Twilight town time forgot

PARTY TIME: Body 'Shadys' Pakisi in one of the taverns. © Sowetan.
PARTY TIME: Body 'Shadys' Pakisi in one of the taverns. © Sowetan.

Between the comparatively bustling dorps of Ventersdorp and Lichtenburg lies Coligny, one of the oldest towns in North West.

Between the comparatively bustling dorps of Ventersdorp and Lichtenburg lies Coligny, one of the oldest towns in North West.

Perched behind the small town, Tlhabologang location is almost an after-thought. Here there are no breezy coffee shops, theatres or book shops. Its saving grace is that visitors can wander the streets with cash-stacked wallets and answer their cellphones without fear.

Life here revolves around booze. Frustrated youngsters even outdrink their parents. They drink the taverns dry.

"The only entertainment is booze and soccer. I am interested in boxing, but where do I go?" asked one young man.

By the time the sun creeps over the light poles and etches its way towards the dusty horizon, the taverns are full to capacity as locals guzzle bathtubs of booze.

Boys display their tattooed bodies and the girls flaunt skimpy colourful pants that reveal their G-strings and tummies with pierced belly buttons.

One crowd hangs out at Mmapelo's, the first black-owned shopping centre in Tlhabologang. The smell of dagga hangs in the air and the walls display the handiwork of aspirant graffiti artists.

Three taverns occupy pride of place: Moonlight, Club 223 and Blue Notes.

Moonlight is the oldest establishment. It is clean and safe. We visit after nightfall and security guards thoroughly search each patron at the gate.

The DJ spins his discs and house music pierces the evening like a missile. The dance floor is pregnant with dancers, armpits oozing perspiration.

A fight soon erupts over a girl.

"We are used to this," says one patron. "This is the Sodom and Gomorrah of Tlhabologang."

Blue Notes is always crowded and seems to be overtaking its rival establishments. The name is misleading, the host does not play the blues. Patrons fork out their own coins to operate the jukebox.

The tavern lies a stone's throw away from the austere NG Kerk. A congregant sniffs that the Blue Notes' patrons disrupt services.

"They throw bottles everywhere and they puncture our vehicles' tyres," he says.

Club 223 boasts a laid-back atmosphere. The joint is clean and seems too small to accommodate the throng. The jazz attracts few youngsters

Old-timers regale us with tales about Tlhabologang.

Mokala Madibe and Body "Shadys" Pakisi survived the apartheid government's destruction of Makweteng township in the early 1960s to make way for Coligny, Amanabad and Toekomsrus.

"Makweteng was a nice place. Life was pleasant until we were forcibly removed by whites," says Madibe. "Unfortunately, nothing much has been recorded. Nobody is interested in that."

Body's wife interrupts us in fluent isiXhosa. The Pakisis are among the handful of Xhosas in Tlhabologang.

"Makweteng started in 1942 with only five houses, but later the number grew to 210. Makweteng was far better than Tlhabologang. There were many activities. We had three halls, two soccer pitches and two teams, Blue Birds and Mighty Green."

In his heyday Body out-dribbled many opponents and scored many goals for Mighty Green. He also floored many in the boxing ring.

"Those were good days," he says enthusiastically.

Madibe nods in agreement: "I still miss Makweteng, mostly the weekends. They were fantastic.

"Makweteng haunts me. If I had to make my last wish on my last day, I would like to be buried at Makweteng.

"My heart still bleeds for Makweteng. That is where my umbilical cord lies.

"We were removed in trucks. We resisted for three months, but finally gave in.

"We were promised title deeds once we had stayed for 15 years. I have stayed in this house since the removal and I still don't have my title deed.

"We have raised this with the authorities many times. They promise to address it, but nothing happens.

"Some people bought their houses, but were not given title deeds. We were told the houses were not for sale, but the buyers were not refunded."

We find an old house with a well-trimmed lawn on Qwesha Street. The stoep gleams. The house once belonged to Lazarus Sekete, the first doctor from Makweteng to qualify in western medicine. Like so many others, he moved on and out.

But Tlhabologang offers many business opportunities to the enterprising. It is centrally situated and near Lichtenburg and Mmabatho. There is a crying need for bed-and-breakfasts for tourists.

People on their way to festivals and soccer games in the larger neighbouring towns pass through Tlhabologang, but there's nothing to keep them in town.

Mogopa Pooe, who runs the Itereleng store, has been chasing after his title deed.

"For me to get money from the banks, I must have a title deed to use the house as surety. People from townships in Klerksdorp, Stella and others were compensated, but we were not. We have until August next year to be paid out, but it looks as if we are not going to meet the deadline. Officials are dragging their feet."

Pooe's shelves are empty and he turns customers away.

"Sorry, I don't have that," he tells them.

This refrain seems to sum up the situation for almost everyone in Tlhabologang.