You reap rational groundwork or you reap the whirlwind

Time was when my malome (uncle) and late father - two men from disparate backgrounds - would have a go at each other.

Time was when my malome (uncle) and late father - two men from disparate backgrounds - would have a go at each other.

It was poetry.

Now, no two men could be more different. One was a rural Ndebele farmworker, and the other an urban Motswana school principal. One was a lover of his pint and the other a teetotaller.

One believed in the power of magic and the other pooh-poohed it as hooey . The differences were innumerable. The only similarity, perhaps, was that both were devout Christians and a shared love for one woman - my mother.

Now malomeis deity in my culture. We were brought up to believe that we would grow hair on the palms of our hands and inside our mouths if we failed malome in any way. My nephews and nieces beware!

Malome gets to have the prime cuts of any animal slaughtered for any ritual involving you, he keeps the head of the animal, a singular honour, and gets to keep - and spend - magadi. If he is lucky, and you comply, he gets to keep your first salary.

The most memorable altercation between my Malome Boy and my father was when malome was a bit tipsy and decided to berate my father for putting his sister's (my mother) nieces' and nephews' lives at stake for refusing to "toughen-up" his home.

"Swaer, you need a doctor!"

My father: "Of course, I have one. Dr Matlala examined me thoroughly yesterday."

Malome: "Mogale, I tell you, you can't protect your house with an injection doctor ."

The tit-for-tats would go on ad nauseam until malome gave up in frustration or my father would ignore him or change the subject.

I recall these confrontations now because it is that time of the year when pupils have to ready themselves for the final exams. The vulgar among us would say it is time for ablutions, but I was not raised to speak like that.

It is that time when those who did not make hay while the sun shone, who refrained from burning the legendary midnight oil, who expect to reap what they have not sowed, will be making a beeline for their family "doctors" to get "fixed" for the exams.

Sadly, it is not going to work. Like my father the sceptic, I do not believe you can get out of your head what you did not put inside it. Magic works when you are at primary school and a joker in flowing robes stands before you, says simca-simca-jali-jali, and voila, he produces an egg from under his armpit.

Beyond that, it is indeed hooey.

Charlatans, the liars who are giving African healers in general a bad name, are raking it in now.

It is high season and if business does not boom now, it never will. Perhaps the "doctor" ought to pack his paraphernalia and go job-hunting.

And yes, believe it or not, I believe Africans can heal. We must have known how to cure a headache or stop a runny tummy before Jan van Riebeeck came here. Definitely, we knew how to deliver babies who did not die at birth.

But magic? Somebody please convince me - I wish I could believe it.

Damn it, I love my malome.