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Take to the tracks for a makoya slice of the life of everyday South Africans

By Fred Khumalo | 2017-05-19 17:04:37.0

If you're a black South African who's been transplanted from the townships to the suburbs, or who travels in the privacy of your car, you don't realise how barren your life is, until you take an unexpected journey by train.

By "train journey", I am excluding Gautrain. No mode of transport could be more sterile. What I am talking about is a real train. Where you'll see a man take a nifty sip from a cellular, before he passes it to the next pair of grateful hands.

A cellular, to the uninitiated, is a nip of brandy, or gin. The bottle is as tiny as a cellphone, which is why the Shakespeares of the township call it a cellular.

A train journey is not complete until you have heard the loud voice of a preacher declaiming on the Apocalypse.

You have not been on a real train, unless you have beheld a group of men gathered in a corner, throwing dice as the train snakes along its tracks.

The train journey is not complete until you've been confronted by a man who insists on interpreting your dreams. For a fee, of course.

It is incomplete if you don't encounter an old man selling herbs - to win your lover back. Or just simply to stay hale and hearty - "owezikelemu nenyongo!"

Not having been on a train in more than 25 years - that excludes the trains I boarded overseas - I'd forgotten about the funky side of a South African train journey.

That is until last week, when I boarded a train from Stellenbosch to Cape Town.

I'd brought a novel which I had hoped would keep me busy for the hour-long journey. Ten minutes into the ride, I realised I did not need a novel. There was so much life here, so much energy to immerse oneself in.

There was a group of youngsters listening attentively to an older chap unpacking the intricacies of The Illuminati - how this secretive, exclusive group is running the world. Its tentacles have even reached South African politics and business.

Sadly, the chaps got off before the tale reached its climax. But my disappointment lasted for only a minute. My ears tuned into the voices of two women gossiping in Xhosa about a mutual friend's son who has "suddenly become gay".

"It's because of the money," said the one friend.

"When you turn gay, they make you rich. The gay society gives you all the money!"

"Ah, it's beginning to make sense. I've never seen a poor gay person. Somizi, and that crazy doctor Gqwede, they are all rich."

"Yes, mntakwethu, you'll never see a starving gay person. Their secretive society protects them, cushions them. That's why Maria's son turned gay."

"Yoo, sanna, you have defeated me!" exclaimed the friend, in deep Xhosa idiom.

When I looked around, I could see other passengers nodding in assent. The two speakers were confirming what they have long suspected: when you turn gay, you get rich!

I could imagine the woman who'd just been let in on this secret getting to her place of work, and telling everyone: "Now I know why gay people are all rich! They have a society that protects them."

On and on, the legend will spread. Until it becomes the truth. The train is replete with all shades of philosophy.

The magic of a Mzansi train ride.