Text: BlackHouse Kollective
Photographs: BlackHouse Kollective
“My mother is a very private person”. Dinilesizwe(bra Dini) Sobukwe – Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe’s eldest son – restrains our expectations in a sing-song deep-baritone voice that threatens to break into Barry White’s Acapella every time he opens his mouth.
“She doesn’t do interviews and prefers a life away from the invasive attention of cameras”, he describes his mother to us, towering over our baldheads and dreadlocks. Head craned from the roof-end of the threshold limit, he leads us out of a colonial contraption. The Drostdy Hotel looking architecture we exit, reminiscent of Cape Dutch magistrate building, doubles up as living and working space for the Sobukwe Trust bra Dini heads.
With these words he anticipates and guides our youthful-suspect conduct possessed of a characteristically Sobukwe voice. We nod approvingly to his advice. Leash our outlandish Kodak desires, grab our humble gifts and be on our way to see Mama.
We come bearing gestures of appreciation for this almost 90 year old living miracle (26th July 2017, Mama Zondeni Sobukwe will be turning ninety). Like the Three Wise Men (sic) From The East, we have improvised a semblance of gifts: colourful Afrikan-print headwraps – for incense (Boswellia sacra tree resin from which the gift of incense to baby Jesus was made), Senamarena blanket – for gold, and Ikhukho– for myrrh.
Unlike the legend of Wise Kings from the east, we hold no royal brief to anoint mama with rare oils and ancient Ethiopian spices that bring good health to her tired bones. On the contrary, we’re from the north-end side of South Africa’s cartography, the South-West peripheries of the Crown Mine pillaging, dormitories of the Witwatersrand golden age- Soweto. But we are here, where most of our gallant warriors fought courageously, where they ultimately succumbed to the West’s barbarism exports. We are here fresh from the realization that ’94 changed fokol; we are here, newborn infants, initiates, Blackhouse Kollective members,entering a new phase of our spiritual and revolutionary journey.
It’s the morning of 26th May 2017, the Saturday that welcomed us with showers of blessings driving into Graff-Reinet. But Graff Reinet’s sky-high yellowish torch is not in the mood, not for us. It gives us a cold shoulder pat-down treatment as if to say: can I trust your motives. It frisks our genuine intents: are you some story-to-story hopping journalists? The dependable, unfailing sun in the sky seems to run us through an Inquisition gauntlet.
Still on that reluctant handshake mode, the sun’s mood continues to interrogate us: What rhetoric have you been mouthing that qualifies you to think you can carry the baton from the tried and tested Sobukwe-types? What para-biographers gave your ethical backbone the resolve to step through that door, nestle in the embrace of these four walls – where Prof shuttled in and out, cast the taint and taunt of your lush city-life shadows, make them fall where his incorruptible one fell, where his cardinals, his fundamentals expanded, and refracted – like the golden strips on the black and green Pan Afrikanist Congress logo. Where me and him orbited, danced and tangoed. Where me and him clutched hand-in-hand (yes me, the sun, the rock of ages). What do you think you know, from what you read, about the life of ideas that throbbed the passion of freedom Sobukwe’s life embodied? Is it Pogrundprose on him, Stubbs and Woods poetic-memory on Steve, Jeff Oplandoeuvres on Mgqwetho and Peirestruth-claims on Nongqawuse? Don’t answer. The cold-shoulder surveillance of the sun weighs and measures our presence there.
That was the ideological security-check pat-down. That reception mood, is what we got from Graff Reinet cold weather. Into the chilly breeze of winding down month of May, the lukewarm sun tossed our stubborn kaffir-hare wool. The windbreaker-clad skins we came costumed in, shook. Like the dead-weight of dry leaves seasonally shakes off tree branches. Unsettled by earlier cautions, and anxious not to find Mama asleep, we now step through Sobukwe’s door prepared for the worst, yet hoping for the best.
Mama Zondeni Sobukwe then appears, don in a smile that eclipses the reluctant reception of an overly protective sun. Brushing off its apprehensive gaze at our weighed-and-measured-gravitas, she totters on a staff shaped like a sceptre. Her shuffling, hobbling feet, towards her guests bear testimony to a life seasoned in ‘Serve’, ‘Suffer’, ‘Sacrifice’ motto: ‘Mother of Azania’ history appraises her.
“Oh, abazukulwana… thyini namhlanje ndizo bonwanga bazukulwana” (my grandchildren have come to see me, how wonderful). She says.
The elation in her unsteady voice is matched only by her ear-to-ear sunbeam enthusiasm. The glow on her beautifully textured skintone, and creased expressions, envelop us whole. In the crevices of a face farrowed by a warm smile we couch, cuddly. Like: this is our house; and we literally came from the deliberate intentions of Mama’s pushing loins. Her push backs, her resistance, her holding down the fort.
We are skulking around in her voorhuis when she enters. The standing among us, feasting on memory-draped walls, are trying to find their seats. The seated, composed, awaiting her entrance, from the garden outside, are up on their feet. She continues to hobble through the kitchen that jettisons her into her voorhuis. Most of us are on our feet, angled in the most courteous postures of reverence the Mother of Azania deserves. She shuffles her thick warm socks inch by inch to her seat – which only by looking at her feet, more than once, can one tell she has thick-knitted brown socks on, not slip-ons. She shakes our hands. After rocking all seven pairs, in the room, a few cove for more of her blessings on her bosom.
“Khawundipheamanzi” (I would be pleased to have a glass of water) from sis’ Miliswa, her daughter, she requests. With our sitting arrangement we file around, in a feedback loop shape, putting Mama at the centre of our attention. We introduce ourselves; briefly stating our names, where our natal-roots lie (apho iinkaba zethuzilele khona) and where we live, study and work.
With each introduction, from us, she recollects; connecting things that happened in 1944 and 1960, connecting to surnames and places, to her Jabulani days and White City days in Soweto, Johannesburg (where we come from).
We hit it off with Mama and share banter like old friends. We laugh, more than we talk – well, except for a few who couldn’t hold back telling mama the colour of their toothbrush, the tally of its bristles, and how many times they visited the dentist, in their short life (something like that).
We explain what Blackhouse Kollective is. We feel at home. We share plans to celebrate Mama whilst she is still alive. She tells us, “I’m one foot here and the other in the realm of ancestors”. She laughs heartily. Infectiously. And we laugh with her some more. We are Mama Sobukwe’s grandchildren indeed. We can feel it. Offspring of Sobukwe’s cross. Its unbridled bark of blackness forges us in indigenes, natives, kaffirs, non-whites, bantus and born frees. On the hoist of its own petard we are restless, agitating a revolution. Sobukwe’s cross buoys us high like a sign that always points to something other than itself: such as the mission to own our own souls; the vision to break free from shackles of dispossession and coloniality; and the task to restore our true personality.
Now we gather around Mama to take pictures with her. Her spirits are soaring high, and with her right hand side, Mama gives a defiant PAC open palm salute: ‘Izwe Lethu’ – the house roars with excitement. Our excitement has kept Mama past her ‘bed time’.
It is time to ask for the road. We summon the courage to put ‘good’ in goodbye, to part with our abundant source of inspiration. Mother of Azania, in her wellspring of unparalleled devotion we quenched our thirst.
The cold-sun, with its tail of disbelief between its legs, hides behind the mountainous landscape. It’s time for Mama to rest.
At the veranda, away from Mama’s purview. Her daughter sis Miliswa asks: “Did you go to the grave site?” She is keen to know if we went to connect with the spirit of her father where his body lays.
“Yes”, we chorus in the affirmative.
“Nizihlambile ke izandla” (have you performed the hand washing ritual).
We look around and at each other. One murmurs a “yes”, probably embarrassed to be caught sleeping on the city-life ignorance wheel. Others concede to having overlooked that important cultural gesture.
Sis’ Miliswa goes into the house and comes out carrying a towel and water in a washing basin. The porch cradles our hand washing ceremony with a signature note of Sobukwe’s generosity.
She thanks us profusely. We exchange hugs and tens (young people’s way of saying mobile number).
The eight-sitter van that delivered us safe in Graff Reinet, early this Saturday morning (led by an Andrew we chanced at the Engine garage for directions to bra Dini Sobukwe’s Trust house) swallows us.
One snapshot bite at a time – stills dusted all over Mama Sobukwe’s living room – we chew the cud reminiscing about a trip well executed. The buzz of Erika Badu’s sound breaks winter clod trammels inside the eight-sitter. A lingering history, calling for the ordinary to do the extra-ordinary, huddles at the threshold of our reflective forehead lines. We are deeply riveted in thought.
One door closes, another opens.
An important task is done and dusted. Months and months of disappointments, postponements, grueling planning, and sometimes disheartening eventualities, are behind us. We have pulled this off with our madness and meagre plantation salaries; our commitment and indomitable resolve to do the right thing. That’s the Blackhouse Kollective we tell Mama Sobukwe about.