top of page

A night under the stars

When bad luck comes, it does not come in bits and pieces. It comes in buckets, like the summer rain. When you hear what happened to me one blue Monday last month, you will see that I speak no lies – net soos PW Botha, my bra.

The first thing that I heard that morning was a loud knock on my door. It was Sis Rose my landlady, in a night gown, with make-up and all. I thought she was coming to remind me that the end of the month was around the corner, as she always does. I was wrong this time.


One look at her face told me there was trouble. There was no smile. Her face looked like it belonged to someone else, not to the Sis Rose that I know.

“Mseshana,” she said, calling me by my township name. “Bra Moferefere wants to stay here. I have given him your room. So you must take out your furniture and go and huur elsewhere. He will be moving in at five this afternoon”.

“Please, Sis Rose, don’t do that to me,” I cried, falling to my knees and kissing her feet. “Give me just a month to look for another place.”

“Tell that to Bra Moferefere,” she said with a crocodile smile on her painted face. I just sat on my bed and scratched my head. Now what?

Now, don’t take me lousy. Ek is ‘n Mjita en nie ‘n coward nie, but Bra Moferefere is bad news. Once he takes out his Okapi it always goes back to his pocket with blood. S’true, daai Bra is blind. Me, I wanted to live. It was time to pack my bags.


I got a ride to town in Baba Malahle ‘s old coal truck. I put my things in the store room at work and told the boss my story. He just shook his head – but I think he believed me. He had not heard this story before. He gave me the day off and told me to go and find myself a place.

“So where will you look for a room?” asked one of my workmates. “Why not try Hillbrow?” said another.

“Why not,” said I. It seemed like a good idea. After all, they say Hillbrow is mos a klein America. Darkies and Lanies live together. It is a 24 hour place – good for a young mjita like me.


I went into many buildings in Hillbrow. I knocked on many doors but no-one wanted to give me a room. “Come back next year,” said one person. “Sorry, no animals,” said another.

I decided to try one more building. I knocked and asked for a room in my sweetest voice. The man took one look at me and said: “Before you find your-self a room, buy yourself a mirror!”

Then it clicked – and I knew why I was having no luck. I was covered from head to toe in coal dust from Bra Malahle’s coal truck. I looked like a real ‘vuilpop’.

I was feeling lost and down. My feet were sore and my heart was heavy. I wished the earth would swallow me up. But it didn’t – and I slowly walked back to my office in town. I was feeling bad, bad, bad. I needed a place to rest and think – and a little something to take the pain away.


I went into the spot around the corner from work. It’s called Jamesons and it’s a friendly place. I bought a beer, wondering where I could sleep that night.

The beer was tasty but it didn’t do the trick. I changed to hard stuff. I ordered a whisky – real ‘Isikhilimikwik’. My mind relaxed a bit and I decided where I would sleep that night. I went back to the storeroom at work.

When I got to the office, I knocked on the door for Bab’uMantshingelane to let me in. I knocked again – and again. Still nothing. “Maybe he’s gone to Mai Mai for a skali of Umqombothi,” I said to myself.

I decided to come back later. I went back to the spot and ordered another tot. The whisky told me to buy more. I forgot about Moferefere, Sis Rose and Bab’uMantshingelane. I was now feeling much better.


The people in the bar were beginning to enjoy themselves – and before I knew it there was a big ‘gumba’. Well, what can I say? I like nothing better than a good gumba. So I joined in the fun and before I knew it, I was jiving the ‘dali ngibone’, my special boogaloo dance.

At midnight they closed the bar and I walked back to my new room, the store-room, on jelly legs. And guess what? The door was still locked. “There must be a mqombothi stokvel at Mai Mai tonight,” I thought to myself.

There was no other way of getting into the building. I stood there shaking from the cold. Even the “isikhilimikwik’ was not helping. I walked around, looking for a warm place.


I saw some people sitting around a fire next to Park Station. They called me over and told me to come and share their fire.

I sat down and warmed my stiff hands. “Skyf my Bra?” asked one of them. I gave them all cigarettes. They all looked drunk and their voices were high.

The one they called “Mhobholo’ took out a bottle from his torn overall and drank what was inside. It was a bottle of “Speedtrap’, pure methylated spirits. The others were busy drinking Zebra Beer cartons. Mhobholo was drinking alone and did not want to share his ‘Fire’ with them.

They were a group of happy ouens. Mhobholo started to sing a song which did not have a tune. “Jy maak geraas, gaan sing in Hell,” shouted Kobus, with a mouth full of Zebra beer. He could no longer sit straight. His face was shining with sweat and from time to time we had to stop him from falling into the fire. The Zebra was kicking him very hard.

After a few minutes Kobus was snoring like ten elephants. Everyone was complaining about the noise that he was making – except Mhobholo, who had quickly followed him to the world of dreams, still holding onto his bottle of ‘Speedtrap.’

Zambi slowly stood up and took the bottle from Mhobholo.” What a tough world this is,” I thought to myself. These ‘outies’ were drinking themselves to death. The fire was almost finished and it was no longer warm.


Just then another ‘kerel’ appeared from nowhere. I looked at him. “Believe me, s’true, I tell you, he was a real lanie – white, just like Terrreblanche.

He sat next to me with a Zebra in his hand and greeted everyone in Jan Van Riebeck’s taal, pure Afrikaans. “Jong, Apartheid is finished,” I said to myself. “Kerels, die winter is kwaai jong. Julie ken kerels, ons is almal mense. Ek like julle. Laat ons sommer net die vuur share,” said the mlungu, with his face inside the carton of Zebra.

There was silence. No one answered him. Then Zambi said something I never thought he could say. “Hey, Piet you must not think you are better than us because you are a Van der Merwe. Kyk ons is almal in hierdie jive. We all sleep under the stars, drink Zebras and Speedtrap. You go and fetch boxes and planks for the fire, or you go. Daar’s nie ‘n baas hierso nie,” said Zambi, looking happy with himself.

Piet did not want to fetch wood for the fire. He stood up and shouted: “Jy wil ook nie jou Zebras met ouens share nie.” He left without saying another word.


The Zebra and Speedtrap had done good work. My friends no longer cared about the fire. But me, I was feeling cold. My whisky had done nothing. I was sober like a judge. I asked Zambi to help me look for boxes and planks for the fire.

We found boxes, made more fire, and talked till the sun came up. Zambi told me how he came to Johannesburg. “I come from Lebowa, my bra. I came to look for a job. Jy ken mos daai Phatudi has got no jobs for us.”

“So ek het hierso gekom. Maar daar’s ook nie werk hier nie. I stayed at Mzimhlophe Hostel for some time but I left because they wanted rent. I came to town met die ander ouens and just stayed with them. It’s better than Phatudiland, my bra.”

At six in the morning we put out the fire. “Thanks for the fire outies,” I said, shaking their hands.” Maar slow down met die zebra en speedtrap. Too much is no good, my Bras. Izabonana ne.”

I walked back to the office, hoping that Bab’uMantshingelane was there to open the door – and praying that I would never again have to spend another night under the stars!


If you would like to print or save this article as a PDF, press ctrl + p on your keyboard (cmd + p on mac).

bottom of page