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The proud story of Babsy Mlangeni

A song by Babsy Mlangeni.

Heyi bethu, nangu umntu uphethe intonga emhlophe. Kunini emi apha efuna ongamncedayo Mbambeni ngezandla nimncedeni Ufuna ukuwela indlela. Kutheni ngathi niyamoyika Ungumntu ufana nani. Please somebody help the blind man with a white stick He has been standing here for a long time now Waiting for someone to help him cross the street He is blind please help him. Do not fear him. He is a person like you.


Barnard Smangaliso Mlangeni was born in Orlando East, Soweto 40 years ago. But when his mother held him for the first time, she changed his name. She called him Babsy. And she still does.

Babsy’s parents were like many other parents of that time. Babsy’s father worked in a factory. And his mother worked in a shop. They worked hard. They just made ends meet.

The Mlangeni’s and their five kids moved around a lot. They lived in Orlando East, Orlando West, Emasakeni ( Moroka) and Shantytown (Phomolong). “In those days, most people lived in shacks,” says Babsy. ” They did not have houses. So people moved from shack to shack.”

Little Babsy had a loving grandmother. She lived on a farm in a place called Daggaskraal. When Babsy was three years old, his parents sent Babsy to the farm for a holiday.

Little Babsy had a good time on the farm -until he got sick. And then he got very sick. His grandmother did not know what to do. And then one day, Babsy was suddenly blind.

Babsy’s grandmother wrote to his parents. She told them to come and fetch Babsy. She said Babsy must go to a hospital in Johannesburg.

Babsy’s mother came to fetch him. And she rushed him back to Johannesburg. But she was too late. The doctors could not help Babsy. Little Babsy would never see again.


Babsy went back to his family in Soweto. And soon he was playing with the other children again. “You know, children are different to us adults,” says Babsy. ” For example, a white kid will play with a black kid. And children who can see, play with children who can’t see. They thought I was just another kid.”

Babsy was a brave little boy. He couldn’t play soccer. But he did many other things. “I even rode a bicycle,” says Babsy. I just asked one of the kids to lend me his eyes. And together we went for a ride.”

One day Babsy went to play with some friends in Shantytown. They were playing in the street on the other side of the river. And then a woman walked past. She stopped to watch the children play. And then she saw little Babsy.

She saw Babsy was different to the other children. She stood there and thought for a while. And then she went to find Babsy’s parents.

The woman was a social worker. She told Babsy’s parents about a special school for blind children in the Cape. She said Babsy must go to school like other children.

Babsy’s parents listened to the social worker. And they agreed with her. But Babsy’s grandmother wasn’t so happy. ” You are throwing my child away,” she screamed.

But Babsy’s parents knew what they had to do. His father put little Babsy on his knee. And he spoke to him. He told Babsy about this school for blind children. And he told Babsy he will find his favourite toys at this school. He said Babsy will find soccer balls, cars, bicycles and spinning tops.”

A few weeks later, Babsy was on the train. He was on his way to school -and a new home for the next 10 years.


“I didn’t find any of the toys my father told me about,” says Babsy with a smile. ” And in the beginning, the other kids gave me a hard time. I was the new kid at the school.

“One time the kids took me up some stairs. Then they lifted me up. Another kid lay on the ground and called to me. He sounded far away. Then they dropped me. I thought I was finished. Then I suddenly hit the ground. I only fell about three inches. Everybody laughed – and I was glad to be alive.”

But some of the children soon began to like Babsy. He was from the township and he knew many township tricks. He showed them how to make cars from wire. And he told them a story or two.

And then Babsy got lucky. A big, strong kid called Henry ‘Koloi’ Lebone made friends with him. ‘Koloi’ was older than Babsy. But he liked the new kid from Soweto. ‘Koloi’ looked after Babsy. And soon Babsy was happy at the new school ­and when new kids came to the school, Babsy now gave them a hard time.

Babsy and his new friends were always in trouble. One night they felt a bit hungry. So they went to the kitchen to see what they could find.

Babsy climbed through the small kitchen window. Outside his friends made a line from the kitchen to their bedroom. And soon Babsy was passing them loaves of bread. Lots and lots of bread. And the boys passed the bread to each down the line. When they had a mountain of bread, they stopped.

The boys ran back to their bedroom. They were in a hurry to eat the bread. But when the bread was gone. The boys did not understand. They scratched their heads -and they went to bed hungry.

The next morning, they found out what happened to the bread. The headmaster called them to his office and told them. A teacher had joined the end of their line and the poor, blind kids didn’t even know. When the headmaster was finished with Babsy and his friends, they didn’t feel like eating bread anymore!

But Babsy and his friends were soon up to trouble again. One time they went to play in the veld outside the school. They dug a big hole. And then each child dug a tunnel from inside the hole. They wanted to see who could dig the longest tunnel.

After a few hours, they were tired. So they got out of their tunnels. And they covered the big hole. They went back to the school. And then somebody asked: “Hey, where is Johannes Golliath?”

They ran to the headmater. The head­master told the children to follow him. They ran to the shed and fetched some spades. And they ran back to the hole. They dug and dug. And there they found Johannes Golliath -just in time.

Sometimes Babsy and his friends played rugby. “We tied little bells to the ball,” says Babsy. “And we followed the sound of the bells. One of the boys could see a little. He told us where the ball was. And then he jumped out of the way. We all went for the ball together and at the same time. We broke many bones. But we had a great time.”

But Babsy did not play all the time. “They first taught us how to read and write,” says, Babsy. “We learnt how to read with our fingers. And then we learnt all the things children learn ­like spelling, arithmetic and history.

Then one day, the school got a present. They got a piano, an organ, guitars and mouth organs. The school did not know what to do. So they put the children into the room with all these things.

Some children ran to the piano. Other children ran to the organ. And Babsy ran to the guitar. He picked it up. And he did not put it down again.

‘ Koloi’ taught Babsy how to play the guitar. They played the guitar together for hours and hours. And Babsy got better and better. “We played at school parties,” says Babsy. “And all the kids joined in with their pennywhistles. This was the time of Spokes Mashiane. And everybody had pennywhistles. We had a great time at those parties -mostly because the parties were our only chance to get close to the girls.”

In 1961, Babsy was 18 years old. He had finished his Junior Certificate. And now it was time to leave. Babsy packed his bags. And he said goodbye to his friends. Babsy Mlangeni was going home.


“I didn’t feel so good back home in Soweto,” says Babsy. “I felt Ionley and sad. I missed my old friends and the school. I even missed the headmaster.

“People didn’t understand me. They thought I was mad. Children followed me in the street. And women did not look at me. I stayed home and played my guitar.”

One day a man walked past Babsy’s house. He saw Babsy playing his guitar on the stoep. He stopped to listen. And he liked what he heard. “My name is Babsy Nkosi,” the man said to Babsy. “I am a magician. I give magic shows at schools. Bring your guitar and join me.”

So Babsy Mlangeni joined Babsy Nkosi. And together they went from school to school. The one Babsy gave his magic show. And the other Babsy played his guitar and sang a few songs.

Some of Babsy Mlangeni’s old school friends heard about Babsy’s new little business. They came to join him. They were tired of working as switchboard operators for the municipality. Their names were John Mothipang, Simon Phaladzi and Archie Kgaladi. So now Babsy Nkosi went from school to school with four blind men.

After a while Babsy Nkosi went his own way. And some more old school friends joined Babsy, Archie, Simon and John. One of these guys was Babsy’s dear old friend, ‘Koloi’. Soon nine old school friends were together. And the ‘All Rounders’ were born.

They called themselves the ‘All Rounders’ because each guy played two or more instruments. The ‘All Rounders’ played in clubs. Sometimes they played at weddings. But they didn’t do so well. There were many mouths to feed.

“One day we went to play at the Mofolo Hall,” says Babsy. “When we got there, the hall was full. We had never filled a hall before. Our luck had come at last. We felt good -until we heard people crying. The people in the hall were at a funeral service. When the service finished, only 10 people stayed behind.”

Then some of the guys got hungry. And they went back to their jobs at the switchboard. But Babsy, John, Simon and Archie struggled on. They walked from school to school and gave their show.

One day in 1966 Babsy went to visit ‘Koloi ‘ at his home in Winburg in the Orange Free State. When Babsy got out of the train, Koloi was there to greet him. “Hello Babs,” said Koloi. ” I want you to meet somebody. Her name is Emma.”


Babsy and Emma got married in 1968. And Babsy went to get a job -as a switchboard operator.

“That job bored me,” says Babsy. ” I said the same thing over and over all day -‘good morning, he’s not in, hold on, what is the message?’ I left the job after a year.

But Babsy didn’t tell his new wife he was out of a job. So he moved quickly. He called Koloi and some of the other guys. And the All Rounders were born again.

They were lucky this time. They got a steady job and Babsy still gave his wife 10 pounds a week. Emma didn’t know the difference. And then the All Rounders got a job in Lesotho for three weeks. Babsy told Emma he had three weeks leave from work. He told her one, long, tall story.

Emma believed him the first time. But when Babsy wanted to go away the next time, he was in a bit of trouble. He didn’t know what to do.

So he told Emma the truth. Emma said nothing. Her Babsy loved music. And there was nothing she could do. So Babsy played his guitar. And Emma still loved him. And Babsy loved her too. One day he wrote a song about his love for her:

Sala Emma jwale se ke tsamaya . Peolo ya ka e bohloko empa Ke tshwanetse Kgale ke lakatsa e bile ke rapela Pelo ya ka e bohloko empa Ketshwa netse

Boom! The song was a hit. And Babsy Mlangeni and the ‘All Rounders’ were stars. They went and bought a new Kombi out of the box. And a few weeks later, they won another Kombi at a competition in Mamelodi!

Today Babsy Mlangeni is a big time singer. He owns a supermarket. And he owns the nightclub on top of the super­market. Babsy is making ends meet.

And so ends the proud story of Babsy Mlangeni. Babsy – the story of a man who never lost his spirit. The story of a man who does not see so good -but who is not scared to walk in the dark.


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