Torn between his adoration for his wife and young son and the irresistible draw of the criminal underworld, Shatterproof Bhekuzulu is headstrong, smart, cunning, and strangely endearing. The Lazarus of the tsotsi world, Shatterproof dithers between his need for redemption and his love for illicit scheming. Violent, funny, and intriguing, this story paints a colorful picture of a South African hustler during the apartheidone so magnetic it hurts to watch him dig his own grave, one disastrous decision at a time.
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About the Author
David Dinwoodie Irving has been a globe-trotting surfer, a professional musician, and an innovative filmmaker.
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By David Dinwoodie Irving
Jacana Media (Pty) LtdCopyright © 2010 David Irving
All rights reserved.
Black And White Bioscope
Before the Nigerian crime-cartels took over.
Before the democratic slayings for staked-out territory and the permanent arrival of the lucrative smack and crack trade.
Long before ubiquitous computers and electronic hacking-scams.
Oh yes, mfowethu, way back then there was another way of life in the vast and sprawling black townships of South Africa that were springing up like mushrooms after heavy rainfall once the insanity of the Second World War's worldwide bloodshed had petered out and the White Nationalist Government had waltzed into power.
Born there, your subsistence destiny was preordained:
You were birthed from your mother's heavings straight into a mould made of something far stronger than steel or concrete, more rigid than the mightiest of immovable mountains.
You were born into the world of doormats:
Your life was a doormat's life, something so unnaturally low it could only be meant for somebody else to use to scrape the shit right off their shoes.
Unless you chose the only alternative.
The life of a tsotsi.
Often short-lived, agreed.
But the air you breathed was your own. It was not farmed out to you on the basis of begging the Nazi amaboere for every oxygen inhalation.
The first money I ever remember making was running KB for the thirsty brothers at the local soccer club in our section of Soweto.
Kaffir beer, bra. Those days even we darkies used to call it that. Home-brewed illegal intoxication of magnificent renown.
Most favoured was the highly potent concoction sebapa le masenge, meaning roughly 'that which creeps under the sink', referring to the disorientation it gave to the legs of those careless and often over-enthusiastic drinkers with proudly alcoholic egos. Pride always goes before a fall.
My uncle Phuza 'Babalaza' Mthembu, his township name meaning 'bad hangover', the worst kind, was unofficial head of the club. He used to give me and my brother Vilakazi ten cents every time we fetched and delivered a five-gallon paraffin tin of either skokiaan or beer for his sideline business. When filled, this tin was so heavy that together we staggered for balance, barely able to carry it.
At the end of a blisteringly hot, dusty day, our labour would earn us up to maybe fifty, sixty or even seventy cents, which was a lot more cash than most of the abantwana in our neighbourhood of jerry-built shacks had.
Come to dwell on it, it was just about the only semi-legitimate earnings I ever made in my life. Every other wage I ever made came out of something the amapolisi would call criminal in one way or another.
My uncle Babalaza was a big indoda in the neighbourhood. This, by association, gave me and Vilakazi a certain standing even when we were pipsqueak mfaans.
My father never liked Uncle Babalaza. He used to thrash us bleeding brown-and-blue whenever he discovered we were hanging around my mother's brother. My father would tell my mame that Uncle Babalaza was a skebberesh and a thief and a skebengu-gangster, but he never said it loud enough for anyone else within eavesdropping distance to hear him.
Everybody in the neighbourhood, apart from my holier-than-thou father, called my uncle 'Baba' Babalaza, or 'Father' Babalaza, a term of enormous respect, and moved aside whenever and wherever he walked his singular path along the interconnecting dirt streets.
My father's principles were a lot more important to him than they were to Vilakazi and me. By the time my father died from a wracking lung disease that originated in the cement-products factory he worked at six days a week, Vilakazi and I were running a lot more than KB for Uncle Babalaza. When I was twelve and Vilakazi was thirteen we were selling dagga parcels for him and earning as much as twenty amarands a week, sometimes double that amount.
I usually had to wait for Vilakazi long after school was out because he was punished by after-class detention with monotonous regularity. Me, I liked school, and Vilakazi, of course, hated it. Even though he was a year older than I was, he was a whole standard behind. I don't like to talk bad-breath about my own brother this way, but it must be said: Vilakazi was not a recipient of overmuch in the brains department.
It was like that all our lives. Me, I've never stopped learning — and I never will, until tshelete ya matsidiso, or 'mourners' money', is collected for my funeral. See, mfowethu, when Vilakazi got so he could read the newspaper, he judged that was enough. I never saw him read anything else.
We used to meet Uncle Babalaza in the back room of our apartheid-granted White Social Services-sanctioned Bantustan soccer club. Famous guys like Syd 'Shortex' Kitsa and Solly 'Buya Msuthu' Nkutha had their beginnings there. Uncle Babalaza would give us each about ten of those giant-sized Lion matchboxes packed with weed and a list of places where we would 'meet' paying customers.
Usually we were to stand on a certain corner, or in front of a camouflaged shebeen, and wait until the right target came up and asked if we had anything for him. We were taught to ask for 'dollars' first and to count every grubby note and tarnished coin before we handed over the compacted insangu.
That was all there was to it.
Even then, it ate at me like starving rats with needle-sharp teeth to carry around all that spending credit and know that I was only getting a pauper's measly share for taking all the risks.
Vilakazi and I talked this over quite seriously in our own grandiose pubescent way, but we knew Uncle Babalaza was the wrong geeza to cross so we never did anything about it. He was a real 'axeman' from the old school of an eye for an eye, and then the teeth plus broken arms and legs for good measure. He had been arrested by the amapolisi for everything from rape to murder, but had only once been in prison for six months for being a passenger in a car that he claimed he didn't know was stolen.
One of his favourite oft-repeated stories was about a flash boy called Spokes Wheel, who'd been a delivery messenger for him. Uncle Babalaza would pause there, and at that point we were supposed to ask for the umpteenth time, 'What happened?'
'Spokes Wheel finally showed up. It turned out he had an appointment with the grave!' Uncle Babalaza would laugh, slapping his thighs with merriment.
There never was any doubt in my or Vilakazi's mind about what happened to Spokes Wheel. Uncle Babalaza never let us forget that the same appointment could be kept by us.
The year Vilakazi was fourteen, he turned his back on school and started to work for Uncle Babalaza full-time. He rented an added-on outside room of cardboard and plastic sheeting from a respectable family next door to the soccer club, saying he couldn't stand the noise around our house. I had three baby sisters and with my mame out working her domestic jobs most of the time, I had to take care of them. It nearly drove me crazy, mfowethu, I can tell you.
After two months of playing milksop nursemaid I moved in with Vilakazi.
I never went back home except to drop off some spare cash once in a while.
Vilakazi and I deviously began to spread our own acquisitive searching tentacles as time passed. There was a lot of stuff to be picked up if you were audacious, bold and as fast as a professional illusionist at using the obvious to hide the surreptitious — especially from parked cars and unattended white houses on the outskirts of Jo'burg, away from the amapolisi checkpoints. That stuff would bring in plenty of dollars if you knew where to sell it. And there were numerous other rwa methods to pick up some cash if you had the right connections.
At that time there was a wild bunch of young amacrazies, seriously dedicated macho maniacs who called themselves the Lone Rangers. They hung out on the Dube side, what we called 'Darkie Houghton' in those days. Nearly all of them are dead now, or else scattered across the length and breadth of South Africa rotting in jails on multiple life-sentences. A few of the best, years older than me, are still around. No names, but we have stayed in touch ever since we were laaitjies. Vilakazi and I used to pick up extra dollars from the biggest survivor of that group by selling their hit-or-miss hot merchandise.
Around this time, Vilakazi began to hang around with a mad hulking skebengu from Sophiatown — the hub of black art and music, later destroyed, annihilated, laid to waste by the white amaboere government Nazis in control. They had the guns, we didn't; but leave that. Political analysis is beneath my notice, mfowethu. Black, white, they're all the same scumbags beneath the skin. Aren't we all?
This guy Vilakazi chummed up to was called Big Bang Bongani. He was about three or four years older than we were, and he was a real psycho-case. There wasn't anything he wouldn't go for. He and Vilakazi attempted a couple of muggings, botched them, and nearly got wasted themselves in the Neanderthal wasteland of absent intelligence the process required.
I had to explain patiently to Vilakazi that for the few lousy dollars you got from some poor working bastard's weekly pay-packet, it simply wasn't worth it. Not when he was prepared to die for it; die, or make you dead. If the victim resisted, there was no ways you could bluff — you had to go all the way. That is, if you wanted the job completed. I finally got it through Vilakazi's thick, woolly head that strong-arm violence aiming indirectly at the permanent cessation of life was for mampara birdbrains. All it could do was land you so deep in the uthuvi you'd need crayfish filtration gills to survive.
Big Bang Bongani lived in Sophiatown, as I said, but every weekend his mother would send him to stay with his elder sister Sweet Cherry, who lived a few streets away from our soccer club. Sweet Cherry was a slim, long-legged doll who worked nights in a busy shebeen, her enormous unharnessed breasts a huge repeat business drawcard. She slept most of the day.
That's how I first saw her.
I was looking for Big Bang and Vilakazi on a Saturday morning when I walked into the cramped room and saw her lying asleep on the bed.
She was on her stomach and had taken off her flimsy nightgown because of the heat seeping through the cinder-block walls and corrugated iron roof. Her head was turned sideways, resting pillowed on an outflung arm. There were sparkling beads woven into her hair and she seemed to glow lustrously in sleep from the crown down. Me, Dhlamini Bhekuzulu, I tell you no lies, mfowethu.
I closed the door of ill-fitting cross-latticed wooden planks as carefully as I could so as not to make any noise.
I must have stood there for ten minutes easy, just eating her inch by inch with my eyes.
It was the first time I'd ever been alone so close to a naked, blossomed-out young woman at such tight proximity. Watching groups of nude girls bathe didn't count. I was imprisoned by her sensuality. A hopelessly chained willing slave to my nerve-tingling tumescent captivity. I couldn't get enough of it: my eyeballs felt her beauty inflating them like kids' balloons.
Finally I walked the sort distance separating us and sat down on the bed beside her. She turned over and opened her big almond-shaped lazy eyes. She reached for the sheet, but it was down around the end of the packing-case bed with its horsehair mattress. Then she began to smile, her big lips and white teeth of pure eroticism beautifully displayed.
'You must be Dhlamini,' she said. 'Bongani said you might come around looking for him.'
I put my hand on one enchanted globe of a silken world-encompassing breast and she went still as a cat halting its stalk of a suddenly nervous feeding pigeon. Then she smiled again.
'You like that?' she purred. 'I thought sweets would still be your main attraction.'
My mouth was dry, but she didn't stop me doing what I was doing. Just threw out her arms, stretched in the bed luxuriously and unselfconsciously, looking more like a cat with every passing second.
Then I see her eyes are feasting on the tent made by my umthondo, which is throbbing and pointing skywards, the rough cloth of my gangsta Jewish hopsack trousers restrictive and scratchy.
I'm unbuttoned before I know it, then I'm naked, and she's pulling at it gently, but I shiver and tense from the contact. Nobody has ever touched my umthondo before.
Then I let myself relax, mfowethu, and I feel rigidly nervous but opulently sumptuous at the same time, a pivot upon which all riches balance.
Then I'm on her creaking bed, pulling her to me, my hard umthondo pushing up against her soft thigh.
We play for a while, me fumbling like crazy. A wrestling laaitjie who knows only how to look for an opening advantage in order to hold his opponent down for the count of three.
Then she slowly opens her legs.
I gasp to myself. Her soft womanhood highlighted by those vee-shaped tight black springcurls looks so beautiful to me, strange but familiar; my vision is riveted.
Next I'm between those spread legs and on top of her, feeling her groin against mine. I try to get it in the place where the liquid heat of her secret passage must be, but I'm pushing uselessly against dense, wiry pubic hair and dry flaps of flesh and I'm going soft and I can't find it! I start kissing her furiously and I'm immoderately pleased to find I'm hard as ironwood again, running my hands over the mounds of her voluptuous breasts, teasing her big hard nipples.
Once again, I try to get my swollen umthondo in, but ayikhona, ayikhona wena, I'm just rubbing it in a forwards motion against the frustrating flaps, hoping it will somehow slide into that elusive slippery dreamworld, but there's nothing there!
There's nothing there!!!!!
I'm beginning to panic, mfowethu, but now she firmly grasps my hand and places it down there on her spiral nguni-goldilox, eases my forefinger free and begins a movement with it that I'm uncertain how to follow. Then she lets go.
What does she want me to do?
I'm touching her blindly, rubbing all my fingers in and around her dry, shockingly uncooperative labia lips, still trying to find that place that I know must be there.
Then came the breakthrough!
I found it!
Much further down than I had assumed and so close to her anus I was startled and terribly afraid of offending her.
Too small for me — no ways, mfowethu, would my umthondo go in that tiny mouse-hole.
I worked my forefinger, trying to enlarge the gap I'd found and I could feel Sweet Cherry's lack of participating enthusiasm. With a sigh like a kettle boiling over, she reached down, pulled my finger up and placed it on what felt like a fleshy hard-soft button.
As I laboured at this little gecko-head Sweet Cherry started relaxing as if she'd been melted like hot candlewax. She was writhing and twisting, squirming actually, emitting sounds like she was short of breath. She became a snake entwined around my vibrating finger. My wrist was grasped and she tugged my hand down.
Her miniature mouse-hole aperture had changed!
It was moist and wide and my forefinger slid in as easily as if it had been greased, mfowethu!
Now I comprehend, at long last I comprehend!
Press the lightswitch at the top and the witchdoctor's secret seduction spell of sex will be magically illuminated.
Now I'm no longer in a hurry.
Neither was Sweet Cherry.
My virginity was encased in walls of sensation about to devour it forever.
* * *
After that, I used to see a lot of Sweet Cherry when she wasn't working, even though she was seven years older than me. She was the only reason I saw so repetitive much of her brother Big Bang.
He was strictly poison to me, understand, because he was a real amacrazy — you could never tell what he was going to do next. You could change from friend to foe in the blink of an eye and just as fast become the pulped object of his vacillating, destructive judgement's pointless violence. That guy was missing all his marbles, I kid you not. A geeza like that is virulently dangerous to everybody around him. I kept trying to tell Vilakazi this, but nobody could ever tell Vilakazi anything. Something in Big Bang got to Vilakazi — maybe the attraction was his lunatic bravado, careless of the consequences, that Vilakazi didn't have. It made Vilakazi feel big and dangerous just to be around the short-fuse, maverick, glycerine-unstable firecracker that was Big Bang, and it was finally what screwed us up with my uncle Babalaza.
Excerpted from African Cookboy by David Dinwoodie Irving. Copyright © 2010 David Irving. Excerpted by permission of Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PROLOGUE - The Present,
Black And White Bioscope,
Sourcing - The Source,
Vibrating With Vilakazi,
Ball And Chain,
Out Of The Frying Pan,
How Much Is All Of Nothing?,
A Failed Phoenix,
Over The Hills And Far Away ...,
Earning A Living,
South American Shenanigans,
Home Sweet Home,
Choice, Choice, Choice,
Honeymooned And Hobbled,
Full Speed Ahead,
Back On The Boil,
Level Mette Gravel, Bra,
EPILOGUE - The Present,
African Cookboy - author interview for Bonsela edition by Carien Els,