urban city of Lusaka was where I, the boy from Gugulethu, was standing. I felt a sense of achievement and an exhilaration I never experienced before. Now for the small issue of finding a place to stay with very little money in my pocket in a town where I knew no-one. Hahahahaha. The things I can get myself into!

My first port of call was the 5 star Pamhodzi Hotel, which I heard was the place where guys like me from SA usually hang out. I drove into the parking looking and feeling like the rich folk who frequented this establishment although I hardly had two pennies to rub together. Sometimes when you traverse the continent or world for adventure, money won’t always be a faithful companion. Here I was, broke as a skunk and entering a top class establishment in a foreign country! Madness indeed does have variety. I have no pretenses of being normal and am not the slightest interested in doing what is considered normal. To paraphrase Steve Biko, “I go where I like!” I purposed long ago to never be a slave to convention and comfort.

I entered this hallowed venue and immediately to my right was the pub I heard so much about from Danny, Mario and KK who were regulars at the office in Johannesburg. To them Zambia was a playground where they went every two weeks. I didn’t quite know what they did there because in Hustler’s World everything is described blandly as “business.” As I walked in I ordered a drink and noticed no familiar faces. It was hard to tell who was South African or not so I asked the bartender for a Lion Beer, the popular brand in SA at the time. But I said it loud and noticed the two gentlemen nearest the counter looking at me. The bartender picked up that I was fishing and replied, “Sir, in Zambia a beer’s a beer. If you want a lion, you go to the zoo!” I was floored with laughter but my fishing trick worked. One of the guys at the next table came over and said, “Heyta, kunjani baba?”  Bingo, I hit the jackpot. Turns out the two of them were MK soldiers who were based in exile in Zambia, at least that’s what they said. They were at the hotel to have lunch but decided to come through early as they were expecting some guys from Soweto. I quickly pointed out that I was from Cape Town as I joined them at their table. I think it was the quiet looking one whose name was Vusi, who suggested I try the Afrikoko liqueur they were enjoying. I obliged and boy oh boy, was I glad I did!

Made from pure coconut and resembling Amarula but with a much more beautifully shaped bottle which could pass as an expensive vase, it tasted like a coconut chocolate blend as it melted on my tongue. My new friends wanted to know the exact nature of my business and I simply replied, “business” in the tone that stopped all further questioning. I didn’t want to ask where the rest of the South African folk were because they could easily think I was a spy from the Apartheid regime sent to cause harm to exiled ANC people in Lusaka so I sat and updated them about Moroka Swallows scintillating year and the emergence of the most skillful player SA had seen till then, Ace Mnini. They were disappointed to hear that Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates now had a new challenger to their throne.  

My aim was to keep them entertained until more South Africans arrived. Then I saw a gentleman enter the bar who became a cabinet minister in the Nelson Mandela government. He was flanked by what looked like two bodyguards. They went into an adjacent smaller VIP pub. All the while my two new friends watched me like a hawk to see if I recognized the gentleman who walked in. But I have been told that I have a poker face and that it’s hard to tell when I’m being serious or joking so in this case it helped me as they didn’t see any hint of interest on my face in the man who just walked in. Then I hit pay dirt!

I could tell by the loud voice heading towards the pub from the elevators that it belonged to Mario, my buddy from Mozambique who was causing his usual joyful racket as he enquired after everyone’s health, whether he knew them or not. Lol. When he turned into the pub and saw me seated there, he burst into laughter and said, “So u DID make it to Lusaka Mfana!” I knew then and there that my accommodation was sorted. 20 minutes and a lot of Afrikoko shots later, I moved into the double room he booked for his 3-day stay upon arrival. I have never been so happy to see a Mozambiquen in my life! Suddenly their loudness didn’t matter. Mario was in town, yes on “business” and I was now the proud holder of a room key at the famous Pamhodzi Hotel, without a cent to my name 2000 miles away from home!

Life as I knew it till then was about to change radically!  …. Possibly TBC…

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