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‘Ain’t blocking your way’

   19 May 2017   l   Johnny Masilela    l   Views: 142   l   12 months ago  


Jackboot apartheid did not make sense at all to both Bernadi Wessels and Joubert Malherbe.

Bernadi was the Afrikaner gentleman who welcomed me into the Pretoria bureau of the now defunct Rand Daily Mail newspaper, relieving me from the dead serious business of … well, “azikho lo job” signage.

“Joubs” Malherbe, a fellow reporter, was in the funny habit of locking arms with me, walking downtown sidewalks together, with all those curious stares from apartheid-era black and white people alike.

“Joubs” would stop at a “slegs-blankes” (whites-only) restaurant, and lie to the manager that I was an important member of the Swaziland royalty, pleading I be allowed in for a cup of rooibos tea.

In all fairness, none of the white clientele stormed out in disgust, while the black waiters and waitresses giggled with excitement, supposedly at this black “hero” who dared enter the hallowed space.

In later years “Joubs” and his Indian girlfriend fled the country, in fear of the provisions of laws prohibiting love across the colour bar.

My other editor, the late Deon du Plessis, dispatched me on “scary” assignments, such as the burial of the ultra-rightist Dr Andries Treurnicht.

The purpose was to speak to the handful of blacks in attendance, such as the tearful family domestic worker and the office messenger.

Oftentimes I was assigned to speak to nervous blacks watching an AWB paramilitary drill on Church Square, but from a “safe” distance.

At the time of the fall of apartheid, a news agency assigned me to join other “nie-blankes” (non-whites) to take a ride on the Pretoria City Council double-decker buses.

The foreign media sensationally raved that I, Johnny Masilela, was the first black person to use the buses. 

“Jy lieg soos ’n koerant,” so goes an age-old adage!      

In Pretoria’s townships, urban legend had it that a cigar-smoking African-American diplomat swaggered on the sidewalks, taking a look at historical buildings of the old Transvaal.

Seeing the black one behaving like he was white, an overzealous Afrikaner cop — on one of those “skiet, skop en donder” nature of “dompas” raids — leapt from the police vehicle, and demanded: “Pas!”

The American envoy looked stunned and replied: “Of course, you can pass. Ain’t blocking your way, am I?”

• Johnny Masilela’s novel We Shall Not Weep (Kwela Books) is on sale at PNA at Bela-Bela and Oude Werf Antiques and Décor at Modimolle.




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