By Yandisa Krobani

The township is a place of unity. People rescue and aid each other for they’ve subscribed to the adage that a hand washes the other. One hand cannot properly wash itself. Urgent meetings and funeral attendances are occasions where this unity is witnessed. The residents know one another and one another’s affairs, unlike in the suburbs where people can be neighbours for centuries without uttering one word to one another. But this engrossment in the lives of others sometimes begets resentment. When someone known for their penury starts defying the obstacles blurring his way, residents start badmouthing them. Accusations of that individual being arrogant circulate together with other fabricated stories meant to rotten their name. Because of this toxicity, people often advise that one ought to forsake the township immediately on encountering success. Yet others, because of the love they possess for their kasi, choose to remain behind. Zikhona, my neighbour, was one of such. Nobody knew much about her in the township. She had a bossy attitude. She despised queues and if the spaza shop owner didn’t prioritize her, she’d leave immediately.

“That woman is proud and annoying just by looking at her,” people would say. “No wonder the man lefther. No sane man would endure living under the same roof with her.”

The issue of her man was mere speculation. Nobody knew if she had a husband. Only death or, perhaps, her attitude could cause any man to separate from Zikhona for, in all honesty, she was very beautiful. I never saw her wear make-up. Zikhona’s beauty needed no enhancement. On top of her exquisite beauty, she was blessed with success. Her double-storey house with an enormous garage was comparable to none in the whole township of Lawley.  Inside the garage there were two cars parked, a Mercedes-Benz e500 and a Black SUV. The whole yard was beautified with greenery from the grass to the nicely trimmed row of small trees surrounding it. The gate was operated with a remote and next to it was an intercom where visitors announced themselves and the business they had with her. This home could be placed in any suburban area and perfectly fit in. It’s this plentifulness which intimidated men in Lawley from pursuing her. To ease their bruised egos, they’d makeup defamatory incidents and flaws about her, attributing their ‘lack of interest’ in her to those instead of admittingshe was above their class. Other women in Lawley envied Zikhona and, because of their jealousy towards her, discredited her beauty and success. But there were some who claimed they’d have no prejudice against Zikhona if it weren’t for her pride and rudeness.

Vuyani, my friend, and I were seated in my room playing cards on a Saturday morning when I heard a loud, female voice cursing incessantly outside. After rushing out, I realised the cause of it all. Zikhona had burned rags and trash outside her yard and the smoke was swaying in all directions. Hastily, I removed my clothes from the washing line to wait until the smoke dissipated. Vuyani and I stood in the yard watching the cursing neighbour with amusement. The other neighbours, seated by the tap doing laundry, seemed uninterested in condemning the act of their friend. Tired of hearing insults thrown her way, Zikhona came out of her double-storey house onto the yard. She was in her silky green gown and expensive fluffy sleepers.

“Now our clothes will smell smoke because of an inconsiderate bitch,”  thecursing neighbour said.

“I have no control of the direction of the wind sisi,” Zikhona said calmly.

All the while the neighbour had not been directly looking at Zikhona. But now she interpreted her response as an invitation to face her.

“But you saw our clothes on the line yet continued to burn this shit anyway!”

“Like I said in the beginning, sisi, I didn’t know they’d be wind blowing this smoke in all directions.”

The neighbour wasn’t about to refrain. Her anger finally pushed her to verbalise the thought she’d been concealing about Zikhona.

“Did you hear that, women?” the neighbour said, flashing out an ingenuine smile to her friends who pretended not to care about the goings-on. “She says she didn’t know.” Turning back to Zikhona, she said, “What do you know about this township anyway? You’re always cooped up in your big house. You don’t even know Saturday is the day most people do laundry, and that it is selfish to burn stuff outside least their clothes mix with the smoke whilst on the washing line. Oh… I almost forgot. You have washing machines and tumble dryers. Your laundry does itself any time you feel like it.”

There were giggles amongst her friends and some passers-by.

“It’s not my fault that you don’t have those,” Zikhona said, irritated.

“What’s a special queen like you doing in this township anyway?”

“It’s a free country. I can live wherever I want.”

“Shame…but you’re not part of this community.”

“I grew up in this township. I am as much a part of this community as anyone else.”

At that comment, the neighbour gave out a high-pitched laugh. “Tell me, then, part of this community, which meeting or funeral in this township did you ever attend?”

“I’m always busy with work.”

Hayi bo! Johannesburg is a place of work. We are all busy here. We all came to work. Or what? You think since your job is better than ours you can pollute our clothes with smoke.”

Sisi, is this still about the smoke?” Zikhona said. “Listen here then, don’t you dare take out whatever frustrations you have on me. I am a citizen of this township and nobody, not even you, can tell me otherwise. I sweated for everything I have including those washing machines and tumble dryers. I am not the one who made you poor.”

Zikhona then returned inside her house. The neighbour merely froze in silence on the spot, absent-mindedly watching her go inside. And when she came to her senses, she shook her head silently walking back to her friends.

Vuyani and I went back to our card game.

“I don’t understand Zikhona,” Vuyani said. She is moneyed and can settle in any suburb of here choice away from the shenanigans of the township.”

“She likes it here,” I said.

“But places like this don’t accommodate people like her. Neighbours don’t respond well to individuals of her calibre here.”

“But even in the suburbs she may be in conflict with her neighbours.”

“But those conflicts will be just that. Conflicts. Here people aren’t fighting her because of her rudeness but are jealous of her accomplishments. She must go live amongst people of her class.”

“She surely loves it here and doesn’t want to go anywhere.”

Zikhona saw the sun for the first time in this very township of Lawley. Like most children in the township, she suffered the fate of growing up without a father. And although her mother toiled to redeem their situation, poverty was always a dark cloud hovering above their heads. Around the time when she was conceived, Lawley had been on its prime squalor and disrepute. There was no electricity. When it rained the road was hard to walk on because of the soot infused with dirty water and sewage. And almost every Sunday there was a criminal beaten to death by angry residents. In high school, like most of her peers, Zikhona consorted with older men, some almostthrice her age. Her mother never reprimanded her nor asked where she had gotten the money when barging home with plastic bags stuffed with groceries. Instead, the old woman would praise her daughter for meeting her halfway. The teachers were the ones who came to her rescue on hearing those news. Anxious one of the students whose future was bright will be lured to vanity and suffering by manipulative old men who’ll use the name of love and material possessions to deceive her, they provided Zikhona with all the assistance to mitigate the dire situation in her home. She hastily ceased dating old men. And luckily for her, she refrained earlier, when no pregnancy or an incurable disease had forced its way into her life. When she defied the odds coming out victorious, the burning urge to forsake the Lawley township, which she’d had throughout her life, dissipated. She chose to create paradise in the very same place she had experienced hell. Besides, she thought her rags-to-riches story will inspire other children growing up under similar circumstances.

“In that case she must brace herself for more jealousy to be dished her way,” Vuyani said.


Early in the morning, I leaned against the front wall of the house enjoying the sunlight which is a luxury during Johannesburg’s freezing winters. In the streets, people were moving to and from work. Zikhona, her back turned against me, busied herself trimming the grass and small trees with the precision of a surgeon whilst her boys played soccer.

“Zuko,” she said, looking me in the eye, “you don’t greet anymore?”

“I greeted, sisi,” I lied. “You were too focused on your work to hear me.”

“Is it? How are you though?”

“I am well. How are you?”

“We are well.”

She went inside the house.

Many residents relinquished greeting Zikhona a long time ago because of her indifferent attitude and haughtiness. She never bothered to greet when passing by a group of people seated. She’d only mind her steps with her face staring down. And the truth is I could have stopped greeting her myself. She had a tendency of not reciprocating my greetings. In protestation, I’d not greet her the next time we meet, but she’d blackmail me with her you-do-not-greet-anymore comment. So I’d have no choice but greet her the next occasion we see each other, and if she doesn’t reciprocate again I’d not greet her the next. It was a game of cat-and-mouse.

Ausi Paulina and her son were walking by on the street. She was one of the women who had feuds and grudges against Zikhona. She greeted me in recognition. As they were playing, one of Zikhona’s boys mistakenly kicked the ball out of the yard and into the street. Ausi Paulina’s boy, with the innocence and excitement of a child, made out to pick it up and throw it back but his mother scolded him.

“Leave that ball alone. You will dirt it. You don’t want to contaminate it with poverty now, do you?”

Zikhona, observing from the silver balcony, rolled her eyes and frowned. Clearly Ausi Paulina was still bitter over an altercation they’d had because of their boys. Ausi Paulina’s boy had fought with one of Zikhona’s and hit him severely, resulting in him having a bleeding underlip. All witnesses pointed Zikhona’s as the provocateur. But she’d have none of that. Instead, she insulted Ausi Paulina with every derogatory word she could fathom. As if that wasn’t enough, she attacked her with ‘her poverty’ voicing out that she, Zikhona, wasn’t a peasant and that her refrigerator flowed with delicacies. The insults were vindictive to an extent that even Ausi Paulina’s most vicious enemy could have pitied her in that moment. Having been drowned in an ocean of insults, without uttering a word in retaliation, Ausi Paulina had held his son by the hand and gone home.

I usually return books I have taken out from the library on Saturdays. Apart from its setback of having no school, the township of Lawley has no library. Lenasia Extension 1 Library is the closest to Lawley. This Saturday was no different. I’d take a minibus taxi from Lawley headed to Lenasia, alight by the library, return the books I had loaned out and take out others on my way back. With my arrival, the taxi became two passengers short before it filled up. Whilst very few drivers disobeyed this rule, taxis never took-off until they were full. As a consequence, passengers sometimes inevitably got delayed. I placed my bag of books on top of a seat and stood near the taxi. At a distance, Zikhona emerged walking in between her two sons. She was on black high-heeled shoes and a cream mini dress, way above her knees. On her right shoulder dangled an expensive-looking navy purse. As she walked, other women looked at her with resentful admiration. Men and boys, gathered in groups by the corners of the street, stared at her with wandering and wondering lustful eyes. The catcalling could have started had it been another pretty woman. But this was Zikhona. She wasn’t scary or dangerous but something about her made men and boys fear her. They feared dishing to her even a little bit of discomfort, something strange and inexplicable even to themselves.

I never understood why this woman always shoved her way in the ways of the poor. Two posh cars were parked in her garage yet here she was about to use a taxi. Finally she came closer. She gazed at me sombrely, not offering any word of greeting or acknowledgment to me nor the passengers as she barged inside the taxi with her boys. It was one ofthose days.

Maskandi music blasted as the driver started the taxi ready to move. To my bewilderment, I realised I had no seat since Zikhona and her two boys entered.

“Sorry boy,” I said to one of her boys who’d sat on my seat. “This is my seat.”  He had had the audacity to put my bag down and sit.

“Says who?” said Zikhona in defence of her boy. Her stern voice caught me off guard. I thought of a reverent answer.

“I was here first,” I said.

“Here first when because on our arrival you were standing outside the taxi?”

I found her remark stupid. And when scrutinising the faces of other passengers they seemed to have the same implication. Anger started creeping up in me. Enough! I had taken so much shit from this woman.

“I was standing outside but my bag was on top of this seat meaning I was here first!”

“If my son gives you the seat where do you expect him to seat?”

“I don’t know but this seat is mine.”

The taxi driver turned to face us.

“You people better resolve your problem quickly,” he said, uninterested. “Other passengers are waiting for this taxi in Lenasia.”

“The little boy must move away from the seat for the one who came first to seat,” said an old man I knew only by sight.

“No child of mine will stand on his feet when he pays the full fare.”

“But we all stand on our feet when we’ve arrived late regardless of having to pay the full fare,” Ausi Paulina said. I had not seen her. She was seated at the back.

“That’s your problem not mine,” Zikhona said.

“It’s okay,” I said. I wanted to abate the emergence of the Third World War between Zikhona and Ausi Paulina. “It’s okay. I will stand.”

“No, Zuko,” Ausi Paulina said, “it’s not okay. I saw you arrive before this woman and her children. You cannot be the one to stand all the way to Lenasia when you came first.”

“People, reach an agreement. We are late!” the old man said.

“Ausi Paulina, it’s alright,” I emphasised. “I don’t mind standing on my feet.” She didn’t say a word but looked out of the window, shaking her head with disapproval.

“Nobody must stand on their feet!” the driver said. “There is a police roadblock ahead.”

This was a dilemma. I could compromise by standing on my feet but having to get out of the taxi when I arrived earlier than it’s last three passengers was torturous.

“Then the little boy must vacate the seat and be left behind!” the old man said.

“Never!” Zikhona said. “If one of my sons is getting out,  then my other son and I alight with him.”

The threat was exceptional.If Zikhona with her sons alighted the taxi would be two passengers short, meaning we would have to wait for it to be full again.

“Then so be it!” Ausi Paulina said.

“Oh no people,” the old man said. “We are rushing to work, some of us. We can’t afford to wait any longer.”

“My guy,” the driver said to me, “there’s another taxi coming. And unlike this one, it won’t wait till it’s full. So if you don’t mind…”

I was dumbfounded. It had never occurred to me that taxi drivers could break their own rules for someone. I’d known them to treat passengers with equality. Or, like most services, did they reserve special treatment for the rich? This was worse, for in this taxi some of the rules were posted inside in bold capital letters: NO R100 OR R200 RANDS NOTES IN THE MORNING! DON’T BANG THE SLIDING DOOR! I AM NOT LATE YOU ARE LATE! The rules were severely enforced to a point where taxis would drive back with the passengers from the pickup point should the overall passenger fare by short even by one rand.

Ausi Paulina came to my defence again.

“Hell,Zuko came before this rich woman in this taxi. How come he is the one to wait for the next one? Nx…are there even men in this taxi?”

Sisi, why not sacrifice him your seat since you love him?” the old man said. There was laughter.

Red with anger, without saying a word, I took my bag and alighted.

“Sorry son,” the old man said.

“Another one is on the way,” the driver said. By the sound of his voice, I could tell he didn’t like what he was doing. The taxi moved away. I watched it bitterly creeping out of the township onto the tarred road until it disappeared from my view.

To hell with Zikhona! There and then I decided. The cat-and-mouse game was over. No more Tom and Jerry. Never shall I be humane towards Zikhona again. Never shall I say a word to her or respond to a word she says to me ever again. Like most residents in Lawley I will treat her like the despicable individual that she was. Enough!

After a while another taxi arrived. And by that time, my anger had long dissipated but my stance with Zikhona won’t change. There were already five passengers in this taxi, all women. And it moved immediately after I boarded. As it swerved out of the township, sailing into the road headed to Lenasia, I sank myself comfortably on its vacant seats.

I was abruptly roused from the seat by the unceremonious whistling of the driver. Soon it was followed by the nerve-wrecking wailing of the five female passengers. My heart thudded from fear. The shock was exacerbated by the flashing red and blue lights together with the deafening sounds of the sirens from ambulances and police cars. The driver parked by the side of the road and we all alighted to witness the incident. My knees trembled when seeing the minibus taxi from which I had been robbed a seat wrecked by the side of the road. There were murmurs, whisperings, talks, and cries all over. Still dumbfounded, the body lethargic from shock, I moved ahead towards a crowd where a circle was made. Determined to see what they were looking at, I manoeuvred and pushed my way into the front of the circle. And alas, there they were: thepassengers who were in that taxi.The paramedics were rushing their unconscious bodies into the ambulances. Some of them were covered up with white cloths; I could not see whose bodies they were.


Yandisa Krobani was born in a rural Eastern Cape village called Qumbu in South Africa. He grew up in Johannesburg. Reading and writing has always been close to his heart. Some of his short stories have appeared in DRUM Magazine, African Writer Magazine, the Kalahari Review, and Botsotso Literary Journal. He is currently a student at the University of Cape Town.