Welcome to E-Mndeni ‘A.K.A’ Beirut

Wo khulum’ uwabale amagamakho singabase Mndeni so sang a group of boys a few years ago, as they walked past my house from a soccer match, presumably victorious. I remember thinking I wonder how many of them will play for our national team; make their families proud, become ambassadors of our possibility and rising above any circumstance. And show the world that ours is much more than the dangerous township is Soweto…lies! I thought, how fun they know a mbaqanga song! Mbaqanga’s becoming a part of popular culture, the youth have decided! Phuzekhemisi’s going on heavy rotation on Y FM! Then I thought about Phuzekhemisi and Michael Jackson hanging out at Never Never Land.

It seems my experience of the place I call home is now condescend into 6 hours every Sunday. ‘Every’ can and does apply to all Sundays, every other Sunday, and some Saturdays.

I’m not buying a ticket for the guilt trip on how little time I spend there now. Sundays are much more fun anyway, by the time I get there; good people will be back from church, fun people will be waking up to negotiable their hangover, guilty people will be fabricating their ‘story’, the ever diligent SAPS Naledi will be setting up their routine road block just outside my house, my mom and my aunts will be thrashing the top score in exciting, spirited conversation.

“When they were young my grandma wasn’t warm to the thought of my sister, Ntombenhle and I playing in the streets”

When they were young my grandma wasn’t warm to the thought of my sister, Ntombenhle and I playing in the streets, so we found a spot to at least watch the wild children who didn’t have grandmothers who loved them as much as ours did play- the big zinc box that was home to coal and other homeless essentials became the best seats in the house.

On most days we’d hook up our own ball game, but the two of us just couldn’t compare to the excitement of dodging cars while all fourteen of our teammates screamed your name. She was just not that exhilarating, and she has the scars from when I’d find a stick and beat her for summer holiday excitement. Aah the joys of being blind to assault with a dangerous weapon and grievous bodily harm! At sunset the wild would retreat and someone’s house to watch TV, but our house had a TV so there was no excuse to now join the group. If we were good (or was it so bad my gran needed a break?) we were allowed to go play in the streets with strict instructions to come home for lunch and return by sunset.

“The 6:00 wake up call moved to 4:30. I’d come home with the employed, too tired to care about what was happening in the streets”

Ephemeral but ever so impressive! Not even the impending Dettol bath that my aunt Dudu would oversee upon our return could take the joy of the day away. Playing in the streets involved germs and germs were sorted out with Dettol, she would insist. Damn Dettol!! Took my memories down the drain! From when I was 7 I didn’t go to school in Mndeni and the move to high school meant I was now travelling further ‘for the education’. The 6:00 wake up call moved to 4:30. I’d come home with the employed, too tired to care about what was happening in the streets. When I did enquire I’d learn that the girls are pregnant, the boys are committing felonies. Boring! I mean disappointing, how could they? What about the games?! By now it was the street bash era and Mndeni hosted the biggest and brightest. Bally Spitz and hair salons were making a killing.

The rest of Soweto said Mndeni bashes were dangerous, Mndeni said the rest of Soweto’s hoodlums were causing trouble in Mndeni, they were bringing danger to our glorious crime free hood. History had managed to paint us with the danger brush because we just happened to be close to the real illicit element of ‘deep Soweto’ i.e. Zola and the paint had died. We were framed! We were in the wrong place all the time! That’s our story and I’m sticking to it. Fond memories. I sometimes wonder, am I from Emndeni, Beirut, ZolaMndeni or am I from 779 B Emndeni South ‘ka bo Jay’? Am I truly a part of Mndeni or is my experience limited to my grandmother’s house? I like to think I’m from Emndeni but I observed its magic from 779 B. And yet sometimes when I take a walk to Kwa-Shandu, someone reminds me to keep my ideas of personal space in Fourways.

Hei mavetane!” he laughs. I don’t. “Uskars la e kasi wena” he says, I figure it’s a question; ‘ja’ seems to be the appropriate response, a conversation with someone holding a wheel spanner and a fat cake in the same hand doesn’t seem like the right thing to pursue. “Uhlala kuphi vele Ntombenhle?” he obviously disagrees with my point of view and he doesn’t know my name but we’re going to have a conversation. I’m from eMndeni and we’re all family…

Writer: Thembalethu Msibi      Photographer: æ

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