Keith’s Sabbatical Journal — August 14
A NIGHT IN THE TOWNSHIP OF SOBANTO.
Soon after returning from the YFC offices, Thulani came to pick us up. I had been anxious about riding in one of the taxis, especially after Dave (the intern and international volunteer coordinator for YFC) told me that the authorities just discovered one taxi with 26 people and a goat in it. They are only allowed to have 16 including the driver. Taxi rides cost about 2.50-5.00 Rand (the local currency) round trip or less than $1.00 US. Thulani announced that we were going to take the car and not the taxi and this was quite a relief. Soon Tim, Darlene and I piled in and after a short stop for some food (at Pick and Pay), we drove into the township of Sobanto (meaning ‘father of the people’). The drive was only about 10 minutes and there certainly is only one road in and out of the township. They had told us of the one road system where, under Apartheid, the government controlled access in an out of the township. The outward conditions of the houses in the township were not as bad as I thought they would be. We arrived at Thulani’s home where he lives with his parents (who are elderly) and several brothers and sisters and several of their children. We met his mom and dad and at least two sisters, and two brothers. Thulani has a total of nine brothers and sisters and he is one of the youngest in the family. Thulani has been married and is now divorced and he has 5 children himself who live with his wife about 2 blocks away in the township. Soon after we arrived at Thulani’s home, we went got back into the car and went around the corner to where his children live. One daughter (age 13) was ready when we arrived and had a suitcase in hand. She got in the car and we drove her to the boarding school where she had been living but had not been at for about 1 month. The drive to the boarding school was almost all the way back to town. This young woman had a big smile on her face from the time we met her to the time we left her at the boarding school. She was a delight and precious as she attempted to speak to us in English. She hugged Darlene several times and was very warm and joyful to us. When we entered the school, all of the boys and girls stopped talking abruptly. Most looked at us but several didn’t want to stare. I got the impression that they hadn’t been with too many white people in a while. The school leaders offered us a place to sit and we waited while the school teachers looked through Thulani’s daughter’s personal belongings. Soon we were introduced to a few of the staff and told a little about the school. There are about 135 students in the school but only about 38 live there. Thulani’s daughter lives there because she has several learning disabilities as a result of epilepsy (fits) which she has had since the age of three when Thulani says she was raped by an old man.
The township has three schools in it and several ‘mom and pop’ type one room stores, a car wash and several public telephones. Public telephones seem to be a big deal in this country because there are so many people who can not afford a phone. There is now plumbing and electricity for the township where there about 1000 homes, housing what Thulani says is between 15-20,000 people. Thulani has worked for YFC for almost 10 years now. Prior to working for YFC, he worked in a factory of some kind and prior to that he was the youth pastor for his church for about 2 years until they didn’t have enough money to pay him any longer. Thulani is a Zulu Christian and goes to the Methodist Church. He said there were 10 Methodist churches with more than 2000 people in them in the area. I sensed that he has mixed Zulu traditions with his Christian faith. One example of this was revealed when he was showing us the different rooms on in his house. One room, he said was a place where they could pray for his ancestors. I couldn’t tell if he meant “pray to” or “pray for” but I made some comment about how scripture teaches us about not trying to communicate with the dead. At this point, he began to explain his belief that not all of scripture was authoritative and there were some parts which he didn’t believe.
We drove back to the home where Thulani lives and by the time we arrived, his mother had prepared a dinner for us. She did not sit with us, nor did any other members of Thulani’s family. We had a whole chicken, a tossed salad, a lemon drink, bread and beans. The meal was very nice and it was the first time we had just chicken meat by itself since we arrived. During dinner, we asked Thulani lots of questions about his family, his life and his work. We could tell that we were being treated like very nice guests but I was a little disappointed that Thulani’s mother (nor any members of his family) did not sit with us. I later learned that it is Zulu custom that the mother eats afterwards. Thulanis’ father did not speak to us all night and he was hard to read. Later, we learned that this is the way he is even with the family but that if he gets some alcohol in him, he loosens up and talks more! After dinner, we watched some TV with the family and I made some duck sounds for one of Thulani’s nieces who spent the evening with us. She smiled. I then took a few photos with the digital camera. They had not seen a digital camera before where you can view the picture right after you take it. They were all very surprised to see this. After the TV news (which was primarily in Zulu but had a few interviews with people in English), we watched a drama show made in SA. Thulani said that the actors were not representative of the SA Zulu people at all. Thulani goes to bed around 9:00 pm and gets up around 5:00 am, so we soon went to our room. To get to the room we were staying in, we had to leave the house and to into a small courtyard in the rear of the property. Upon entering the courtyard, we could see about 3-4 rooms and Thulani showed us to the one we were going to sleep in. The room were we stayed was one of Thulani’s brothers’ rooms but he only slept there about 1-2 times a month because he usually stayed overnight where he worked. Another one of Thulani’s brothers owned a taxi and he worked very early in the morning. All of the houses had metal roofs and concrete block walls and no heat. The toilet was outside in a little room and had no seat. It wasn’t too inviting. Next to the toilet was a bathtub but Thulani said there was no hot water.