By Sandile Memela
Often I find that when I listen to Returned Soldiers – that is, men over 50 who have come back to their township homes – they say they have been betrayed and treated badly by their ex-wives or former partners.
Worse, they believe the GBV narrative is anti-black men. Nobody cares to listen to their trauma and pain.
I was sitting on my mother, Nomali’s small patio at our humble home in Diepkloof on Sunday, when these uninvited men trickled in, one by one.
This is where my father, Mbokodo retired to sit, read and reflect as he watched the township life drift by. Most of the time, he would be reading or engaging in critical discourse.
“I saw the car and knew you were here,” they say. “So, I came in to catch up.” You don’t make an appointment in the townships.
As a sudden host, I ask what they drink. I brought out my late mother’s favourite brand of whisky and let them loosen their tongues. You must always have stock.
No doubt, they have hit rock bottom – be it job loss, unemployment, divorce or relationship break up.
Above all, they suffer the repercussions of failed marriages and broken relationships.
They are angry, bitter and mad. Mostly, they are broken men with very little hope for the future.
They know they can fall down and die anytime. No one will miss them. They will take their untold stories to the grave.
When hou ask about childhood friend or associates – Spencer, Phiki, Kenny, Themba, etc – they tell you without feeling, “Oh, he died. We buried him.”
First, it was Mandla from Mxhomi Street. He was married but his wife is AWOL. In the meantime, he has brought another woman to step in.
His complicated life is unresolved. He knows the wife can return … with vengeance. He will be thrown out.
Then there was Mangi from Nhle Steet. He says when he lost his job, his pretty young wife turned against him. He was divorced and forced to return home … with nothing.
But he has picked up the pieces, trying to mend a broken calabash. The momory still cuts deep.
Third, was Vusi J. from the next stree. Once upon a time, he owned a home in Protea Glen. His wife threw him out when he became unemployed. He was condemned as useless.
He left to avoid an acrimonious divorce.
Then there was a passer-by Ndu from the next street, too. He seems to have mental health issues and was never married.
Thus, I inquired after his older brother, Ruku
“He is now back home, staying with us,” Ndu says. “He lost his home and family after an ugly fight with his wife.”
My older brother’s son, Clinton showed up. He hovered around not saying much. He does not drink but juice.
I looked at him. His wife abandoned his home a year ago, taking the children. He never speaks about his pain.
Then he asked about the whereabouts of Jay from Zone 5.
Someone answered, “He has gone to visit a girlfriend in another province. Yes, he is not officially divorced. Thus he cannot marry her. He is wasting away”
Jay has been separated from his wife for over 15 years. His life is stuck in a rut.
He was soon followed by Mr K from the last street. He always walks in when he sees my car, takes a seat and expects free money to go buy two beers. It is Black Tax.
He told me that he, too, lost his house in Diepkloof Extension.
“I got sick, lost my job and was considered useless. It is tough when you a man and you dont bring in money,” Mr K paused. “She threw me out of my house. She now stays with another man, in my house.”
He shrugged his shoulders in resignation. His heart is beyond pain, now. He is half-mad.
I gave him R50. He stood up and left, rushing to the shebeen.
When you truly listen to the stories of black men, they are filled with trauma and pain. These are men that own nothing, neither the land nor the factories. They feel betrayed.
Their last refuge was love, family and marriage with a loving wife, a warm home and children.
Alas, they have lost that, too, with nowhere to go except … to look forward to an early death.
Perhaps what these men need to hear is that, ‘Black man, you are not alone. The next blackman is going through the same hellish experience.’
We need to find that place in the black man’s life that restores faith, hope, courage, beauty and strength.
The black man must feel free to live, love and laugh, again.