Swell times of early 80s saw the emergence of TV culture, writes Amanda Ngudle

I vaguely remember what should have appeared in the extramural activities section of most school report cards in 1981.

I vaguely remember what should have appeared in the extramural activities section of most school report cards in 1981.

All people ever did then was either talk about television or stay glued to the box. I don't doubt that most of our school marks took a nose dive as a result. And there were none so scorned as the parents who blamed all catastrophes, from the cholera outbreak to teenage pregnancy, on television.

With so much credit given to television culture, you'd think that we were the most informed young generation the country ever had. In 1983 we had the ongoing Lebanese war for breakfast, and lunch and dinner came in the form of news, but very little about our country - the former SABC made sure of that.

The streets were dusty but Sunbeam-polished stoeps defined hygienic homes from pigsties. Yet none of us had even heard of squatter camps or hostels. There were barbaric graphics and writings on the surrounding walls of these prison look-alike facilities but in essence, hostel dwellers and township residents operated on a "two camps" psychology.

People possibly chose to forget the 1976 uprising and the success of the divide-and-rule policy of the government by dusting off any violent residue by immersing themselves in as much entertainment as possible.

The culture of magazine reading was on the rise and the obvious magazine of choice was Drum. But when contenders like Bona, and Pace reared their heads, it was to the delight of many. The working single had the luxury of following the romantic story magazines, which sold for R1,20, which was much more expensive than the 80c for a copy of Drum.

I suspect that most kids my age strove to read English because of an awareness that agony aunts' columns were the best thing since television.

Adults considered the Dear Dolly column as something of an X-rated read and so we learnt with great disappointment that most "broken- hearted" boys and girls were just ordinary folk in need of professional advice.

But we went to town writing letters. One vivid letter read: "Dear Dolly, I once had a swelling ball and it finally vanished. I want to know what happened to it."

What was not funny though were the offensive letters from a so-called sangoma called Nomalanga from Durban.

Unsuspecting people would receive hand-addressed letters from Nomalanga who would start off very respectfully and then it would be off to business with her list of herbs that could help the recipient: steal a man, strike her enemies with lightning, get rich overnight or be loved by people.

Legend had it that the powerful sangoma had access to people's dompasses, hence her perfect age-timing correspondence. And the tales of the monsters that her herbs had created were as horrific as they were endless.

A few years into my adulthood I learnt that the brains behind the Nomalanga scam had been an Indian family that made a killing from the business.

Black people were complacent back then when one was satisfied listening to the radio, though most programmes could put you to sleep.

And there were many egotistical DJs such as Radio Zulu's Joshua Mlaba and Lindiwe Masuku who could send listeners into deep depression.

Hostel dwellers were Mlaba's target market and Masuku seemed to be employed by the Zulu palace.

The hottest bands were Harare, The Soul Brothers, Joy, Juluka, Papa and Blondie, PJ Powers and Hotline. The music road shows were the highlights of the year and the only events where blacks and whites could actually dance together.

Fashion reflected the swell times. Garments were of white cotton, the make-up was bold and the hairdos were aspiring to the American perm, while radicals were just starting to braid their hair and adorn it with beads. This they must have adopted from singer Stevie Wonder, whose hit Send One Your Love was making waves at the time.