The wind tumbles uncoordinatedly down the side roads. It’s the fastest thing in the quiet streets – not quite refreshing, but blowing hard enough to lift the heat from my skin, to make me believe that it’s not really as hot as it is. Dust crunches softly underfoot, leaping up in angry puffs as Yusuf, Katherine and I approach the community hall.
With a smile, she hands him a chicken foot. He pops it into his wide smile, claws-out, like some meaty-flavoured lollipop.
It’s easy to find. A large, open space held in walls of the smooth, off-red brick that the government builds everything out of. Even without the distinctive architecture, it’s impossible to miss the noise of the place. A cocky local Dj has rigged together disco speakers and a bohemian mix of car electronics to produce an ear-shattering wall of gravelly sound. Children take turns whirling and jumping in the front of the hall, alone or in groups. Dwarfed by the speakers behind them as the music throws them to the smiles and mimicry of the audience.
Somewhere at the back, one of their mothers holds fort behind a steel trestle table holding chips and fizzy yellow juice in a bottle marked Twist. Appropriate, given the action outside her steel fort. A tot alongside asks her for some of the cooked chicken in a box nearby. With a smile, she hands him a chicken foot. He pops it into his wide smile, claws-out, like some meaty-flavoured lollipop. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Strangers to the activity around us, we have come to interview a pair of township rappers that I had inadvertently met when I was last here with Hailey. If Ben Mafane, the gentleman who showed us around Glenmore on our last visit, represents the town’s past, then Sivenathai “Thing” Mkhathal and Azisa “Rhymes” Ralexu are its future. And like patriarchs and youth the world over, they exist in a state of tension. “Fuck Ben Mafane”, raps Sivenathai, angry, intense.
He explains his anger at Ben’s insistence that our interview should (according to Ben) have been arranged through him. It wasn’t. The young will do as they wish. As those who came after shall one day as well. These are the surprisingly unsurprising lessons that we never learn.
“There is no future here,” Sivenathai explains. “We do our matric [exams], then there is nothing. No opportunities.” Yusuf asks him what he is doing at present, and he replies without a hint of irony that he is in school. His rapping, delivered rapid-burst, freestyle, betrays anger. Frustration in the sharp syllables, the words chosen to offend. To needle the old fashioned, the status quo. Wearing skullcaps and layers of clothing in the heat, the wind can’t touch them as they betray the insecurity of being teenagers. Wanting to be taken seriously, to be given a respect not yet earned.
“When people see I am a rapper, they respect me, ” Sivenathai boasts a little too emphatically. The singular condition of youth showing through – that existential battle between pride and insecurity. The desire to matter and the frustration at a world that doesn’t see him yet as he does. It’s hard to be young. But the stakes, for Sivenathai and Azisa are high. Perhaps more so than he realises.