Death Wears A Mask III


Andrew Falakhe Langa was born on a cold winter evening of April 14, 1952 in a wasteland rural area of Kanyamazane, less than 200 kilometres from the Kingdom of Swaziland. He was the third bron son of two semi-literate farmworker parents, who regardless of their dispossessed background managed to give their eleven children basic education. His father was with the South African army contingent that served alongside British soldiers in the Malta and Cyprus conflicts in the nineteen sixties. Before that, he served with General Jan Smuts's forces in the Second World War. When the conflicts ended and the Cold War began in Europe he spent some time in formerly German South West Africa as part of the army reserves that provided security over the volatile border stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to Caprivi Strip. The mandate was given by the United Nations over all formerly German territories though later on for South Africa and its friends the agenda changed. South West Africa soon became a lucrative acquisition as a buffer between communist expansion and capitalist exploitation. The presence of the South African army there shifted from taking care of the country on behalf of the UN to a frontline just incase the Soviets decided to expand their African imperialism to the south western tip of the continent. Britain, the United States of America and other Western powers' fears about such happening were founded as the Soviets already eyed Portugal ruled Angola just across the once peaceful frontier.

During his days as a soldier in Malta, Andrew's father learnt to hate everything English, including their language and their etiquette of long often unnecessary queues and the courtesy of taking off a hat when they entered a room. He grew up in an environment whereby black people never queued for food but sat down while they were served with dignity and it appalled him having to queue. He used to question why as black soldiers they were not allowed to fire the weapons that they carried for the white soldiers even though they worked alongside each other in trenches and the front-line, they faced the same dangers and truly complemented each other. He admitted that racism was not really that obvious when their common enemy was Hitler and the expansion of communism. However, the situation changed when they all got home. He didn't understand why when the Second World War ended in 1945 most of the white soldiers suddenly became rich farmers. All he knew was that they later forgot him even though while facing danger in trenches, they swore to organize re-unions every year after the war to relive their adventures over some fine South African wine and boerewors. He only heard that they met regularly in Pretoria to toast to all times but they never remembered to invite him and other black soldiers he kept contact with through letters.

Andrew's father grew very cynical of white people and their 'real' motives, which he believed were always concealed. He tried to instil the same cynicism into his eleven children. He never missed a moment to lecture them about how cruel and selfish white people were and how they stole land from black people through forced removals and arbitrary land grabbing. It did impact on them negatively for they ended up hating everything white or bleached, but Andrew failed to ascribe and refused to subscribe to the general carpet hatred.

One morning when he was just twenty-two years old, unlike his five brothers and five sisters, Andrew decided to go to Johannesburg and face the cold world by himself. He felt if there was any reason for him to hate anything different he needed to derive his prejudices from his own experiences rather than subscribe to what his father was collectively instiling into them at any given time. What he felt interfered with his mind a lot was his father's narrow categorization of white people. Andrew felt that if his father believed that black was indeed beautiful and white presumably ugly, the fairer Chinese, Japanese and Koreans also deserved to be hated. He was surprised that his father never objected when he and his older brother Cassius embraced the eastern methods of combat as encompassed in karate. If ever they came home late from the dojo, they knew forgiveness was automatic. For Andrew, karate was a form of defiance against his father's shortsightedness whereas Cassius did it out of hatred for whites. He liked to tell Andrew that if whites did the error of calling him a kaffir he would chop their heads down the very same way Bruce Lee did when he was called a chink.

Andrew was willing and determined to outgrow hate and family. He was ready to face the same white people his father taught him all along to dislike. The same white people whose government was giving his father his War Veteran's pension but did not honour him with the Silver Cross for bravery and an honorary membership to their War Veterans Club.


Arriving in Johannesburg in the autumn of 1975 Andrew's first job was at a bakery in Jeppe, where regardless of his standard eight qualification, then referred to as Juniour Certificate, landed a job as a delivery boy attached to dispatch. Age did not matter much how a person was disrespected. If a man was forty-years-old but doing manual work that required him to put on a uniform he was still referred to as a boy. Garden workers were called garden boys, soldiers, and police people referred to as our boys in uniform. Thus, Andrew did not object to the title of a delivery boy since he sweated like all the other people who were addressed as boys.

To Andrew, sharing a title with government workers was an undue privilege rather than degradation. His bread, buns and cake delivery work took him to Jo'burg's outlying suburbs and designated coloured townships. He always loved it when they delivered their bread and buns at the coloured townships, very much since he had developed a liking for coloured women. To him and his rural mentality they were the closest things to white. Andrew felt that the chrome women who liked to greet him and for whom he sometimes illegally dropped a packet of cross buns as the truck pulled off were the Red Sea that separated the black from the white. That if he could swim in it, someday he could find himself on the other side, not swimming but permanently staying there.

His far-fetched fantasies of coloured bliss finally paid off when on the winter of the same year his work led to him meeting Rebecca September, an eighteen-year-old young woman with an open heart. Rebecca was a suave, well-behaved, shy coloured lady who loved church and academics. She loved the church because she was raised in an environment of worship and she came to understand that the central part of everybody's existence in her household was a God and his Son.
Academics were something she could not run away from. Her father and mother always complained about their own jobs, saying if only they got a little educated they wouldn't be working so hard to raise the family. They always told the family to put much emphasis on academic excellence so that their own children would not be exposed to their suffering.

The fateful morning that would be the first day of the rest of Andrew's life was a cold Sunday morning when she was late for a church service and rushing down a run-down filthy street in Troyeville's notorious Mpanza Section. The section was famed for its gangsters, who were known for being good at stabbing their victims with Okapi knives. The gangsters of Mpanza Section were known to the locals and feared by residents from other sections, but Mpanza. It was also known for an alarming number of stray dogs which the local community often alleged that they were dumped at the township at night by the white people from the dog pound in town. Such allegations couldn't be substantiated with facts and thus were always a dead end with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The bakery van was parked in front of a run-down supermarket just across the Municipal office on that fateful Sunday morning. Approaching it was a well-dressed black man of light complexion who was carrying two empty crates out of the shop. The shop was the one wholesale and retail store, although it was called a trading store, where everybody in Troyeville did their grocery shopping. Everything was sold at the store. There were sections for all types of merchandise and it was called a trading store.

The light complexioned black man who walked out carrying two empty crates of bread was cleanly shaven and good smelling even at that distance. However, he couldn't be mistakened for a fully-grown up man. The tell tale signs of youth could not be concealed, he also did not make any attempt to hide them. It seemed the young man enjoyed being young and used his youth as a weapon to charm his way into the hearts of unsuspecting young women, especially coloured. He looked materially impoverished even though his clothes, the white T-shirt inside the issue overalls was white like snow, results of proper washing and use of detergents. His smile was innocently charming.

Rebecca suddenly felt that the man's brown eyes alone possesed the capacity to undress her even though she had never been undressed by anybody of the opposite sex until then. Her explanation for the feeling that engulfed her was simply that she felt as if she was stark-naked. She experienced that feeling that accompanied every morning and evening after she took a shower, before she could put her clothes on. She would blush at herself infront of the mirror, and she did the same when the same feeling overcame her.

The man capitalized on her customary blushing when he looked at her and spoke in Afrikaans, "How many prayers are you going to render today Miss?"
Rebecca remembered that she shyly replied, "Twee" (“Two”), much to his advantage. He did not expect her to respond, that she did encouraged him to advance towards her. She slowed down a little bit, out of the goodness of her heart than any fatigue.
The man did not let it rest, he, still holding the crate while the driver was busy issuing the invoice to the storekeeper asked his next question. "Why render only two prayers on the last day of the week, whereas God has given us seven days for twenty one prayers, three for everyday. You know what they say, a prayer in the morning, a prayer during the day and another prayer in the evening. Do you only thank the Saturday and the Sunday?"
"Nee (“no”), one is for requesting everyday guidance from God, while the other is for thanking him for guiding me throughout everyday of the week" she said slowing down her pace again, busy cradling the bible next to her shining crucifix necklace.
"Here was stupid me thinking I know it all again. You know I thought that one was for yourself and one was for God" Andrew quipped as Rebecca focused on his brown issue shoes which's shoelaces were embarassingly loose. She smiled when he said, "parabellum", because that was the name of the shoes he was wearing, synonymous with police and security people. He bent down to lace them while keeping his eye contact. Rebecca was trotting slowly down the street, suddenly enjoying the man's company. She knew she was late for the church service which started at nine o'clock, but Reverend Ben Mkiva, a Xhosa priest from Soweto was always late as well, as he needed a municipal permit to spend two hours in Troyeville.

The permit issuing process often meant that he should collect the police stamp on Sunday morning when most constables were off duty and loafing around the township or station. In that unfortunate situation the long queue at the Police Station meant that Reverend Mkiva's nine o'clock was most often quarter to ten o'clock or absence. It happened very often and so Rebecca did not feel obliged to run, lest Mkiva did not turn up at all. She knew it hurt Mkiva when they did not allow him to enter the township. He felt more hurt when they gave him the permit late and he found that every member of the congregation was already gone. Let alone when he got there and found that few people came to church. Rebecca knew all this but was enjoying the man's company.
"God doesn't require of anyone to pray for Him, but to Him and only Him," she told Andrew matter of factly. Andrew was enjoying the lecture and prolonging it with unnecessary questions.
"Will you please do three prayers today then?" he requested after much silence, which came close to being pregnant.
"One for requesting the Holy Ghost to oversee your service today. One for those who couldn't turn up for the service, like myself here. And one to thank the Holy Ghost for looking over us in these days of hardships" Andrew went religious. He was indeed religious even though he came from a politically polarised family. His father made it a point to lecture liberation theology to him, his brothers and sisters, but Andrew was not into liberation politics. It was however on record that politics and religion have always been bedmates since biblical times. He knew what he was talking about but pretended to be a serious novice as it was the only lucrative option for him then. Rebecca smiled, a smile of pitying the sinner’s spirit just incase Armageddon suddenly came.
"Ek sal vir jou ook bid" (“I’ll pray for you too”)
"So, how will I know that you did? Is there a way I can know that you did so that whenever I experience good fortune I shall know that it is a direct response to the prayer that you made for me?" he asked curiously. He was now walking alongside her, more as partners than an unnecessary annoyance. He was oblivious to the brown crate on his hands and the delivery van that was now hundred metres behind them. He couldn't even think of the driver who was standing staring at him and wondering what happened to his work ethic. Simply explained, love happened to his work ethic.
"Just have faith," Rebecca said, blushing more than she did at first. Andrew's heart suddenly beat faster, he didn't have faith and it was one of the few important commodities that he was not planning to acquire yet. If he could purchase one thing on the spot, it was Rebecca's smile, not faith. He read in school history books that people with faith often died believing in the unforeseen while hoping for resurrection, which itself needed faith to believe in. He read about Socrates and the voice which he claimed was within him and told him what to do. He never believed any of Greek mythology and belief that was imported to his culture. What he knew with serious certainty was that he had his life and he hoped to live it to the fullest and let resurrection take care of its own at its own time. He didn't care if he resurrected after death or not, he told himself that was something to leave to the powers above and not to worry about or live life in line to a prize that was going to be gained at resurrection.
"I love the faith part because if I search myself deep inside I realise that I don't have any. But you, you seem to be loaded on it and I need a share of what you have. When can you share the good news with me?" he carried a serious look on his face which fascinated Rebecca. It didn’t look fake.
"Really?" Rebecca asked, she was interested and it was written all over her face. Andrew, at realising that he was now hundred and fifty metres away from the bakery delivery van placed the crate down and rubbed his palms together, smiling and nursing a rippling heartbeat. Rebecca was happy.


Rebecca's happiness was still there two weeks later when she and Andrew were returning to the townships from watching two movies for the price of one at a cinema in Jeppe. It was stale 1967 James Bond releases Dr No and You only live Twice. They discussed the two bioscopes as if they were released that night, the action and dialogue, all along the bus journey to the township. Andrew was most fascinated by the karate blocks and punches that James Bond pulled when he was cornered in a room by the 'bad' Soviet spies. He felt proud to have embraced the same sport as James Bond.
He was never absent at the dojo where he continued with the karate lessons he started in Kanyamazane. He even started grading for honours and obtained a powder blue belt after he walked over a young Zulu man from Soweto during the Bantu Kyokushinkai Karate contest held in the town hall and judged by an Indian sensei he only knew as Salif. To him James Bond was his white alter ego.

Andrew was a little tipsy from a Cape Stein wine he shared with his friend who worked at the same bakery with him. His friend was coloured and allowed by law to buy cheap wine through the non-Europeans door of the liquor store just across the street from the whites only cinema. The liquor store was owned by a Portuguese businessman who arrived the same year from Lourenco Marques to set business in South Africa after Mozambique fell to the socialist Frelimo forces of Samora Machel. Andrew and his date did not know the story behind the Portuguese' ownership of a liquor store in Jeppe as they both still lacked political consciousness. Rebecca was dressed in her new pair of platform heel shoes and a green acrylic two-piece suit, clutching a black shining plastic handbag.

As the municipal bus pulled to a halt at the main road and they alighted, Andrew started walking Rebecca to her section of the township. Time was 17h42 and already darker. Silence gripped them as they no longer talked to each other. Everyone anticipated the next move. Like in a mythical chess game, the next move was supposed to be Andrew's, while Rebecca's heart was pounding fast. She had never been in such a situation before. Andrew was aware that his next move, no matter how good was going to expose his king instead of his queen. He could risk losing the queen but not if it was going to open a chance for the king to fall as well. He valued the king, but was ready to lose the game if it meant he was going to win the queen at the expense of his king.

Rebecca too was aware that her queen was facing capture. She defended her, but also knew too well that such a defense would mean not winning the king. She was never the type to take chances. She was doubtful. It was her first time in such a trying and challenging situation. She never even prepared for the one she was facing. As they reached the corner where her family house could be seen they stopped. It was a deserted corner, enough for the castle to take few steps forward, move three steps sideways and cause considerable damage. She stared at him shyly, he took three steps forward, out of the blue, he took four steps sideways, she giggled. Andrew rubbed his palms and conspicuously reached for her shoulders to check if there was any token pawn to capture. There was none. He did not say ‘check”. He briefly kissed her lips and stopped. They were both shaking uncontrollably as she suddenly, involuntarily pulled away and disappeared down the deserted street except for Miss Smith who was going to work.

Miss Smith was a nurse at General Hospital and her shift started at 19h00. Andrew turned his back and left, blaming himself for messing everything up. He was aware that he successfully captured the queen, but that his king was now exposed to the bishop was worrying him. He decided to let tomorrow take care of itself.

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