COMING FROM MAKOKOBA
By Philani A. Nyoni
When one first steps into Bulawayo from the other side of the country, more often than not they expect a Wild West (South?) scene: bucket hats in place of stetsons, All Stars for spur-clad boots, and Okapi’s for wheelguns. Dreaded most among the surbubs of Bulawayo is Makokoba.
The word ‘surbub’ might seem a bit of a misnomer for her, since ‘surbub’ connotes the Eastern side of town: sprawling lawns and yards the size of entire blocks in the township. Makokoba is a ghetto, the oldest in the country by the way.
You would notice that the edge of it is literally touching the tip of the CBD, town if you prefer. Makokoba was built as a barack of sorts, a labour-warehouse if you prefer. The great civilisation of the white man, yes, his fancy industrialisation needed unfancy labour to grind on, those sprawling lawns needed tending by rough hands; so while the black man was not allowed to live in the East or even walk on pavements within the city, his sweat was needed to oil the great white machine of Rhodesia. And so Makokoba was built, to house the black man’s strength.
‘Man’, as is used here, is not the equivalent of ‘humanity’; but the literal man with all his dangling bits, hence her moniker: ‘emzini wezinsizwa’: Home of Gents. Women were expressly forbidden from living in Makokoba. The man with wife did not bring her into the city; he did not bring his family with him, Makokoba was for the labourers only; crude two-roomed houses with outhouses instead of indoor toilets and communal bathing fascilities (you didn’t expect a bathtub now did you?).
But boys will be boys; and boys being boys will have needs, some of them carnal. Since desire might be hard to control when boys are in musth, they could not be trusted to their own devices and so, the white man, in his infinite capitalist wisdom, that absolutely did not backfire at any point in history, deployed an ancient bat (metaphor for a gnarled man, not the literal bat, you know, of the Wuhan variety), a Native Comissioner, Mr. Fallon. Leathery, withered, crooked and huched over a cane, he was the literal example of the Ndebele expression, ‘khula uze ukhokhobe’. I suppose he was a dispicable character, invasive being part of his job description. But thanks to his stick and it’s ‘kho-kho’ sound; could be heard a mile off and so lost every advantage of suprise when the obvious was stated after his cane announced him: “nangu uMakhokhoba”. And so the name stuck.
The current spelling of ‘Makokoba’ smirks of ignorance of Ndebele phonetics. But let it be forgiven; it is not just the clicks that make our language savoury, it is the soft and hard k’s, the taste of the word for milk, the soft and hard x’s, the poetry of idiom; the puns of inflection... Even the township Lobengula, (which should be Lobhengula) is named for that soft ignorance, not the last true monarch of the land.
To know Makokoba is to know the market for all its beauty and strangeness. There is the ordinary for sale there: hardware, chicken and grain, all the way to the esoteric: charms, herb and herbs and things that would frighten the uninitiated and unbrave. To know Makokoba is to know her Big Bhawa, the largest beerhall in the country; a dubious thinking-point on how the colonial authority thought of recreation for the native. To know Makokoba is to breathe her secrets, not the rumour (not unfounded) of who bled on what corner, gutted for the errant heart of a woman; but to know who stood at Stanley Square, fanning, in the heart of the native, the revolution that broke the chain of minority rule. To giggle with Makokoba is to know her Blue House, and not wonder too much when she tells you big Josh once (or twice?) stopped his convoy there to inhale its incenses.
To fellowship with Makokoba is to know her legacy in art; from dreams festered and gestated at Amakhosi, the vision of Siyaya, to the pride of Beater Mangethe rolled in song. Her womb is the dexterity of Awakhiwe’s tongue, lithe as the feet of the boys dancing on her corners or the nimble feet of the great names that graced the country’s stadia, not least the iconic Ndlovu brothers: Madinda, Adam and Peter, gladiators whose lore grew from Babourfields not far from her to the world. The living memory of Makokoba is dearly departed Mackey Tickeys craddling a bottle of hooch while owning the proscenium. Her youth is the paint of Kause 263’s adorning a wall on nine houses, each one on a different street, just three shy of the target: a mural on each street. Striking, so magnificent, that Harry Thomas, an American Ambassador under the Obama administeration, had to visit to see for himself. So it became the only place I know, where a former B-boy and school teacher, Mr Clifford Nyathi, will cross his legs, light up a cigarrette and tell you how the CIA codorned off his place, and ushered the ambassador into his home to see the art on his walls; because to those Makokoba is mother to, she must be beautiful, a brush of paint here, a dab and spray there, that’s good enough mascara to call suitors from Harare and Washington to worship her legend.