I grew up in Orlando East, during the era of institutionalized racism and enforced tribal segregation by law, that gave rise to hostilities, gangsterism, enhanced tribalism and segregation among blacks, especially in the townships.
Since I’m Sotho, we were allocated a predominantly Sotho speaking area which was ruled by its own gangsters called the Top 7, sharing borders with its rivals the Beez, predominantly living towards the north of Orlando east, the Vultures towards the west, the Kwaitos dominating the centre,the Vikings in Mlamlankunzi, the Kelly’ s
..and the Bunzen sharing the south eastern borders of Orlando East close to Orlando train station which made it their default “warzone” where they had fights with their “Okapis”.
…And Ma-juta from Naledi and Ma-hazel from Mzimhlophe who were main rivals like Orlando Pirates and Kaiser Chiefs, had their branches throughout Soweto, and used local trains as their “playgrounds”/”war zones” as well.
These violent and notorious gangs, were feared by most people and used to terrorize the neighbourhood and had regular “wars” with rival gangs, but I didn’t care too much about my surroundings busy living under the”radar” believing that what was happening around me, won’t affect me. Little did I know was going to happen next…
On my way to my school I had to travel by train from Naledi train station, for about an hour or more to my scbool Matjeni primary that was situated in Orlando East, were I made some friends and it seemed they were having a lot more fun than me.
Every-day I met them while I went to scbool, they were doing what they loved best, they were smoking marijuana and surfing trains. I observed them for a few days, not going to school for a number of days, just having fun until I got cold feet going back to school. Little did I know that I was becoming a member of a notorious gangster group…the x 5’s from Naledi.
The thought me to punished, should I go back to school, made me hate school with passion. Consequently, I decided to stay at home and this gave me a chance to see the gang regularly.
It was an easy decision because nobody seemed to care. I was never asked, ” Thabiso how was school? or, ” Can I see your books?” or such like. That worked for me quite well.
It carried on until at the beginning of the school year “75, my late mother’s last option to intervene in my delinquent lifestyle, was to take my brother’s Standard six. ( now Grade 8 ) certificate from Naledi High, without his knowledge, for my enrollment in Lofentse Secondary School in Orlando East, which is opposite Matjeni Higher Primary, the school I withdrew from without formal qualifications.
I began in form one at Lofentse Secondary, not long after me and my school mates from the Vultures gang, attempted to spend our lunch time, by risking our lives trying to steal from a arm guarded goodstrain, passing by our school, Matjeni Primary.
Being enrolled in Lofentse Secondary was not without challenges.The first one was to adapt to myself (my new identity i.e. using the profile of my brother ), the second one was to face my former classmates from Matjeni.
Adapting to my new self was quite easy because Ioved my brother, hence, loving his name was an easy task, and my new-found friends made it even easier by calling my “new” name every now and then.
The second challenge I hated because I could not avoid it. Everyday during lunch time, I used to frequent a small shop close to my school called Sizanani, to buy some irresistible fatcakes, my former classmates too, and I hated to meet these former classmates but could not easily avoid them. I hated the question my former classmates asked every time they saw me, ” Daniel, tell us the damn trick of how come you’re at Lofentse without having written and passed any exams?
I always avoided giving them the answer that would be a complete betrayal of my mother and I would be expelled from Lofentse.
After successfully keeping my secret and identity to myself, I eventually passed form one to form two with flying colours. Consequently, due to me being a passionate debater, I was elected to become a member of the student representative council, which in turn led me to represent the whole school in external meetings, and became the child, my mother was probably proud of.
Thanks to my late mother, who saw too much of a delinquent in me, and decided to take me back to school, even if she had to use my elder brother’s certificate to take her son, away from the streets of Soweto.