A South African Christmas Story

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor,
so that you through his poverty might become rich
. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)

Back when they held the census and made us register for new passbooks – that’s when you were born.

I remember it like yesterday. I was working part-time at the Tshepong Gold Mine near Odendaalsrus in the Free State. Times were hard and money scarce. Nobantu, your mother, did her best to make our one room concrete block house in Kutloanong as comfortable as possible for your arrival. For months she scraped and saved to buy curtains for the window and a small mattress which would one day be your bed. On Friday when I’d come home from the mine, she’d say, “Msizi, how much this week?” Then taking the money she’d count out a small portion, place it in a tin can, and standing on a plastic bucket, reach up and hide it in the rafters. A month, to the day, before your birth, she bought a set of yellow curtains, tied them to two nails she’d knocked into the wall, and proudly placed the white plastic mattress, with little pictures of blue birds, on the floor next to our bed.

Three weeks later I came up from the underground shift to find Umama waiting in the compound. She’d never come to the mine before. I called to her saying, “Hey there Mafuta!” Which as you know means ‘fat one’ – a term of endearment in our culture. But she didn’t smile, just rushed over and handed me a paper that had come from the government. It said we had to go to Empangeni, KwaZulu, (where Umama and I were born) for the passbooks. And we had to register before the end of the year.

It was Christmas Eve so I quickly found Mr Venter, the Underground Manager, and told him I’d return to work on the first of January. Taking a Toyota mini-bus to Welkom we hitched a ride with Uncle Sipho who drove a truck for Sappi Forest Products. He took us to Durban and dropped us at the station where we caught a bus to Empangeni.

We arrived on Christmas day. So tired! Umama counted the money and there was just enough to buy a loaf of white bread. We ate some small pieces and wrapped up the rest for the coming days. That night we went to the compound at Mr Boshof’s sugar cane farm to ask Nolwazi, my sister, if we could stay at her place. But she wasn’t allowed to have anyone sleep in her room, not even family, so she asked the baas (boss) if we could stay in the tractor shed. Mr Boshof said we could, and we made a bed with the old horse blankets he gave us. That night you were born – Christmas 1986, and we named you Domisani, which in English, as you know, means ‘give praises.’ And why did we choose Domisani for your name? Because Nkulinkulu (God) is good – all the time!

[Note: The characters and circumstances in this story are fictitious]

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