The exotic green weeping willows dipped their branches into the one of the many pools along the Mukuvisi rivers right there behind the Joburg lines famously known as Majubeki. They were a stark contrast to the red Msasa trees, brownish mihacha and sparse populations of mitamba and other trees whose names I did not know. These dominated the dry brown grass that had lost the yellowish tone during the winter months of June and July. Over that side of the bank of what we called Forichi (forest) downslope of the Graniteside industrial area. This was before the Gwinyai school was built.
Squatting in the shade of the weeping willows, I grudgingly admired my friends frolicking in the water with naked abandon executing different types of swimming moves. I could not swim, I had never learnt to swim. The George Hartley swimming pool had not been constructed yet. These guys with a rural background had no problem navigating their way in the river pool.
I joined my fellow liberated friends to a trip to the Mukuvisi river for a swim. A fellow cousin, a Ngorima, and a friend of his got stuck in the mud downstream the Mukuvisi in Highfield and were drowned. That sent a message, loud and clear that Mukuvisi was out of bounds. What my mother said went. She had come back from the funeral and was really devastated. I had known him. I was to see him no more. Therefore I dared not join the fun
One of my duties was to watch over my friend’s clothes.Enchanted by the noise, I did not notice the group of boys that had arrived.
‘Come on guys and see who is here’, looking down on us was Konde, the well known township bully. I had that sinking feeling in my belly and my mouth went completely dry. Whether he reigned over Harare or not was irrelevant. He was a gang leader.
‘Alright boys, get a branch each!’. We knew what that meant. A lashing was in store for us. He was much older. We could not challenge him but comply and take our medicine and head home. The joyous afternoon had turned on its head.
I stood there wondering if I was going to take the my whipping by Konde and his ilk. I cursed the tree. Why did it ever those low dangling branches? My imagination got the better of me. My first whipping was in 1955 at the age of 5 or 6. My mother used a peach tree strap, I had seen what marble tree whip would inflict let alone a willow one. The issue at hand was as to how to explain the origin of the welts when I got home. I was not supposed to be near the Mukuvisi river in the first place.
Tears welled in my eyes, the whipping from Konde would without fail be followed by a whipping at home for defying my parents noble advice but I had to be with the boys. Others protested loudly against Konde promising revenge from the brothers, I was first born so I had to protect myself. The younger boys had plucked their whips and gleefully they started dishing the punishment. I moved slowly towards the furthest weeping willows and instinctively trusted my athletic prowess. I bolted off, jumping over the harvested sweet potato mounds which were in abundance, the handiwork of the unrepentant urban farmers. The municipality police, better known as Katsekera were never able to catch anyone red handed practising riverbank cultivation. All they managed to get were abandoned hoes as women melted into the grass.
In hot pursuit were some of Konde’s gang. Gripped by fear of being caught I started to slow down and give up as they gained on me. Subconsciously I reminded myself of the problems that awaited me at home. If they got hold of me, the whipping was going to be severe. With the adrenaline pumping, I was reminded of the half mile running competitions at George Stark school, I accelerated away. I was fitter than these lazy brats. I started heading for the Mbare hostels oblivious to the traffic. I did not notice the cyclist who was coming towards me. I just rammed into his front wheel causing him to loose his balance. At first he was angry but when he noticed the group of boys running towards me he understood why I was so careless.
‘Hey why are you bothering this small boy. Go and pick up one of your on size’ he shouted. They withdrew and went back to the river. I tried to stand but my ankle gave way and down I sat. The man came and examined me. He felt responsible for my injury but I just gathered courage and told him that I was just dizzy from the running and started walking away. I suppose he did not have a bicycle licence. A visit to the police station was not a wise option. I hobbled away in pain but this injury could be explained. An encounter with a learner bicycle rider nearer home would be more plausible. A ticking off of not being alert on the road was much better than telling the truther. I suppose that was my karma.
It was a long walk from the hostels to Vito street. As I hobbled back, I knew that I was hatching a plot to lie. I was letting both my parents down and my Sunday school teachers. I was aware that I was taught that God is everywhere ,was with me then and was watching my deceit. At least He was not reporting to my parents any time soon. Consoling myself I had to convince that because of His infinite love, He could find time to forgive me.This breach of trust plagued me throughout life. My own trusted kids could have done the same thing to me. This is a confession to God and to my departed parents.
I got home feeling miserable, a tearful arrival would earn me sympathy from my mother. The trick worked. She prepared warm water for a compress muttering at my carelessness, if only she knew. The compress was so ‘soothing’ that I asked to test its effects. I had to go to Daniel street to first of all, first, to find out how my friends had fared but most importantly to prevent them to coming to our house to inquire as to my well being. That would spill all the beans.
Saidi, Samuel and Robert informed their brother Freddy about the whipping and promised to sort this matter out. It was now late in the day but promised that he would deal with Konde the next day.
At about 9:00 a.m. after our respective breakfasts of tea with or without condensed milk of Rholac milk powder, and bread, Margarine was a luxury enjoyed in a few homes especially during the week. We trooped to kwanaSaidi’s house. We now had a big brother and Freddy led us. Our band of abused boys followed him up Vito street for it seemed that he knew where Konde lived. Much to our glee we met Konde at the junction of Vito and Nyazika streets.
Freddy called him out ‘Konde!, come here’ he shouted at him.
‘You mean me’, Konde countered.
‘Yes, you’, he called. Freddy did not move towards Konde and we became afraid. How could he instruct Konde to come to him.
‘Come to me, mfana if you want to talk with me’, he retorted.
‘I want to beat you up not talk to you or are you so afraid of me that you pick on my young brothers. Remember Mukuvisi yesterday?’ The call was loud and clear. Freddy had just thrown down the gauntlet.
Konde hesitated. I doubt if he had ever had such an experience. He was used to making the calls. His usual gang members were present. He upturned his shirt collar to signify that he was the boss.
That did it. He turned and moved towards Freddy. He had to. His prestige was at stake. The gang members came to his aid as they surrounded big brother Freddy. He was quite unfazed by their strategy.
Cooly he announced,’This beating is for your boss and not the rest of you. I know you want to gang up on me. Take this seriously, I know you all and be reminded if you do not manage to kill me, I will come hunting for you one by one. This is not your fight unless Konde is unable to defend himself, he must say so’.
The statement disorientated the gang who furtively withdrew. Without notice, Freddy applied an upper cut connecting Konde’s chin and he fell to the ground in a heap. Former boxer, Kid Cussy from South Africa, was a social worker at Stodart Hall boys club would have been proud of the surprise execution. He tried to get up, but before he could come to his senses a round house blow connected with his ear and again he went down, He tried again and a blow to his face led to profuse bleeding . His nose and mouth was red and seemed not to know what had happened. His mates just led him away sparing him further humiliation. To us anyone who bled was the loser.
He slunk away much to our delight.
Konde’s reign as a bully ended that morning.