manyasa a family man who means well

Last week when I dropped in at the garage near my home for one of my unending visits to tease my tank with just a squirt of petrol, a guy rapped on my window, jolting me out of my reverie.

Last week when I dropped in at the garage near my home for one of my unending visits to tease my tank with just a squirt of petrol, a guy rapped on my window, jolting me out of my reverie.

It wasn't the attendant.

The petrol price can do things to a man's moods, even of someone intrinsically good-natured as I believe I am. The poor chap's ebony skin didn't make him an instant hit with me. His halting Setswana further fuelled the fire.

I did not set him alight, though!

He switched to English.

He'd just bought a television set, he told me, and wanted transport to Kagiso Extension 12, a mere five kays away.

The two kids in tow - an older boy and a girl- started to relax when they saw me thaw to the man, no doubt someone very close to them. I would later learn that they were his children.

The budding entrepreneur in me saw an opportunity to inch the needle a respectable distance away from empty. But the man kept nodding in the affirmative even when I quoted him the ridiculous figure.

The kids safely ensconced in the back next to the second-hand 57cm TV, the man chatted away for the duration of the short trip.

His name was Manyasa and it was obvious he answered with glee to this sobriquet that, reserved for Malawians, was meant to be derogatory but never quite achieved the xenophobic venom of makwerekwere.

He has a job in Ekurhuleni where he works as a stock controller. Though his tongue fails to roll easily around the colloquialism of Kagiso, far west of Johannesburg, Manyasa has been here for more than 10 years.

When he told me who he was married to it dawned on me how small indeed a world it is. His brothers-in-law, streetwise dudes with names like Chappies and Shoeshine, are as much a part of Kagiso folklore as the chimney smoke and dusty streets.

His wife, the mother of the two kids behind us, was in my Grade 9 class, the archaic Form II of my school days. A black beauty, as we were wont to describe her complexion back then, I doubt if any of our peers would claim Manyasa stole her from us.

The house in Extension 12 is still a work in progress but a decent abode nevertheless. Now, with a television set, I can only imagine the many happy family days that will follow as Mzansi Fo Sho churns out soapie after trite soapie. Looking at Manyasa, pictures of the man who died engulfed in a ball of fire flashed through my mind.

A 2006 survey, which still forms the basis of much discussion around the subject of xenophobia, makes for chilling reading. According to this SAMP poll the attacks were a mere tip of the iceberg since "South African attitudes showed very high levels of intolerance across the entire population".

Think tanks concluded a two-day seminar yesterday at the Reserve Bank in Pretoria to chart the way forward. The survey reminds us "Xenophobia is a deep and pervasive phenomenon that the government has not yet fully acknowledged".

The SARB gathering has agreed communities need to play a role in curbing the scourge since the government cannot do it alone.

I thought of Manyasa. He's a good man who will not, God forbid it, send my ex-classmate to meet her in-laws back home and return in a coffin stuffed with drugs.

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