The Tsotsis could rob you!

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Sunday, 1st February 2015

Dusk - a midsummer evening in Bathurst Street. It is a wide street, divided by islands of trees and there was a particularly good show of cheerful white daisies. The street was quiet, the last remnants of sunlight enveloping the city in a rosy hue.

As is my wont, I was daydreaming as I ambled. However, I did notice two youths crossing the street near the traffic lights at the top end of the street. They appeared to be in a hurry but I did not give them a second thought and continued dawdling. A little later, I noticed that they were in line with me on the opposite pavement. I continued dream walking. Then, for some inexplicable reason – there was no sound – I half turned my head and looked behind me. The same two youths were now somewhat discomfortingly right behind me. I took a few more conscious steps, turned around smiling brightly and requested, “Hi! Please will you walk with me? As you can see, I am a woman on my own. I am only going to the BP Garage at the top. It’s not too far and I’d feel safer ... ”

The two young men looked utterly bemused but they complied and fell in on either side of me.

“Nkosi! Thank you!” I said cheerfully. “Phew! It’s been hot, hey? Tchisa! Glad it's cooler.”

There was a mumbled response from both.

Followed by a tense little pause. I was at a loss for small talk.

Suddenly the young man on my left, burst forth, “Madam – the truth is we were going to rob you. But please – can you just support us with a cigarette?”

I giggled. ”I have run out! That’s why I am going to go to BP. Anyway I was going to offer you cigarettes for helping me. We’re nearly there. I’m also hanging! Seriously addicted!”, I said confidentially, with a rueful laugh.

The tension evaporated. We exchanged names. Khaya was the confessor, Tembi, his friend and accomplice.

“Are you unemployed?” I asked.

“Yes!” said Tembi, bitterly.

“Oh! That is so hard. You must be so frustrated. I am so sorry.”

We began talking like old friends. They had matriculated three years earlier and had searched in vain for work. Both had single mothers and younger siblings and so they had turned to ‘some small crime’ to help their mothers. I empathised and we bemoaned the high unemployment in Grahamstown.

“The rich don’t want to share their food. There are rich people and the government – they have forgotten the poor. They are the trouble,” said Khaya, with feeling.

At the kiosk, I bought cigarettes, we lit up gratefully, continuing our impassioned conversation.

‘Twas time to go home.

“We’ll take you,” said Tembi, ever the Xhosa Sir Galahad.

“Don’t worry - it’s just around the corner.”

“No, we must escort you. Tsotsis could rob you!”

The irony resonated in uproarious gales of happy laughter.

KJ Guteridge

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