In Kliptown there is a railway line, separating the ghetto and new urban residential section. I have been crossing the line quite frequently in the past couple of months, weeks and days. Each time I am about to cross I always feel guilty for not using the pedestrian bridge built at the far end of the street connecting old Kliptown with the Walter siSulu Square of Dedication (WSSD). I look around often for the police who have been known to diligently arrest everybody seen crossing the railway line in the past, from the wayward youth and even seniors or the elders. The other day an old woman with a child on her back sheepishly asked me if I saw any police around and admitted “ I don’t want to be arrested” .
More importantly though I look for oncoming trains from either side, left and right. While crossing I make sure not to step on the steel tracks – following my brother’s advice. Sometimes like the other day while crossing the railway tracks – I was reminded of my childhood. It is actually an unbelievable irony that I am brave enough to cross the railway line today considering how petrified, scared and afraid to immobility I was just as at the sight of the railway line as a child. Trains and everything associated with them haunted me in my childhood.
The hole on the wall
We didn’t live far from the Railway Station, in Phefeni Orlando West Soweto. In fact Phefeni station is just a street way from my childhood home. Not old enough or allowed to ever venture out of the black corrugated iron gates unaccompanied, I would climb up the Apple tree at the back of house number 7224, Thabethe Street, and stare at the trains which moved faithfully in and out the station’s platforms, much like my other hard working, crawling friends, the ants, whom I enjoyed spending a lot of time observing. On weekends my grandmother would take my older sister and I to Meadowlands zone 2, to visit our close relatives, her sister known to us as Koko No-rain. An unfortunate mis-translation of her Zulu name Nomvula which means the one with rain or the rain queen in its proper Zulu context. For us, Meadowlands or Ndo-fia as it was known to locals (a reference to the forced removal s of Sophiatown residents to Meadowlands by the then apartheid government in the 50’s), represented “freedom”. In Meadowlands we were allowed to play out in the streets and the nearby park (which had a trampoline, costing us 50 cents a turn) all day until way after dark, moments which made our trips to Meadowlands much like Christmas– holidays! We would go wildly into the dusty streets like little animals released from a cage – we had the freedom of movement, we could go anywhere as far as our little legs could take us. Even though there was some adult supervision, the weekends away were equally great holidays for our grandmother(s) who worked as domestic workers. They who would sit out or indoors chatting and laughing out loud in Koko Norains’ tiny matchbox lounge, in 594A Moemisi Street. You could hear their laughter from miles away, they often laughed so hard until both their faces would be wet with tears. Tears were a regular sight in our home. With enough drink and smokes to go around we were left much to our own vices, which were quite innocent and simply sweet compared to what children get up to these days.
So though I was always excited to reach destination “freedom” the trips there were quite perilous for me, as we had to walk across the bridge (over one of the busiest (still) four way crossing in orlando, near Makhedama Butchery (were my gran used to buy meat) and old Maponya Mall (now Shoprite-Checkers) over the railway line to catch taxis on the other side near the hostels, which were also at that time notorious for violent crime. The best way for pedestrians was to walk through the petrol station which bordered the railway line. I would hold to my grandmother’s dress so tight and use my sister as a shield to protect myself from the sight of the hole. It was a standing joke for one so brave even at my age to be petrified of a hole so far from me.
The train was also something else, after one incident when my mother needing to go somewhere “disappeared” – leaving me with my aunt, and searching for her without any success – sowed deep seated fears of being abandoned which I have carried throughout my life – and has meant that I struggled to trust people. I was my mother’s cry baby, never ever wanting her to be out of my sight. No one could console me if she left me anywhere. I would cry and cry and cry and cry, and when at home wearing her clothes and high-heeled shoes would be the only thing that would make me feel better. I would literally as my mother often tells me, cry myself to sleep while sucking my thumb in my mothers oversized clothes. I have never taken a train at the station since that incident.
Until now. At the Kliptown Trains-station is amazingly clean and well run. I felt the same feelings come back but also knew that I was not alone and would be okay. Not only did I cross the railway line on my own a few timess, I also took a train ride from Kliptown to Johannesburg and back on my own in my hometown almost 20 years later! I’m all grown up now – haha. It was – still is, a bitter sweet experience A lesson in letting go and holding on for new things, experiences, people to come.
WHO I AM
Ultimately I am a Sowetan through and through and every fabric of my being has been created, shaped by the struggle of our freedom and liberation whose roots runs so deep I can not begin to describe. After so many years of running from who I am I have finally found me. Lindiwe Popane Zulu- Jedi Ramalapa. I have found confidence in myself through you.
To those who paved the way, my ancestors: Nyangane Steven Zulu, Mabhobane Popane Violet Zulu, Nomazulu Zulu, Nomvula Zulu, Vusumuzi Zulu, Nohlanhla Jopi Ramela,(Zulu) Thente Zulu: Thokoza!
Zulu kaMalandela ngokulandela izinkomo zamadoda
Zulu Omnyam’ ondlela zimhlophe
Wena WakwaPhunga noMageba
Wena kaMjokwane KaNdaba
Wena wenkayishana kaMenzi eyaphuza umlaza ngameva
Wena kasihhawuhhawu siyinkondlo bayikhuzile ngoba ikhuzwe abaphansi nabaphezulu
Wena kanogwaja omuhle gonmlenze