1973. Indian Fire Walking, Cato Manor, Durban. >
On a January 1973 Transkei trek, I drove Fraser along a dirt road in mom's brown Mini to Holy Cross Mission, Bizana. Tambo and Winnie Mandela came from Bizana. Tambo was schooled at Holy Cross Mission. (Martin Meredith, Nelson Mandela A Biography, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1997). On the way, the car exhaust fell off. We reattached it with coat-hanger wire. Outcast piccanins raced from kraals, thrusting outstretched hands, calling, "Bonsella Baasie!... We had no sweets to give to the beggars.
The Anglican mission brick-church was cool inside. Red choirboy cassocks hung on hooks at the back of the dark nave. The church and sweltering hospital smelt African, a combination of wood-smoke, Nivea cream, Vicks Vaporub, disinfectant, sick-sweaty-bodies, despair. As Fraser had been SCA chairman at Northlands BH, he volunteered a year as hospital-orderly for outcast blacks: then was conscripted for privileged whites. SADF wasted over two years of Fraser's life.
Returning to Durbs, mom's Mini broke down in darkest Pondoland, the exhaust having cooked the boot battery, as we'd incorrectly reattached the exhaust-pipe alongside the battery-cable, running from boot to engine. I asked a passing black motorist to call a garage. A Pondo man brought a battery. "I've no money to pay," I said.
"Don' worry. Sen' me a check when you get beck to Debs. Don' worry!"
Rosie: "Come ta Indian Kavadi festival at Umgeni Road Temple Mak. Aai-yai-yai-yai-yaaai!" Rosie acculturated me her outcast Hindu way.
Sweaty, staring, half-naked Indian men and saried women danced entranced round the temple. Helpers caught falling devotees slipping into trance. Helpers forced skewers through devotees' tongues, cheeks, forehead skins. Shouting, chanting helpers struggled to shove hooks through skins of devotees' arms, chests, backs. Limes hung from back and chest hooks, like green dug layers. No blood. Staring, chanting, drooling, groaning devotees: clapping hands, clashing cymbals, thumping tambourines, banging tabla-drums. Singing helpers syncopate-processed round the temple. "Iinya-iinya-iinya -iinyaaa!..." chanted Rosie.
Priests thumbed ash-dots on devotees' foreheads. Hooks pierced a sweaty devotee's back, and the cart he pulled was attached to the hooks by ropes. One devotee trudged around the temple wearing six-inch-nail, wooden sandals. Camphor smoke and incense melded with smells of coconuts, bananas, mangoes, ripe fruit. On their shoulders, chanting devotees carried wooden kavadis, filled with fruit and garlanded with marigolds. Kavadi fruit was placed on a shrine in the temple. Priests hammered coconuts, offering coconut-milk and flesh to the stone idol Ganesha, elephant-headed god, and other stone gods.
Rosie: "Before kavadi an' fire-walkin' festivals, devotees purify dere bodies, by abstainin' from sex an' meat, an' all, mortifying dere bodies, hoping gods will notice dere devotion an ' spirituality an' all, indubitably blessing devotees an' families an' all."
Rosie: "Come ta Indian fire-walkin' festivals at Cato Manor an' Jacobs Temples Mak. Aai-yai-yai-yai-yaaai!..." Like outcast blacks in Joburg's Sophiatown and outcast coloureds in Cape Town's District Six, outcast Indians were forced-moved from Cato Manor black spot, according to Verwoerd's Group Areas dispossession laws. Cato Manor was bigger than Sophiatown and District Six. My maternal-grandfather's first wife, Jenny Cato's family had first owned Cato Manor.
During the 70s, whenever I drove along Bellair Road through Cato Manor, the Hindu crematorium still cremated Indians, although few Indians lived in Cato Manor anymore. I smelt corpses burning before reaching the crematorium, and the smell stayed after passing the wood-an'-iron Hindu Temple at the roadside, and long after passing the crematorium. During the 60s, 70s and 80s, Cato Manor remained wasteland, coveted by whiteys, as it was valuable Berea real-estate.
At the Hindu Temple near Wakesleigh Road, Indian assistants burnt logs forming a pit of hot, raked coals. Before fire-walking at Cato Manor, a skin-hooked, rope-pulling Indian devotee, pulled a wooden cart, with his hooked-skin wrenched from his back in a series of brown dugs. Dancing, chanting, clapping, drumming, cymbal -clashing Indians followed him from a stream. Fire-walkers, worshipping in trance, danced barefoot over coals. Women garlanded in marigolds, carried bronze pots on their heads. At the end of the smoldering pit, devotees splashed through a water trough, cooling their feet. No blisters, no pain. "How do devotees so it?" I asked Rosie.
"It'sa Tamil custom Mak. It'sa karma."
When karma of the 1950 Group Areas Act expelled Rosie from May Street black spot, she cackled, "It'sa heeeeluva t'ing Mak! We mus' renta concrete-block, double-storey Chatsworth 'ouse - one family on top, one below; or stay with family elsewhere. A helluva t'ing!" Jimmy built a room at his Gum Tree Road shanty in Jacobs, and Rosie squatted with Jimmy, his three wives and kids, and Shorty and Sita. Drunken Maharaj and his wife and kids had already been cast out to Chatsworth.
May Street Indian community was bulldozed. Only the mosque remained, as Dutchmen left worship places alone. It was the second outcast Indian community I witnessed destroyed by apartheid. As kids, Paul, Fraser and I had had sixpenny haircuts at the Indian barber opposite Rosie's slum house. We were the only white customers amongst black hair and Brylcreem. May Street Indian community wouldn't've been a slum, if there was no Group Areas removal threat. Rosie and her Indian neighbours had lived on valuable "white" CBD land.
Later, new Durban Station was built off Umgeni Road, near where Rosie's house once stood. Joshua Doore Furniture Mart and shopping mall was built, trapping station trade. In the 90s, the wasteland where Rosie's house once stood, was occupied by outcast Zulus, squatting in filth, under plastic sheets, cardboard and corrugated-iron: while white punters cavorted at Greyville Racecourse nearby.
May Street slum for Rosie and her extended family had been close to Umgeni Road buses, West Street white CBD and Grey Street outcast Indian CBD. Gum Tree Road squatter camp, Jacobs, put Rosie's outcast family far from jobs, increasing commuting times and costs.
Decrepit Rosie slept in our enclosed back porch - a sunny room. Rosie refused our khaya. We flouted the Group Areas Act for years, as Rosie was supposed to doss in our khaya. On warm afternoons, after work, I sat in Rosie's room, while Rosie reminisced... Rosie's room was close to our neighbour's house. He was a privileged whitey lawyer: arrogant, ignorant Northlands OB.
During weekends, I drove Rosie across town to visit outcast Jimmy. Pompies came once - from white, middle-class comfort, to enforced Indian degradation. I warned Pompies he must accept Jimmy's hospitality, no matter how full he felt. We ate a hot curry, while Jimmy, his three wives and kids watched us scoff every mouthful, under their hot iron roof. They smiled, rocking their heads, while we munched our meal. It was the second time I saw Pompies silenced out.
See Cato Manor Riots.