Township blues: The trauma of an abandoned black man

A typical street in Diepkloof. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

A typical street in Diepkloof. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 8, 2023


Sandile Memela

Pretoria - Often, when I listen to returned soldiers – men over 50 who have come back to their township homes – they say they have been betrayed and treated badly by their ex-wives or partners.

Worse, they believe the GBV narrative is anti-black men. Nobody cares to listen to their trauma and pain.

I was at my mother Nomali’s humble home in Diepkloof on Sunday when these uninvited men trickled in.

On this patio was where my father, Mbokodo, retired to sit, read and reflect as he watched township life drift by. Most of the time, he would be reading or engaging in critical discourse.

“I saw the car and knew you were here,” they say. “So, I came in to catch up.” You don’t make an appointment in the townships.

As a sudden host, I ask what they drink. I brought out my late mother’s favourite brand of whisky and let them loosen their tongues.

No doubt, they have hit rock bottom – be it job loss, unemployment, divorce or relationship break-up. Above all, they suffer the repercussions of failed marriages and broken relationships. They are angry, bitter and mad. Mostly, they are broken men with little hope for the future.

They know they could die at any time. No one will miss them. They will take their untold stories to the grave. When you ask about childhood friends they tell you, without feeling: “Oh, he died. We buried him.”

First, it was Mandla from Mxhomi Street. He was married but his wife is awol. He has brought another woman to step in. His complicated life is unresolved.

He knows the wife can return, with a vengeance. He will be thrown out.

Then there was Mangi from Nhle Street. When he lost his job, his pretty young wife turned against him. He was divorced and forced to return home – with nothing. But he has picked up the pieces, trying to mend.

Third was Vusi J from the next street. Once upon a time, he owned a home in Protea Glen. His wife threw him out when he became unemployed. He was condemned as useless. He left to avoid an acrimonious divorce.

Then, there was a passer-by, Ndu. He seems to have mental health issues and was never married. Thus, I enquired after his elder brother, Ruku. “He’s back home, staying with us,” Ndu says. “He lost his home and family after an ugly fight with his wife.”

My elder brother’s son, Clinton, showed up, not saying much. He drinks only juice. His wife abandoned his home a year ago, taking the children. He never speaks about his pain.

Then he asked about the whereabouts of Jay from Zone 5. Someone answered: “He has gone to visit a girlfriend in another province. Yes, he is not officially divorced. Thus he cannot marry her. He is wasting away.”

Jay has been separated from his wife for more than 15 years. His life is stuck in a rut. He was soon followed by Mr K. He always walks in when he sees my car, takes a seat and expects free money to buy beer. It is the Black Tax.

He told me that he, too, lost his house in Diepkloof Extension.

“I got sick, lost my job and was considered useless. It is tough when you are a man and you don’t bring in money.” Mr K paused. “She threw me out of my house. She now stays with another man in my house.”

He shrugged his shoulders in resignation. His heart is beyond pain. He is half mad. I gave him R50. He stood up and left, rushing to the shebeen.

When you truly listen to the stories of black men, they are filled with trauma and pain. These men own nothing, neither the land nor the factories. They feel betrayed.

Their last refuge was love, family and marriage, with a loving wife, a warm home and children. Alas, they have lost that, too, with nowhere to go except … to look forward to an early death.

Perhaps what these men need to hear is: “Black man, you are not alone. The next black man is going through the same hellish experience.”

We need to find that place in the black man’s life that restores faith, hope, courage, beauty and strength.

The black man must feel free to live, love and laugh, again.

* Memela is a journalist, writer, cultural critic and public servant.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.

Pretoria News