Living on the Wrong Side of the Track
Living on the Wrong Side of the Track, a guide to Soweto and life, as I understand the differences between the two cages that I live in, around, one foot here, one foot there.
Then, the friend Samuel Shabangu, father of our politician Minister Susan Shabangu, dies. I hurt, I cry, the book falls apart as I re-edit it time after time after time, till i throw it one side.
I believe that I am almost ready to write it over.
The Chapter that caused seven re-edits, beef I put the book aside and got on with my life.
Tribute to ‘Baboon Shepherd’
Baboon Shepherd passed away on the 21 July 2006, and I include this chapter, as a tribute to Baboon’s contribution, to the idea of finding interesting ‘characters’, in Soweto, that the reader may wish to visit one day, thanks to his contribution.
During the first quarter of 2005 I was doing research on the Orlando Pirates soccer clubs history, as part of the rich history of Orlando East.
While researching the archives I had heard that Sam Shabangu, one of the founding members of Orland Pirates, was still alive.
I asked Mbube Mdingi, friend and ANC stalwart, to help me find him. Mbube knew more or less where Sam had lived, and we soon found his house. Sam no longer lived there, but Mbube was able to encourage a grand-child to show us where Sam lived. The grand-son got into our vehicle and directed us to 2528 Skota Street, Orlando East.
We were thrilled with the discovery; and having pointed out the shack where Sam lived; the young grandson greeted us and walked back to where we found him.
We knocked on the door of the small shack and were invited to enter. The shack is a small one-roomed shack, Mbube had entered first, and he is not a small man, so I was stranded outside while space was made for us.
A large double bed took up most of the far side of the shack, a small space next to the bed, and then a cupboard of sorts, that must have held their clothing and other personal belongings.
In the opposite corner, directly opposite the door, was the kitchen area. The dining / lounge area that we had been squeezed into, measured about 1.5 m x 1.5 m. The gathering was rather uncomfortable, because it was summer, it was hot and we needed to keep the door open. The open door extended into the lounge area.
Mbube introduced us. The one picture of Baboon that I will never forget was one that I saw at the archives, Baboon as part of the ‘1952, Clean Sweep’ team, hanging proudly in the kitchen area. “Baboon, if I may call you Baboon, some months ago I was researching Orlando Pirates this picture and the one of you as a taxi driver, I see the big beard is still there.”
“Yes, please call me Baboon, and the beard was always there.”
Once Mbube had got the introductions out-of-the-way they, had a discussion in their own language and I was unable to follow.
As we left I asked Mbube why Baboon was staying in those awful conditions.
“He says that since he has met Virginia, he has only suffered abuse from his grand-children and his daughter, so he prefers to come and live in the shack with his new wife.”
“How long has he been here?”
I was shocked, and started visiting Baboon and Virginia regularly.
“Baboon, are you happy here?” I could not accept that he could live here, rather than at his home.
“No, I should not be here, but I can’t live at home with the children.”
“We need to try and find you something else. This is not healthy for your age.”
“Thank you, I will appreciate that.”
I tried to find suitable accommodation, other than in a shack. Orlando East does not have many options. I failed.
Those visitors, who met with Baboon, will remember their visit, and appreciate this tribute.
As Allan and our local guides head for the local taxi that will take them to Bara, our first stop, with Anne and Hans, is to satisfy their love for soccer, where better can we do that, than in Orlando East. I leave the visitors in the kombi, and quickly go into the shack, in the back-yard at no. 2528 Skota Street, to check whether Baboon is available.
“We are lucky, he is home, Baboon, is one of my favourite characters that we visit while in Soweto. Please come along with me, your things are safe in the Kombi, I would be concerned with the safety of your bag in the suburbs, but not here.”
We walk down the left hand side, of the main two roomed home, towards a small shack, one of the many, this tiny shack standing two meters from the outside toilet. As we approach, an old man, big but frail, starts to slowly move out from the inside. Often, when he receives visitors, he will sit on the small cast iron stove, just outside the door, but today his legs are bothering him, and he does not wish to negotiate the step out of the shack.
He leans against the door-frame, and breaks into that broad smile that we all know so well, our friend and soccer legend, Samuel Shabangu, better known as Baboon Shepherd,
“Baboon, please meet my guests, Anne and Hans from Germany. Friends, please meet Samuel Shabangu, better known as Baboon Shepherd, one of South Africa’s truly greats, and one of the last living founder members of the famous Orlando Pirates soccer club.”
“Welcome all of you, I really appreciate it when I get visitors from overseas, please, I have not got much to sit on but make yourself comfortable.”
Seating is limited, rather non-existent, the visitors are quite comfortable, standing around or sitting on the ground when Baboon perches, on an old disused, small iron stove.
“Cedric, please bring that photo closer for the visitors. Thank you.”
I have already gone into the tiny shack, anticipating that Baboon will want to show the visitors his treasured, framed photograph; that hangs on the corrugated wall, above the cooking area
The tiny tin shack, has a large double bed in the far corner, a suitcase and trunk, that they would need to negotiate when getting off the bed, and immediately opposite the door, the cooking area.
As I reach across the stove, both electric-plates red-hot, a pot of water boiling continuously, once again I complain to Virginia that this is not healthy, and that they must rather use a blanket to keep them warm.
I hold the photograph for the visitors to see;
“Yes that is me” says Baboon, pointing to the bearded soccer player, back row, fourth from the right of that picture that he has kept so proudly, –
‘1952 Clean Sweep’.
“I always had a beard, then and still do.”
“Baboon, long before I met you, I was doing some research; and a saw a photo of the young, Baboon Shepherd, as a taxi driver, opening the door to a pretty young lady.” Baboon has always enjoyed the fact, that I had researched him, and Pirates, long before I met him.
“Yes, in those days we were amateurs, and we needed to work, so I drove a taxi, I enjoyed the job. I even owned my own taxi at one stage.”
“Baboon, if I may call you Baboon?” then, “Why do they call you Baboon?” from a tentative, unsure, Anne.
I smile; it is the one question that I have not been brave enough to ask Baboon.
“I was very young when this started, I think it was a teacher, I was very active, always jumping around, and climbing trees, and everything, that is why I was called Baboon.”
“Baboon, when did Orlando Pirates start?”
“Well Anne, it all started in 1937. There was a club called the Orlando Boys club, where the guys did weightlifting, and boxing, but no football. So we approached them and formed the Orlando Boys Football Club. This did not last because the man in charge took our money, so we withdrew. Our physical instructor, Andries ‘Pele Pele’ Mkhwanazi, organized a meeting at his house, were we decided to form a club, and the late Hansie Nkosi, came up with the name ‘Pirates’ and that is how it came into being.”
When we had soccer fans visiting, and Baboon was available to have a chat with them, it was a highlight of my day. Baboon’s knowledge of the international soccer teams, gives him the ability to discuss the visitor’s home town, as if he has personally visited there. He also knows every South African soccer player, who played in their local league.
The visitors always have a range of different questions and different approaches. They are all taking in by the time spent with him, he will talk about the early days as young amateur’s, and then surprise them with his theories on what the players of today lack, and also how he would set about getting a team into order, for the 2010 world cup.
As we start to say our good-byes, I sometimes think I can take my visitors back to Johannesburg, after this visit, and they will feel that they have had their monies worth.
After about twenty minutes we start to leave Baboon, he has not been well for months, and he needs his rest. He will talk for hours, if I let my visitors stay with him.
Our visitors say their good-byes, more often; they all have a last little question that they would like to slip in during the good-bye. If only Baboon had better, and more comfortable conditions to entertain his visitors.
“Cheers young man,” as we punch fists, “I really appreciate you spending so much time with my visitors.”
Baboon always smiles when I call him ‘young man’, and is then quick to add, “I am not young anymore.”
“Good-bye Hans and Anne, regards to everyone in Munich.”
“We will see you in South Africa, for the 2010 World Cup,” Baboon, wished Anne & Hans.
Baboon broke out into the contagious smile, almost a naughty laugh.
“Cedric, I thank-you, you and your visitors are very welcome, I love you, you are the only one, who still selects me on his team.”
I hug him, as I help him back into his shack, and the elation that I felt five minutes ago, disappears, as I greet him and his wife Virginia, and leave them to spend the night in conditions, that people of their age, and stature do not deserve.
During the 2006 World Cup we received the following email.
About two weeks ago we saw a short movie about Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. They also showed the old stadium that we drove past. And in the end of the movie they had a short interview with the man (from Orlando Pirates) we met with you. (Unfortunately I do not remember his name). I think they made the movie shortly after it was announced that the next finals will be in SA.
I’m still lucky that we met him.
Anne & Hans.
Baboon Shepherd remains part of my life; his contribution to my understanding of life in Soweto, life in South Africa. That he needed to suffer so, in order for me to understand, I regret. I regret that I did not do sufficient, to ease his suffering.
There are two main issues that the friendship with Baboon has made me aware of, I am frustrated that I have not yet been able to understand enough about them yet.
Then on a sadder note, Baboon I failed you, why did I accept that the community did not consider your plight abnormal.
Yet, on the other hand, when discussing this issue with Dr Credo Mutwa, he warns me to leave well alone, what I witnessed here, is not something that I can attach to the community at large. Baboon’s family will have reason and possibly motivation for what has taken place.
The community may not have reacted to what I experienced because they understand, I do not understand.
My respect for Dr Credo Mutwa, and his advice that I should give space to issues that I do not understand, has encouraged me to tone down this issue.
As a white, involved and very much part of the Township community, am I sensitive to ‘family / woman abuse’? I do not believe that my wife Nettie would agree.
“Cedric, how can you even believe that a woman could trump up a rape charge against anyone? How can you even think that? A woman suffers more in the court than the man ever suffers, you are a fool; you make me so cross.” Nettie, my dear wife, attacks me following a comment I make in relation to a recent high-court trial.
I remember visiting with Patricia during the same period, I am very aware of Patricia’s sentiments around this subject, so I would never even attempt to comment on this subject. Patricia just needed to hear a news report on the issue, and she would rant, interrupting our very serious discussion for ten minutes.
Abuse, particularly woman and child abuse, is an important part of our country, and the worlds challenges, today.
As a local white I have always been in awe at the respect that Black people show to their elders. As a local white I amazed at what I witnessed every day. This is not part of the white culture.
My friend Ouschen, would claim that this is very much part of the religious beliefs, ‘Honour the father and thy mother.’
Yet on the other-hand, I have become very aware of the complete opposite that can exist. Not just a sign of disrespect rather complete ‘Parent abuse.’
How can a culture, who accepts the respect factor as a norm, close their eyes to the ‘Parent abuse’ that occasionally take place within the community.
The particular incident, close to my heart, is related to my dear friend Baboon Shepherd. I needed the media to cover his situation, in order that we could alleviate the apparent abuse that Baboon and his wife Virginia were suffering. Although I am angry with the media, I blame myself for not having done sufficient to alleviate the abuse.
I failed Baboon, because I accepted that the community did not consider what was taking place to be abnormal.
Tony, a friend and colleague in Soweto, once answered my query on this matter with the following comment:
‘No, the Black people are funny, if I have a girl-friend and my wife dies, my children will think that the girl-friend killed my wife, and they will never accept her.’
This white mind is even more confused with this statement. I always believed that the black man could have numerous wives, without interference from the children.
Is it possible that we can accept this attitude and thinking, and then condone the abuse of Parents?
In October 2005 I visited Baboon to find him sick in bed.
“Why do you not go to the Doctor, you look awful?”
“I do not have money.”
“I will ask my driver, Tony to pick you up and get you to the Doctor.”
“Will you lend me some money; I will repay you when I get my pension?”
“I will pay the Doctor, do not worry.”
“No, I need some money for food, Pirates have not yet paid my pension, and if you lend me R500 I will pay you at the end of the month.”
“Why have they not paid your pension?”
“I don’t know.”
“As soon as you are feeling a little better I will let Tony take you to the Pirates office, so that you can sort the problem out.”
On this very day Baboon was due to be our guest at a function that we had arranged.
Bingo, both a Radio and a local news-paper journalist were guests, just what we wanted.
I introduced Baboon Shepherd to both the journalists, giving them a brief into his predicament.
The Radio journalist promised to give Baboon an interview on his program, and the local publication’s journalist, immediately interviewed Baboon and took a few photographs.
This never happened.
Why did I not take Baboon and Virginia to my home?
Maybe my wife would have left me; she already attacks me for doing more for my friends in Soweto, than I do for my own family.
‘If you only treated your family like you do your friends in Soweto things will be better.’
Still, I needed to move Baboon to the ‘other side of the track’; there he would have been seen.
On Saturday, July 8th, just as the 2006 Soccer World Cup was coming to an end, I had a British visitor who wished to visit Baboon.
Baboon dragged himself to the door of the shack and put on a brave face, I was shocked at his condition. We left him within five minutes and I drove with the visitors to seek medical help. I then dropped the visitors at Spoon’s Place for an early lunch and returned to take Baboon to the Doctor.
On the Sunday morning, I was amazed to see that he had recovered so well. The driver looked after him for the remainder of the week, and ferried him to the Doctor when required.
On the following Saturday I volunteer to take Baboon to the Doctor so that I can talk to him about school soccer, or the lack of school soccer.
When I arrived at the shack I was surprised to see him looking so well. “Hi Baboon, you are looking so good.”
“Yes thank you, the Doctor has brought me back to life.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“Cedric, I thank you, you have made me realize that I can no longer live in this shack” Baboon’s words that still haunt me.
On the way to the Doctor and back we discussed the schools soccer. Our conversation was at such a magic level, we were sorting out the schools soccer problems and he was a new man for the first time in months.
As Baboon and his wife Virginia settled into my car, I immediately challenged him with the lack of schools soccer, and the discussions, I had had,with Vusi and Khaia.
“Cedric, you are right, I am so pleased to see that you have been keeping your eyes open, while you are moving around Soweto. I never realized that you were missing the link between the early soccer that we always talk about, and the lack of soccer today.”
“The strength of our soccer has always come out of our schools competition. I have been talking about this problem for a long time, I have even given an interview to a French journalist recently about this subject,” Baboon almost seems to gain strength from the new subject that we have introduced into our interaction.
“Cedric, you remember in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Highlands North, Durban City, Ramblers, Rangers, all these teams were white. Why do you think this changed, why do you think that the blacks took soccer over, it was because we were producing lots of good black players through the schools competition. Today the young boys must play in the streets with the neighbours, but there is no competitive soccer for the boys. I know a lot of people in the soccer world, will claim that they are responsible for converting the old NFL system to black, but I tell you, it was successfully changed, because of the good talent we were producing in bulk, the numbers of boys we had playing and people who were watching soccer.”
“Watching soccer at school level; watching their children. This is where we developed this spectator following in the senior leagues. I look around today; we are having fewer and fewer people watching soccer. This is why. “
“Baboon, if we do not fix this soon, 2010 will be the only World Cup we play in, thanks to hosting it, we will battle to qualify after that,” I say with the confidence, having had the wisdom of Baboon’s input.
“Cedric, please, do what you can to assist. You have my full support. I am on your side. When you talk soccer and the youth, you are talking my language.”
Recently an American visitor, points out to me the parallels between the introductions of sport into the Black communities in the United States, the impact that it has had on the numbers of stars that have emerged. Even though the Black Americans are in the minority, the fact that a previously denied privilege was now open to them, the number of Black athletes coming through the ranks, were just too many for the white elite system to keep out. Today, the new breed of American athletes are respected and worshipped throughout the world. Exactly what Baboon claims happened in our soccer society.
I am a Comrades runner, not very good, but I enjoy every minute on the road. During the past year I have often asked myself; ‘why the numbers of black athletes continues to grow’. ‘Why the front-runners every week-end are black’. The answer is easy; it is possibly the easiest sport to get involved in. And typically of the American scene, the majority of the participants are white, but the leaders of the pack when it comes to achievement, are mainly black.
I think of the millions that is going into development of cricket and rugby. I think of the unpopular quota system; a system that is unpopular in every sector of the community.
I imagine what cricket and rugby would have been like, if we could have introduced these sports, to every young school child.
We would have a reverse quota system by now.
This subject is so important that I can’t let it remain part of the bigger story, I need to get support for Baboon, Vusi, Khaia, and every other young boy, who is treated as if he is ‘living on the wrong side of the track’.
On the Monday I visited Patricia, friend and journalist. “Patricia I need your help.”
“What is it my son?”
“Do you know Baboon Shepherd?”
“Yes he is our icon.”
“I need media coverage that will open the world’s eyes to his plight.”
“What is wrong my son?”
“Baboon is living in poverty; Baboon is living in a tin shack, his Pirates Pension has been taken away, if we don’t help him he will not live to see 2010. Baboon wants to see the 2010 Soccer World Cup; the country will want him to be here.”
“But what is the problem son?”
“The media is not keen to cover this story, because ….. “
“How!….. How!….. What are you telling me.?”
Patricia immediately got on the phone and arranged another veteran journalist of meet with Baboon and Virginia. This visit took place on the Tuesday.
On the Wednesday, I received a call that Baboon’s wife needed me urgently, Baboon was very sick.
Baboon eventually arrived at the Baragwanath Hospital in the evening, and my driver phoned to say that Baboon was sitting up and talking. I was relieved.
Then on the Friday I received a call to tell me about Baboons death, I was away in Kwa-Zulu.
I cried for the first time in years.
While in Kwa-Zulu, I spent two days on my lap-top, attacking those that I believed were responsible for Baboon’s suffering. I used the chapter on Baboon’s ‘character’, to express my anger and frustrations, anger at the media, anger at the family, and in particular, anger at myself.
Over two days this manuscript became unrecognizable. I was hurting, and I was angry. A seething anger; boiling inside me; hour after hour; destroying this entire manuscript.
Then on Tuesday night Baboon came to me in a dream;-
The dream I will never forget, Virginia and I went to the grave-yard where Baboon was being buried. Virginia and I were standing over on the far side of the grave, away from all the other mourners. The mourners did not seem to be aware of the fact that Baboon’s coffin, was sinking in a watery grave. I was confused, do I run forward and save Baboon from this horribly wet, muddy swamp ending. Just before the top of the coffin reached the surface of this muddy swamp, Baboon lifted his head, and seemed to be looking through the large crowd. Eventually he twisted his head towards where we were standing, and as his eye caught mine, he broke out into a smile, that contagious smile that I knew so well. He started to lift out of the coffin, was he lifting out of his body, his face was a clear as daylight, but he had changed colour. He was now an orange, a brownish orange colour, or was it an orange-ish brown colour. I could see him leaving the dark body behind. I looked at the Minister who was still standing over the coffin and praying. The large crowd that were attending the funeral were obviously not aware that Baboon was getting out of the coffin. Once Baboon was free from the coffin he started to dance around, Virginia with a big smile, her first smile for a week, joined him. They were both happy. This was typical as I had seen them whenever I visited with them in the shack. Happy, smiling, and loving. I looked at Baboon, except for the face that I recognized; he looked like a taller version of the Orang-utan I had seen in the Johannesburg zoo. He came across to me, dancing, maybe prancing, took my hand firmly, and the three of us danced happily around the coffin. I looked at the rest of the mourners, were they just ignoring us? They continued the service, as if we were not there; they never noticed this happy trio.
I believe that I woke up just at this stage of the dream, I got out of bed, and the first thing I did was to dedicate this manuscript to him, and change this chapter, to a tribute to my friend.
On the Wednesday morning, for the first time since Baboon’s death, I visited Virginia in their shack, as I entered and looked around I started to cry.
The shack was now more dingy than I had ever felt it before, I knelt next to her on the blanket, candle burning in the one corner; I held her hand and cried.
She was unable to talk to me, but a friend related how the family had arrived on the Monday and stripped everything that represented Baboon, out of the shack. Virginia had been stripped of every last grain of Baboon, and left on her own in the shack.
I went to Patricia for assistance, and the following day she accompanied me to the shack. Patricia brought some stability into our strained emotions, by addressing the funeral first. We could address the other issues later. We needed to ensure that the family, or Pirates, gave Virginia her rightful place in the ceremony.
We visited the Shabangu family, the daughter Deputy Minister Susan Shabangu, and we paid our condolences to the family. Patricia discussed Virginia’s position with a representative of the Church; who was going to conduct the service.
We proceeded to the home of one of the Orlando Pirates leaders, obtained his business phone number, phoned Pirates, and asked them to assist us, by inviting Virginia to be their guest at the funeral.
On the Friday, I was advised that the church would get Virginia into her rightful position, at the funeral ceremony, and that I did not need to collect her, I was pleased.
On the morning of the funeral I believed that Virginia was with the church group when they arrived, and so I joined in the funeral proceeding, sitting in the front near the contingent of dignitaries.
At 10 o’clock, two hours after the start of the funeral, I received a phone call from a Petrus, asking me if I was at the community hall. When I responded in the affirmative, he told me that he was bringing Baboon’s wife down to me.
We sat with two of her friends in one of the back rows, in a community hall, the participants were mainly Political and Soccer dignitaries, Church representatives, and Orlando Pirates members.
I recognized two or three locals; the community appeared to be missing. Maybe they would arrive for the feast and celebrations.
I sat back and listened to the various Preachers, two of the church ladies that we had met at the Shabangu family home, sat next to me briefly, and paid their respects to Virginia. So they did know about Virginia.
Although the service was conducted in an African language that I do not speak, I felt that we were not attending Baboon’s funeral. If it was not for the framed No. 4 jersey; with Sam Shabangu’s name on it; I would have believed we were at an official funeral.
Our Baboon was not being paid his due respect.
Neither family, nor friend, appeared to have paid Baboon any respect, for the last seven years of his life.
Virginia refused to leave my car at the cemetery; I needed to encourage her to do so. I told her briefly about the dream that I had earlier in the week.
‘We are at the grave-side; Baboon gets up out of his coffin and dances around with you and me. He is not dead; he tells us he is not dead, and had only been pretending to be dead. We laugh and we dance.’
‘You are happy, he is happy, as much as I wish to believe he is alive, I must know he is dead because no-one else around his grave appears to notice us.’
I encourage Virginia to leave the car, based on the message that Baboon sent with regard to dream.
‘He wants the two of us here, for him.’
Virginia takes her position at the back of the large group of mourners. No-one looks at her; no-one makes space for her. I walk away from where I leave Virginia, at the very back of the mourners, I am disgusted.
I think about my dream and the fact that no-one else had even noticed us, how right my dream was; Baboon knew exactly what lay ahead.
How powerful this spiritual world is.
After this, the seventh edit to Baboon’s last few years, I still can’t forgive myself for not honestly relating, exactly what I feel.
What I am afraid of?
Why should I give a politician who abuses her father any respect?
Maybe I need to accept that this white Sangoma still does not understand our cultures or traditions, or maybe, what Dr. Credo Mutwa is telling me, that none of us can understand the impact that the treatment of the indigenous communities by the system, over the past 300 years, has had on all of our lives.