History: Dry laughter & Mary Jane

I recently came across this video on Twitter. I don’t know what the joke was about and what language they spoke. But something about it made me smile, I know what it is, it was this man’s infectious dry laughter.

His free laughter and his surroundings reminded me of a beautiful stage in my life. Right before social media – became the end of physical human interaction – we used to hang around township Grootmans (older men). Most of them were unemployed and book smart at the same time.

In townships like Thembalethu where I grew up, these guys played soccer for clubs like Dangerous Darkies, Black Cats etc. There was something about soccer and Rastas then. Almost every club had a Rasta. Haha, don’t crucify me! 

Our parents used to warn us against associating with them. My parents in particular worried that I would become attracted to their lifestyle weed of smoking. But my friends and I would go against the instructions as these guys were generally friendly, maybe it was that Mary Jane effect as Rick James once sang about, but either or, they were good company.

A scratchy Peter Tosh CD would be playing in the background as they told us stories and presented arguments on current affairs, the education system and past political struggles – Steve Biko and Chris Hani’s lives were almost always up for discussion. Dry laughter would breakout whenever one of them argued out of context or tried to back up a story with a lie. Hence the laughter from this video caught my attention.  

They would regularly bring us in on the conversations by arguing the substance of our history textbooks, as taught in schools. I can still remember one saying to me,

“Okay, my laaitie, remove the story of Shaka and the Zulus from your literature. Then tell me what is left about African history. Don’t me tell about the politics. Tell me, where are the conquests, where is proof of our intelligence and stories of our wars? Tell me who are we in the stories that remain in your textbook, are we the victims or the conquerors, are we the explorers or were we exploited?”

That was hard content for primary school kids. But it was necessary I think. I personally, would be lying if I said that these guys ever spoke about women or even fought in our presence.

And of course, they weren’t always accurate or factually correct about their information either but sitting with them opened us up to conversations that were larger than our grade 7 and 8 brains could fathom. That’s what we loved because our imaginations were not just stretched but a sense of identity was restored to us as they would try to piece our history together through debate.

It felt like our curiosity was being ignited and directed towards something meaningful. They challenged us to think outside of what we were presented and what we thought ourselves to be. They gave us the confidence to ask real questions, even when we were not sure. In hindsight, I think they motivated my decision to reject history as a subject when I entered high school. (A decision I do not regret). I couldn’t see myself in it.

Fast forward to today, we are those guys to many young boys coming after us – minus the weed for me of course. But I am just curious to know, are we accessible enough? What drives our conversations? Are we even talking amongst ourselves? Or better yet, do we even know that we occupy such an important place in our communities?

About Anele Matshisi 
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