For the indomitable spirit that is Sindiwe Magona. Halala!
I beheld this petite package of fireworks and dynamite the first time when I went to stalk Antjie Krog at the Goethe in Parktown. Doctor Sindiwe Magona read from her Biography of Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane. I remember feeling impatient, the only Archbishop I’ve ever had an interest in is Desmond Tutu, especially after reading about him through the gaze and heart of Antjie Krog. I sighed. The extract Sindiwe read was from when the Archbishop was locked up on Robben Island and in the matter of 5 minutes, laughing, crying and cheering ensued from all of us in that room. What an exciting way with words this woman has! Then she read her poem Please, take photographs – and I knew this would be an author whose work I would follow for the rest of my days. If you haven’t read that poem yet, please, take the time. Do yourself the favour.
During the Q & A afterwards, the issue of domestic workers arose. Someone was crying white tears about their white guilt of employing a black woman to do the cleaning. I thought uh oh when I saw her face. Her eyes were little slants and she was smiling. Later I would find out, as Astrid Stark wrote in Interview with Dr Sindiwe Magona – for the love of literature:
“Working as a domestic worker for four years, and as a single mom, she made a bit of extra money selling sheep heads and even selling liquor on a take-out basis. She lived with about thirteen souls in a four-roomed hose (sic) in Gugulethu. By candlelight she acquired her general certificate of education with the University of London, followed by her bachelor’s degree through UNISA.”
Then Doc Magona laughed a short, loud HAHA – slapped her thigh and spoke to us of black women cleaning homes. Her face was serious, you could see the pragmatist at work. She said, sure – get a domestic employee – make sure she’s young and ask her what her plan is going forward. Make it patent she must get educated. Make sure she’s in an out of your employ in 5 years.
This wisdom has lingered with me all these 5 years since that first time we interacted…
We were walking to our car after that exhilirating night at the Goethe. I just hear ‘tsk’ (or ‘cluck’ as you write Doc) and YOH, what happened to your car? I turn to see a small figure in the dark, frowning. “A taxi took the door out, mam” I stutter and blush. “And I’m not insured.” She gave me a little pat on the shoulder and kept walking. Those taxis, tsk. And she was gone.
Fast forward to Cape Town, November 2016. It’s been almost a year since I lost my mother. On Monday I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of Doc Magona’s latest novel, Chasing The Tails of My Father’s Cattle. And I was fortunate enough to get a seat too. Book Lounge was packed. It was electric! She was joined by a lady on stage who it turned out didn’t irritate only me, but everyone after the 60th purchase of Sindiwe’s new work, as that’s all the irritating lady ordered. For such a big opening night. Cluck.
What struck me most about listening to Sindiwe speak that night is the magnitude of her compassion. When she speaks plainly about subjects that can spark controversy or make people seriously uncomfortable or openly scolds stupidity – she does so with the love of a mother. How I wanted to run back and tell my mother about that night, the way I did after the first time at the Goethe.
When she signed my book (which I fortunately bought soon enough) she saw me stumble and waffle. I’m the world’s worst starfucker. Gush, brabble, blush. She grabbed me and gave me a looooong hug, probably as much to shut me up as to share her genuine, earthy love of people.
And so this white girl’s education is also elevated by you Doc Magona. I’m going to isiXhosa classes, so as to read your new story. Both to understand the phrases in isiXhosa, which come without references – sociologically. And more importantly, to climb into the hollow of the heart of this story and curl up there. These stories. Someone once remarked he’s never once met Settlers as blatantly deaf, dumb and blind to their fellow countrymen’s language and culture as white South Africans. It’s true. I’m going to remedy that at the ripe age of 39.
Enkosi, Dokotela Magona.