Ons dak nie, ons phola hier!

Martin Hlongwa, Salta PEC member

Some of you will remember the above outcry from the last days of the forced removals of Sophiatown. Our people were determined to dig in their heels and defy the order to forcibly remove them from their homes. We all know that the apartheid government was not going to negotiate with the darkies and was prepared to use maximum force to get “its will to be done in Sophiatown, as it is done through the length and breadth of the country”. The rest is history, and our people were moved to Meadowlands, now a part of Soweto. (Remember Diep/Meadow Municipality, which was Diepkloof and Meadowlands).

This takes me to the existence of shebeens though out the turbulent times of forced removals, pass laws and all other restrictive laws. These so-called unlawful laws were primarily introduced to keep the lid on the townships and make sure that no black person thrives. Our people refused to be subdued by these draconian laws and their entrepreneurial spirits drove them to greater heights of innovations. Some learnt trades such as carpentry, painting, plumbing, and so on to survive in the urban areas. Most of these skills were acquired while working in formal industries. These first-time businessmen were self-taught individuals who had a passion to unshackle themselves from disguised slavery.

I refer to them as “businessmen” because they were not female. Why not female, you may ask? African women were relegated to the kitchens of the bosses, and as such were not exposed to developing meaningful survival skills. The system of Bantu Education also perpetuated this narrative in the black child's mind.

The system of Bantu Education also perpetuated this narrative in the black child's mind.

Wait for the bomb.

The ever-resilient Auntie could not be kept away from the cookie jar. In Sesotho we say, “Mme wa ngwana o tshwara thipa ka bogaleng.” Loosely translated: “A mother will always defend her child even if it means grabbing the sharp end of a knife.” This God-given survival instinct gave birth to the “Shebeen Queen”. I say God-given because this was divine intervention because many fatherless households were now able to overcome everyday challenges and send children to school. Some of the children from shebeen backgrounds are now outstanding community leaders or role models. The Shebeen Queen was just that, a queen in the community. She was nobody’s kitchen girl and defied the status quo, much to the admiration of her peers. A self-employed black woman was the last thing the white establishment wanted to see in the townships.

This brings me to why the by-laws are not friendly towards shebeens or taverns. Young black and white municipal employees give you a funny look when you mention these two dreaded names. Most were even not born when these by-laws were introduced. This is a stereotype mentality that was left by the apartheid masters.

Now we have a government that we call our own, which has forgotten where we come from or pretends to have no clue at all.

Defiance campaigns piggy-backed on the strengths of the shebeens. This is a historical fact. We are saying to the authorities, “Ons dak nie, ons phola hier!” We shebeeners are going nowhere, we are staying put. Long live the undying spirit of the shebeeners of yesteryear!  Sizohlala sinikhumbula.