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Tropical Scars: Page 10 of 19

Body: 
cover image

 The Origins Of Today's Tribulations
    (For a friend on his 70th year)

Mine head-gear
holes in the ground
Smelting ovens
Chimneys shooting at the stars
 
Drills opened a tunnel
in his soul
Burnt coal cooked his intestine
Chinaman traded his dreams for fahfee tickets
The city!
The factory!
The Mine!
The kingdom of money
of the Clock and the Machines.
"I am sixpence" he said
"that's all I am
My worth is sixpence
My wage is sixpence
I live on sixpence
I AM this sixpence"
His hands were callouses
they grew warts at work
until his hand was one big wart
with the emblem of Queen Victoria
in his palm.
"I am sixpence
So is a bag of mielie meal"
Life was a merchandise
The merchandise of hands
 
"I have in my dreams
the sound of the river!"
The Chinaman came* and
traded away his dreams for sixpence
"I have my soul and my insides!"
Drills opened a hole in his soul
It swallowed up the rest
Burnt coal roasted his intestine
"I am tripe for sale
In the factory
the Mine
'Mfowethu*
where are you brothers of the wage?"
 
*************************
 
From workshop to shack
From swearword to weariness
he steered his life in criss-cross
of City streets
The mask of Ham on his face
Da Pitch Black Follies in his mind
From End street to Market Square to the Workers' Hall
to ma-Monare's drinking place
 
That's where he met the Lion of Nyasaland
Kadalie*
changing colours by the hour
singing
DOOM DA DEE DAH
da PITCH BLACK FOLLIES* sing
as he met him,
a people's hero at the square
behind a bottle
at ma-Monare's for solace.
So many demons
da PITCH BLACK FOLLIES
DOOM DA DEE DAAH
as da workers were sold
for golden handshakes that took away
their fists.
 
Was this the man who organised the sturdy race of dockers?
- who talk of strikes in 1854 - behind that bottle?
Was this the friend of Champion
of Mbeki
of the red la Guma and Thibedi?*
Was this pussycat of white ladies and gentlmen in town?
the man who inspired multitudes to struggle
gnawing at their chains?
 
He looked at the paintings of the Miner, of Worker the Sampson
at Workers' Hall
and grieved at such a working mess
Was this man who squandered workers' money
staggering at ma-Monare's?
Who danced da TOON DA PITCH BLACK FOLLIES MAKE?
 
"I shall stay with Tebejana
marabi
and its makopoko beat"
he thought
and screamed
"Woza 'Basebensi,
ilanga lizophumela, man*
with or without Kadalie man"
He shouted
but the ICU* was gone.
 
************************
 
Listen
he was there
older
more weathered by the parting of the seasons
when the Charter* was read
he was there
savaged by the years of indignities at work
losing his stride
to generations to come
and when
Luthuli said
the Congress was the shield
to the workers' assegai
he squeezed both
membership cards
with delight.
 
He argued strongly
that the land did not belong to everyone
but only to those who worked it
confident of his mark
on the page of the tide
 
Campaign followed campaign
as he
with
walking stick
and dwindling eyesight
navigated his mast
through the storms of the streets.
 
He felt good
when in his overalls
(he said "good morning" only
no "baas" escaped his lips)
he pounded iron
with his hammer
and knew
that the dwindling of the light
the joining of ancestral shadows
would be part of the flood that breaks the dam's walls
 
And he sat after work with pipe in hand
lit or unlit
it didn't matter
 
and felt like a lover
as multitudes paraded in his mind
memories of a century of toil
"Kill me" he said
"I still work the anvil and the tongs"
and I still say
"Asinamali*
and that I am hungry for the oorlam's
the skappie's*
the slave's revenge"
 
*************************
 
His sides burst asunder
with laughter
as he remembered
Van Tonder the boer
he said:
"Hey kaffir you got a wife?"
"Ja"
"She got big busts?"
"Ja"
"She foks you around?"
"No"
"Now you are married
to this new wife
the machine
hey kaffir you hear me boy
you fok this around and she foks you up
reg?"
 
And I was wedded he thought
I was wedded to Davey Thompson
Piece-in, piece-out
fok my around in 45
Wedded to Power Tool Gee EE See
press and bother
fok my around in 53
My eldest, Jabu,
wedded with General Erection and Power Steel
Funny thing this machine
your partner
and sometimes your friend
she gave birth to that Oppenheimer for sure
Piece-in, piece-out
fok my around
General Erection and Power Steel
 
He looked at his rag
and realised
the power of the switch
Switch off
Divorce
Demand a better peice of cloth.
 
************************
 
He lost his youngest one evening
when the hunting season
ended
in the ghettoes
When hippo was the hunter
stalking black game
when the carcasses
were mourned in all corners
of the country
When his youngest
searched for comfort and found none
hopes, hopes
smouldering smoke
in the ghetto
 
Mandla
walked into the shack
into the candlelight
and told him he was going
"Away
far away"
"Where to
and for what my son?"
he asked knowing the answer
having read his pulse
for days.
He was silent
The door closed behind him
- a metalic clanging
 
From then on the door
gained a new significance
it is the tin door
of a tinshack
awaiting the return
the return of a nation.
 
************************
 
White official
Profiteer
Bureaucrat
caressed each other's beards
and stroked each others pocket linings
Singing a new Anthem
made up of new words
Like Iscor, Escom and Sasol
like Anglo, Toyota and Bohler Steel
Factory smoke
Grey shadows
dance, dance
dance to the baton beat
Shadows
many shadows
followed trade unionists
into lie detector chambers
 
But something happened:
A pamphlet.
"Hide it. Hide it.
Jabu hide it."
A form
"Don't sign Jabu don't"
A little office
"Don't enter Jabu don't"
A small meeting place
"Don't talk, don't talk Jabu don't"
 
A trickle of workers
pock-marked with worry
A downpour of issues
Then the flood.
Factory gates burst
a trampling humanity
and poured it into tiny rooms
then big church halls
and then the stadiums
 
Unions emerged
on the back
of a galloping grievance
 
He saw it all and smiled
He could hear the hoofs in his dreams
Galloping
from the Kalahari to Karoo
 
************************
 
He sat there
knowing that his ancestors
were calling
and maggots
were waiting for his flesh
He pointed his walking stick
to every direction
and to the sky
He looked at it
it served him well
He stood it up
It walked away
and he watched it
going down the hill
to the factories
he smiled again
it knew its way around
he watched it do a tap-dance
outside the old factory
he stained with his sweat
it Fred Astaired down the road
But then
he noticed a sound
 
Machines were singing a different song
He strained his ears
There was silence
A wind blasted
the gates open
he strained his eyes
and he saw them coming
they were coming
with banners and drums
he closed his eyes
he nodded
the hole in his soul
his burnt intestine
bursting to life
a flame sprang up
and tears rained over his wrinkles
I have lived
- he winked at the magots
as his stick was sprouting at the handle
marching through town
his last sigh lost
in the thunder of song
and his stick
Fred Astairing down the road.
Description: 
Destined to be an important contribution to progressive writing in S.A. - Frank Meintjies