The Book of the Dead
Written with passion and anger, Kgebetli Moele's The Book of the Dead is a story about life, death, Aids and everything in between. This is an extract
A few months after moving Thapelo into the boarding school Khutso changed cities - moving from Polokwane to Tshwane. It was then that I decided that Khutso needed a makeover.
He was dull, and for our purposes he needed to be a star - to stand out in a crowd. So, when we got to Tshwane the first thing we did was to lose the hair, the beard and moustache, lose his dull clothes and put on something vibrant, something that communicated with people. For our plan to work everyone had to want to associate with Khutso just by looking at him, he had to be a model on a catwalk.
In Gauteng we did away with the reliable Japanese car and bought something that was more than a car. Khutso loved the classic Voroso, so we got a '98 model, blue in colour, and put in a sound system - worth twice the value of the car.
Then, and only then, we were ready.
Khutso and I walked into an exclusive restaurant in Rosebank. In the corner five men were sharing a table and at first I thought that they were gay, but then Khutso noticed one of them. He was definitely a product of the University of the North - Khutso recognised him - and so we had to shake his hand.
They weren't gay, I was wrong, they were five educated black men: one from UDW, one from Wits and the other three from the University of the North. Kevin was the Wits graduate, Patrick was from UDW and Mahlale, Ntsako and Cline were Khutso's fellow University of the North graduates.
They were family men - Ntsako had four children, Cline had two and the others had one apiece - with homes in the suburbs. Four of their wives were also university graduates. Ntsako was the only one with a less educated woman, but of all of them she was the most ambitious - she worked as a nurse but was studying part-time with the University of South Africa. I considered this ambition a result of her jealousy of the other wives.
These husbands - and wives - were a clan. Family friends, they came together once a month, always on the third week of the month. Third week? I thought it was because by then their financial tanks were close to empty - typical black families, always living beyond their means.
Anyway, the reason that they were in an exclusive restaurant in Joburg was that they were on their way to the Durban Derby, filling up before driving to Durbs.
It worked like this: Ntsako and Cline were responsible for their accommodation in Durbs - they had booked two rooms. Mahlale was the logistics man - to and from Durban. And all the expenses in Durban would be covered by what was in Patrick and Kevin's pockets - that was their budget.
"Why not fly?" I asked. "You'll get there in an hour."
"Everything has a financial implication, my friend," Patrick replied.
Then I volunteered to fly them there and back and hire them a car in Durbs, just to show them that although we might have graduated from the same university they were still boys. And with that I bought exclusive rights to the role of dominant male in their clan.
Let's be clear, it was not soccer fever that was calling them to Durban. No. If you are into nightlife, then Durban nights are for you. Married life can't give you soccer fever like Durban nights. Making love to your wife and f*cking a woman are two different things, and for these married men this was what the Durban trips were all about - enjoying their sexual passions. For these guys there was nothing better than that wild animal thing of being a lone bull in a herd of buffalo during mating season.
They were an unofficial team and they had complete trust in their coach "god-condom".
"You are our friend," Mahlale told Khutso. "You are valuable to us and to your family and relatives. You are a vital part of the nation. You are a father. In short, you are a man. But as a man you also have a man's needs. So, your strongest point is that you are a man and your weakest point is the fact that you are a man. And, as a man, it would be tragic beyond words if you were to take a disease from the street and deliver it into your home."
The others nodded their heads in unison.
"I have lost too many friends and relatives to HIV," Mahlale continued, "and I don't want to lose any more, but my problem is that I am a man and I can't stop being what I am . . ."
"We can't stop being what we are," Ntsako added. "We can't stop being men. Our forefathers enjoyed their women freely, but we can't. We are in danger. But, unlike our forefathers, we have our god: god-condom."
Then each of them gave me a pack of condoms and it felt like I was being initiated into the team.
"They will save your life," Ntsako added. "They have saved this life of mine many times."
- The Book of the Dead is published by Kwela, R160