Ubuntu and communal life-tapping into lineage and heritage

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In her submission titled ‘Compassion’ in the book, Black Tax:  Burden Or Ubuntu?, fiction writer, Angela Makholwa writes that “Ubuntu is what makes me most proud of being a black South African-in the sense that I am never alone; not in hours of deep despair or at the exhilarating heights of my greatest triumphs.”

Ubuntu is for me part of African history and cultural heritage.  Growing up at Stand number 124 Mohlonong village, Ga-Mashashane in the Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo Province), I witnessed this concept and the familial spirit in action.  Seven of the eight of us, the children of Malesela Samuel and Raesetja Agnes (née Mothapo), were at different times between 1968-1981 babysat by cousin sisters, Hilda and Lily from our maternal aunt, Johannah, in the nearby Monotwane village.

I can also vividly remember my maternal uncle, Stephen, affectionately called “Biko”, taking leave from work almost every winter to ensure that our fence and kraals get some maintenance, also digging out the cow dung manure.

The 8th September 2020 marked 28 years since my father took his last breath, that was four months after his 56th birthday.  Granduncle Madimetja, who was colloquially called ‘Nwee’, took my father under his wing when he first moved to Pretoria in search of economic opportunities.  This was in the late 1950s and after my old man had passed Standard 6 at the Mashashane school.  He apparently started out as a general labourer at the police dog training school, then enlisted in the police service around 1961, where after he was deployed to the John Vorster Square (now Johannesburg Central Police Station).

Uncle Matsobane herded our livestock, also tilling our crop fields with an ox-drawn plough years ago whilst he is always ready to indulge me in our family history.  How can I forget valuable lessons from my patrimonial granduncles Lesiba ‘Mokotama’ and Thupetji, on how to slaughter cattle, a goat or sheep and the importance of embracing family.

You can take a pick, can the above be labelled acts of ubuntu or black tax?  Methinks and as the saying goes “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”

Writer and travel journalist, Niq Mhlongo, submit in the book on black tax that “You had to have a reference in or family in the city you were visiting or else you would be branded as an illegal immigrant by the apartheid authorities and jailed.  Most people got their jobs because they were referred by their family members.”

This then made me realise that my old man was in a position to be a reference for many of the Mashashane natives in Johannesburg, subsequently assisting them to join the police service.

One of those who passed through the Fordsburg police barracks was Bro JJ Chuma from the nearby Mapeding village.  In a recent call, he had glowing words for my dad “If I say bad things about him, I will be a bad person myself.  He took good care of me when I moved to Johannesburg in 1982.”

Bro JJ, who was stationed at the Johannesburg Central Police Station, retired from the police service three years ago.  I always feel welcome to his house, even Bob, the giant and fawn doberman gave me friendly welcomes before dying a few years ago due to old age.

Author and investigative editor at the Mail and Guardian, Thanduxolo Jika narrates a story about his mother’s friendly reminders that ‘Ungalibali ke, mntanam’. On my side, it warms my heart that even after my father’s passing years ago, there are those who still think about having a braai at his house, this in his memory of the act of ubuntu and a thank you for taking them under his wing in the belly of Joburg during the apartheid South Africa.

My father was a migrant worker like most of the men and women from the North, which meant he saw his family a minimum of twelve times in a year.  Having tried my hand at poetry since Dr Moses Josiah Madiba high school days, this is a poem I wrote in my father’s remembrance around 2005 and is titled ‘Words for my Father’:

“Death you are so cruel

I will not sit here and lament your passing

You left a void down here

Not a day passes by without the thought of you

There is so much I would have liked to ask you

I will not say you went too soon

They say nobody is perfect

But you remain my inspiration up to this day

I will continue celebrating your life

Filling your gigantic boots is a tough ask

You have left quite a mark down here

That is on my heart.”

One of the things about residing in the villages is the adoption of communal life.  As the grandson of Malesela, informally named “Phooko ‘a dinaka” and Ramokone (née Matlala); and a great-grandson of Mokgolopo and Ramadimetja (née Nyoffu), I can invoke this lineage and heritage from Sebora to Naledi, Ga-Mapangula to Ga-Matlapa in the Mashashane area.

In 1997, I went to the erstwhile Technikon Northern Gauteng (TNG), Soshanguve in search of education.  I arrived at house 1611 Block H one January afternoon, where I was warmly accommodated in the Ledwaba family until I secured study space at technikon.  The Ledwabas, from the Thaga clan, came from my birthplace, Mohlonong village.  I later learnt that cordial relations between my clan, Mokgolopo’s and the Thaga’s went back a long way, which was further carried over to my father’s generation.

During my technikon days, my sister, Raesibe and two of my brothers Mashabela and Lesitja were then working, thus ensuring that I had all the necessities and augmented the monthly pocket money from the matriarch.  Whenever homesickness kicked in, I could visit another of my maternal aunt Margaret in Houghton or her daughter and cousin sister Rachel in Yeoville, Johannesburg.  I do not think for a moment that they viewed their contribution towards my upkeep as black tax!

House 934 Zone 4 in Seshego, residence of Uncle Madimetja and Aunt Makhosazana (née Mntambo) from my patrilineal granduncle Nwee’s household, was my regular transit station during the holidays and on my way home from technikon.

Well done to the matriarch, whilst I am also eternally grateful to all the people who played a part in my journey of life and for their act of ubuntu.

Picture caption:

The author’s father Malesela Samuel Maubane in a picture taken circa 1965.  (Picture:  Family album)

Maubane is a public relations strategist and a social commentator: born, bred and buttered in Mohlonong village.