Episode 29 Shortly after the birth of his first son, Frikkie, Doedoes and his family moved to the recently completed new homes a short distance away from the old one. Over a weekend everyone helped the family to move into their newly allocated Railway home at Number 411, further up in the gravel Railway Barracks main road. To come to think of it, the roads had no names, except for community self-christened ones such as Banana Draai, Middle Street, etc. The family went on with its daily life, despite sporadic insults by some koesiekop children. The inevitable happened one Friday afternoon, something Wellie had been trying so hard to avoid for some time, a fight, taking place on an open piece of land separating the Coloured and Afrikaner Railway workers families from each other. She and sisters Jean and Shirley are on their way home, carrying wood from the Bo Dorp, when from out of the blue the sisters are accosted by Maraai, the township female bully, backed up by a few of her cronies. “Today you are dead meat. That big beer stomach Pa of yours is not around to help you this time,” Maraai threateningly growls at the panic-stricken Silander children, two on the verge of fleeing from the scene. “Don’t run away, stay,” Wellie commands, surprised at her own guts. “Maraai is going to beat us all up,” a frightened Jean observes from behind her bigger sister’s back “Let her try,” Wellie says. “Today I will show her a thing or two,” she says determinedly, sticking her frock lining point into her bloomer, ready for the David and Goliath physical onslaught from her much bigger opponent. “I don’t think you have the guts to take me on,” Maraai taunts and mocks Wellie. “Then come an’ get me, coward,” Wellie verbally challenges her to the dual. “Your straight hair won’t save you this time,” Maraai barks and at the same time attacks Wellie is lifted sky high from her feet and thrown to the ground, followed up by a vicious kick in the buttocks. “Come, get up bitch. Fight,” Maraai demands, clenching her fists and circling her opponent. Momentarily Wellie lay there, quickly considering her options and next move. In the process she notices her sisters fleeing. Unobtrusively grabbing a hand of sand, Wellie goes on the offence. “I’m doing this for you, Dad and my sisters,” the frail Std 6 pupil says, throwing the sand into her surprised opponent’s face. Like lightning Wellie is atop her fallen victim and starts smashing up her blood stained face with heavy fist blows. Towering victoriously over her slain opponent, Wellie issues a strong warning to those who have just witnessed the fight. “Let this be a warning to you all,” Wellie says pointing to the floored and disgraced ex-champion township brawl fighter. “My father, Doedoes, is here to maintain law and order. It is true that he has to arrest anyone of your parents who oversteps the law, even his own children. None of you are aware that my dad has never ever locked up any of your drunk fathers or mothers. Instead, he would put them for the night in his office and release them before sunrise to go home without the commander knowing about it and that’s the truth. He has been sticking out his neck for the whole community. Had it not been for my father’s concern about everyone of your parents, most of them would and should have been in jail by now. If anyone of you ever insults my father again, you’ll have to deal with me and that’s a promise,” Wellie threatens them all. “Wellie, Wellie, Wellie …” her sisters, who have in the mean time returned to the scene, shouts in support of their brave sister. Wellie and the wood are victoriously carried away shoulder high into the township, whilst one of her supporters tends to the defeated Maraai’s’ bloodstained face. Needless to say from that day onward Wellie became the township’s new heroine among the youth. Despite all this, the Silanders learned to know many people such as Oom Piet Matroos, head elder in the Dutch Reformed Church, based on the other side of the railway line, and the father of the block law, who officiated at basically all home prayer meetings that usually ended in: “And in conclusion, Lord, I now specifically pray for the lost souls of…,” he would not for one moment hesitate to mention the names, their sins and shortcomings of those transgressors present at the meeting in his prayers to the dear Lord. A long silence would then follow in which some of the people would open their eyes, waiting for him to conclude, but after a long and uncomfortable pause, he usually ended with: “And, Lord, whatever the case me be, Amen.” Then there was the quiet and soft-spoken Oom Flippie Grobbelaar, the unofficial marriage councillor to whom everyone went with relationship problems. “My children, talk things over and don’t go to bed without resolving your differences, big or small,” the old and wise man would advise all and sundry. Inventor, Oom Boy Appies, with all his ingenuity, was the only township inhabitant whose home had electricity, courtesy wind power. Everyone envied him for using a wind charger and a car battery to produce electricity. Even some white farmers came to his house to copy the idea and successfully installed it on their properties. Unfortunately, the self-designed contraption would only function on windy days, especially during the month of August when the township, town and whole Karoo region would appear as if a typhoon had struck the place, miserable. In the absence of wind, it was back to traditional and ancient times – to the Appies family, candles and kerosene lamps like all other families. The Wynnes and Appies families were the tennis gurus in the township at the time until the Silanders came onto the scene and started playing tennis. They were given a hard run and ride for their money. Then there were the local rogues and vagabonds: Dawid, who had the natural ability to throw stones with both hands at any person who angered him, Roker, a known unemployed loafer, dagga smoker and conniving bully who would kill his own mother for money, sporting the biggest permanently red eyes anywhere in the world, Oom Mooi Boetie, probably the ugliest man alive, natural limping guitarist Jan Boesie, who was born with one leg shorter than the other, saxophonist Tatomkoel and singer Ouetie Erasmus and the legendary town and regional criminal Kappokkie Davids, who no law enforcer, but Doedoes, in later years could successfully apprehend and arrest after a big physical struggle to death. Not to forget the fear installing character, Oom Jan Mensvreter and his equally known and feared contemporary imaginary counterpart, Antjie Somers, both names just casually or deliberately mentioned, could scare the hell out of any naughty township child on any given day, especially at sunset. Blacks formed the minority of the community. There were four such families: John Xanaga, a labourer working as a dispatcher of livestock to the meat markets of Cape Town and Johannesburg, and his lovely daughter, Nongatsile; the Nels and Hugos, who constantly denied their African roots and considered themselves as being Coloured, despite their dark complexions, and a Xhosa man, Mister Whanga and his family from Transkei. He and his wife, Siesie Nono and his three sons, Makwenkwe, Skolile and Twakkie, one day out of the blue arrived and settled themselves without any fuss in the community, giving it a more representative demographic structure. Thanks to these peoples’ presence in the community, the Coloureds were for the first time directly exposed to African culture, specifically the language and traditions. Some Coloured clan members eagerly learned the Xhosa language, sometimes embarrassingly using it the wrong way around, and for the first time came in close contact with rituals such as the initiation of young Makweta Xhosa males into manhood, a week-long celebration of feasting and knobkierie fighting. But for aunt Antjie Haas, no relative of the animal species, the Xhosa language lessons came a bit late in the day. Home alone, one evening, she was confronted with a nerve-wracking situation. A strayed Xhosa man, looking for Mister Whanga, inadvertently entered her house in the township He couldn’t understand Afrikaans and she couldn’t speak Xhosa to save her own skin. “Izapa, Izapa, Izapa,” the fattish old woman frantically shouted and hand-gestured, trying to chase the intruder out her house, instead he kept on coming closer. She couldn’t remember the Xhosa word ‘hamba’ meaning ‘go, away. Anyway, Boetie Wangha, a traditionalist, was a herbs sangoma, healing the community from basically every real, but more so superstitious pain and ache. He also fought African witchcraft, especially the feared tokoloshe known in the township as ‘Billy gun’, with which the community was from time to time plagued. Pensioner, Oom Toy Louw, the township’s self-appointed knocker up, was a jewel. If this old man didn’t do his loud scream wake-up call to all and sundry early in the morning, like a real Eastern Imam, “There falls the child from the peepot,” then everyone was late for work and school. Watches were scarce in the township. Mister Laurence, the only fluent English-speaking man from Cape Town and his elderly wife, had a profound positive language influence over many people, especially the Silanders, who stayed in their new house right across the street. The old man’s English reference worlds were primarily the daily Cape Town newspapers, The Cape Times and The Argus. At a penny a month, the collection of the newspapers at the station for the old man became young Freddie’s daily task and sneak reading of the latest news. Doedoes and his family became ardent and regular readers over weekends of the Sunday Times, the Paper of the People. These were the simple people who formed an integral and inherent part of Doedoes and his family’s existence. However, the Silanders quickly learned that there existed a self-conceived type of class differences, jealousy and envy among the separate ethnic groups but particularly more so among the Coloureds in the small Karoo town. Some Coloureds in residential areas such as Newtown, Hooivlakte and Newlands considered themselves superior to others, especially those living in the railway township. “Do you also live in the Barracks?” some of them would tauntingly and sarcastically mock and degrade railway township dwellers as low class. These derogatory and insulting remarks had a rather positive counter-effect on most of the township people, especially the youth, who later through natural acculturation got involved in relationships across the poor and better off divide, and intermarriages also took off, due to certain other cultural assets. In fact, it encouraged and inspired the railway people to excel in whatever they did socially, culturally, academically and on the local sport fields. The Barracks people were perpetually optimistic and rose beyond their own poverty- stricken circumstances to do good and in most cases excelled beyond their counterparts specifically at school. To be continued next week.
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