Cape Town, South Africa
Oswald Kucherera is a Zimbabwean born poet, writer and activist currently residing in Cape Town. He was born on the 24th of May 1986 in Nyajena, a large village in Masvingo near Great Zimbabwe. He attained his primary education at Garai Primary School and went on to study for his secondary education at Pamushana Mission. He is the author of the best selling novella, The Exodus Down South (2016), Washing Dishes and Other Stories (2018), and he is anthologized in a Black Consciousness Poetry anthology, Sleeping Giant Awakes, a 2019 publication. His works have been published online by the FunDza Literacy Trust and the Centre for the Book. He is a former contributing writer for Science Stars Magazine.
He participated in the Kulture Book Fair (2016) and has been a panelist in 2017 and 2018 at the prestigious Open Book Festival. He has read and recited his poetry at several community events. He is a Human Rights Peer Educator at Africa Unite. He has researched and coordinated a Tv show programmes for immigrants and refugees on Street Talk Tv which was screened on Cape Town Tv. In March 2020, during the human rights month in South Africa, he was awarded the South Africa Giraffe Hero Human Rights Award, in recognition of his outstanding contribution in advocating for West Papuan independence and condemning the ongoing genocide in that country, through the Free West Papua Solidarity Campaign-Cape Town, an organization he leads.
He enjoys reading especially African Literature. His favourite sports are Soccer and Cricket. He wishes to travel the whole of the African continent in future.
Travelling on the Khayelitsha Train
I was beginning to get frustrated. Three trains had been cancelled. I had waited for forty minutes at Mandalay station without any sign of the lights of a train from Khayelitsha to Cape Town. When the train finally arrived the platform was packed with people. We shoved and pushed each other for seats but unfortunately the seats ran out before I could get one.
I stood next to the door. And finally, on this day, I was in the ganja smoking carriage. I had wanted to experience this for a long time.
The entire coach was filled with clouds of smoke. The smoke rushed into my nostrils and it choked me. I tried to suppress the choking sounds but without success. I did not want to raise eyebrows, lest commuters would know that it was my first time in the coach. When I eventually got used to the smoke I browsed through the faces of the commuters.
I was surprised to see women and children in school uniforms amongst the commuters. What surprised me most was how they seemed to enjoy the smell coming from the smoke of burning ganja. Most people in that carriage looked much older than their actual age, especially men. Their bodies were galleries of cheap and poorly crafted tattoos with railway lines across their faces.
I spotted a young man with unruly hair seated far left from where I was standing. His T shirt was of Bob Marley, standing on the stage, strumming the strings of his guitar, his mouth close to the mounted microphone belting out one of his songs from his repertoire. An image of me drowned in a sea of bodies at a Bob Marley concert floated into my head.
I was dancing to his song with the lyrics “None but ourselves can free our minds’, jumping more than dancing, my whole body drenched in sweat. Standing next to me was a woman with a snotty-nosed baby strapped on her back, her head moving in synchrony with the rhythm.
“Moya! Moya! Moya! Swazi here! Swazi here!” shouted a touting ganja dealer.
It was only then that I woke up from this dream. A dreadlocked Rasta seated next to the young man with the unruly hair was waving his hand motioning the ganja dealer to go to him. He was sermonizing on the repercussions of eating genetically modified food. At this point he was pointing out the tastelessness of frozen meat.
“When you arrive home take the frozen meat, boil it and you will see that the pot will be filled with froth as if you have added washing powder to it. This meat is not good I am telling you”, he concluded.
He sent the whole carriage into uproarious laughter, the man next to him shedding some tears of laughter. I watched him wiping off his teary eyes. Even the group of football fanatics standing on the passage broke into raucous laughter though they did not join in the conversation.
They were engaging in the endless debate of who is the better player between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.Their debate was like the endless struggle between darkness and light.
By now the dreadlocked man was rolling a joint. After finishing, he fished out a box of Lion matches from his jacket pocket and lit it. He took a long drag and another again and again before passing it to the young man. The young man hesitated a little but went on to take it. He could not turn down this generous gesture. He took a short drag and then a long one but the smoke went straight to his youthful lungs.
He coughed and coughed. He spat out a blob of saliva through the window without the windowpane. And once again the train broke into thunderous laughter.
The train stopped at each and every station dropping and picking up people waiting impatiently on the platforms. When it arrived at Bonteheuwel station, a lot of people disembarked, most of them in work suits, possibly factory workers in the Epping industries.
A motley group of people got into the train and among them four heavily armed police officers, two male and two female. Suddenly the carriage plunged into dead silence. The police officers marched around the carriage browsing through the faces of the commuters.
They spotted three suspects and commanded them to raise their hands into the air, whilst male police busied themselves searching them. The suspects put their hands up but not without putting on a show of resistance. They threw a barrage of insults at the police. The officers of the law could not find anything so when the train stopped at the next station they jumped off and rushed to the next carriage.
No sooner had the police left than the Rastaman commenced commenting on Zimbabwe, raining praises on the revolutionaries who took back the black peoples land from the rapacious and racist white colonialists. He was optimistic that the phase that Zimbabwe is going through will pass and that it will become the land of milk and honey once more. He took pride in black people being the architects of their own futures.
“Zimbabwe will rise from the ashes”, he bellowed concluding his remarks.
“But Zimbabweans are scattered all over the world. Do you want to turn South Africa into Zimbabwe?” gushed out the young man with the unkempt hair.
“Yes that’s exactly what we want. Zimbabweans are all over the world because they are educated. Educated people have options and they can adapt in any environment. And that’s what we want. We want black people to be in full control of our means of production. We do not own anything in this country. We are only selling our labour to these whites”, explained the Rastaman..
The young man was left with mixed-doubts. He was impressed by the conviction of the Rastaman to the black struggle, yet found him controversial at the same time. Was he being short-sighted? He was confused how someone with so much political education would advocate for something disastrous that would lead to the downfall of his country.
It was crystal clear considering what he had heard and read about Zimbabwe. The train had already arrived at Cape Town station and people were disembarking, rushing to their various destinations. He rose and started for the door but then he quickly remembered that he had forgotten the bag he had shoved underneath the bench where he was seated.
He had more questions for the dreadlocked man but they had to wait for another day. He checked the time on his wrist watch, which read past nine, confirming that he was late again for work. The train had stopped twice in the middle of nowhere and no one had bothered to inform the commuters the cause for the delays.
He became worried because he had just signed a warning for late coming. He faced the uncertainty of the shouting waiting for him or signing another warning or even dismissal. He quickened his pace on his way to work.
Included in Oswald’s second book “Washing Dishes and Other Stories” – A compilation of my short stories and poetry published in 2019.
I walk with my family,
in my heart.
Here in this place,
Where I am denied my family.
Here in this place,
my spirit has no space.
I walk with watery eyes,
Where they spit on my footsteps
And pelt me with insults
in tongues foreign to my ears.
I am now a shadow of a man,
a piece of anthropology to many;
Here where my spirit knows no peace.
I wish to live a life,
a life where I can blossom
And open like a rosebud.
A life where I am a being
And my spirit knows peace.
Free the Voice
When we can cry out in pain?
When we can shout it out?
Why are we afraid of prisons,
When we are already serving lifetime sentences?
Why are we afraid of death,
When we are already the walking dead?
As for me, I will write these words down in ink
Until it sinks into the drawers of your head
And the city has run out of pens, pencils and paper.
The one with the heart
Your unfailing love looms, unrivalled
In a world where the worst happens,
Daily – hourly, minute by minute.
Mothers smother the innocent fruit of their wombs,
Innocent floating in the filthy effluent of the city’s septic tanks.
Your unfailing love looms, unrivalled
You picked me up,
Wiped the rivers of tears on my face
And urged me on.
You had patience for me when everyone had none,
listening attentively as I spoke incomprehensible sentences.
Your teachings would escape my mind upon reaching my ears
And the world would jeer and sneer at me
But you would smile,
Pat me on the shoulder
And assure me: “You will catch up my son”.
Your unfailing love looms, unrivalled.
Every day I wake up, at Six, early in the morning, steam my body in a bucket full of hot water under my thick blue blanket,
I drink a cup full of warm water with lemon,
And I cut a piece of ginger, chew it willingly despite the anguish of its bitterness. Do I have a choice?
I cut a piece of raw garlic and crush it grudgingly under my teeth, ignoring the reeking smell, knowing my life depends on it?
No! My life doesn’t depend on it. My life depends on the God Almighty. He keeps us alive. He is the giver and taker of life. And our lives are in his hands.
So every day I say a prayer to the Lord, praising him. The Lord is my rock and fortress. He protects me.
(Inspired by the Psalm of David).
The Communal House
It has been an exhausting day at work, going up and down the lift, loading and offloading rickety desks and chairs of the tenant that has been moving out of the building. I arrived home dog-tired, with the intention of dropping my backpack in our room and went straight to the bathroom to take a cold shower. I found Vuyo and my de facto child Kelly, already in our room. They were lying on the bed, Vuyo busy reading Zakes Mda’s Sculptures of Mapungubwe and Kelly munching her Simba chips.
Once Kelly caught sight of me, she jumped off the bed screaming excitedly, “Ozzie!”
I picked her up and attempted to strike a conversation asking a plethora of questions inquiring about her day at kindergarten. She was very excited but showing little interest in answering the questions. Instead she offered me the Simba chips she was busy eating. I did not turn away this generous gesture. I dipped my hands into the packet and took a handful of chips.
I quickly went to check the bathroom and found that someone was occupying it. I passed by the fridge in the kitchen and picked up a bottle of cold Castle Lager. It was exactly what I needed but I was expecting to enjoy it after taking a cold shower. As I made my way slowly to sit on the edge of the bed, I could feel Vuyo’s gaze.
“When are you going to stop drinking too much in front of the child?” she threw the question at me. She never had a problem with my drinking when we first met, but this changed since we started staying together.
“I am working on it. I am cutting down on alcohol,” I replied. She ignored me and continued to read her book.
All of a sudden, as I was sipping my beer, I heard commotion coming from the kitchen. I dropped Kelly on the bed and rushed to the kitchen. There was a burst pipe, water was running all over the floors in the bathroom. Vuyo had followed me as well. She put the baby on the floor and rushed to join the men trying to stop the gushing water. It was proving difficult to stop. I had to act swiftly.
I quickly dashed down the staircases, going outside and switched off the main water meter. It was against the City of Cape Town rules to tamper with the main meter but this was the only immediate solution. To temporarily stopped the main water from running until the plumber came and fix the problem. When I came back upstairs a middle-aged blonde white lady, who lived downstairs had joined them. She had been alerted when drops of water started dripping into her house through the ceiling.
I had seen her around before but this was our first time close to each other. She was standing with her arms folded, and once she set her eyes on me, she announced to everyone with a smile plastered on her face, “The plumber is here,”
I surmised that she was happy with the quick response of the estate agents in finding immediately the plumber. I could see the unsettling expression registering on both Mitch and James, our house mates. They were both whites as well. We were the epitome of Mandela and Tutu’s dream of a rainbow nation in this communal house.
They busied themselves with the buckets, ignoring her. The white lady was already ushering me with instructions and Mitch finally interjected, “He stays here,”
I could see shock and uneasiness registering on the white lady’s face, “Oh, you stay here,” that was her response. It was a great surprise for her to find out that she stayed with black people under the same roof, hence when she first saw me, she just assumed I was there to fix the burst pipe. By now the guys had mopped dry the water on the floor and only a small leak from the pipe continued dripping into the bucket put underneath the sink to collect the water, waiting for the plumber to arrive.
After the chaos, as we were leaving the bathroom, the white lady turned towards me and asked me to constantly check the bucket and empty it when it was full. Here she was again being arrogant and blatantly racist, seeing me as a sub-human. We were all flat mates paying the same bills hence we were supposed to be equal. But surprisingly this blonde white lady, I never bothered to know her name, straight away gave me the orders on issues we should have discussed first and possibly found a volunteer amongst us to constantly check the bucket. And to my surprise my liberal white flat mates avoided to confront her, instead they opted to apologise to me after she had long gone.
Living in a communal house, we had been sharing almost everything, the sitting room, the bathroom, the kitchen as well as the food. I started to wonder if theirs was a true friendship or comradeship, as we shared a lot of common views about the rights and wrongs of the world.
And here they had failed to stand up for me when I needed them most, to protect my human dignity. I was reminded of Marechera’s letter to his ex-white girlfriend, “A letter to Samantha.” At least with the unrepentant racist white lady I knew where she stood, but what about my liberal white friends?
Photo Credit: David Harrison
(Mail & Guardian)
Short stories and poems (excluding 2020) have been published by FunDza Literacy Trust.
Oswald operates the oldest manual lift at 6 Spin street, Cape Town It’s a 19th Century Lift and the last in Cape Town still working having an operator. 6 Spin Street is one of the oldest building in SA.