#34 – helpless consciousness

Saturday was market day in Cape Town and the streets were crowded with shoppers
looking for bargains, meeting friends and lovers. Boers and Frenchmen, soldiers in colorful
uniforms and English ladies in flounced skirts and ruffled blouses mingled in front of the
bazaars set up in the town squares at Braameon-stein and Park Town and Burgersdorp.
Everything was for sale: furniture, horses and carriages and fresh fruit. One could
purchase dresses and chessboards, or meat or books in a dozen different languages. On
Saturdays, Cape Town was a noisy, bustling fair.
Banda walked along slowly through the crowd, careful not to make eye contact with the
whites. It was too dangerous. The streets were filled with blacks, Indians and coloreds, but
the white minority ruled. Banda hated them. This was his land, and the whites were the
uitlanders. There were many tribes in southern Africa: the Basutos, Zulus, Bechuanas, the
Matabele—all of them Bantu. The very word bantu came from abantu—the people. But the
Barolongs—Banda’s tribe—were the aristocracy. Banda remembered the tales his
grandmother told him of the great black kingdom that had once ruled South Africa. Their
kingdom, their country. And now they were enslaved by a handful of white jackals. The
whites had pushed them into smaller and smaller territories, until their freedom had been
eroded. Now, the only way a black could exist was by slim, subservient on the surface, but
cunning and clever beneath.
Banda did not know how old he was, for natives had no birth certificates. Their ages
were measured by tribal lore: wars and battles, and births and deaths of great chiefs,
comets and blizzards and earthquakes, Adam Kok’s trek, the death of Chaka and the
cattle-killing revolution. But the number of bis years made no difference. Banda knew he
was the son of a chief, and that he was destined to do something for his people. Once
again, the Bantus would rise and rule because of him. The thought of his mission made
him walk taller and straighter for a moment, until he felt the eyes of a white man upon him.
Banda hurried east toward the outskirts of town, the district allotted to the blacks. The
large homes and attractive shops gradually gave way to tin shacks and lean-tos and huts.
He moved down a dirt street, looking over bis shoulder to make certain he was not
followed. He reached a wooden shack, took one last look around, rapped twice on the
door and entered. A thin black woman was seated in a chair in a corner of the room
sewing on a dress. Banda nodded to her and then continued on into the bedroom in back.
He looked down at the figure lying on the cot.
Six weeks earlier Jamie McGregor had regained consciousness and found himself on a
cot in a strange house. Memory came flooding back. He was in the Karroo again, his body
broken, helpless. The vultures …


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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