Yusuf Daniels' 'Living Coloured' sings of the spirit of the Coloured community under apartheid

'But when I emerged from that dryer and the swirlkous was pulled off my head … jarre, I became the original 1970s Justin Bieber'

05 June 2019 - 12:16
"Back to the party and we all went on dancing, eating ourselves dik and having a lekka time with all the aunties."
"Back to the party and we all went on dancing, eating ourselves dik and having a lekka time with all the aunties."
Image: Jacana Media

Yusuf Daniels' Living Coloured (because Black and White were Already Taken) is a compilation of short stories that is an ode to an era all Cape Coloured people will instantly recognise – from the nightclubbing at Space Odyssey and the shenanigans at the Mitchells Plain public swimming pool, to the traditions of delectable food exchanges during Ramadan among Muslims and Christians alike.

This book is a tribute to all that the Coloured community holds dear and sings of the spirit which helped them eek out an existence on the dusty flat plains of the Cape.

But as you read story after story, you will also be confronted with the blatant racism that was the Group Areas Act, the legacy of a people removed and dumped in this windswept place that wasn’t of their own making, and the constant forging ahead to make life worthwhile under very harsh political and economic circumstances.

The stories will also leave you seething with anger at the sheer brutality of what this community had to endure (and still do), while their black counterparts in the township next door lived even harsher realities.

Enjoy the following extract, ma se kinnes!

Aunty Farieda’s birthday party

In my family, I was the only boy among four sisters. This, on more than a few occasions, meant that I was treated just like one of the girls. Let me explain.

It was Saturday and we are meant to go to Aunty Farieda’s 50th birthday party in Snowdrop Square, Bridgetown. By the way, that is where I was born. In a two-bedroom house where Jessie and my dad stayed in the one room, and my sisters, Fadia, Farieda, Gairo and Naas, and I in the other one. Close confines, but we were just fine.

So, the Friday night before, we start preparing for the party. I’m the first one to take a bath. A quarter of the bath is filled with cold water while a kettle of water is on the boil. Jessie then adds the hot water to the bathwater. I’m sitting in the bath and that boiling water is poured into the bath while I’m in it… no man, not over me, on the side. And just you try and complain it’s hot, and you’ll soema get a waslap through your face. Mom’s rules mos.

The Sunlight soap gets rubbed onto the rough wash cloth, and your hair also gets a good scrubbing with the same soap. Welcome to the hood, people. There was no time for fancy shampoo and conditioner. Wow, but my hair used to shine befok in the sun after that wash.

Next step was to towel dry your hair a little; then on goes the swirlkous (not that I needed it). My mother’s old nylon pantyhose now transformed into head gear. The upright hairdryer is brought out,  and  my  head gets pushed under its dome. There were no hand-held hairdryers back then.

Fok, it was at least 60 degrees Celsius under that thing, but sit you must. I could hardly breathe as hot air blew down my head and neck. Soon the blisters would start to show on my neck. And just you try and move your body away from that dome; it’s game over and my mother would sort me out.

But when I emerged from that dryer and the swirlkous was pulled off my head … jarre, I became the original 1970s Justin Bieber. My hair was now straight and laid lekka flat against my forehead.

Next it was my sisters’ turn. Their hair got the hair rollers and then the swirlkous. Now, you must understand that not all my sisters had ‘type 1’ hair like me, some of them had ‘type 4’ or ‘stoute hare’; but they all went through the same hair drying/styling process like my hair did. And sometimes, with the rollers intact, their heads would jam under that dome and then my dad had to fetch a shifting spanner to adjust the dome a little. Once everyone’s hair has been washed we head for bed with great anticipation for the party the next day.

Saturday morning and we are all up early. I’m in my bottle green suit with moerse bellbottoms. I had swagger from an early age, even if I say so myself. All dressed up, we pile into our VW Beetle and off we go.

Five children on the backseat, we first head to the post office in Cape Town where Mr Van Kalke will be meeting us to take a family photograph. Everybody in Cape Town has a Van Kalke family portrait and we are no different.

Family portrait done and we are on our way again. We arrive at the party and we literally fall out of the car. My dad looks at us one by one and asks, ‘Hoekom is julle so blerrie gekrikkel?’

And I’m thinking to myself, maybe because your five children sat on a two-seater back seat, Dad! How could we not get our clothes wrinkled? Of course, I couldn’t say this to him. Imagine! We had respect for our parents and, to be honest, we were just downright vrek scared of them so no back-chatting ever. I tell you, today’s youngsters would not survive with our parents from yesteryear.

The party was rocking with Peaches and Herb songs klopping on the music centre. A few uncles and aunties were showing off their moves, and there was always that one uncle who had to overdo it. As soon as the music mix made way for a faster Boney M song, enter Uncle Allie onto the dance area. And he was a big show-off. Everybody had to literally take a step back to make the circle bigger and give him space. I’m still not sure what you call those moves, but it was very traumatising to watch as a youngster. You could see he thought he was giving us a great show … breaking it down for us.

We were still watching oepe bek when suddenly his body went into spasm and he looked like he had lockjaw in his back. I kid you not, Uncle Allie lay on the floor with his back completely in his chops. The men had to carry him to one of the bedrooms to rest and sleep off this hectic muscle spasm and pain. Shame, but at the same time, what a relief that we didn’t have to watch that display any longer.

Back to the party and we all went on dancing, eating ourselves dik and having a lekka time with all the aunties, uncles and cousins. Anyways, I grew up with four sisters in one room and I think I turned out pretty okay. Ja, okay man, I used to wear their heels sometimes. Oh, and the party was lekka and so was Aunty Farieda on her 50th. Bless her soul.

True story.