I’m going to tell you a story. Two actually. Both about a two Rand coin, a tattoo and a silly little game they call football.
The first story involves a suburb in the Western Cape called Mitchells Plain, a tough place made for tough people. I’ve always felt somewhat safe when travelling through a Kasi (township), even though I am cognizant that my white skin sticks out there. On this particular Tuesday, I was unusually relaxed, a little too chilled some might say. It was a hot day, the window was open and while I waited for the robot to dance down to green I took time to study my arm that hung out the car. The skin around my new tattoo was still raw and red but I loved it, the Kaizer Chiefs emblem stood out boldly against my pale forearm.
Why I chose such a tattoo is a matter of personal history. I have a father. He calls himself South African but most South Africans just call him white. He was unlike the other white fathers. On the weekends you wouldn’t find him in his rocking chair drinking rum and rugby. Partly because we didn’t have a rocking chair, but mainly because he thought the culture of rugby would teach his kids the wrong South Africa. So on the weekends, you would find him in Soweto, wearing his Orlando Pirates jersey, holding the hand of his lightie who wore a Chiefs jersey to piss him off.
That lightie grew up and outgrew the jersey but opted for the tattoo as a more permanent show of support. As I was marvelling at my arm and its new ink, I was disturbed by a voice, a voice I had heard a million times starting a conversation I had spoken a million more.
“Two Rand please Sir.”
He looked frightened and hesitant, he clung to what was left open of my window for support. I looked at his T-shirt, Orlando Pirates. I didn’t like him already.
“Two Rand? Sure thing mfwethu, please just take your fingers off my window first.”
He kindly obliged. His fingers came off my window, and then they went into my car, then they wrapped around my keys and switched it off.
I grabbed his fingers, unaware that he had other fingers on another hand that was in a pocket holding a gun. After a short round of negotiations, exchange of expletives and the flash of a knife, I drove back home one phone and wallet lighter.
“But… Why do you do these kinds of things? Why do you go to the Township? It’s dangerous there.”
“Well mom, why else would I go? Football of course.”
“Such a silly little game.”
She’s always called it that. A silly little game. She doesn’t understand, never has. Except after what happened in my second story, I think she began to understand the gravity it plays in my life.
For our second story, I want to take you to a different Kasi, in Gauteng, another tough place called Daveyton, the Kasi that accompanies Benoni. Once again, I was there for football, I wanted to watch a youth tournament, so I wandered in by myself one Sunday. You would think it difficult to not be able to find a football stadium, but here I was, lost. I was walking with my eyes facing forward and up. My toe pierced something harsh and sharp, leaving a little trickle of blood streaming down my flip-flop. I looked down to see a cow skull, rotten and decaying. I started thinking about the cow, how it came to be and how infected my foot probably was when a strong set of fingers wrapped around my arm.
“Two Rand please Sir.”
I turned to face him, he was gigantic and drunk. I reached into my pocket, pulled out a cigarette and held it out to him. He started to smile. He knew something I didn’t and I had a feeling whatever he knew was about to cause me great harm. He looked down at the cigarette again and his smile faded. He grabbed my arm and studied it intensely.
“Is that… Is that a Kaizer Chiefs tattoo?”
“Sure is mfwethu.”
“A Kaizer Chiefs tattoo on white skin?”
“Sure thing, mfwethu.”
“Amakhosi for life?”
“Khosi for life, mfwethu.”
“Ay, no white man supports Khosi in this country.”
“I do. My father told me when I was younger that seeing as I wasn’t born in Liverpool or Manchester, I cant support any of their football teams. So here I stand, a white dude, Khosi for life.”
He let go of my arm and began to chuckle. He mumbled under his breath, looked me up and down and then asked me the strangest question I’ve ever been asked in my life.
“Do you think one day you will ever realise how close you were to dying?”
“One day, maybe, mfwethu.”
He put his hand back in his pocket, swivelled on his feet and as he started to walk away he thrust up the two finger peace sign that signals the salute of all Kaizer Chiefs fans.
“Khosi for life my brother.”
I got home that day, with my wallet and phone still in my possession…
“How was your day sweety?”
“It was good mom, I went to Daveyton township.”
“Daveyton! Are you mad? What did you do that for?”
“Football, of course, mom.”
“Football. Such a silly little game that…”
But I still had my two Rand coin.
If you haven’t read Nik’s book ‘The Curse of Teko Modise’, you should order it now.