Baba

Today my father, uMashinashina wakwaMbilaziyawucosha, uMasikisiki’sind’isilo-sakhe, iNkunz’ akayihlehli, will celebrate his 77th circuit around the sun. Last night, sitting in my car in a rainy Joburg in between isiZulu lessons, listening to Abasikibebunda on the radio, he didn’t feel quite as far away as usual – so I wrote him a letter:

“I remember many things about you, Baba.

I remember the pain of rocks and salt water, and jolting along sand-tracks cleaning the claw-marks that the dark volcanic rock had raked in your skin, when you and Douglas turned your backs on the sea.

I remember the times of your departing, and the times of your arriving, sometimes late at night, sometimes at airports, in the porticoes and quadrangles of whitewashed schools, marking the intersections of our lives.

I remember your joy, as sound-effects filled the space between stories around campfires under clear bright Zululand stars, and our giggles answered you as much as the bird and animal sounds in the dense darkness around us.

I remember being (and still am) your student, listening as you told me the names of trees (Latin, Greek, English and isiZulu weaving the first strands of my linguistic character), the animals and their relationship to each other, and debating the meanings and implications of verbs and clauses and usage of proverbs.

Ngikhumbula kahle lezo zikhathi zonke ngikuzwile ubekhuluma ngolukaPhunga noMageba – emaphulazini, emihlanganyweni, emasontweni, ezikoleni nasemicimbini ekhaya. Nguwe ongifundisile ngokuhlonipha, ngezithakazelo, ngolimi nangezaga. Nguwe ongitshalile ngezinganekwane enhliziyo. Lolu limi lwami ngulimi oluvela kuwe.

I remember you angry and peaceful, firm and gentle, laughing and serious, sick and well. I remember you covered in ash from the sawmill. I remember you in snow at Aldora. Ngiyakukhumbula enkungwini, ehlathini, olwandle, otshanini, ehhashini nasesihlaleni.

I remember, and know, and respect all these parts of you, Baba. I celebrate you, and love you.

Ube nosuku oluhle, Baba. Happy Birthday.

– uMabhengwane, uNodumehlezi”