Mnyama Ndawo. Umnyama uyasebega. A place where no one will ever enter because of the stench of damp cardboard boxes and the broken windows through which the sun shines. The smell of feces and the amount of trash all around, this is our home. Hearing women screaming and gunshots fire during all hours of the day, with our thoughts haunting us. Hearing the cries of young boys and girls reminding us of our little brothers and sisters that we left back home, not knowing if they are still alive. But we have another life now, right here in this dark home with things that lurk in the dark. Have you ever slept with one eye open, knowing that you can’t trust anyone around you? Sleeping bodies laying on muddy floors, damp spaces and some covered in blood from fights that took place in the dark alley ways of Hillbrow. This is Mnyama Ndawo, a place we call home.
“Phaga phaga phaga,” they shout as the Cambridge truck stops outside Mnyama Ndawo, the doors to the truck open and a strong rotten smell hits the guys. The gents all line up with excitement as they wait to get their food, the left over from Lord knows where. They however don’t have a problem that this food is off, the thought of food in the system is the main focus. It’s been days maybe even weeks that they have had a proper meal.
Straws is chewing on his last bone, crunch, crunch, crunch, when his tummy starts to cramp, so he decides to pick up some newspaper from under the damp cardboard boxes, as he makes his way to find a spot and take a dump. He starts to read and discovers that the president will be coming to their place today. Spliff walks in on him and is amazed at the sight of a naked man in the middle of winter, “Ey ndoda zikiphani wa khumula yonke into kubanda nakanje?” he asks. “Ay ndoda bengithi ngiyageza,” Straws answerers, suddenly ashamed of his nakedness. “Ugeza kanjani kubanda so ndoda?” Spliff asks, unaware that his presence is making Straws uncomfortable.” “Ey ndoda yeka lendaba beka la,” Straws finally says when he realizes that Spliff isn’t paying much attention to his body.
He shows him the newspaper about the president possibly making an appearance at their place. Spliff starts laughing at how galauble he is being. Spliff and Straws go back inside to share the news and Straws assembles the guys.
“Today my fellow brothers we leave this place with our heads held high to a brighter future for us all. No more sleeping on damp cardboard boxes, rats running all over us, hearing gunshots not so far away leaving us with sleepless nights that bring back memories of sorrow. See some of us made the choice of being here some of us were forced into this and some of us don’t even know half the stories of others, but today it all ends. I am pleased to announce to you all that the president himself will be visiting us right here at Mnyama Ndawo,” he says while standing on top of a beer crate, as if he is he president of the place.
They all get excited and start shouting suggestions,
“I hope we finally get water!”
“And food and the electricity must be fixed!”
“YES!! And we need a better space to sleep!”
“I also hope he can fix the renovations to this place!”
“We might get offered jobs!”
“I just hope he can get us out this place!”
Straws calls everyone to order and suggests that they write a letter to the president with all their demands so that the waiting process doesn’t take too long. Some guys have great ideas of putting on a play about their lives for him to show their talent and passion in the hope that the president will get them to where they would like to be as actors but half of the group stands on the other side of the room and does not agree with this idea. For them it’s about getting to know the president on a more personal level and smoke a joint with him and share a plate of the food they normally eat.
“He must come and smoke with us, see how we live. We will not compromise just because he is the president,” Spliff says just as Pastor walks in, carrying his Bible on the on hand the his worn off bag on the other.
“Son should he come we don’t want to confuse and make him think we don’t want a good thing out of this, leave the drugs let us pray that he comes with good things,” he says and the group starts to mumble again.
“Eh Pastor we’ve been praying, now we want to get out of this place,” says Scroof, who has been quiet the whole time.
“I hear you son, but ehhhh, see I want to make this place a house of prayer if the president doesn’t come. God will come and he will give us someone to reinvent Mnyama Ndawo. Adding electricity, water, making a home for those who have no home. So let’s come together to paint and turn this hell into heaven. Hallelujah! Can I get an amen?” Pastor says ready to open his bible.
“Amen wamasemba, we have been suffering in this shit hole of a place, why did he not come sooner ,God doesn’t exist to me, pastor if you ask me I’d say the president stands a better chance of being God, at least we can say we have all seen him, unlike speaking about something that may not even exist,” Straws say. Regretting finding the newspaper.
They keep on arguing about the letter until some of the guys who took no part in the argument decide to steal the newspaper from Straws. As they read through they discover that the newspaper is actually old and says nothing about the president coming to visit them. They tell the gents that Straws has been lying about this whole time and just got everybody’s hopes up.
“Straws! You have been lying to us, look this is an old newspaper why would you do something like this heh? Get all of us excited for something that you know isn’t going to happen? Fuck you man! I will kill you with my bare hands,” says a furious Zitha, the only one who agreed with Spliff about sharing a joint with the president.
The group of guys who were preparing a show and the gents who didn’t think it was a great idea to perform for the president start to fight against each other. Within no time the fight becomes a war, blood is spilt, teeth are lost and wounds are opened. They throw the newspaper in the air and a letter falls to the ground. Pastor, who is standing quietly in the one corner, notices it, goes to pick it up making sure to avoid any punches, he reads the letter and he finds out that Straws was right but the letter was not part of the newspaper. He discovers that this note had been written a long time ago by one of the guys who stayed right here as the first man of Mnyama Ndawo. He stops the war with a loud violent voice.
“Listen brothers listen, there has been a big misunderstanding, this letter was written a long, long time ago by one of our forefathers. He requested the president to come today as in a few years ago when this place was open for people to stay, I assume he wanted the president to help just like we do, but the letter was never sent. Unfortunately he died, so it’s up to us to take this letter forward. If it was not for Straws we would have never found this note, thank this young man because now we stand a chance in meeting the president and hoping that he will help us. Leave all this nonsense you are doing, fighting over bullshit when you could be working hand in hand to put something together,” said Pastor.
The guys start to come back to their senses and the other group get back to preparing a show for the president, others walk around taking notes of what needs to be fixed and what they would need such as water and electricity. Pastor is going around and trying to suppress the blood oozing out of the limbs of the sad lost souls. Some gouys who have stolen phones start calling the ambulance to come and save some guys who are badly injured…to the right Pastor notices a body laying in the rubbish, its Straws and as he walks closer he realizes that Straws is no more, the guys lift his body from the rubble taking it out to the front door where the ambulances sirens get closer and closer, the paramedics take his body and Pastor gives the letter to the paramedics so that they could possibly and hopefully give it to someone who can get access to the president.
A few months after Straws death, the guys are still waiting for the president to come to their so called home.
Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo