“The wind is in from Africa. Last night I couldn’t sleep” – Carey – Joni Mitchell

Negotiating narrow walkways above overly clean streets in Cape Town; a haphazard assortment of traipsing multi-racial folk shadowed by Victorian buildings and Victorian morals, enveloped in fear midst everyday joys of life; are hidden yet visible under a veil of normalcy.

In apartheid Southern Africa the disconnect that set this place apart was palpable. Chaos; the random order free people enjoy, chaos born of freedom to act spontaneously; was missing. Every move people of all colors made seemed choreographed; life on film in a sort of paranoid hell, a Orwellian 1984. Each body cringed imperceptibly like it could be struck at any moment; a collective fear mixed with a collective sorrow, a deep psychic injury, lying outside the sphere of the physical, a mysterious sensitivity generations ingrained.

The tribal elder’s called me Mzungu; Bantu for aimless wanderer. The tribal boys called me Mukiwa; white boy in Africa. I told them of American apartheid, the struggle and triumph and how it had been done; by walking and sitting down, resulting in the civil rights act of 1960. They told me of 1960 in Sharpeville. We had Bull Connors with fire hoses; they had genuine Neo-Nazi’ with live rounds and they were definitely open for business.  

It wasn’t hard to foresee the fall of South Africa was a matter of time. In the opulence of European style bistros a small boy led an old ragged blind woman by a rope through the maze of café’ tables begging for charity; the white shopkeeper shooed them away none to politely. Knee deep in the sewer sludge of apathy, general ambivalence to suffering on a societal scale, the center could not hold; and when it blew; I was sure the gutters would run red. I saw it, the boy and the blind woman saw it too.

Nelson and I got the same sentence; hard labor. Mine in Salisbury maximum security prison for six months; his on Robbins Island for life. Inmates told me a prison cell I spent some time in had at one time held Nelson Mandela. They passed it with reverence and told me of the vicious way he had been treated there.

During my captivity three executions took place not fifty yards from my cell. The guilty “terrorists” were hanged. For days earlier the condemned were held in a tower above the black section of the prison. Their screams, which permeated the compound, were spoken in Bantu or Shona or Zulu; translated for me as plea’s begging for their mother’s. Beatings and drugging stopped them temporarily each day.

Locked down the day of the hangings, whites and blacks; we listened through the deafening silence of three thousand seventy-two men as an old pick up truck entered the prison, first gear, second gear, third gear. We heard testing of the gallows, screams of the soon dead being dragged to the executioners clutches; silence while the knot was set, slamming of the trap door and nailing shut of the coffin. Then, the executioner, paid fifty dollars for the day’s work, drove out the way he came in; this time he took a body with him. No one spoke before during or after these events.

It is sadly ironic to contemplate that ten years later these same men would be hailed heroes to the great struggle for independence, patriots to the revolution; would be given honored status in the new government for the same deeds they died for in those days.

Before my state sponsored vacation I met Africans who told me freedom fighters infiltrated the country at different places and times. One represented the legs, one the arms, one the hands and so on, and when they all came together as the body at a prearranged place, the bomb would go off.

Sitting in that ganja smoke-filled hotel room I listened to one ancient Africans voice speak metaphorically and chillingly about the body. The newspaper had reported that day electrical transmission towers were blown up and I asked him who he thought had done it. He smoked the herb in high billowy exhales as if his lungs knew no bottom and could blow up like a bullfrog and said, “Love lies dormant inside, unable to be realized and may damage the heart if not set free”. The herb passed around a few more times in silence after that profound observation; his words hung from the ceiling; the room spun.

Had Nelson Mandela given just a nod South Africa would have been Rwanda. When news spread across the wire yesterday that the great elephant was no more; Albert’s words echoed in my ear. “Generations to come, it may be, Einstein said of Gandhi in July 1944, will scarcely believe that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood; walked upon this earth”. #Nelson Mandela # Mahatma Gandhi #Apartheid #South Africa #Mukiwa #Mzungu # Nazi’s #Zulu


About circusinpurgatory
Nick Masesso Jr’s fictionalized short stories, poetry and prose have been published in the Starry Night Review, Elegant Thorn Review, Language and and Vagabond Press; the Battered Suitcase. His latest book “Armor of Innocence” and first book “Walking the Midway in Purgatory, a Journal” are available on-line and through bookstores.

4 Responses to Mukiwa

  1. Reblogged this on Nick Masesso, Jr..

  2. pinkbubblespinkbubbles says:

    You have this talent, this ability, to take me along wherever you have been. That’s a gift. Keep doing this. Thank you for sharing this experience. Profound words. They won’t leave me anytime soon.

    • Sharing your empathetic feelings is this artists salve; a connective tissue that feeds my soul; helping me move farther on.

  3. Greatly crafted, takes the reader through typhoid streets, dismal cells, smoke filled parlors …. tracing the steps of a great man. Nice read.

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